Inside the masculine market of men’s makeup
Insecurity about our physical appearances is a universal human experience, and self-consciousness is hardly exclusive to one gender. But, for culturally restrictive reasons, the essential tools available to lessen our self-doubt are only socially acceptable for use among women.
However, skin-care brands, the patron saints of confidence and clear complexions, are increasingly looking to expand their opportunities by pitching to the other half of the population. They’re bringing grooming into a bold new territory, where men can “clean up” their faces and find a new confidence in their physical appearance through cosmetics that until this point haven’t existed for men in any appreciable way.
Andrew Grella first stumbled onto this new territory in the midst of a teenage meltdown. It was prom night, and his face was covered in acne, so he frantically drove to several drug stores in search of a quick fix.
“There were face washes that would treat my acne over time, but nothing immediate,” he reminisces. “There was no male-specific concealer or product that would cover the blemishes.”
After hours of searching the cosmetic aisle, he came home empty-handed. Fortunately, Andrew’s mom had the perfect solution. “She attacked me with her full makeup arsenal,” he says. “When I saw what it could do to my skin and the self-confidence it gave me, I vowed to make a line specifically dedicated to men.”
So Andrew started Formen, a male cosmetic company aimed at enhancing men’s skin by cloaking imperfections.
Since then, big-name brands like Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs , Clinique, and Calvin Klein have also begun rolling out new lines that include men’s cosmetics. But you’ll never hear the word “makeup” cross the lips of the brand managers affiliated with these products.
"We don’t say the M-word,”" says Michele Probst, founder of a men’s grooming company called Menaji . They’ll simply call it “skin care” or “grooming products,” instead.
The dastardly M-word can’t be uttered because for generations, men have been conditioned to believe that makeup is only for girls. In order to succeed in their progressive venture, skin-care companies have to get men past the inevitable emasculating panic associated with using these grooming products.
But for start-up cosmetic companies like Andrew’s, it’s not possible to call a product something that it’s not. “We tried that once. We’d call a concealer ‘camouflage’ or a mascara ‘eye grenade.’ We attempted to make the makeup sound tactical and weaponized, but then men had no idea what it was. So now our approach is: that’s what it is, so that’s what we’re gonna call it.”
Male cosmetics can remove blemishes, redness, signs of aging and fatigue, cuts or nicks from shaving, and nearly any other indications of the slightest imperfection. And, unlike glitter eyeshadow or ruby-red lipstick, they’re not meant to be noticed. They’re meant to accentuate men’s best features and hide their worst, so that they look like an expertly Photoshopped version of themselves.
Still, the miraculous transformation of men’s outward appearance isn’t enough to push these products into the mainstream, which explains why you probably won’t be seeing a male concealer aisle at Walgreen’s any time soon. The fear of the effeminate runs too deep.
So, to address this problem, skin-care companies are marketing merchandise intended to ooze masculine appeal. Ads angling to attract the average Joe squeeze in as many macho buzzwords as possible, such as “robust,” or “sculpted”. To give the illusion of extra manliness, the gels and creams come in bottles that are black or gunmetal-gray and packaging that resembles repurposed cigar boxes.
For men with an interest in makeup but every intention of hiding it, there are even brands that cater to confidentiality.
Korrie Brown, founder of men’s cosmetic company MW Men, allows the utmost privacy for men first dipping their toes into the world of makeup.
“Sure, we have an open forum where men can post publicly, but we also facilitate asking us questions privately,” Korrie tells us over the phone. “For new clients, we offer sets that include every product necessary to get them started. We don’t want clients to feel forced to ask us for help.”
Korrie insists that she doesn’t only aim to sell products, but also to topple the taboo that makeup must be sex-specific.
Currently, there’s a gendered double-standard that women are expected to conceal their every imperfection, yet conditioned to overlook the scars, blotchiness, and blemishes of men. But curiously, some women aren’t eager to end this privileged principle and see men put on makeup.
“It’s true,” Andrew Grella admits to us. “Some women will say ‘I want my men to be masculine and rugged!’ But your man can still be masculine and cover up a pimple.”
Whether they admit it or not, men can be just as vain as women. And in this modern age of blurring gender boundaries, it’s becoming more socially acceptable for men to put an effort into looking and feeling good. If effective marketing of male makeup can overcome the emasculating stigmas, women no longer need to possess a monopoly on confidence-building cosmetics.
Someday soon, an average man’s morning ritual could include brushing his teeth, combing his hair, and applying a little concealer.
Crazier things have happened.