A bevvy of new skin care brands is betting that men are ready to explore beyond the two-in-one cleanser.
Reyal Performance, which launched in June, brands itself as a high-performance, full-throttle maker of skin care and supplements. The brand Disco started selling men’s skin care in 2019 and raised $5 million in April, investors buying into the claims that its facial cleansing stick and scrub achieve all the buzzwords — vegan, cruelty-free, sustainable and all-natural — men might buy in to. In 2019, Geologie began offering customised skin care based on quiz responses. Music producer and rapper DJ Khaled launched his brand Blesswell, a line of CBD men’s skin care, in May. Even the larger beauty and consumer packaged goods giants, in addition to the DTC darlings that started with grooming products exclusively, have caught on to the men’s skin care trend.
All of these brands are trying to carve out a market for skin care products that’s separate from the shaving space. And though men are less likely than women to stock a medicine cabinet full of face washes, serums and moisturisers, they aren’t starting from scratch. Over the last four years or so, brands have begun rolling out skin care and makeup specifically designed to appeal to men, a trend that has even reached the neighbourhood drugstore beauty aisle. Brands believe the market is ripe, but its potential is still emerging.
“Young men are embracing facial skincare and adopting multi-step routines that more closely mirror their female peers,” said Samantha Dover, global beauty analyst at Mintel. According to Mintel data, 49 percent of UK men who use skin care products said they would be willing to add more steps into their routine, a figure that increases to 68 percent when focused on consumers aged 16 to 34. The catalyst for the shift, Dover said, is social media, which she said, “adds pressure on young men to look good, whilst also giving young men an opportunity to learn about how to care for their skin.”
Men’s skin care struggled as a category before the pandemic, but saw increased engagement as men addressed skin issues related to mask-wearing and focused on hygiene more intensely, Dover said. The market, worth £79 million ($110 million) in 2021 in the UK, is expected to decline by 11 percent by 2025 according to Mintel data. Consumers’ shifting attitudes haven’t yet translated into sales.
The market opportunity is taking shape. Although women may discover new skin care at a spa or in a Sephora, online skin care sales — which now account for the largest share of sales — are expected to take market share from every other retail channel in 2021, according to McKinsey. Given that men typically already shop online, this works in brands’ favour. (Typically, men are more price-sensitive when it comes to shopping for skin care, preferring to shop in bulk online when they find discounts, said Dover. Competing with Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature is among the biggest challenges for brands in the space.)
A Man’s Needs
While much of the difference between men’s and women’s skin care comes in the marketing, there are some functional differences in the products, too, that cater to the different consumers. Typically, men have oilier skin, which can cause acne, and drier skin prone to irritation, especially after shaving. But the market opportunity comes in how men’s willingness to try ingredients — those usually marketed towards women — has evolved.
The purported benefits of retinol, for example, have frequently been extolled to women. Reyal Performance, which sells a “Super Night Moisturiser” for men that includes hyaluronic acid and retinol, is banking that its fitness-focused male customers will be interested in those ingredients just the same.
To be sure, there is less consensus in the men’s market about the benefits of ingredients like retinol than there is in the women’s market, which may confuse some customers. Caldera + Lab, which launched with a serum in 2019 and introduced its first cleanser and moisturiser in June, focuses on the skin care needs of its “sweet spot” demographic: Men between ages 45 and 60. Caldera + Lab chief executive and co-founder Jared Pobre said retinol for men of a certain age is a “no-no.”
“Men our age have such sensitive skin, even though it’s thicker because of the elements and stuff like that. You put a retinol on our skin, and it’s going to create a red patch on various areas that will continue to get worse and worse,” Pobre said.
Marketing to Men
The fact that Caldera + Lab touts the benefits of its products in aiding against wrinkles and the loss of skin elasticity at all underscores a notable shift in the men’s skin care space and how to sell products: the traditional trope of the man whose wrinkles help make him appear distinguished is no longer as appealing.
Caldera + Lab avoids language like “anti-ageing” on its website, instead focusing on changes to the skin that may appear as people age, like crow’s feet, droopy skin and frown lines. The brand said it is projected sales to grow more than 700 percent in 2021 after doubling in 2020.
It was really about saying, ‘why don’t you think about skin care in the same way that you think about training?’
There are other ways men’s skin care marketing mirrors other traditionally masculine industries. Words like “wild resilience” and “craftsmanship” and “powerful” — those that are just as likely to describe the features of a luxury SUV — appear on the Caldera + Lab website, next to a black and white photo of the great outdoors no less. Pobre even compared how his customers shop for skin care to how they might decide between a Prius and a Tesla, comparing the effectiveness and potency of ingredients like they would horsepower, he said.
Reyal Performance co-founder JJ Wilson said that he and co-founder Tanner Johnston wanted to distinguish themselves from what they considered to be the typical, bifurcated approach to marketing men’s skin care: Those brands that spoke to consumers in an “uneducated way” and the “ultra-high-end, almost unattainable category.”
Reyal — backwards for “layer,” which is what the brand hopes its customers will learn to do with their skin care — promises customers to simultaneously be high-octane and “be gentle, man,” per the brand’s slogan. (This is perhaps at odds with what one of its brand ambassadors, a man named Kolby Smallz, said in the brand’s “zine”: Channel “your inner David Goggins and [tell] yourself to stop being a bitch.”) Wilson said Reyal Performance encourages its customers to feel comfortable expressing the strength in their masculinity without shying away from being gentle, either.
Its skin care products include ingredients often found in K-beauty that sound like elixirs from a Game of Thrones universe: Dragon’s Blood and Tiger Grass (whose botanical classifications are Croton Lechleri and Centella Asiatica respectively), for instance. But the brand launched with more than just skin care; It also sells supplements, offering kits that include whey protein powder formulated for men who work out. Performance, the cornerstone of the brand’s ethos and half of its name, is key to how it speaks to its target shopper.
“It was really about saying, ‘why don’t you think about skin care in the same way that you think about training?’” Wilson said.