Reclaiming the beard: How the pandemic has changed the face of male grooming

Online searches for 'best skincare for men' have gone up by 175 per cent as more males embrace at-home wellness rituals

These images are specifically for a photo project and not to be used for any other stories

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Photo project. Covid-19/Coronavirus. Faraz Khan a Pakistani gentleman living in Dubai. Faraz is a 37 year old musician and composer. A photo project on men with big bushy beards wearing masks. Faraz said when asked 'Is your beard more uncomfortable in the summer months?' "The heat causes more sweat and itchiness so hygiene levels go up along with regular washes during the summer." Thursday, September 3rd, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Male grooming is having a moment. Across the world, restrictions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, followed by a reticence to return to barbershops, have led to a boom in online demand for men's grooming products.

Best skincare for men?

A survey by has revealed that online searches for “best beard trimmer to cut hair” have increased by 5,233 per cent, year on year. Meanwhile searches for “best skincare for men” and “how to shave your face” have gone up 175 per cent and 156 per cent, respectively, as men have started investing more time and energy in their daily grooming habits.

Scroll through the gallery below for some of our favourite male grooming products:

Clearly, a quiet revolution is under way. Forced to take matters into their own hands, men are not only seeking out more information, they are also amping up their online grooming purchases.

Waseem Sendi, co-founder of the cult Saudi beard oil brand Diggn’It (a play on daggn, the Arabic word for beard), thinks there is a deeper reason for this. Part of the trio behind the wildly successful grooming range, which uses only traditional ingredients, Sendi is attuned to the complex rules that govern male grooming.

For women, who are long used to indulging in lavish skin and hair routines at home, this DIY approach is ingrained. But for men, Sendi suggests, it’s a new emotional outlet.

“The only emotion allowed for men is anger. At age 12 we are told boys don’t cry, and to man up. This is a global issue. It’s how we raise our boys, to not have access to emotion, to not be a full person.

It starts to take away the restrictions we have put around what male interactions should be, and I think that's good

“There is now a beard community. It’s niche, but it’s a way for men to compliment each other, by saying: 'Nice beard, bro.' Men cannot say 'I like what you are wearing today', the way women can, so this allows men to compliment each other, and it starts to take away the restrictions we have put around what male interactions should be, and I think that’s good."

Self confidence and self care

At Diggn’It, he explains, simple grooming rituals are viewed as having wider significance. “We are about sharing the idea of self-confidence for men and taking five minutes in the morning to feel good about themselves. He will walk out the door living that vibe, and we believe he is better for himself, his community and his environment. He is better prepared to be of service. And that’s what interests me.”

Waseem Sendi, co-founder of Saudi beard oil brand Diggn' It. Courtesy Diggn' It

The idea that growing self-acceptance is behind the boom in male grooming products is echoed by Sam Kershaw, buying director at Mr Porter, the high-end online shopping portal for men. “We have observed that men are becoming increasingly confident in the grooming and skincare space as they educate themselves about the benefits of skincare health, while exploring brands that can be adopted into their everyday schedule.”

Catering to an entirely male audience, across more than 450 brands in 170 countries, Mr Porter has a uniquely global overview of the evolution of men’s browsing and purchasing habits.

“Historically, the male routine was quite limited – an eye cream, shaving gel, moisturiser and cleanser – but over the years, we’ve seen that our customers are interested in investing in a five-step routine and experimenting with anti-ageing products, concealers and oils to round out their daily regime,” Kershaw explains. “Skincare remains one of our bestselling grooming categories on Mr Porter and within this, oils, serums and treatment products such as face masks and peels from science-based, results-driven brands have been growing in popularity.”

Sam Kershaw, buying director at Mr Porter. Courtesy Mr Porter

Those who live in the Gulf will be familiar with the region’s rich barbershop culture, and the ritual of having a biweekly shave or facial. Born from practicality, the barbershop has evolved into a social space for men. However, even as the culture continues to grow, the knowledge underpinning it risks being lost, suggests Sendi.

Harnessing Middle Eastern ingredients

“People have used oils for thousands of years in the Middle East. I would go to my grandma and ask: ‘What’s this oil?’ and she would say: ‘This is known.’ I would say: “Wallah, we don’t know.’”

Realising that generations-worth of knowledge was at risk of vanishing, Sendi set up Diggn’It, along with Samya Fetyani and Layal Ismail, hand-making beard oils in the family kitchen in Jeddah.

Keen to preserve a unique heritage, only elements with a deep-rooted link to the Middle East are used, such as oils pressed from wild hemp, cactus and black seed (“so even though jojoba is a great oil, we don’t use it for that reason,” Sendi says), while scents woven through Arab culture, such as musk, amber, rose and oud, feature heavily. “It was an opportunity to be proud of our own history and to preserve our traditions in a cool and modern way," Sendi says.

“We talk about really deep issues in a way that is accessible to people, and the community has been supportive of what we are trying to build. I am a custodian of this brand and of the idea that we Arabs can do it, too. We can all build something we can all be proud of,” he adds.

Filling the skincare gap

Zein Arbeed, founder of Dubai company The Grooming Lab, shares this sense of regional pride. After founding her brand in 2017, she visited countless barbershops, educating them on new products and techniques. Far from facing pushback for entering this all-male domain, Arbeed says her welcome could not have been warmer.

“My name in Lebanon and Syria is a man’s name, but in Jordan, where I am from, Zein is a female name. So at first they think I am a man, until I call them, and then you can hear this hesitation – oh, you are a woman? But they are very respectful, and they respect that an Arab woman is approaching them. There aren’t many products out there, so they are willing to listen, willing to be educated.”

Zein Arbeed, founder of The Grooming Lab. Courtesy The Grooming Lab

Her company came into being when she was searching for products for her husband. “I wanted to go and select a few products for him, but I couldn’t find anything that was great. Yes, there were beard oils, but they were so basic, just about hydration, so I saw a huge gap.”

Launching with the British brand Captain Fawcett for beard products, Arbeed soon expanded with the UK's Dapper Dan for haircare, and then US brand Jaxon Lane for skin. It is in this final category that Arbeed has seen the most significant developments.

“A lot of men were using unisex brands, but didn’t feel great about it. These new products still contain hyaluronic acid and collagen, but created for men. The differences between the skin of men and women is small, but important,” she explains.

The differences between the skin of men and women is small, but important. Men's skin is thicker than women's, but tends to thin faster

“Men’s skin is thicker than women’s, but tends to thin faster. Also, men are larger than women, so the man’s mask needs to be bigger. With Jaxon Lane, the face mask comes in two halves, so if he has a beard, he can use the upper part on his face and the lower half on his neck.”

Like every other brand, Arbeed’s was also affected by Covid-19. Although already stocked at the physical stores of Harvey Nichols and Faces in the UAE, it was sales through the online site Ounass that pointed to a new path.

“With Covid, the barbershops were closed in March and April, and a lot of customers are worried about going back. During this time, our sales on Ounass tripled, and it opened my eyes to digital, and now we are just launching a website. It was always part of my plan, but not until next year. Covid really brought it forward,” Arbeed says.

Sendi and the team at Diggn’It have moved their production from their kitchen to Sharjah (making a point to keep manufacturing capabilities in the region) and is now all set to launch in the UAE. They hope that historic scents such as their Taif Rose will trigger memories with customers in the UAE, as much as they have for those in Saudi Arabia.

“Some people have picked up our scents and say: 'Wow, that takes me back'. So they [also] get it for their father,” Sendi reveals. “The father has no interest in beard oil, but they buy it just for the scent. It’s lovely.”