Is This The Next Big Thing In Beauty?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I got a very interesting text message the other day from my cousin's husband. "I need your expertise," it read. "What's a good everyday face lotion for sensitive, dry skin with a good SPF? And maybe a toner?" Whoa. I was impressed.

As a beauty editor, I get my fair share of inquiries about products — and this wasn't even my first one from a guy. (My Italian-American brothers are very grooming-focused — we used to get our eyebrows waxed together in high school.) But the man sending this text message is the epitome of what you might call a "dude." As in, he isn't the type of guy you'd see walking down the street and think, His face looks well-moisturized. More like, He probably knows the score to last night's football game.

Given that, the level of detail in his message was pretty incredible to me. He didn't just ask how to keep his face from feeling dry, he asked for a daytime moisturizer (with SPF, no less!). He obviously knows his stuff. This is something we've been seeing in the beauty space more and more lately — men who are interested in keeping themselves looking tip-top, and products that cater directly to this desire.

It's the reason behind the rise of brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry's. It's why we're seeing more men with hairstyles instead of just cuts. And it's probably why Axe has rebranded itself from frat-boy fodder to an all-grown-up aspirational aesthetic. The message is clear: Men of all lifestyles and interests are becoming more interested in a detailed grooming routine.

And it's been a long time coming. "I would actually say it was the late '90s to early 2000s [when this started]," says Fadi Mourad, chief innovation officer of product for Dollar Shave Club. "It's when we started to hear the term 'metrosexual' to mean a man who wanted to take care of himself. David Beckham was kind of the face of all of that." Michael Pollak, the chief brand officer and cofounder of Heyday facial shop in New York City, agrees. "The early 2000s were when you started seeing shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," he says. "Things that originally seemed superficial started turning into this idea of 'grooming,' and guys got into that."

Mourad also credits the barbershop revival for the rise of dude grooming. In the early-to-mid-aughts, hipsters started flocking to neighborhood barbershops that had been around for decades. "They were interested in the nostalgia and the ritual of what went on there," Mourad says. "Going to a barbershop is unlike going to a salon. It feels very masculine." The industry took note, and boutique barbershops began cropping up in major cities to cater to their growing client bases. "A barbershop is so synonymous with men's grooming," Mourad says. "Hair care is the entryway to male grooming."

That level of self-esteem and confidence that comes from knowing you're looking and feeling your best — that crosses gender lines.

Michael Pollak, chief brand officer and cofounder of Heyday
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All of these factors have contributed to the destigmatization of male grooming, and skin care is the next logical step. But Pollak says it's been a slow start because of how female-focused the industry is. "Professional skin care has always been stuck in spas," he says, attributing Heyday's success with males to its gender-neutral setting. "It makes men feel more comfortable."

A lot of men's brands are tied to big companies that are driven by women's products, which can affect the formulations. "Most products are too shiny and don't absorb," says Mourad. "It gives them a glow — which is exactly what women want — but men interpret it as grease."

More and more men are seeking answers to their skin-care questions — Pollak has seen a steady uptick in Heyday's male clientele. "About 20% of our clients are men," he says. "Our male numbers go up and up each month."

Pollak says his male clientele is a curious bunch. "They're so open to learning," he says. "They're interested and open to building a routine, and they're specific in their questions." While women are often bombarded with messaging and come in with complicated (and most of the time incorrect for their skin type) routines, working with men is like starting from scratch. "They say things like, 'I'm having breakouts,' or, 'I know I should be doing something, but I don't know what,'" Pollak says. "They're goal- and assignment-driven. And they're realizing that it's just about maintenance."

Pollak and Mourad agree that men really just want to take care of themselves, and both see major potential for growth in the male arena. "I truly think that within the next five years, we'll see a big change in how much advertising is being done towards men," Mourad predicts. "It's really about understanding what the guy is looking for, and the men's space is so much less saturated."

At the end of the day, men want what women want — to feel confident when they look in the mirror. "Men are starting to see skin care as more than just surface-level," Pollak says. "That level of self-esteem and confidence that comes from knowing that you're looking and feeling your best — that crosses gender lines."
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