How masculine can beauty be?

Can you be masculine and beautiful at the same time? Yes: Makeup for men is on the rise—and it’s no longer a taboo. The male skincare and beauty industry is exploding; the male grooming market is valued at $6 billion in the U.S. alone and $33 billion globally. While this is only a meager 10% of the total market, merchants are noticing a sharp increase in demand for male cosmetics and skin care and are racing to meet male customers' wants and needs. 

What's changing the way men regard skincare and beauty products?

It's no secret that men in power—politicians, actors, business leaders—often rely on makeup artists to look their best, particularly in front of the camera. But most American men still see makeup as belonging in the female domain, lumped into the same unspoken category as tampons and lingerie. Men haven't always been so shy about using cosmetics to solve their vanity issues; the most powerful rulers used makeup to hide their vulnerabilities when speaking to their subjects, they employed tools to increase their levels of health and attraction. Ancient Egyptian males wore eyeliner, Romans used rouge, and the Elizabethans and Georgians applied face powder.

Skincare experts say men's attitudes towards beauty are quickly evolving as so-called traditional values appear to be in flux. "Men are no longer the only breadwinners, and gender roles are starting to blend," says Joseph Grigsby, VP of global marketing for Lab Series, Estée Lauder's men's skincare brand. "We're seeing a convergence of masculine and feminine ideals". Grigsby says that over the years, the company has noticed a generational shift in terms of how men relate to skincare. He makes the case that millennials, who are increasingly exposed to powerful female figures, no longer associate beauty rituals with femininity, but rather with self-care and success.

Andrew Dudum, the founder of Hims, experienced his own moment of realization only last year when he had a pretty brutal conversation with his 24-year-old sister one night, wherein she pointed out his dry skin and breakouts that were making him feel unconfident. Dudum says she told him, “You’re, like, 28 years old, there is stuff you can buy that works — it’s science". Over the last decade, he’s watched his peers “suffer through hair loss essentially in silence because it’s an incredibly uncomfortable thing to talk about".  That moment led him to launch Hims, an online grooming and wellness site aimed at guys aged 20 to 40 with a focus on hair loss, penile issues, and skin. 

How are brands evolving their offerings?

Because the majority of men are hesitant to use products that are too “girly”, skin care companies have manufactured a number of products that use creative masculine names ( like Urban Camouflage Concealer and Lip Balm Agent), which come packaged in liquor-like bottles and cigar boxes. According to Menaji founder Michele Probst, the word makeup isn’t even allowed. After 25 years of doing men's makeup, it was obvious to her that guys liked how cosmetics made them feel but didn't want to be caught using them or risk the association with their wives' makeup counters. "The key is that it's undetectable," she says. "It's about knocking out the shine and cleaning out the imperfections, like dark under-eye circles or uneven skin tone." Probst regularly assures customers that online purchases will arrive in a nondescript brown box; she's received many calls from nervous guys worried they'll receive a girly package in the mail that will immediately give them away. When Mënaji products were introduced to Nordstrom stores, Probst insisted they be displayed on men's clothing floors, alongside belts and other accessories, rather than cosmetics counters, to avoid some of the feminine associations. 

Hims hair kit.PNG

Male grooming is clearly an exercise in product marketing. Menaji's website is plastered with images of gears, a motif that makes it clear the consumer has stumbled into macho territory, a place where men fix their own cars and own multiple toolkits. Hims sells their merchandise in white bottles that are minimally printed and packaged in natural cardboard boxes that feature the fleshy color of the site. Hims takes care to focus on the science behind their products, see the product description for the $44 hair prevention kit: minoxidil drops (the generic name for Rogaine, the anti-hair loss topical drug), salicylic acid shampoo, biotin gummies to promote hair growth, and fenasteride pills (the generic name for Propecia, an oral prescription hair loss medicine). 

What will the future look like for men's skincare? 

1. Products for men and women will be sold side-by-side

Kiehl's, which was founded in 1851, is a brand that has managed to successfully appeal to male and female consumers. A third of Kiehl's customers are male, and some products, such as shaving creams and face washes, are exclusively formulated for them. According to Kiehl's USA president Chris Salgardo, male customers often visit their physical stores, a rare occurrence in the skincare industry. "We've carefully designed stores to be a welcoming environment for both men and women," he says. It isn't rare to see a motorcycle as decoration in a Kiehl's store, it will often be juxtaposed by some chandeliers and complemented with bars, lotions, and emulsions outfitted in neutral colors.

2. Color cosmetics for male eyes, lips, face, and maybe nails  

KenMen, has quadrupled sales since 2005, according to Lee Gilbert, its founder. Ms. Gilbert, a film industry makeup artist, developed the products for Hollywood actors, but now many use her line every day off-screen, she said, though she declined to name any. KenMen’s products include Guy-liner pens ($22), a slightly tinted lip salve ($25) and pens ($22) to “sculpt and define” eyebrows and to fill gaps in beards.

3. Grooming as an avenue to discuss and create an inclusive, empowering space for young people

David Yi, the founder of Very Good Light, is hopeful that his website resonates with readers on issues like beauty, gender and identity. He hopes it helps eliminate stereotypes of men’s beauty and says that his readers are more gender- and sexually fluid than any others before them. The website covers topics ranging from “The one big mistake Justin Bieber is using when it comes to his acne” to “The fear, politics, and beauty of men who wear turbans". When one can move away from the notion of associating being gay or ultra-feminine to the use of makeup and begin to embrace individuality of expression, that is when one is able to begin exploring gender fluidity and diversity.