Make-Up for Men: Joke, or Genius

by Hugh Ryan
Sunday Apr 3, 2005
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For many men, their formative experiences with make-up are limited to experimenting with eye-liner back in the 80s ("I’m not gay! All the guys are doing it. Look at Boy George." Riiiiiight.) or the occasional awful attempt at drag. Maybe you stole your mother’s mascara once, or tried to figure out the difference between "base," "concealer," and "face powder" when you had a zit. Times have changed, however, and makeup for men is now the new hot thing.

Not just for gay men either – many companies are attempting to tap into the growing trend of metrosexuality; pushing cosmetics on to straight men worried about their appearance. Beauty industry behemoths such as Jean Paul Gautier and Clinique have both recently brought out men’s lines, and smaller companies specializing in men’s products, such as 4Voo and Menaji, have also appeared.

With the exception of ‘JPG,’ whose wild line "Le Male Tout Beau" provides men with the full-spectrum of colors and products available to women, these companies are seeking to create make-up that is easy, monochromatic, and (above all else) manly. The packaging tends to be black, silver, red and white- sleek and stylish, but not girly. Words like "natural," "corrective," and "re-invigorating" are tossed around much more than "beautiful" or "luscious."

In fact, those familiar with traditional make-up may need a translation guide. What exactly are "Lip Serum," "Eye Effect," and "Camouflage?" And how the hell am I supposed to use them? It is the revenge of the femmes – you may have made fun of us in high school, but now you too will have to panic about having perfect skin, lips, eyes, and hair. HA!

Considering the amount of money going into promotional materials, websites, and highly stylized packaging, I have to wonder: is it all an elaborate con? Is it just a shell game; the same product hidden beneath a new layer of "masculine" buzz words and a higher price tag? Some people certainly think so.

"Skin is skin, whether it’s male or female," says Matthew, a Resident Make-up Specialist at the Chanel counter in Macy’s Herald Square. The packaging might be more geared towards a male audience, but he thinks the product remains the same. The only significant difference there might be, he says, is in the scent attached to the product. Aside from that, you might as well buy regular make-up, where you are more likely to find the colors you need to match your skin tone.

At first glance, the argument is a compelling one. People are people, and the skincare industry for women is light-years ahead of men’s. We are still rubbing grass on our faces; women have elaborate systems that harness deadly toxins to recreate their skin. Why not benefit from their years of experience? Sadly, it isn’t that simple.

Scientific studies have shown that women and men have unique skin care needs. While the similarities are more pronounced that the differences, it may be that the "average" man and the "average" woman would benefit more from slightly different products. In general, men tend to have oilier skin, and we tend to sweat more. Our skin is richer in collagen, making it both thicker and firmer. This means that naturally, men tend to wrinkle more slowly. However, as women generally take better care of their skin, men are the ones who appear older, earlier.

Around the age of 50, women tend to be aware than their bodies are undergoing a dramatic shift, and take this into account in the products they use and the health care they seek. Men are less aware that their bodies also change significantly at this age, and so are less likely to know about (or account for) the thinning of their skin and the sudden reduction in collagen. The outcome? Deep and widespread wrinkles, seemingly over night.

Michele Probst, celebrity make-up artist and creator of Menaji: Skincare for Men, had this to say about the issue. “Men’s skin is completely different from women‘s, and their needs are different as well.” In her years of experience working for TV, movies, and speaking engagements, she found that not only were there no products that met men’s needs, but that the men she worked with were generally shocked at how much wearing light, natural make-up boosted their confidence levels.

So maybe there is something to this "make-up for men" thing after all. There’s only one way to find out. Armed with a basket of products, I am going to take over a straight man’s bathroom and test, once and for all, the effectiveness of male cosmetics. Pray for me.

Editor’s Note: Check back next week for a review and commentary on various men’s make-up products

Hugh Ryan is a freelance writer and former social worker living in Brooklyn, New York. He likes cooking, traveling, and slow lorises. He can be contacted at


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