Online Exclusives

Boys Will Be Boys?

By Marshall Pearson, Assistant Editor | August 25, 2009

Cosmetics for men could be the next big trend.

Are guys ready to get their glam on? Photo: Future Touch
Not long ago, the only men caught wearing eyeliner were a handful of rock stars and glam icons who used it to sell albums and promote a sexualized image. The rise of men’s cosmetics since then has been a slow process that is often rebuffed by its stigma in American culture. However, according to experts, the market men’s cosmetics will do nothing but grow in the coming years, albeit slowly.

The market for men’s cosmetics may not represent a significant chunk of the industry, but it has shown strong development in the last few decades. In the 1980s, L’Oréal introduced hair color products for men that, at the time, were largely seen as too feminine to catch on—how times change! Bands such as My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy have promoted men’s makeup and popular brands such as Clinique and Jean Paul Gaultier have featured men’s eyeliner and concealer products in their lines.

Procter & Gamble’s recent acquisition of Zirh and The Art of Shaving may indicate that the market for men’s cosmetics is ready to expand further. Antoinette van den Berg, the founder of consulting firm Future Touch, closely follows the men’s market and sees P&G’s entrance into the market as significant.

Photo: Future Touch
“What you see is that there is a big interest from P&G and other large companies. They show a big interest in men’s creams and concealers, and you are seeing them more and more in the men’s market,” she told

While large companies remain, for now, on the sidelines, the men’s cosmetics sector continues to be dominated by boutique brands and others with limited distribution.

One of the few companies that manufacture cosmetics specifically for men is 4VOO, a Canadian company that sells its line of men’s skin care, cosmetic and makeup products at retail locations worldwide. 4VOO offers the standard line of skin care products, such as shaving cream and face wash, as well as eyeliner and concealer formulated specifically for men.

Company president Marek Hewryk said these products help men willing to buck social stigma to look their best.“Our approach is not to beautify but to ‘correctify.’ That is why cosmetics are still needed and why men still use them,” he said. “We offer the correcting products to help men look good for whatever reason they want.”

European companies are often on the cutting edge of the cosmetic industry. Europe’s couture environment has influenced the men’s cosmetic market by facilitating a so-caled metrosexual aesthetic that emphasizes men looking their best.

No wonder then, that while Americans have eschewed men’s cosmetics, Europeans have embraced 4VOO’s products, according to Mr. Hewryk.

“In some countries in Europe it is more open, but here it is hidden. Here they don’t talk about cosmetics, but over there they do. It is not that people don’t use it, because we sell lots of cosmetics everywhere, but no one talks about it,” he said. “We are changing as a society but some things are slower than others.”

The European influence on American fashion cannot be ignored, and according to Ms. van den Berg, it will appear first in urban or metropolitan areas where young people take their cues from boutique windows and a pervading international culture. The internet and international travel will cause American men to appropriate the trends of their cosmopolitan counterparts.

“There are international blocks that act like mirrors where people get their inspiration from street fashion. This trend emerges in the bigger cities where there is an international sense of fashion,” she said. “Because of the internet, we are informed very well about different cultures.”

Mr. Hewryk agrees that the trend of men’s cosmetics will take hold in urban areas and spread from there, but he sees different motivation leading urban trendsetters to embrace men’s cosmetics.

“People in large cities are more open and confident about themselves. They don’t want to please everyone with their look,” he said. “Cosmetics are part of fashion and look does matter in an environment where everyone is trying to get a job.”

Despite the increasing presence of men’s cosmetics in major cities, the lion share of American are still hesitant to dab on foundation. According to Mr. Hewryk, the slow rise in the use of men’s cosmetics in America can be attributed to, among other things, “cultural conservatism” and makeup’s gender-related connotations. However, the rise of a new generation has given him hope that men abroad won’t be the only ones donning cosmetics in the future.

“Men are still afraid (of cosmetics) because it is viewed as effeminate…but it is the older generation who is saying that it is a ‘girlie’ thing,” Mr. Hewryk said. “Society is different now that it was back then, and I think this generation is more open and ready to experiment.”

The real questions are not whether men will use cosmetics, where the trend has originated or why American men are averse to something deemed “effeminate.” Men clearly have an interest in cosmetic products and all signs point to the younger generation’s desire to experiment. Industry analysts and store owners are watching to find out how long it will take for the trend to expand and to what extent men in the U.S. will be purchasing cosmetic products. Both Mr. Hewryk and Ms. van den Berg agree that further expansion will take time and will rely on large chains stocking these lines. They also say that many men are poised to pull out the compact and start applying foundation.

“Men are ready. Whether the buyers from department stores or large chains are ready, that is the question,” said Mr. Hewryk.

The desire of mass market outlets to start carrying men’s cosmetics remains underwhelming, but Ms. van den Berg claims that “men’s cosmetics is something we see as growing in the future and it will only continue to grow.”