“What’s the magic behind the toning cream?” a Chinese man wearing a white lab coat asks standing in a laboratory setting. In the video, he mixes ordinary cream and white pigment that’s made with titanium dioxide, and presents it to the camera saying that this is the origin of the whitening function extracted from toning cream, a popular Korean beauty product that everyone is talking about on Weibo.
This is not a mad scientist from Frankenstein. This is a blogger explaining what goes into a popular beauty product which claims to have a supreme whitening effect. The trending product topic of skin whitening combined with the demystifying conceit of this three-minute scientific-like video has gone viral in China, making the blogger, Fang Junping, or “Junping Big Devil,” an overnight sensation.
The Rising Industry of Male Beauty Bloggers
Men in China have a delicate relationship with female beauty. They’re permitted to judge female beauty and they can also rationalize women’s cosmetic-buying decisions. In a feature length article on Chinese news site Jiemian, Fang, the blogger mentioned above, revealed his secret to gaining 3.5 million Weibo fans since his video went viral last year, and how he belongs to an industry of Chinese male bloggers who hold influential power over female consumers’ cosmetic purchasing decisions.
The rise of the male makeup blogger is not just a growing trend in China. Maybelline hired its first boy beauty vlogger, Manny Gutierrez, to be its brand ambassador. Manny has a total of 5 million followers on Instagram and Youtube.
Though the kind of recognition these vloggers get varies depending on whether they’re in the East or the West. Chinese beauty bloggers are often portrayed with the authority of a scientist. They’re dubbed “Cheng Fen Dang,” which is a slang term to describe the grassroots bloggers who gained recognition by analyzing ingredients in cosmetics. For the Chinese beauty bloggers, endorsing a brand is less about aesthetics than it is promoting the safety and quality of the brand.
Though Fang doesn’t have a medical degree in chemistry or pharmacy, he said his interest in studying beauty products dates back to his childhood growing up with a geophysicist for a father and a doctor for a mother. The laboratory, he has said, is his second home.
On Fang’s video, a woman (who is not seen by the camera) asks him questions as he breaks down the beauty products making the video feel like a visit to a doctor.
The Emerging Chinese Male Beauty Bloggers
Weibo underwent rapid development between 2009 and 2012, when many young talented men leveraged the platform to break down the information gap between brands and consumers. That’s when the Cheng Fen Dang bloggers, like Fang, emerged. Also in this group are “Kenjijoe” and “Beauty King and Chemists.”
In 2014, then emergent WeChat gave a boost to another wave of influencers, including Huang Yan, or ”three acres of uncle,” a friend of Fang’s who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from a prestigious university in China and has over 300,000 fans on WeChat. He claims his articles see an open rate of more than 95 percent and that the rate of sales transactions can be up to 10 percent.
Together those bloggers form a study group analyzing the latest product ingredients released by beauty conglomerates like L’Oreal and Shiseido, carrying the mission of breaking down “information inequality” for their female fans.
When Consumers Started to Look for High Quality Products
Huang said that 2016 was the year of the outbreak of the male beauty bloggers. The year that consumers started spending more on better quality products.
“More and more consumers place emphasis on the ingredients of beauty products in pursuit of higher quality goods,” said another Weibo blogger “Beauty King and Chemists.”
Though based on Fang’s experience, he said his fans rarely become very concerned about the scientific logic behind a certain product. They are more concerned about whether bloggers recommend that they buy something or if they say they dislike a product showing that maybe what encourages Chinese women to buy is simply a piece of advice from a man.