Moments before Karamo Brown hit the red carpet for the season one premiere of Queer Eye in 2018, he made a major last-minute life decision. "I cut it all off," Brown tells me. After years of filling in his hairline with his sister's mascara and barber pencils, the hit Netflix series' culture expert decided to go bald. "I was so scared that if someone knew I had thinning hair, they weren't going to put me on TV or hire me," he says. "Then, I realized that my hairline had nothing to do with it, because I had a partner, I had healthy kids, and I had a good ass job."
So, with the push of his best friend and his sister, Brown walked the red carpet with a bald head and a bright red jacket. "I wanted everyone to see me," he says. "I've helped all these other people feel confident, and I wanted to feel confident." Now, his hair journey has come full circle for his latest project: MANTL, a skin-care line made with bald men in mind. After shaving his head, Brown felt overwhelmed by the beauty market and didn't see himself represented in the aisles. He teamed up with Irene Kong and Peter Ricci, both Honest Company alums, to create a line that offers not just grooming products, but a sense of community that changes the narrative around baldness.
"Being on Queer Eye and talking to people about their emotional and mental journey, you realize that with a lot of men, their self-esteem is directly affected with how they feel about themselves," Brown says. "Every message you get in the media says that men who are thinning or balding are ugly, or that you're not going to get the life you want or get the girl you want. That's antiquated and outdated."
Brown hopes that his brand will provide support no matter where a man is in his journey, and inspire other companies to stop fear-based tactics in ads geared towards men, too. While progress has been made with media messaging in the female beauty space (with more work still left to do), the reality star feels that the conversation for men in the industry still lags behind. "Things are naturally happening. Your body is shifting. You're losing your hair. That's fine; that's happening to all of us," he says. "That's what I want our narrative to be."
And MANTL comes at a time where men in the public eye aren't just erasing gender norms with nail art but with skin care, too, as they open up about their regimens; Diplo recently collaborated with skin-care brand Ole Henriksen, and Frank Ocean shared his skin-care routine for a GQ cover story. Brown credits shows like Queer Eye with furthering the conversation, but he points directly at women for this powerful shift. "Women are at the front lines encouraging the men in their lives to use products," he says. "It's not just something for gay men — it's for all men, because we all have skin."
In hopes that customers won't feel as overwhelmed as he once did, Brown launched with the basics: a face and scalp cleanser, a moisturizer, daily sunscreen (SPF 30), and blotting sheets. While MANTL was created with bald men in mind, the Netflix star says that anyone can use it — and that his sisters can testify.
But it's so much more than just products for Brown, who is empowered by his previous insecurities every step of the way. "I'm not judging anybody by where they are on their journey because I was there," he says. "My self-esteem was chipped down every day as I would wake up and draw on a hairline." But if there's anyone who's feeling less than their best in the shoes he once wore, Brown has one message: "It's so freeing when you don't have to hide and lie anymore."
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