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Male Grooming — Beauty’s Final Frontier? (Part 3 of 3)

Brand opportunities

To boldly glow…

Beyond basic grooming routines, how can brands convince men to invest in products that enhance their looks and get closer to the territory of male beauty?

Here are 3 recommendations:

1. Gender—lose the label

When it comes down to it, there are really very few products that need to be targeted “for men”. As attitudes to gender change, brands no longer need to stick to the usual—and somewhat dated—‘for men’ descriptors. If men borrow products from (and shop with) a female partner, are influenced by wellbeing and food trends, are brands in danger of trapping themselves in the store area marked ‘shaving’ and ‘men’s skincare’?

Will King, entrepreneur and founder of the ‘King of Shaves’ brand, challenges the need for gender-led male skincare products:“Typically products are gender marketed if they are worn by or displayed on the individual, hence the focus on women in cosmetics, [whereas] moisturisers for men work equally well for women. My wife swears by the latest KoS SPF15 moisturiser!”

Perhaps it’s time to embrace product fluidity, not just gender fluidity, to create propositions with crossover, that appeal to female and male users alike. Purpose-driven and organic brands, such as Aesop and Malin & Goetz, combine genderless brand values with straightforward product efficacy. These look set to gain ground by denoting a more holistic vibe as well as looking good on the bathroom shelf.

Chris Calvert, founder of blog Desert Island Skin reinforces this: ”A lot of the male brands try to sell based on hi-tech or gadget names when realistically men want products that work and get results fast. I think that apart from shaving products and specialist treatments, men should feel comfortable about using non gender specific products.”

Buyer vs user—retail perspective

As Helen Miller, a leading retail strategy consultant points out, gaining insight into female buyers is critical: “Many men just use what their wives or girlfriends use if it’s not too perfumed. Also a lot of wives and girlfriends buy for their menfolk… so the user of male products is often not the buyer.”

Our take outs:

  • Shake off the ‘for men’ clichés – focus on product efficacy instead
  • Create a brand with a focus: fighting low esteem, stress busting skincare, ‘camera ready’ products
  • Think female – understand what women want for the man in their life in terms of improving their looks


2. Bro culture is changing

The startling growth of UK barber shops, along with tattoos, gyms and craft breweries, are strong signals that bro culture is thriving, as 33% of men exercise to look or feel good (1),creating space for tips, conversations and support, boosted by grooming sites such as Ilk London and a wealth of ‘how to’ YouTube videos.

At the same time, the idea of ‘male beauty’ is changing to include a more diverse set of role models and attitudes to good living. Brands should be wary of overtly pushing product or influencer posts based on uber ‘beauty’ or beefcake (akin to fragrance advertising).

The real opportunity here is to focus on bro culture pursuits and real skincare dilemmas, rather than ‘brandjacking’ male grooming. Rapha has retained its authenticity by creating a cycling-specific skincare range that protects skin and body, rather than focusing on post-ride pampering, building its core values of competitiveness and performance.

Antony Hawman, founder of brand consultancy ThePartnershipAtelier, advocates a simpler, more open approach to men’s niche retail: “When developing the buying and merchandising of the products range for Beast, we almost took an anti-grooming approach, to make it even easier to select and shop, removing any problem or barriers to using products”. Tristan Walker (1), founder of US shaving skincare brand Bevel, believes that addressing a common, but hidden, skincare issue is key to building a following. He recently commented: “the best ideas are brewed from authenticity.”

Our take outs:

  • Reposition grooming as a sign of health and self-worth, not just vanity or pulling power
  • Start with a niche mindset: think pursuits and purpose
  • Hustle the hassles: identify the grooming pain points of reluctant men…and solve them

1. Cleanse, moisturise… and enhance

Cosmetics under the radar. The migration of makeup for men is happening now (Boots No.7 Men has a facial gradual tanning product) and being used by creative HGIs and influencers (see above). L’Oréal are on the right lines by partnering with male blogger Jake-Jamie Ward, aka The Beauty Boy, who has a successful YouTube channel posting makeup tutorials for men. However, to conquer the mainstream calls for a smart approach and canny marketing

The terminology used by would-be men’s makeup brands doesn’t help: manscara and guyliner are hard to take seriously, while ordinary men are unlikely to warm to tinted moisturiser and foundation for men (Calvin Klein).

Adding a cosmetic product to a regular guy’s routine is arguably only going to happen if introduced as an extension to existing rituals – rather than making the leap direct to the makeup chair. It’s about defining a masculine approach to beauty, such as looking rested after a late night or flight, or wide awake and fit for a job interview. But subtlety is key. Under-the-radar enhancement products are already part of the HGI regime, albeit applied by a professional.

Liz Pugh, a leading professional makeup artist whose client list includes A-list male celebrities, argues for tailored enhancement products for men: “From texture to skin tone, men’s skin is fundamentally different to women’s. Most mascara is too thick and foundation too yellow for my high profile clients, who expect – and I think deserve – bespoke products to achieve really subtle results.”

‘High vis’ moments

If 50% of UK men (1) agree that it’s important to look good, where do enhancement or cosmetics come in? Those occasions when even the most lazy of males make it their business to look polished – weddings, first dates, work presentations, interviews  – are poorly served by existing male grooming categories. Beyond skincare, are brands missing a (possibly gender-free), trick here?


  • ‘Man up: Make-up’ – create under-the-radar competitive advantage
  • Break the taboo – this category needs an accessible brand to convert the masses
  • As seen on… where are the role models?


(1) Source: GlobalData’s 2015 Q4 global consumer survey


The Final Frontier?

Men are already trying, applying, stealing and borrowing beauty products and some are even evangelical about makeup and the benefits of skincare. Beyond these groups, however, there’s a need to encourage trial amongst men who’d rather visit the dentist than the beauty aisle.

The real challenge is to open up and educate a wider market without resorting to ‘lookism’, clichés or a single ideal of male beauty. We see space in the category for brand propositions that go beyond everyday skin problems into enhancement products, but with a more pragmatic approach: attitudinally more ‘real’, sharing life hacks and quick-wins, rather than spending hours in front of the mirror.

Maybe it’s time for brands to focus on the finer details of male beauty – enhancement and ‘feel good’ products that accentuate, rather than just conceal men’s looks.

The modern man is ready for his close-up.

Thanks to all those who’ve contributed to and helped with this report: Tracey Woodward, Abigail James, Stirling Murray, Antony Hawman, Liz Pugh, Charlie McCorry, Chris Calvert, Marianne Morrison, Herbie Dayal, Ali Azeem, Will King, Kelly Kovack & Helen Miller

About the authors of the report

Two by Two

Two by Two is a UK brand and design consultancy founded in 1996 whose clients have included L’Oreal, Elemis and P&G. To discuss further insight from the findings or to book a workshop to explore the key themes, please contact Louise Barfield at or call 020 7278 1122 @twobytwodesign

Imogen Matthews

Imogen is a market researcher, journalist and strategic communications consultant. She writes for a wide number of UK and international beauty trade publications and specialist websites. Imogen is the author of The Premium Market Report {published annually}, which provides beauty executives with analysis and expert opinion on the UK premium cosmetics, skincare and fragrance markets.  @PremBeauty

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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