Make-up for men: rarity or reality?

As they become more concerned about their appearance, men seem to be taking a shine to cosmetics

MILAN, ITALY - JUNE 16:  ((EDITORS NOTE: Image has been processed using a digital filter) Model is seen backstage ahead of the Les Hommes show during Milan Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 on June 16, 2018 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
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When Chanel launches a foundation, lip balm and eyebrow pencil as part of a new collection entitled Boy de Chanel, you know things in the make-up-for-men arena are getting serious. Again. Because, as it turns out, our forefathers were just as fond of a berry-stained lip and kohl-rimmed eye as our foremothers.

Somewhere along the way, perceptions of make-up shifted dramatically so that by the early 20th century, the only men donning make-up were players performing women’s parts in the theatre. Meanwhile, young girls from the West pinched their cheeks to put colour in them instead of risking their reputations by applying a touch of risqué rouge. Cinema can be credited for making make-up mainstream again, as both male and female actors looked to cosmetics to make their skin appear blemish-free on camera. Fashion runways were quick to follow, and even though male models only really rose to prominence in the past decade, they did so with greasepaint firmly in place.

Boy de Chanel's Le Teint tinted fluid for men

But is your regular guy really ready to embrace this new trend? Who is wearing make-up in the 21st century? “A spectrum of men,” according to celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, “from city slickers to athletes. Men are aware of the transformative, youth-boosting powers make-up has for women – and they want to experience that, too. From hiding [tiredness] to simply being an instant pick-me-up, you can never tell that they’re wearing any with the right products. It’s becoming increasingly popular for men to take much better care of their skin, and to invest in luxurious products. I am forever hearing stories of men stealing their girlfriend’s Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream,” she says.

Of course, men have ample choice when it comes to products specifically created for their skin types. With a thicker epidermis, larger pores and more active sebaceous glands, they have their own grooming and cosmetic needs. Higher levels of testosterone not only result in increased hair growth, but can also cause acne, while regular shaving makes the skin sensitive and prone to break-outs. And brands are formulating their offerings to reflect this. DTRT's Boys Be Bold BB cream, for example, has fine particles and a non-sticky formula for those who perspire excessively, while Mënaji's popular Camo concealer is designed to withstand the higher oil production of men's skin, and comes dermatologist-recommended for use on acne and irritated or sensitive skin.

Nonetheless, opinion continues to be divided when it comes to make-up for men and how acceptable it is these days. According to Ryan Saddik, regional manager for the Middle East and Africa at Foreo, for instance: “Men are more comfortable now with skincare; everybody wants to look, and feel their best. But there is still a long way to go when it comes to the stigma of men and make-up.”

Foreo focuses on care rather than cosmetic products, and has a number of male-centric skincare offerings, such as the Luna 2: a three-in-one silicone facial brush for pre-shaving, which removes dirt from pores and exfoliates to give a smoother shave.

Foreo Luna 2 for men. Courtesy Foreo

“Various studies and research have shown that skin confidence leads to an increase in self-confidence, [so] we focus on the real challenges many men face within their grooming routines, such as excess oil, shaving rashes and reduction of ingrown hairs,” says Saddik.

On the other hand, Menat El Abd, regional artist at Benefit Cosmetics, says: "We've definitely observed some changes: more and more men now openly admit to using concealer and eyebrow products as part of their grooming routines. It is still rare to see male clients spontaneously coming up to the counter, but it is not that rare to see women buying make-up products for their husbands."

For men who are new to the game, El Abd, says: “I would recommend starting with products that naturally enhance your features, such as a brightening concealer matching your skin tone to erase dark circles or blemishes, a lip balm and definitely eyebrow products. Eyebrows are the frame of the face and they make such a difference.”

Benefit offers a Goof Proof Brow Pencil, which helps fill and shape the brows, and the effects of which can be locked in with its 24-Hour Brow Setter transparent gel. "There are really no rules with make-up. If you are feeling more confident, you can add a touch of High Brow highlighter to the inner corner of your eyes," adds El Abd.

Diane Nakauchi, chief brand officer of Japanese cosmetics company Koh Gen Do, says that natural-looking products are key. "With foundations that look like natural skin, men are wearing make-up without feeling any [shame]. Visual acuity is getting higher with cellphone cameras and social media, and men are becoming more aware of and interested in their skin.

“They know how flawless skin can change their looks, which may be the beginning of losing that stigma. Our most popular product for men, for example, is the Maifanshi Moisture Foundation. It’s been used by Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks. It’s tinted, but very light, so it feels like a moisturiser with skin-enhancing properties.”

Nakauchi offers some application advice. "Always prep your skin with a moisturiser, so the foundation does not have a splotchy finish. Make sure the foundation shade matches your skin tone, and don't use high-coverage concealers until you know how to blend to a natural skin finish. Men can also get their partners to check for visible mistakes, especially if the lighting is poor during application," she suggests.

According to research company Euromonitor, the growth of men’s beauty and fashion products has been outpacing that of women’s since 2010, and companies are responding accordingly.

Dunhill Dubai barbershop. Courtesy Dunhill

This month, The Dubai Mall saw the launch of two skin- and haircare salons for men: the 1847 grooming lounge and Dunhill’s barber shop. The modern-day man, it seems, has become something of a grooming aficionado, and it follows that he would turn to the magic of make-up to hide any perceived flaws.

“There is certainly more conversation around men’s grooming and skincare, with educational content readily available online,” says Fiona Firth, buying director at Mr Porter. “Men are growing more confident in the grooming space and, as a result, brands are adapting to their needs. We now see our customers moving beyond the basics of cleansing and moisturising to anti-ageing products, oils and serums, rounding out their daily regime. Of course, men tend to prefer quick, easily applied products that they can incorporate into their morning routines,” she adds.

While most skincare experts and make-up artists agree that foundations, concealers and brow pencils are gradually gaining acceptance and acknowledgement among men, lipstick, eyeshadow, blush and other colour-defined statement make-up products are not. Likewise, most men who are willing or keen to experiment with make-up eem to be seeking out products that are fuss-free, easy-to-use and as natural-looking as possible. And Chanel has clearly cottoned on to this new reality.

Boy de Chanel's Le Stylo Sourcils eyebrow pencil for men

Boy de Chanel is being promoted as "three confidence-boosting, long-wear make-up products to invisibly erase imperfections". Le Teint tinted fluid is a lightweight and shine-free foundation with SPF 25 for natural correction, and is made from a polymer that resists excess sweat. Le Baume Lèvres Matte lip balm walks the line between make-up and skincare, and is packed with jojoba oil, shea butter and vitamin E, for lips that remain soft, but without any shine. And the waterproof, oil-based Le Stylo Sourcils eyebrow pencil defines and fills out the brow line with an easy-to-use spiral brush and tapered tip.

The range will sit easy in a starter kit or a long-established routine. Importantly, it acknowledges that make-up for men is the way forward. As the brand said in a statement: “Just as Gabrielle Chanel borrowed elements from the men’s wardrobe to dress women, Chanel draws inspiration from the women’s world to write the vocabulary of a new personal aesthetic for men. By creating [our] first make-up range for men, Chanel reaffirms the ever-changing codes of an unchanging vision: beauty is not a matter of gender; it is a matter of style.”

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