The rise of men's cosmetics and brands making their mark

In an ever-changing world of beauty products, men's cosmetics take a seat at the table
Sandy Smith
NRF Contributor

For Devir Kahan, it was waking up on his wedding day with a pimple.

For Danny Gray, it was being bullied in middle school over his appearance. When acne broke out, he began using his sister’s concealer so as not to give his bullies more ammunition.

Both men used those incidents to launch lines in a rapidly expanding — if still small — segment of the beauty industry: men’s cosmetics.

“Growing up, I never felt there was a brand for me, that spoke to me.”

Danny Gray, War Paint

“I’ve been wearing it every day since then, for the last 15 years,” says Gray, who founded U.K. men’s cosmetic brand War Paint. “Growing up, I never felt there was a brand for me, that spoke to me.”

There are an increasing number of men like Gray and Kahan. “If it’s not a wedding, it’s a job interview or a presentation, a conference or a pitch meeting,” says Kahan, founder and CEO of men’s cosmetic line Stryx. “Once you start, you see the magic and it’s like, ‘Where has this been all my life?’”

Evolution and education

These days, that answer is easier to find. Stryx landed a deal to include its concealer and gel cleanser in CVS stores, something Kahan calls, “the ultimate validation for us. We think it’s integral for meeting guys where we are.”

War Paint is in select men’s stores in the United Kingdom and is talking with several U.S.-based retailers. Its products have been shipped to 77 countries across the globe, Gray says, and U.S. sales were so strong that it opened a warehouse here to expedite shipping.

As men’s cosmetics come out of the comfort of ecommerce, it might seem a product line having a moment. But both brand founders believe it really is more of an evolution.

And why not? Men already are growing their investments in skincare and fashion, says Jonathan Shanahan, Stryx co-founder and chief marketing officer. “Guys are becoming more comfortable with these elements themselves and these markets are growing,” he says. “Cosmetics is the next logical step. Why not cover up the blemish, the zit, the undereye bags?”

It’s not just men dipping into their partners’ cosmetic bags for solutions. Thanks to K-pop, a genre of Korean pop music, flawless skin — natural or corrected by cosmetics — has become non-gender-specific.

Asia and Europe might be a bit ahead of the United States in this area; Kahan says 70 percent of Stryx customers have never used a cosmetic before. “We’re there for the everyday guy and it’s about bringing accessibility to them,” he says. “We really are the on-ramp for them into this category.”

Some education has been needed, however. War Paint and Stryx both create vast numbers of educational videos, tutorials and how-tos: Some simple things cosmetics wearers take for granted must be spelled out to these new customers. The biggest is that it doesn’t take all that long to do, especially for a bit of color correction and concealing.

“When I was learning to apply makeup, I was going to female brands and found it very complicated,” Gray said. “The order of products, the contouring. Guys think it’s going to take forever. My routine is five minutes. If in the tutorials you see a makeup artist applying to a guy and it is taking 20 minutes, that’s going to scare the life out of a customer. We offer simple steps to get the best out of the product.”

“We’re there for the everyday guy and it’s about bringing accessibility to them.”

Devir Kahan, Stryx

The education goes both ways. Stryx formulated and launched a new gel cleanser designed specifically to remove cosmetics after hearing the need from customers. “Guys who hadn’t been educated about removing cosmetics were leaving the product on their pillow at night,” Shanahan says. “There is no men’s face wash on the market that would be great for everyday and strip cosmetics from the face.”

‘The peacock phenomenon’

A good bit of misperception remains. Media portrayals of men’s cosmetics is “the colored lipstick, the ‘guyliner,’” Gray says. “Men were scared of it, found it very complicated and wouldn’t want to try it.”

Gray designed all of War Paint’s products himself, including a line of makeup brushes with handles created by a razor manufacturer. He is behind the messaging and the branding, creating “everything I wanted in a brand.”

Men’s cosmetics has potential, but it isn’t an easy path, says Pam Danziger, who follows the luxury market at Unity Marketing. “Cosmetic brands look at the marketplace and say, ‘If we could get men to buy our products, we’ve increased our market.’ I think there’s reasonable expectation of growth, but it’s not going to be that easy. Beauty and cosmetics are still very gender-specific.”

She says an easy approach would be to go after men with facial hair who already spend a lot of time grooming. The rise in the men’s skincare market is helping, and she sees opportunities among younger men who might have a “different view of male and female traditions.”

Shanahan says his customers have a wide age spectrum, from 50-year-olds who want to cover up a few wrinkles to those with skin conditions like rosacea or whose cancer treatments are causing undereye bags.

The growth might come by playing to what Danziger calls “the ‘peacock phenomenon.’ Men are much more inclined to see the purchase of luxury brands and luxury items as being social signifiers of status. The cosmetics industry can definitely play to that, but it can’t be eyeshadow and mascara. It’s got to be, ‘What’s going to increase a man’s sexual appeal, make him look and feel better and present an image to the world that is in keeping with his own self-image?’”

The Zoom effect

While both Stryx and War Paint say they were growing pre-pandemic, the wide acceptance of video calls hasn’t hurt in pushing the movement forward.

“Forever, men have been wearing makeup on screen or camera,” Shanahan says. “These days, you never know when you’ll need to be camera-ready. We joke it’s like photoshopping your photo before it’s even taken.”

The pandemic spurred Stryx to switch up its messaging to focus on “looking your best on Zoom,” Shanahan says. “We found that guys are experimenting with new products. Self-care is a huge trend.”

War Paint, meanwhile, saw record sales in June. “I think maybe it has pushed things a little more quickly,” Gray says.

“Once the awareness is out there and it’s in a few places, men will be, ‘OK, it’s a thing now.’ I don’t think it’s going to take a long time,” Gray says. “In five years’ time, it’s an absolute given that all major retailers will carry it.”

Related content

Comfort, collaboration and imaginative innovation at Crocs
Retail Gets Real episode 350: CMO Heidi Cooley on the strategies behind Crocs’ emergence as a pop culture powerhouse.
Read more
Insights on operating at the speed of culture and looking at the brand from a ‘psychographic’ point of view
Insights on operating at the speed of culture and looking at the brand from a ‘psychographic’ point of view.
Read more
Mother’s Day 2024 is all about the classics
With a return to timeless gifts like flowers and special outings, consumers plan to spend an average of $254 per person.
Read more