Is the world ready for a men’s makeup boom? It better be, because judging from the latest trends in Hollywood, we’re already there.
Pharrell, Jared Leto, Harry Styles and more have embraced cosmetics, and skincare companies like War Paint, Hims and Alpha Male are providing the goods. Data from Grand View Research shows that the men’s skincare market in the United States (which includes but does not separate out makeup) was valued at $21.2 billion in 2021 — and is expected to reach nearly $26 billion by 2030.
Celebs are banking on the trends, too: Alex Rodriguez’s skin concealer comes in eight shades, while Machine Gun Kelly and Tyler the Creator have each come out with their own genderless nail polish collection, and Pharrell and Styles have both released a male skincare line with a range of grooming products.
And no, it’s not just queer men who are buying it all up.
Research conducted by data company Ipsos shows that 15% of straight men between the ages of 18 and 65 said they use cosmetics and makeup, while 17% said they would consider using them in the future. However, there is an obvious generation gap: 73% of all men over 51 said they would not consider using makeup, while 37% of all men between 18 to 34 said they would.
That 18-to-34 demographic, some experts say, is key to understanding why cosmetics companies and established retailers like Dior, L’Oreal, Chanel and Mr. Porter are investing big-time in men’s products.
“It’s a great market, in terms of numbers,” Thomaï Serdari, a professor of marketing at New York University, tells Yahoo Life. “Men are embracing trends such as more tamed eyebrows and mascara, glow bronzer and, of course, manicures and pedicures.”
But what’s behind the modern surge of interest in men’s skincare and makeup? Experts say it’s largely due to both pop-culture influencers and social media, where men are empowered to express themselves more authentically.
The ‘Kanye effect’
Men in Eastern civilizations have been wearing makeup for thousands of years. In the West, too, says David Yi, fashion editor and author of Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty, the tradition of men’s makeup goes way back — until it hit a wall around the early 1800s, when a German scientist named Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring published the first images of the female skeleton.
Those images ended up fueling a superiority complex among rich, powerful men.
“They said, ‘Oh, women’s skulls are smaller, which means their brains are smaller. They’re less-than, they’re incapable,'” Yi tells Yahoo Life. Over the decades, these messages fueled misinformation about the sexes and placed clear boundaries between what’s considered “masculine” and “feminine.”
That became all the more transparent after World War II, Yi explains, when makeup ads, like those from Elizabeth Arden, helped form beauty standards for American women by presenting lipstick, eyeliner, foundation and other cosmetics as feminine products.
Of course, artists like Boy George, Prince and David Bowie — not to mention a long parade of men in glam-rock and metal bands — helped break such social norms in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. In the early 2000s, companies like Yves Saint Laurent released “men’s versions” of makeup products, as the term “metrosexual” gained mainstream popularity.
Then came Kanye West’s famous Givenchy kilt moment in 2012, which Yi credits for making a huge impact on modern ideals of masculinity.
“When he wore [a kilt] onstage, it set the tone for masculinity and other men to have permission to express themselves,” Yi says, noting that many more hip-hop, NFL and NBA stars began caring about fashion, prompting a wave of new admirers to emulate their trends — all of which had a “trickle-down effect.”
“The next frontier with expression, of course, was beauty,” he explains. “Today, we have Machine Gun Kelly, and people like Harry Styles expressing themselves [with fashion and cosmetics]. It’s become more embraced and more accepted.”
Social media and the male beauty boom
As platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok gained popularity throughout the 2010s, they also provided new ways for tastemakers to influence their followers about makeup and skincare trends. Beyond that, says Ricky Wilson, Dior’s in-house celebrity makeup artist, they made notions of challenging self-expression and the status quo “cool” for a younger demographic of men.
“We, as a society, have gotten to a point where [men] will unapologetically express themselves, regardless of what others think,” Wilson tells Yahoo Life. “And I am totally here for it.”
Indeed, in the last decade there has been an explosion of male makeup influencers — like Manny Mua, who became the first male face of Maybelline in 2017, as well as Bretman Rock, whose career as a beauty guru led him to be the first gay male cover star in Playboy magazine‘s history last year, and Patrick Starrr, whose all-inclusive cosmetic brand ONE/SIZE has broken sales records and continues to earn mainstream acclaim.
And algorithms on Instagram and TikTok play a significant role in the popularity of male cosmetics, says Joey McKee, makeup stylist and former senior account manager for ONE/SIZE.
“TikTok drives trends and drives fads so quickly,” he tells Yahoo Life. “If something [goes viral] on TikTok, the operational capacity to meet that demand is next to impossible.”
Performers like Styles, Billy Porter, Lil Nas X and BTS have tapped into the power of the algorithm, blurring the lines of gender in their own beauty practices while sparking dialogue about self-expression for their millions of followers.
Carolyn Mair, a behavioral psychologist and author of The Psychology of Fashion, says that’s had an enormous impact on Gen Z consumers.
“‘If Billy Porter can do it, if Harry Styles can do it, I’m going to try that,'” she says of the thought process behind the trends. “It’s out there. And these are people who [fans] admire in different ways. They’re showing how they can engage with different looks and this gives people the license to try it themselves.”
But is there really such a thing as ‘makeup for men’?
Despite the boom, McKee says cosmetic companies still face challenges when marketing to straight men, often packaging products in a more “masculine” way in order to appear less “gay” or “feminine.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘makeup for men,'” McKee says of the hyper-focus companies place on marketing. “It feels like the gentrification of beauty, by men.”
TikToker @JamesShrimpFriedRice, a popular male makeup influencer with over 840K followers, agrees, telling Yahoo Life that men’s makeup is becoming its own unique category requiring specific marketing language.
“Men’s makeup will begin to have their own trends, brands and their own growth in their expression” as it becomes more popularized in western society, James says, arguing that straight men “still have a hard time” relating to terminologies with feminine sensibilities.
Even terms like “bro glow,” used to describe self-tanning routines practiced by men, McKee explains, are subtle micro-aggressions against ideas of femininity and gayness. And they foist gender roles upon even basic skincare creams, which at the end of the day are “pretty much the same product” that’s sold to women — just in more masculine wrapping.
Part of companies’ efforts to appeal to straight men, Mair adds, is to rebrand the idea of cosmetics as a form of self-care, rather than beauty.
“There’s more pressure [now] on men to look good, to care about themselves, to look after their skin and their bodies and to dress in a way that says they have self-worth,” she tells Yahoo Life. “It’s become not only acceptable for men, but something that men would do almost like hygiene.”
Part of that normalization, Serdari says, is strength in numbers.
“Even though the [masculine] language used in marketing campaigns is simply to push products and make it agreeable or even interesting, in the end, I think it has a very positive impact because it normalizes behavior,” she says. “If only one ‘bro’ wears makeup, it’s strange, but if 15 of them do, then it becomes something guys don’t have to question.”
Looking ahead, James is eager to see the cultural mindset around foundation and mascara evolve. “In today’s pop culture, everyone wants to look like an Instagram model, and men are starting to really care about how they appear,” he says. “Makeup is for everyone.”
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