Inclusive beauty also concerns men make-up

Male make-up from South Korea

The cosmetics industry is paying close attention to a surge in interest in male make-up – being driven by generation Z. Asia has been leading this emerging market. For instance, South Korean manufacturer and retailer AmorePacific has just launched its first male makeup brand, BeReady, and Aekyung Industrial, which is currently focusing on expanding its beauty range, launched the Sneaky brand in March. According to a survey by the Consumer Trend Center at Seoul National University, three out of 10 men in generation Z reported using face makeup more than twice a week. Furthermore, more than half experimented with colored makeup in middle school. Sunscreen and lip balm are currently the most popular products at the online store.

A long evolution to specific beauty care

Make-up for men is nothing new. As far back as ancient Egypt, kings and pharaohs blackened their eyes with kohl (sort of the OG eyeliner) to ward off evil spirits, a practice that eventually reached Native American tribes who used body paint to psychologically prepare for war. Male beautification remained prevalent even up until the 1600s when it was common for Englishmen to sport powdered faces as well as rouged cheeks and lips. In more recent decades, subcultures like goths and new romantics disobeyed the gender norms of their day.

Make-up for men has come a long way since you surreptitiously borrowed your sister’s concealer to cover a spot. Today, you can get cosmetics designed for male teenagers because brands are now aware that boys and men have skin issues too. And dark circles because of partying, or creases in the skin after working a 50-hour week…

The big difference in men’s cosmetics from women’s is that this make-up is designed to be invisible. Let’s call it grooming 2.0, a subtle evolutionary step from the daily moisturiser that offer an « Instagram filter » on your face, in real life.

There is a real debate about masculinity and the role of men in our societies. Though it is not a revolution, it’s just an option, a fine-tuning of the appearance.

Who is the male typology of make-up users?

A survey for grooming brand Wahl says one in five men of men said they now use make-up. Millennials aged 25-34 are the age group who tend to use it most, with 39 per cent saying they use make-up – that’s more than a third of blokes on the street.

Unsurprisingly, cosmetic brands have been quick to jump on the growing trend for men’s make-up. Boy de Chanel and Tom Ford for Men are two recent designer launches that are big success stories, and budget options are increasingly available too.

“More and more products are being launched with men as their specific target,” says make-up artist Kenneth Soh who has groomed the faces of Richard Madden, Hugh Laurie and Martin Freeman. “Brands are now doing skincare and light cosmetic products that are branded and packaged for men and take away the stigma of guys wanting to use products on themselves.”

The needs that have to be met

The best makeup products for guys starting out are the ones that achieve a "no makeup-makeup" look. Ideally, it is to use products that provide the appearance of a smooth complexion and evenly-toned skin. So what products should a guy keep in his bathroom or office desk? Here are the five key products they are interested in : foundation, concealer, brow Filler, bronzer and lip balm. Moreover, they need to know tricks. Daniel Kaluuya, who set the internet alight when it was revealed he wore Rihanna’s Fenty beauty brand to the 2018 Oscars, spurring the business to create a series of online make-up tutorials specifically for men.

Men's makeup brands are discreet — and all over Instagram

The brands that are present on Instagram are attempting to change the narrative around men's makeup and open up that corner of untapped market that men represent. More than queer men and gay communities, they try to reach new kind of men. You can find male beauty gurus on YouTube, like James Charles and Jeffree Star. “The boys in beauty aren't blurring gender—they're expanding it,” writes Koa Beck in Marie Claire. $

Is 2019 The Year Men's Make-Up Goes Mainstream?

While mainstream media is no stranger to putting makeup on men (David Beckham was recently on the cover of Love magazine wearing green eyeshadow), it’s still a tough sell to the average straight men who are still quite hesitant to wear makeup. There’s an untapped market out there in the way of men’s beauty. Towards the end of 2018, luxury brands including Chanel, Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs launched cosmetic lines specifically for men (plus online beauty tutorials to match). Forbes called Chanel’s first line of makeup for men "revolutionary" and after GQ's style and grooming director tried it, he urged readers to "Wear more make-up." Charlotte Tilbury and Fenty have displayed videos demonstrating their products on men so they could benefit from some beauty hacks.

Men have had a long and complicated relationship with make-up, one that is inextricably linked with the changing face of masculinity throughout history. As society's definition of masculinity became more rigid during the last centuries, the use of make-up among men started to decline, and by the 20th Century it was widely considered transgressive. Except for David Bowie, Prince’s, Brian Eno or few others.

And now, it seems the beauty tides are turning once again. As the conversation around how we define gender roles gains ground, could 2019 be the year that male make-up becomes mainstream? The recent boom in luxury grooming and skincare products for men has paved the way for mainstream men’s make-up (moisturising foundation, bronzing gel, concealer and brow definer). The goal, it would appear, is to look well-groomed, rather than made-up. There is no Bowie-esque flamboyance from these brands and there is no colour so far, it’s subtle.

A matter of gender?

“In my view there are three strains of gender nonconformity,” says transgender make-up artist and non-binary activist Joseph Harwood. “There’s drag, there’s trans, and then there’s the male who plays with make-up in a creative way.” The latter isn’t about to tell you how to cover an errant pimple, so much as teach you how to transform yourself into one of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Cats - or Katy Perry perhaps. It is here, on social media and on YouTube, that we find a generation of men acknowledging the artifice of make-up and running with it.

It is unclear if it is boys, girls, trans, drags…, who make up these online celebrities their audiences. And that’s the point. Whether it's watching videos or actually making up, gender no longer needs to be part of the equation.


If you want to discover more about men make-up, come and visit the Cosmetic 360 show, 16-17 October 2019 in Paris.


The Cosmetic 360 team.