MEXICO CITY -- Au naturel? Oh no.
When it comes to beauty, Mexican women want their cherry-red locks or bleach-blond highlights to be noticed, and their makeup to shout. Mexican men don't hold back when running gel through their hair.
The liberal use of beauty products here is why L'Oreal, the Paris-based maker of colorants, makeup and hair products has just opened its largest colorant plant in the world here.
The $100 million plant in San Luis Potosi state will produce 200 million units annually to start (with capacity to ramp up to 350 million) and will supply markets across the Americas, from the U.S. and Mexico to South America.
L'Oreal de Mexico President Luca Burei has called Mexico a "very, very strategic market for the company's future development," not just for growing consumption internally but for Mexico's role as a regional leader of beauty trends.
When it comes to hair dye, Mexico has "one of the highest penetrations in the world," Burei said during the inauguration last month.
"Mexico — and this is fascinating for us — has really unique standards of beauty," he said. "Mexican women and Mexican men, when they apply beauty products, they absolutely want the result to be very visible."
A growing middle class in Mexico is generating greater demand for beauty products and spending more on what they buy, according to market analyst Euromonitor International. Although Latin America falls in third behind Asia and Western Europe in spending, the region is poised to take over as the world's second-largest beauty market by 2016.
It's already the top consumer of hair colorants.
"I think in Mexico women want to be very blond, very golden, very ash blond," says Alexis Hilerio, a stylist at Salon K in Mexico City's upscale Condesa neighborhood. "Mexican women don't want to be seen as simple. They want to stand out."
Tones from auburn to red to purple are also extremely popular.
L'Oreal is the company behind Maybelline New York, the world's top-selling make-up; Garnier hair products and Nutrisse colorant, among other brands. The company faces largely international competition in Mexico, where global brands controlled 70 percent of the local market share in 2011, according to Euromonitor International.
Laura Urraca, makeup artist for Mexico's Channel 22 news team, chalks up the use of colorants in Mexico to a local taste for bright color as well as for what's different –- which in Mexico often means what’s blond.
"People in Mexico love colors," Urraca says, "and it doesn’t matter if it looks false. The goal is to go blonder."
Unfortunately, she says, this preference goes beyond fashion to a deeper social ill: "It's a reality that in Mexico you are treated differently for your color. If you’re blond, you aren’t going to be treated the same."
In Mexico's largely mestizo society, racism is latent and rarely talked about, but it's pervasive nonetheless. A fair complexion affords clear socio-economic advantages here, daily in evidence on the street, in politics and on television.
Still, the stylist Hilerio says the younger generation isn't as interested in the platinum look, which is more popular with women over 30. Young women dye their hair almost as often but prefer darker shades, he says.
With its latest investment, L'Oreal is betting that however Mexico's beauty paradigm evolves in the coming years, Mexicans will spend more and more pesos to stock their makeup bags and shower baskets.
Photo: Nacho Espejo