Are concealer and foundation a man's new best friend? The rise of men wearing makeup as self-care

Beauty influencer and YouTube star Bretman Rock. Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic.
Beauty influencer and YouTube star Bretman Rock. Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic.
  • Men have been wearing makeup as far back as 3000BC and today the top beauty influencers are not just women.
  • Skincare and grooming brands that have appealed to the men have gender-neutral packaging.
  • The top three products men are preferring is face bronzer, concealer and tinted moisturiser.

I remember the first time I interviewed an international celebrity in person, it was an actor from the U.S. known for his role on a hit comedy-drama series. He was promoting a movie at the time and, to my amusement, was wearing a full face of makeup to our interview. 

As I looked up from setting up my camera equipment and taking out my list of questions, I noticed his perfectly matched foundation, a product that set his eyebrows into a perfect shape and, while I didn’t ask – of course – I was certain it was gloss on his lips.  

READ MORE: “You’re doing drag whether you know it or not” – how the drag community influenced the beauty industry

Of course, men wearing makeup is not a new occurrence. Men who appear on television usually appear in front of a makeup artist first before a camera. Grooming is also a significant aspect of magazines as well as in the increasingly popular men’s style blogging space.

Some of the most successful beauty YouTubers are not just women, creators like Bretman Rock, James Charles and others have dominated the in this space. In South Africa, rising beauty creators like Loyiso Mange are pushing the bar in the beauty influencer space. 

I can recall research I did for an article, where I found that men have been wearing makeup as far back as 3000BC: “The ancient Egyptians are famously known for wearing eyeliner, drawing the winged eye inspired by their gods. The Chinese, Japanese and later the British are recorded to have used makeup as well.”

READ MORE: High heels, eyeliner and wigs - these and other items were originally made for men 

In addition to high heels and dresses having been originally designed for men, my research also led me to find that, “men and women in China and Japan in 3000BC used mixtures of gum arabic, gelatine and egg to stain their fingernails to signify their societal status”.

Between the late 20th Century and now, men and gender nonconforming people have done a lot with makeup in the mainstream setting. This was seen on music legends like Prince who, apart from being a fashion icon, is recognised for his iconic beauty looks. The emergence of the goth subculture has also been a significant catalyst for seeing men in graphic eyeliner and nail polish, which has translated into the signature look of the more recent pop stars like Adam Lambert.

Accompanying the K-pop phenomenon, men in South Korea have been leaders in this regard, with entertainment stars fronting beauty campaigns for brands like Chanel and Givenchy. CNN reports that in the past decade, South Korean men “have become the world's biggest male spenders on skincare, a market that grew by 44% in the country between 2011 and 2017”.

It was in 2016 when we saw a peak in global brands creating makeup and products targeted at men using makeup purely for vanity. Subsequently, there have been reports of suburban fathers (in western countries) and men who work in wall street having started pursuing makeup as a daily practice as well. 

READ MORE: Lockdown's least-used item: How lipstick heroically emerged from being vilified and almost wiped out 

Around 2018 and 2019, alongside the global fascination with gender-neutrality in the fashion and beauty industries, the world saw another wave of popularity of men’s makeup. This time there was an emphasis on the product as mainstream brands attempted to catch up to the growing market.  

In 2018, media personality Somizi Mhlongo was announced as the first African man to become the face of a global make up brand, Black Opal. In the same year, Chanel launched a makeup line called Boy de Chanel, which featured a tinted foundation, a lip balm and brow pencil.

However, Reuters reports that some businesses have viewed this growing consumer-base with scepticism, fearing lack of success. In attempts to appeal to more men or perhaps to just take advantage of the increasing demand, some brands have fallen into unfortunate gender stereotypes, albeit, some of those attempts were met with backlash. 

It would be a shame if the world would suffer through another wave of gendered advertising that perpetuates hypermasculinity and misogyny, such as the kind that has been popular with men’s fragrance ads. It is unfortunate that some brands have started associating terms like war, fuel and cave with makeup, skincare and other grooming products. 

READ MORE: DIY skin and spa treatments: Just because you're locked down, it doesn't mean your pores have to be

The 2020 Cosmetify Index shows that skincare and grooming brands that have appealed to the men survey have been ones with gender-neutral packaging have been the one’s most popular among consumer who are men.

Brand such as L’Oreal, Walh and Clinique appear in the top ten preferred brands on the index, with an increase in demand for products from other men’s makeup lines, including The Ordinary and Tom Ford. According to Cosmetify, the top three products men have shown preference to are face bronzer, concealer and tinted moisturiser.

It worth noting that female and male skin differs because of hormone levels, as such, skincare products can’t simply be interchangeable. According to Cosmetify, because of testosterone, male skin is thicker, oilier and ages differently to female skin. 

Having said that, I don’t see much use for assuming indoctrinating terms to convince heterosexual men to take care of themselves. Healthy exfoliation is good for everyone, a good moisturiser is not the enemy. And for anyone who needs to hear this, daily SPF is as necessary as water.

Makeup is fun, as is a nourishing skincare practice. So, there’s no need to gender the essential tasks of looking after yourself and looking good, right? Right.  

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