Makeup for Men: A Growing Industry

12 min readApr 18, 2019


by Alex Elliott

Men and Makeup have had a relationship dating back to 4000 BCE. Ancient Egyptians used thick black eyeliner to accentuate their eyes. Fast forward to the 1970s and ’80s where musicians like KISS, David Bowie, and Prince all used makeup in their performances. In recent years, men’s makeup for uses other than costume/stage makeup is starting to expand. Now, it’s becoming more common for men to use makeup to enhance their looks.

In 2016, James Charles broke stereotypes being Covergirl’s first male spokesperson. This was the initial big step for men and makeup. Since then, the interest of men in the beauty industry has continued to increase. There are currently thousands of male makeup influencers on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Companies now run makeup campaigns with both men and females alike.

James Charles in Covergirl campaign

Most of the growth seen in this industry has been within non-binary, metrosexual, and the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately for a lot of heterosexual men, the stereotype of makeup being feminine still exists. I think that companies need to find ways to market makeup products to men that will cause them to view makeup as something that is a masculine product. To understand how to defeat this stereotype I think it is important to investigate a similar industry that has had great success with the issue; the men’s skincare industry.

Skincare industry growth:
In the past, men felt ashamed to show interest in their skin. There was a strong connection between women and skincare (much like the connection between women and makeup). We have all heard of the scenario where a guy gets a girlfriend and is overwhelmed by the number of products in her bathroom. He uses her facewash or moisturizer and loves it but doesn’t want to go out and buy his own. In present day, it is common for men to own their own skincare products.

In the last 10 years, the industry has had time to test what marketing schemes are most effective when trying to sell skincare to men. In 2017, sales for men’s skincare outperformed other categories including bath and shower, deodorant, and hair care, with a growth rate of 11%. In 2010, when the idea for men’s skin care was relatively new, Dove released a skincare line that was specifically for men. They disrupted the industry with their new Dove Men+Care line. Their products were simple; They offered three different face washes and three different moisturizers. These products were packaged in simple slate grey containers, to appeal to their male consumers. After releasing the line, sales unveiled that their man customer were dads. In reaction to this data, Dove implemented advertising strategies that were tailored specifically for dads. They aired light-hearted commercials that captured the activities that an average dad might deal with in his lifetime.

Dove branded their products as a way to “take better care” of your face. These marketing strategies have proven successful with Dove Men+Care being the top performer in its category. Many other top performing brands practice similar strategies. The stigma of skincare being for woman has been reinvented. Now, skincare is seen as a genderless product. Men’s cosmetics are forced to overcome similar issues of gender stigma.

Increasing growth in male cosmetics:
In the past 3 years, purchases of cosmetics by men has been steadily increasing. They are becoming more comfortable in taking measures to improve their looks. Men want to look better, and a good way to improve anyone’s appearance is makeup. In 2017, Google’s trend report, based on the world’s most common searches, showed a massive increase in men searching for skin-enhancing products like skincare and cosmetics. The most common items purchased by the average male are products that enhance their natural beauty. These include but are not limited to: concealers, color correctors, beard/brow gel, and tinted lip products. Subtlety is what most men look for when buying makeup.

Asia has been a leader in the male cosmetics industry, more specifically South Korea. Olive Young, a cosmetic store in South Korea reported a 30% increase in sales to men from 2017–2018. The popularity of makeup in South Korea was heavily influenced by K-pop or Korean pop music. Male K-pop stars use makeup to enhance their features, and as a result, have birthed a makeup look that is solely for men. This helped to normalize the idea of men using makeup. In South Korea, a widespread cultural trend is “boyish good looks”. This new trend is highlighting a more “feminine” look, aiding in creating a sense of comfortability or normalcy when purchasing makeup.

Although in other countries male cosmetics have become increasingly successful, comparatively the United States is lagging. Makeup in America still carries a strong stereotype of being a feminine product. I think this has to do with cultural differences between countries. Although we are gradually progressing, I would argue that toxic masculinity is more present in US culture.

