The Flower Men: A new generation of South Koreans

In a socially conservative, male-dominated, and dare I say it, slightly sexist country, it may come as a surprise to many that recent data has shown South Korean men to be the number one consumers of male cosmetics in the world.

In fact, it would seem that it is not only the women who find themselves swept up in the national pursuit of perfection. Despite there only being 19 million men in the country, they somehow make up 21% of the global male grooming market. The report, published by market research group Euromonitor International, shows that South Korean men spent a staggering $495,500,000 on cosmetics and skincare products in 2011, with an estimated $885,000,000 to be spent this year.

Gone are the days of rough, tough and ready macho men, and in it’s place is a new generation of image conscious, sharply-dressed and immaculately groomed young businessmen. Dubbed ‘flower men‘  by the South Korean media, these men have flawless, porcelain skin, pencilled in eyebrows and long, thick eyelashes.

Pale, whitened skin is very much the preferred look in Korea, harking back to the ancient belief that pale skin was a symbol of a privileged life, free of manual labour, whereas tanned skin showed a hard life spent working in the fields. Skin whitening creams, pills and even injections are big sellers for both men and women here.

Alongside a strict skincare regime consisting of cleansers, exfoliators, moisturisers and eye creams, products like foundation, eyebrow pencils, eyeliner, mascara and lipstick are fast becoming popular with Korean men. Even young men undertaking their mandatory 21 months of military service don’t have to suffer the indignity of bad skin, as some brands offer camo paint for sensitive skin.

Skin-friendly camo paint from cosmetic brand Innisfree

But what lies behind this startling new trend?

Of course there are many who point the finger at the South Korean media and its starlets, for bombarding these impressionable young men with images of their ‘peers’ photoshopped beyond recognition. However, this seems too simple an explanation for such a huge phenomenon.

Korean society places an overwhelming amount of pressure on it’s younger generations, and success is everything. The competition for jobs and for girlfriends is fiercer than ever and in a culture where “appearance is power”, first impressions count for a lot. Taking such a high level of pride in your appearance offers an opportunity to show that you are sophisticated, reliable and conscientious.

K-pop idol and Dream High 2 actor, JB

In a country with the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world, combined with the highest suicide rate in the world, where a job application requires a photo and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses (or should that be the Kims?) takes on a whole new meaning, where will this obsession with appearance go next?

Snail face cream. Yep, that’s right. Snail mucus for your face.

Korean women seem to possess such a natural beauty that when they let you in on their secrets it’s hard to argue with them. At least that’s what I thought.

One of my students gave me a snail mucus face mask gift set recently, and at first I wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or be slightly offended. The ensuing gasps from my co-teachers soon told me that this was something to be very pleased with.

It turns out that snail mucus is the latest skincare trend in Korea and snail mucus products are flying off the shelves in almost every cosmetics shop.

These ‘intense snail care masks’ contain ‘astonishing filtered liquid of snail mucin that is a source of boosting vitality‘. Furthermore it claims to ‘fully replenish the skin with its ample moisture to solidify the skin’s hydration barrier’.

Like most Korean face masks, it was a sheet that you place over your face with holes for your eyes and mouth. Got a bit of a fright when I caught sight of myself in the mirror the first time I used one; looks more like a Halloween costume than a beauty product!

The packaging said to leave it on for 30 mins, and once I got past the slimy feeling of the sheet on my face, and how much it reminded of a snail, it was actually quite pleasant. And it did make my skin feel very soft afterwards!

Snail mucus seems to be taking Korea by storm, I wonder if it will ever catch on at home…?