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The Monopoly on and Evolution of Men’s Makeup

Published February 4, 2024
Published February 4, 2024
Michaela Tornaritis

TikTok beauty influencer Zak Heath offers firsthand insight into where and how men’s makeup can better capture its audience.

If “boys don’t wear makeup,” how do you explain the rise in sales, brands, and all things male cosmetics? For me, it all started when I was twelve and  quickly deleted my search history after typing “makeup” into the YouTube search bar. When I was fourteen, on Halloween, I took a deep breath and opened my mum’s Clinique makeup bag, which held feelings of intrigue, excitement, and disgust because I thought makeup could be worn artistically but not every day by a man. I was scared of being emasculated, especially when I was already battling the uncertainty of my sexuality. For years, I watched my mother walk into beauty halls in department stores, feeling her excitement radiating across the bareMinerals and Benefit Cosmetics makeup stalls. This innate feeling makeup fed her was something I too craved, and I felt pride when I became her little helper, deciding which brands, colors, and textures would be next to fill her cabinets, drawers, and makeup bags.

Around this time, my teacher asked during our Friday afternoon discussion circle with the rest of the class, “Zak what do you want to be when you’re older?” Only knowing my mum's nonjudgmental comfort, I proudly said "makeup artist" before an eruption of laughter came from my peers, and the “gay” slurs quickly followed up until I had eventually come out. It was my first time being silenced, and I quickly understood makeup wasn’t a “boys” thing until everything changed for me on Halloween, October 2017. I stopped watching from afar and began to experiment using my mum’s collection before eventually buying my first piece, an eight-pan highlighter palette from Makeup Revolution. My collection grew, and I bought lipsticks, eyeshadows, mascaras, and blushes so I could follow the makeup tutorials from other boys online; however, I realized I felt less confident wearing four pumps of foundation, spidery eyelashes, and a brown matte liquid lipstick. I felt like a character, personifying a facade society had created for those boys who did want to wear cosmetics. After two years of wearing undetectable makeup and instantly feeling more comfortable, we went into lockdown, which is when I started to make videos for social media. I was by no means a professional makeup artist, but I wanted to share my knowledge, skills, and confidence, and I knew nobody could say anything to me because we were locked inside our homes, after all.

Three years later, I’m now creating content for over one million people, after having an incredible trajectory of growth from replying to the hate online I received for being a man wearing color cosmetics. “Makeup isn’t for you,” “act your gender,” “you’re a man,” and “woman” are comments people wrote, but I used this hate to positively to create editorial, satisfying, and humorous content. Approximately 24.9 million people watched a video of me replying to a keyboard warrior who wrote “what is wrong with you #freak”; however, the comments under this video were mostly positive with people defending and supporting saying “I’d want my boyfriend to do this.” I think what resonated with people was that I wasn’t angered by these words; I wasn’t projecting hate onto the people who wrote these passive-aggressive comments. Instead, I was just showing that a guy can wear makeup using “female” marketed cosmetic products in a way that has never really been seen before on social media by seventeen-year-olds.

I didn’t realize the impact I could have on men who couldn’t care for artistry but wanted quick and easy makeup tutorials to help them cover any imperfections. There are male consumers who want to feel like their best selves without wearing noticeable makeup, but I hadn’t previously seen any content creators promoting this, so I saw a gap in the market and therefore wanted to be the voice for the other 13-year-old boys, who, like me, wanted to wear makeup but didn’t know where to start.

Over these three years, there has been an apparent change in the ways men interact with cosmetic products, and I do believe the positive content on socials has contributed to the spike of male consumers using makeup. The report, The Evolution of Men’s Grooming, highlighted the 20% growth in the frequency of men who wore BB or CC cream, one to five times per week. Global sales of men’s grooming grew by 2% in value in 2022, likely driven by the desire to treat oneself for living in lockdown for two years but with an increase in premium spending especially in luxury skincare and fragrance.

“I listen to both males and females when it comes to beauty; however, seeing a man review something may persuade me more. However, I think personality and even skin type issues are more important characteristics ultimately affecting purchasing intentions.”
By Shakeel Murtaza, Lifestyle Content Creator

The Evolution of Men’s Grooming Report from 2023 highlighted how men are more likely to buy something, whatever the price tag, as long as it’s recommended from a reputable source or reliable person. Men are less likely to research or try products out in a store, maybe due to the fear of being seen; however, women like to experiment with cosmetics, negotiating textures and scents. Based on the Euromonitor Voice of Consumer: Beauty Survey of 2022, 47% and 54% of male consumers always or sometimes buy from the same brand for their skin, hair, or fragrances, with these becoming a staple in their routine for their preference for purposeful shopping. “I mostly look for product recommendations from TikTok or Instagram,” says beauty and lifestyle content creator Shakeel Murtaza. “I listen to both males and females when it comes to beauty; however, seeing a man review something may persuade me more. However, I think personality and even skin type issues are more important characteristics ultimately affecting purchasing intentions.”