Marketing to men:
Men’s growing interest in cosmetic products is predicted to steadily increase in the future. The most important thing that companies can do is find out how to effectively market to men. More specifically, I want to focus on how companies can successfully market makeup to men. Although men are now comfortable when it comes to buying skincare, makeup still comes with a strong stigma. It is important that companies make a distinction clear between men and women’s products.

One brand that has been successful in making a distinction is MMUK. MMUK is a brand based in the UK, that had a turnover last year of £1m or 1,124,650.00 US dollars. Alex Dalley, the founder of MMUK, attributes his success to focusing on supplying customers with effective products that satisfy all age groups. Some specific strategies that MMUK uses are Simple packaging using basic colors, use “man” on their products, and online sales.

MMUK line

When looking into future the future of the industry, I focused on the techniques that were effective for MMUK while also branching off into different strategies. A few techniques that I believe will increase the participation of men in the makeup industry are listed in order of importance:

1) Do not use the word “makeup”
2) Keep it Simple
3) Location
4) Add-on to existing product lines
5) Use social media influencers platforms
6) Focus on makeup with skin benefits

Do not use the word “makeup”:
I think that this is first and foremost when marketing makeup to men. There is a strong connection with the word “makeup” and women. Even using verbiage like, “makeup for men” can hold a negative connotation for men that associate makeup with femininity. I think that removing the word “makeup” completely would result in cosmetics being more inclusive and help to remove gender bias from the product. This also goes for common product names like concealer, foundation, and mascara. Focus on using names that describe what the product does. For example, concealer could be called “pimple coverage”. I think that coming up with different product names would encourage men to disassociate women with the products.

Keep it simple:
As I mentioned before, simplicity was a proven success for marketing men’s skincare. Men like things that look like they are meant for men. Men are proven to take less time shopping for products than women and have motives that are more utilitarian. Basically, when men shop they want to get a product that meets their needs and be done shopping as soon as possible. When trying to simplify a product, the color, the product description, and ease of use are all things to consider.

Use a few darker colors like black, grey, and blue for packaging. The use of a large variety of colors or bright colors is something that can create a distraction from the product itself. Also, colorful products can be associated with femininity. Men care about the aesthetic appeal of their products but don’t want to be overwhelmed by the design. Using muted colors allows men to easily see what the product is and what it is used for, without being distracted by the packaging.

The product description is also largely important when marketing to men. I spend hours researching different cosmetics, reading the descriptions trying to find the one that fits best for what I need. Most of the time, the descriptions use colorful language that makes the buying process difficult. When marketing to men, product descriptions that are direct are going to be the most effective. As I mentioned prior, men use a utilitarian approach when shopping. They are not interested in reading a paragraph on how the product is going to give them an “airbrushed finish”, they want to know how it’s going to effectively cover their pimple. Concise descriptions will appeal more broadly to men.

Similar to product description, ease of use is a large reason as to why men purchase products. Men want directions for a product to be only a few sentences or bullet points long, the shorter the better. This goes for most people, but I think that women more often associate more steps equals a more effective product. Men, in particular, want to be able to put spot corrector on, blend it in with their finger, and be done. Being able to use one product for multiple different purposes has proven to be a favorite of men. Indeed, this is why so many products are marketed to men using verbiage like “multi-use” and “5 in 1”.

Multi-use makeup product

Where companies try to sell makeup products will largely impact sales. Men are going to be less likely to buy a product when it is surrounded by women’s cosmetics. Places like Sephora, Ulta, and department store makeup counters are stress-evoking environments for men. They are an environment with high traffic and their product knowledge is limited. It is important to sell men’s makeup at a location different than women to further emphasize the difference between the two and to take away the stress of being in public. I think the smartest place to sell would be either bundled in with men’s skincare section or online.

Selling in the same area as men’s skincare would encourage men to relate makeup with men’s products. Selling online is a good outlet because they can do it in the security of their own home, it creates privacy for the buyer. The only downfall with buying online is color-matching is quite difficult. Another option is to open up a store specifically for men’s cosmetics. This would give men an opportunity to shop in a store where they know all the products are for men. However, it could still create tension based on the fact that they are out in public, not in the privacy of their own home.

