It’s 2020 and spending too much money on moisturizer is a genderless pastime.

Whether Instagram’s culture of dewy selfies or shifting notions of masculinity are behind the trend, it’s crystal clear: guys have never been more interested in their skin. Searches for “men’s skincare” have steadily risen since 2013, according to Google Trends. The searches are concentrated in coastal states with big urban centers like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, Florida, and California. Meanwhile, over 56% of men in the US said they’d used a facial cosmetic in 2018, per a Euromonitor survey. 

The money tracks. Men’s skincare sales grew 7% in 2018. That’s slower than the skincare industry at large, sales of which rose 18% in 2018, but it’s remarkable for an segment that was in its infancy a decade ago. (Leading brands, like Dove’s Men+Care launched as recently as 2010). Worldwide, the men’s skincare industry is worth around $11.6 billion, only about 10% of the global skincare industry. Men’s skincare is predicted to grow more than 60%, reaching $18.92 billion by 2027.

Marketing or science

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Is men’s skincare real? Is there any reason a man and a woman couldn’t share a moisturizer? Is the difference just a matter of black packaging, adding a few drops of “oak moss” or “winter ice” scent, and printing “for men” on the bottle?

The answer will surprise cynics. Men’s skin is about 25% thicker than women’s, produces more collagen and hair follicles, and has more highly active oil glands. This means it’s less likely to dry out, more prone to acne, and requires stronger active ingredients. Of course, skin types vary so widely it feels ridiculous to generalize that, “men have oilier skin.” Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson admits some brands are known to use the exact same formula in men’s and women’s versions of a product. In general though, products for women tend to be more geared towards moisturizing, while men’s skincare may be more concentrated in active ingredients. 

Catching up to Asia

For many American men, moisturizer is still in the same category as tampons and lingerie. But in places like Japan, China and South Korea, the pursuit of flawless skin is much more universal.

Asia accounted for $2.1 billion of the $3.3 billion spent on men’s skincare worldwide in 2013. China, where 96% of men purchased a skincare product or cosmetic in 2018, holds the largest men’s skincare industry in the world. Currently, per data from Mintel, Chinese men’s skincare is worth $1.9 billion, or about 15% of the global market. 

K-beauty is the nickname for Korea’s particular method of skincare, focused on hydration and brightening. In particular, K-pop stars like BTS (who released their own skincare line in 2018), have helped popularize a boyish, fresh-faced look for men. Meanwhile in China, “little fresh meat” is internet slang for a movement of “beauty boys,” delicate-featured, smooth-skinned male entertainers and influencers, who are is further popularizing skincare with millennial Asian men. 

America has their own version of “beauty boys,” but while highly online millennial and Gen-Z men are leading the charge, the new male beauty consumer doesn’t necessarily fit a profile. 

Pharrell and Rob Lowe have both released skincare lines in the last five years. Diplo and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz recently discussed face masks on Instagram. A$AP Rocky and Troye Sivan are ambassadors for Fenty Skin and Glossier, respectively. TV stars like Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France, and YouTubers like James Charles are also opening doors for men into skincare and beauty, often under the gender-neutral umbrella of “self-care.” 

“We’re seeing a convergence of masculine and feminine ideals,” Joseph Grigsby, VP of marketing for Lab Series, Estée Lauder's men's skincare brand told Vox in 2014. He proposed that young people no longer “associate beauty rituals with femininity, but rather with self-care and success.”

A new generation of men’s grooming

China’s male skincare market is growing the fastest, expected to nearly double by 2025. A wave of at least 10 domestic Chinese beauty start-ups targeted at men have launched this year, hoping to chip away at the 60% market share of the three leading brands, all of which are foreign: L’Oreal, Nivea and OXY.

In America, too, a wave of skincare start-ups targeted at men have cropped up in the last 10 years, making Old Spice and Gillette look like dinosaurs. 

Many of the biggest success stories in this space have already been snapped up by major conglomerates. Dollar Shave Club was picked up by Unilever for $1 billion in 2016. Harry’s made headlines after Schick-owner Edgwell was blocked by the FTC from acquiring it for $1.4 billion on charges the deal eliminated competition. (Proctor & Gamble has run into the same issue while trying to acquire women’s shaving brand Billie). Edgwell did manage to nab Bulldog, a British men’s skincare brand known for cruelty-free products in 2016, and Jack Black skincare for men (no relation to the School of Rock actor) in 2018. Cremo, a 15-year-old men’s skin brand that’s more grocery store aisle staple than insurgent start-up, was the conglomerate’s consolation prize for the price of $235 million this year, after the Harry’s fell through. Better described as an insurgent is Bevel, a DTC men’s grooming brand targeted at Black men. It was picked up by Gillette-owner P&G in 2013 for between $30 and 40 million.

Lumin, a men’s brand known for charcoal cleanser and great memes, has over 124,000 Facebook and 239,000 Instagram followers. Others, like “grooming solutions” start-up Hawthorne haven’t as big of a splash online, but gathered $10 million in funding, including investments from Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massnet, and Nick Brown, an early investor in Goop. Asystem, Disco and Huron have all raised at least $1 million in funding. And Geologie, a personalized skincare box for men had 5,000 subscribers as of March.

A big moment in men’s skincare came this summer, when CVS announced it would stock Stryx, a men’s make-up and skincare brand founded in 2017. Stryx’s concealer, moisturizer, and gel cleanser “for men” are now available at 2,000 CVS stores around the country. CVS, according to Bloomberg, was following the demand seen from millennial men, as well as a general bump in interest in skincare during lockdown (i.e., “the Zoom effect”).

Just as in Asia, indie e-commerce brands will have to compete with heavyweights. L’Oreal-owned Kiehl’s has gathered a “cult following among men” according to Glossy. The company brings in 39% of its sales with men’s products, in part due to a partnership with Equinox. The name recognition and distribution power that Estée Lauder’s Lab Series and Nivea Men, which have both been around since the ’80s, possess is a high bar for skincare rookies. But as with nearly every industry these days, startups are angling to take on those entrenched brands in the hopes of becoming like Glossier, but, you know, for guys.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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