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Skin cream fairly profitable in India

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Bill Radke: In the U.S., beauty supplies are pretty much considered a woman’s domain. In India’s $20 billion a year grooming industry, the ads are increasingly directed at men. One of the popular male beauty products: skin lightener. From New Delhi, Raymond Thibodeaux reports.

Raymond Thibodeaux: In this TV ad, a 20-something Indian guy is out on the town, but finds himself rejected by several women, all with lighter skin than his. To his rescue comes Bollywood’s biggest star, Shah Rukh Khan, with a bottle of Fair & Handsome skin-lightening cream.

The man applies the cream and — ta-da! — four weeks later, he’s a few shades lighter, smiling and confident, and now the women are very interested.

Meenal Patel: In India and in much of South Asia, people here want to look more fair, because fairness is linked to status and prosperity, definitely.

Meenal Patel is an analyst for the Indian Council for Market Research:

Patel: Such ads basically portray that you’ll get the girl, you’ll get the car, you’ll get the money, you’ll get the proper lifestyle — all because the skin is lighter.

Patel says the launch of Fair & Handsome skin-lightening cream three years ago started a boom for male grooming products. Ernest & Young research showed that so-called “manscaping” products were among India’s fastest-growing consumer sectors, averaging about 20 percent annual growth. Sales of skin lighteners for men have leapt 150 percent in the small cities and rural areas.

Che Kurrien is editor of GQ India magazine, which launched last year:

Che Kurrien: A certain number of Indian men have always pampered themselves. Add to that a growing number of Indian men who have always wanted to splurge on themselves but couldn’t afford to. Now they can.

Foreign beauty suppliers are cashing in. European giants Nivea, L’Oreal and Garnier are jumping into the market. Proctor & Gamble has announced plans to expand its Indian presence. And many luxury hotel chains in India now offer spas and salons for men — with pedicures, body waxing and a manly-sounding “rock facial.” Mmmm, could be a hard sell.

In New Delhi, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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