Add-on to existing product lines:
Dove did an excellent job in extending its product line with Men+Care. A good way to ease customers into a product is extending on a product that already exists. It takes away some of the uncertainty that comes with launching a product separately. I think a fantastic way to introduce makeup to men is using the foot-in-the-door technique. Market makeup to men through the skincare industry. These men are already interested in taking care of their appearance. In adding a product to something that they view as masculine enough for them to use can help to transfer that ideology over to makeup. Take, for example, a company that has an acne line out consisting of face wash, toner, and lotion. Adding a concealer to the line would allow for an easier transition. Men would not have to go out and search for concealer because it would already be where they are shopping.

Dove Men+Care product line

Use social media influencers platforms:
Social media is a large reason that men are more focused on taking care of their appearance. There are many articles that express contradicting opinions with the increasing concern of appearance. For companies in the beauty industry, this is a positive trend. The increased interest in bettering one’s appearance has increased sales in the beauty industry. People want to be more attractive, resulting in them searching for products that will help them accomplish that. This is true for all people, men included. There are thousands of male makeup artists that have heavily influenced the increase in cosmetic purchases made by men. However, as I mentioned before, makeup is still very much feminized. Some men do not care about the stigma, but there is a large population of men that do.

A huge opportunity for men’s makeup is using influencers who are viewed as masculine to advertise the products. Famous people like David Beckham have become a huge influence on men of all ages. David Beckham is known for his good looks and is idolized because of them. Using someone like David, who is seen as a masculine man could potentially aid in disintegrating the stigma that makeup being for women. Either having the influencer tag the product in the post or list the product in the description would increase awareness of makeup for men.

Focus on makeup with skin benefits:
Being health conscious is another trend that is affecting all industries. From food, to exercise, to products, the movement to live a healthier lifestyle is becoming more popular. Although I don’t think that makeup with skin benefits is a necessity, I think it will allow for an easier bridge for men into makeup. I have heard a lot of men say that they don’t understand using makeup because it clogs pores. I think that this is a large deterring factor when it comes to men buying makeup. They are not going to buy something that they think will cause their skin condition to worsen. That is why I think it is especially important to focus on “healthy makeup” when it comes to marketing for men. If a man decides to try out makeup for the first time and it ends up clogging his pores, chances are he’s not going to try it again. Take, for example, marketing a concealer that combats acne while also providing coverage. A man might pick it up for the acne benefits and then decide that they like the coverage it offers. It would allow them to take care of their skin, and improve their skin’s appearance. Men are attracted to products that have immediate results, which is what makeup is meant for.

The future:
The best thing a company can do when entering a relatively new industry is a process of trial and error. Some things that are predicted to work will end up failing, and others will shape the entire industry. The fact of the matter is, the need for male cosmetics is growing. Men are becoming progressively interested in ways they can enhance their appearance. There is great opportunity to make money in male cosmetics, but first, it is important to understand the customer. It is not only important to understand the customers wants, but also the customers’ pain points. Men want their pimples and fine lines to be less visible. They want to enhance their appearance but won’t purchase makeup because of the stigma around it. The stigma around makeup being for women is the customers’ pain point. The biggest obstacles that companies need to overcome are: Defeating the stigma and helping men understand that a solution to their problem is makeup.

I think that in the next 10 years male cosmetics are going to blow up. In 2019, Chanel announced a brand extension called Boy de Chanel. When releasing the products, Chanel advertised that beauty is not a matter of gender, it’s a matter of style. I agree with Chanel’s opinion; however, I think the statement is premature. In the future, I believe that most makeup will be non-binary. In 10 years I think a majority of people will have disassociated makeup with women — creating the feeling of inclusivity for both genders. For the immediate future success of the industry, there needs to be a clear distinction between the two in order to overcome the stereotype. (pic)

Color/Packaging example
Example of instagram tag