JABABEKA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Vanya Sunanto never used any makeup until she was 25. But now, at 30, she uses 10 layers of cosmetics on her face every day.
Sunanto is one of the growing millions of young Indonesians that giant international firms such as L'Oreal and Unilever are targeting with increased investment this year in a variety of hair and skincare products.
"I love wearing them...These skincare products are still expensive but they really make a lot of impact on your skin," said Sunanto, a website account manager, who now spends a hefty $150 a month, or about a tenth of her salary, on cosmetics.
Sunanto has long had to import some of her "must-have" products, such as SKII Miracle Water, Clinique Moisture Surge and Cover Girl mascara, via the internet or friends travelling from abroad, since many are not yet available in Indonesia.
But that is starting to change.
L'Oreal, the world's top cosmetics firm, opened its biggest factory globally in Java this week, as it is seeing 30 percent sales growth and expects the country's beauty market to become the third biggest in Asia. Rival Unilever, the country's market leader, plans to expand its factories too, while local cosmetics firm Martina Berto is also building a new plant in Java.
Domestic demand from new middle class consumers, and investment to feed it, are now key drivers of Southeast Asia's biggest economy. Retail sales surged 22 percent in September, keeping economic growth above 6 percent, among Asia's strongest
"With this type of growth we constantly need to extend our manufacturing capability," said Peter Ter Kulve, chairman of Unilever Indonesia.
Indonesians, an island people living between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, have traditionally seen the most important beauty features for women as good skin and long hair.
But for many, cosmetics and shampoo have long been a luxury, purchased only as needed. In rural areas and cities alike, roadside shacks selling a few products such as individual sachets of shampoo are still common.
Wati, a 35-year old domestic worker in Java who earns $200 a month, has started spending a little more on shampoo after a recent pay raise, moving from Sunsilk up to Dove, both Unilever brands. A small tray of face powder and lipstick, her luxury, lasts her a year.
But a wider selection of cosmetics is becoming more easily available as modern convenience stores, pharmacies and supermarkets spread across the archipelago of 17,000 islands, home to the world's fourth largest population.
For the wealthy who shop in the glossy malls of Jakarta, high end brands such as Crabtree & Evelyn and Kiehl have opened franchise outlets. Victoria's Secret and Sephora, which carry niche brands, will open flagship stores next year.
There were 9,000 cosmetics registered for sale by the government this year, more than foods or any other consumer product.
L'Oreal says it has had to develop specific products to cater for Indonesians, whose skin has to battle strong sun, high humidity and urban pollution, often leading to oily and sweaty complexions. With 90 percent of the population Muslim, cosmetics also have to withstand regular face washing ahead of prayers.
So products need to have stronger fragrances, higher SPF protection and be more waterproof. Creams need to be thick but fast drying, otherwise women assume they are oily.
In rural areas, a shower means simply pouring cups of cold water over your head, so shampoos need to rinse out quickly too. A fairer skin colour is seen as a symbol of higher status for women, so products often contain whitening agents as well.
"I found many cosmetics products, mainly drugstore brands, have a thick, sticky texture that doesn't feel nice on my skin," said Sunanto. "I wish makeup had more staying power, and nicer colour shades."
The skincare market, meanwhile, is growing so much that companies are even starting to take aim at men. L'Oreal's Indonesian sales growth is up 300 percent for men's products and the overall men's market is up 60 percent.
"The man market is a blue ocean," said L'Oreal's Asia managing director, Jochen Zaumseil.
Wigra Hanafiah, a 27-year-old communication strategist in the oil and gas industry, says he uses face wash, hair wax, deodorant, aftershave, moisturizers, lotion and perfume.
"There are male celebrities endorsing it (men's cosmetics) - actors, singers, car-racers," he said. "That says 'Hey, it's okay to be a guy and take care of your looks.'"
Editing by Elaine Lies