Moving beyond basic grooming, the male beauty industry is (finally) on the rise

2 weeks ago 21
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Fun experiment: Walk into any beauty store of your choice, and you’ll find shelves overflowing with products for women—lotions, potions and tubes for every discernible need. The male choices would appear skeletal in comparison. Beyond the basics of grooming and hairstyling, there is very little to choose from in terms of male-specific skincare. Compacts and concealers are fewer still.

Much has been spoken and written about the disparity between the female beauty industry and its male counterpart. However, the quickest way to sum it up would be a cursory glance at the figures: the beauty industry is valued at $532 billion globally. Men contribute to less than 1 per cent of this staggering sum. While women meticulously labour through 10-step routines every night, the male equivalent clocks in at a 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner and body wash. The cultural stranglehold on our beauty shelves is today manifested in an invisible binary: his and hers. Pastel labels and sparkly fonts to the right, all-black packaging to the left. 

Matt Woodcox, the skincare aficionado behind Dirty Boys Get Clean, seconds the sentiment. “When it comes to men’s products, brands favour super harsh ingredients that will convince you all men have skin made of leather. But I have dry skin that is sensitive, so the majority of skincare targeted for men just doesn’t work for me,” he says.

How different are men’s beauty needs from women’s?

The source of the unspoken partitioning of the beauty cabinet can be traced back to one myth: the belief that men’s skin is diametrically different from women’s. While this may be true in a structural sense, Mumbai-based dermatologist Dr Madhuri Agarwal believes that the skincare requirements for both genders are the same. “Men’s skin is 20 per cent thicker, 70 per cent more oily and 40 per cent more sweaty than women’s skin, according to studies. So men’s skin is thicker, seborrheic and tougher as compared to women. Environmental exposure, stress levels and testosterone hormones impacting their skin can also cause variance from women’s skin. However, the ingredients for treating skin problems will be the same for both, men and women, such as salicylic acid for acne. The only difference is men may require a higher percentage or higher frequency of product usage as compared to women,” she explains.

The roadblocks faced by the male beauty industry

On paper, there’s an entire market share of the male population that is waiting to be cashed in on, but somehow mysteriously overlooked by conventional marketing. However, decades’ worth of societal conditioning stands in the way. Beyond the peer pressure of dealing with acne breakouts at puberty, men have been conditioned to not give as much importance to skincare issues. For many men, the simple act of walking into a store to choose products for themselves is loaded with stigma. Woodcox reminisces, “I recall being at a department store and wanting to buy a concealer, but I was so embarrassed that I told the sales associate it was a gift for a friend. Now, I walk into a store and buy exactly what I want, but I know many guys who still order online because they feel the same way.”

Subverting decades of conditioning isn’t an overnight task, but the good news is that change has been spreading slowly and steadily. However, the revolution isn’t being born in beauty aisles—it is taking place in bedrooms around the world. After recording his first makeup tutorial at the age of 16, YouTube sensation James Charles went on to bag a contract as the first cover boy to star in a TV commercial for CoverGirl. Elsewhere, Maybelline invited makeup artist Manny Gutierrez to star as the first male face in its mascara advert in 2017. There is plenty to cheer about in terms of representation on domestic shores as well, with homegrown labels like FAE Beauty and Organic Riot featuring male faces in their campaigns. Siddharth Somaiya, founder of the latter, says, “Skin is skin. We’ve always communicated that our products are for anyone with a face. Anyone can have skin issues that trouble them, and nobody should be excluded from a conversation about betterment.”

In light of the changing landscape, men can now be categorised as beauty-curious, if not enthusiasts quite just yet. Raise your hand if you’ve ever fielded queries from a boyfriend or a brother about whether your anti-acne serum will work for them too. Woodcox affirms, “Even if they won’t admit it, a lot of men end up using products marketed towards women because there is a wider variety of options. I actually get a lot of women who ask me for recommendations for their boyfriends and husbands. They are unsure of what to do for guys’ skin, because it’s just not as widely talked about. However, I have also noticed that women are more likely to comment with their queries, while guys will ask me privately for recommendations in my DMs.”

On the home front, publicist Etienne Marques believes that men are willing to invest time and money for looking well-groomed at the workplace. He elaborates, “As you move up the corporate ladder, we do want to invest in better products. I have no problem tagging along with my wife on her shopping trips to check out products for the specific skincare concerns that I have. We may not talk about it much, but I can feel this sentiment being echoed by my male friends across different industries. Your appearance is the first impression you make upon meeting new people, and making a good impression is critical at the workplace.”

Riaan George, a Mumbai-based influencer, believes that the meteoric rise of social media also holds credit for the changing tides, and that it isn’t restricted by boundaries either. "The accelerated reach of the internet means that even men from smaller towns have access to social media, and want to look good and feel good about themselves.” What are the must-haves for the modern man of today? “Moisturisers, night serums and sunscreen for the day. On a larger scale, men are also specifically looking at using quality products. Whether it’s the shaving products or serums, men are willing to invest in themselves,” he says.

The way forward

The final frontier for the beauty industry would, then, be genderless makeup, fuelled largely by generation Z’s rising disregard of gender binaries. The rationale is simple: a concealer serves as a miracle worker for anyone looking to mask the effects of a late night—regardless of which gender you identify with. Somaiya further affirms, “Beauty products have to be genderless in order to truly grow, because everyone wants to be their own version of beautiful. Today’s man is more than happy to indulge in skincare as self-care. The connotations of whether it makes them less ‘manly’ may not apply as widely because people are now taking pride in looking after themselves.”

Going forward, how can brands look to include men in the conversation? He believes that the quest for a solution needs to delve a little deeper. “The most obvious answer would be to include more male models in photoshoots. But what we need to look at is a shift in the cultural thought process to make everyone comfortable with talking about their skin, regardless of how they define their own gender,” he says. The year is 2020, and the notion that men might want to look their best selves isn't radical any longer. It is just good business.

Also read:

Skin deep: Is the future of skincare gender neutral?

Brands, icons and influencers who are breaking through gender norms

Is makeup for men going mainstream?

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