The content beauty and fashion creators Rahi Chadda and Creed McKinnon create, with a combined following of 1.7 million, is an example of how their stylistic videos are aspirational enough to influence the modern man into experimenting with male grooming products including makeup. Luxury creators are also influencing the next generation of consumers as 38% of Gen Z and millennials buy goods or services after seeing an influencer post a review, showing how social media continues to empower the sales of products to a vast male user base. This change has led to the emergence of color cosmetic brands or skincare lines from established brands like Shiseido and Clarins to create products tailored explicitly to male consumers, while now integrating men into their campaigns after seeing the rise in the modern man.

The products I use aren’t just for men, and to be honest, most of the products I use have been clearly targeted towards women previously or still are. This doesn’t bother me. I look at cosmetics and don’t see an attached gender or formality; I see them as a beautifying tool.  Using both traditionally female-marketed products and these “male” ranges has made my content stand out because I am highlighting makeup that doesn’t have rules.

I don’t really like “men's” cosmetics because their marketing tends to conform to traditional notions of masculinity and heterosexual ideologies to inspire and influence society’s creation of the “ideal man.” I don’t think this marketing works, especially since looking at how War Paint For Men began to promote their cosmetics within football stadiums—a sport often associated with “traditional” concepts of masculinity. When reading through my comments, I see lots of football fans projecting general hate and criticizing my makeup (not all football fans hate my content); however, I do think this frequency illusion (also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon) of subconsciously and, in this case, consciously, seeing men wearing skincare and makeup more regularly will begin to change these traditional perceptions. I hope so, because it’s draining reading the same hateful comments being constantly regurgitated. As a consumer, I’ve never felt inspired by brands marketing from this macho ideology and it feels rather backwards considering society continues to reject gender scripts.

Another issue I’ve seen with “men's” cosmetics is the terrible shade ranges—one that is rectified with  the “female” brands. In 2019, men’s grooming brand Shakeup Cosmetics only launched five shades in their tinted moisturizer range in 2019 ( these shades are sheer enough to cater to more skin tones, although if you do want coverage five shades isn’t enough). When founded in 2018, Fenty Beauty, on the other hand,  launched its original foundation with 40 shades, which has now increased to 50. If men can’t find their shade, they’re not going to buy into these “male” brands, or those who have bought them will feel insecure about the noticeably wrong color matches. The ease and simplicity of finding my correct shade with “female brands” was the reason why the All Hours Foundation from YSL Beauty was my first foundation purchase and a staple in my routine.

High-tech cosmetics brand Dcypher takes shade selection one step further: because from their website, they scan your face using AI-powered skin tone measurements to create a personalized foundation shade where you can decide the finish and coverage of the product. The Beauty Survey 2022 found that men who wore foundation want blemish and pore coverage as well as matte finishes, and the customizable nature of this brand and the simplicity of its color-matching experience means customers won’t have to go through the embarrassing orange stage a lot of us have lived through.

I see more men rejecting stereotypes in general but especially within beauty, whether that be the role of the influencer or just society accepting the needs and wants of others. I’m not saying men should be wearing a full face of makeup, but everyone deserves to feel like their best selves. In 2024, more brands will prioritize and see the value of showcasing men in their campaigns, and this will lead to continued approval and support from makeup and nonmakeup wearers. Through the accessibility of social media, more male consumers  are more knowledgeable about skincare science;  the Beauty Survey highlighted that blackheads, acne, and sensitive skin are within the top five skin concerns among all generations. There has also been a strong inclination towards e-commerce for grooming products and a decrease in those buying from supermarkets, in my opinion, due to the want for more specialized products and wanting a more luxury experience with the high price points of many cosmetics. Although there will always be a consumer for affordable cosmetics made accessible through supermarkets and drugstores,  I’ve seen more men investing in themselves and buying from department stores, small businesses, and online with a peaked interest in the luxury products I’m using. 

There continues to be undeniable growth across the male beauty market with people embracing gender neutrality, and it’s fun to see how men are experimenting like I once did, with those feelings of uncertainty, horror, and fulfilment. We all have an embarrassing makeup story;  mine was being unaware of the different types of setting powder before getting my picture taken and seeing the result of flashback on my graduation picture. What’s your most embarrassing story? Makeup is a learning curve that takes time to nurture, but once your routine is perfected, you feel like the best version of yourself and that’s the beauty of cosmetics.


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