He went to China more than 10 years ago to study interior design after graduating high school. There he applied to work as a dancer in a bar since he wanted to earn some extra money and also loved the nightlife scene. But the interviewer bluntly turned him down, saying they “only hire good-looking people”.
After that rejection, he worked as a waiter and was determined to save money to one day get plastic surgery.
In 2011 he paid VND5 million ($218.46) to get a non-surgical rhinoplasty, which used a filler to change the shape of the nose. Wanting to have a more refined look, he got another nose job the following year, but it was a surgical procedure this time.
Then 19, he returned to Shanghai and confidently applied to be a photo model for clothing stores.
He came to realize that one’s physical appearance is just as important as character since it can impact one’s life experiences and opportunities.
In 2013, he got his lips and chin done. Four years later he underwent a 12-hour operation to lower his cheekbones, cut his jawbone and reshape his nose.
When he awoke from the anesthetic, his body felt hot, his mind was hazy and he was in extreme pain.
But it did not stop him return to the operating table again in 2019 to fix his smile line and get another nose job.
The total cost of his nine surgeries over the 10-year period was nearly VND1 billion.
Hoang Anh Tuan, 28, of Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District used to be unconcerned about his appearance.
When he asked the first girl he liked to go out with him, she declined due to his looks, and he resolved then to change his appearance.
He has spent nearly VND1 billion on fillers, teeth, chin surgery, and four nose jobs since 2014.
He says: “The first week after each surgery, I would be in a lot of pain and discomforts. For a month I could only eat pork and vegetables”.
But in return he has changed completely in appearance from having slightly protruding teeth and a flat nose to a high nose, double eyelids and bigger eyes.
During his trips to the beauty clinic, Tuan noticed that many of the customers were men like him. In fact out of every five customers coming in, two were men.
At that moment he understood there was a market for beauty treatment for men. He himself opened a cosmetic and beauty treatment clinic with branches in Hanoi and Thai Nguyen Province in 2020.
“Men between the ages of 25 and 35 make up 35 percent of my customers. They primarily work in offices. The most popular treatments for this demographic are skin rejuvenation and skin whitening”.
Dr Pham Thi Viet Dung, head of the plastic and aesthetic surgery department at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, says the number of men undergoing plastic surgery is still small but has been growing at around 5 percent a year in recent years.
Men with physical issues such as burn and injury scars and birth defects are the biggest clients. In the past they were only concerned with being cured and recovering bodily functions, but now they also want to look good.
The second group comprises men who are interested in sprucing up their appearance.
Nguyen Duc, an IT engineer in Hanoi, wants to improve his appearance by getting rid of his tan, gray hair and large belly.
“One time I was mistaken for my wife’s father in public and my friends used to make fun of me because of my appearance,” he says.
His wife also complains about his appearance.
Last year he took advantage of working from home due to Covid-19 and ordered a home skin care course. Every night his wife would make a mask for the two of them to put on. At night he would do the same things as her, applying moisturizers and whitening creams.
Regardless of how busy he was, he would spend 20 minutes every day caring for his skin, using over 10 different creams and serums.
His efforts over six months have paid off: His skin has become smoother and he has dropped from 90 kg to 75 kg. He also dyes his hair black now, making it impossible for people to recognize him any longer.
In recent years individuals such as Duc have contributed to the growth of the men’s cosmetics market.
Le Thi Ngoc Ngan, head of research and development at a cosmetics company based in HCMC, says sales of men’s cosmetics have tripled since her company was set up in 2016.
“Many businesses have turned to the men’s cosmetics business because of its potential and less competition”.
According to U.S. company Allied Market Research, the global men’s makeup and personal care industry is expected to reach $166 billion by 2022.
Another market research firm, Euromonitor, says 56 percent of American men used foundation, concealer or BB cream at least once in 2018.
But the Asia-Pacific is the region fueling the boom in the men’s cosmetics industry.
Mintel, a U.K. market research firm, says the beauty market in this region is worth $13.1 billion and ranks among the top 10 globally.
Statistics from a large shopping mall chain in Vietnam show men’s skin care products account for 20 percent of products and sales are growing at 10-20 percent a year.
After undergoing plastic surgery, Cuong claims his personality has changed completely, and he no longer goes tit-for-tat if someone upsets him and instead shies away from any confrontation.
“I try to match my action with my current appearance”.
His career also got a significant jump.
He was accepted as a dancer after the first surgery, and was signed up by a large Chinese cosmetics company after the final operation in 2019.
He now runs a clothing store in Vietnam and works as a stylist for some artists. Sometimes he models and shoots commercials in Shanghai.
Tuan too says his physical appearance has boosted his self-esteem. He also feels more confident about speaking in front of an audience, helping him enlarge his social circle, including even people in showbiz.
He now dates a beautiful woman, and thinks it would not have been possible without the surgeries.
However, many people still frown upon men who go under the knife.
Tuan noticed after opening the spa that men would frequently ask for services to be provided at home rather than come themselves.
Many people who knew he had undergone plastic surgery would say he should not have done it.
Dung says many men go to dubious cosmetic centers or untrustworthy, unprofessional facilities to keep things under wraps out of fear of social prejudices, resulting in dangerous outcomes.
Nguyen Van Tien, 22, of Ha Nam Province used to look online for a place to correct a congenitally crooked nose.
He did not consult family and friends because he was afraid of being criticized, and he went to a plastic facility he saw on social media. The procedure cost him more than VND50 million, but his nose returned to its original shape after just a couple of months.
“I was in pain and my self-esteem went down when my face did not improve but got worse instead,” he says.
He was later referred to a well-known center in Hanoi and finally got the nose he desired, but it cost another VND30 million.
“People also have the need to perfect their bodies,” Dung says, adding that in the not-too-distant future men’s attempts at beautification would lose their stigma.
Cuong is now frequently called handsome by many people. As his career progressed, he built a four-story house for his mother to replace her old run-down one.
He plans to expand his company, focusing more on services for men customers.
Tuan says, “I believe this will be a large market that many businesses will seek to enter”.