IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Beauty products for men? Just don’t call it makeup

Concealers, eye creams and powders for men — called "enhancement products" — are becoming more common in the grooming aisles of local drugstores. But despite increased popularity, many men are still embarrassed to take home items that seem feminine.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Marek Hewryk doesn't call it men's makeup. Instead, he calls it "enhancing products." He's talking about the concealers, eye creams and powders that are becoming more commonplace in the male grooming aisles of local drugstores.

Hewryk is the president of 4VOO, a men's cosmetics line that offers products like self-tanner, lip serum and tinted shimmer in addition to concealer and powder. Although those may sound like items you'd see backstage at a cabaret, they're actually marketed toward the everyday man for casual use. And Hewryk maintains that his products are quite different from eye-popping, transformative items you see in the women's cosmetics aisles.

"Women use powder for two reasons: to conceal and to change the tone of the skin," he explained, emphasizing that the genders have different motivations for picking out makeup. "Our powder is only to minimize shine and oily skin, not to change to tone of the skin or to be used as foundation."

These differences in function mean that male cosmetics are their own beast and not simply traditional women's wares wrapped up in more-masculine packaging. Marek Hewryk gives assurances that his products are formulated specifically for male skin, which tends to be thicker and oilier. And men have their own set of facial imperfections to contend with: The average male has to deal with issues like red bumps and razor rash in addition to blemishes. "It's about enhancing, not making up," Hewryk said, explaining that his products are "less to beautify than to give men some tools to cover imperfections due to certain skin issues or to age."

Hungry for enhancementTODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas spoke of a new male breed actively seeking out beauty products, and even beauty advice, to correct flaws in their appearances. "So many more men today come to me with questions," she said. "'Hey, what can I do about lines under my eyes?' Or: 'Every time I shave I get this really red rash.' Men are really looking to find those natural enhancements."

Thomas points these cosmetics-hungry guys in two directions: There are traditionally female beauty brands like L'Oreal and Yves Saint Laurent that have expanded into the men's sector, and there are smaller cosmetic labels that cater specifically to males. 4VOO falls under the latter category, as does The Men Pen, a cover-up brand that produces a single type of concealer in 17 different shades.

Men Pen founder and CEO Ryan Bradley got started in the makeup business because he was looking to tap into the next big thing. For Bradley, that meant a men's cosmetic product that could remedy commonplace facial marks, and, he realized later, also hide deeper imperfections. "My motivation's changed a lot based on my responses from customers," Bradley said. "There are a lot of guys out there who have blemishes that really affect their lives."

Bradley explained that many of his customers aren't just looking to fix a bit of razor burn, they're also trying to conceal bigger issues like acne, pigment discoloration or facial bruising. Bradley spoke about one customer, a Marine who'd sustained an injury to his face. "He has a scar on his face that real bothers him," Bradley said. "And, as manly as he is, he uses the Men Pen religiously."

Branding a product "The Men Pen" is certainly one way to target a male clientele, although not every label can be that direct. Bobbie Thomas explained that a lot of men's cosmetics are marketed to appeal to guys who might still retain some embarrassment about taking home products that seem too feminine. "[These brands are] looking at packaging that men can be proud of, things they can pick up and throw in their basket or keep on their shelf at home," Thomas said. "Also you'll notice different verbiage: energizing or tough, clean."

A quick look at a few men's beauty items proves Thomas' point. L'Oreal's eye-roller, a product for eliminating eye puffiness and dark circles, is billed as being "hydra-energetic." And many of these brands eschew cosmetics terminology for words like "skin care" and the aforementioned "enhancement products."

More than anything, male cosmetics companies are attempting to combat the notion that makeup is more about making a statement than about blending in — its polar opposite, in fact. And branding for a casual, everyman customer is at the root of this endeavor. A label called Hey Dude sells concealers and powdered bronzers, but the man-approved name and simple silver packaging make these products seem as normal and commonplace as a stick of deodorant. Or at least as ordinary as the colognes and hair pomades that once appeared girlish and indulgent.

Marci Kwon is 25-year-old graduate student whose boyfriend sometimes wears makeup. And that doesn't bother Kwon one bit; in fact, she appreciates her guy's dedication to his appearance, even if he chooses products more elaborate than basic cover-up. "Some male features need enhancement," Kwon said. "If it were to make his lash line darker or his eyes more prominent, I'd be OK with that." 

Learning the basics
With women hopping on board, men are actively seeking out new methods of beautifying their faces. The rise of guy cosmetics has led to a trend of online video tutorials that show men the correct way to apply their new wares. Makeup tutorials have been a staple in the women's sector for years — makeup artists will demonstrate how to create smoky eyes, for example, or a specific celebrity look from a red carpet — and these videos will garner thousands upon thousands of views. And now men's DIY makeup videos are seeing the same popularity — but instead of demonstrating elaborate tricks, these tutorials teach men the basics of application. A YouTube video called "Makeup for Men: How to Apply Foundation Makeup on Men" has been viewed more than 130,000 times.Not everyone is so willing to accept men's makeup as a run-of-the-mill product, however. There are still people who look at male cosmetics as costumery or affectation — men whom the buzzword "enhancement" seems to have eluded. Tom Walsh, who works at a restaurant in New York, is one of these people. "If you want to talk about guys wearing makeup you have to be a rock star," Walsh said, adding, "If I was playing a show or rocking out with my friends then maybe I'd wear it."

For Walsh, wearing cosmetics is still about making a statement — showing off, not blending in. But this attitude is swiftly going the way of lip liner and white eyeshadow. Art frame craftsman Phil Kennedy and his girlfriend have embraced the new smooth and even-toned masculinity together. "She wouldn't be seen with me in public because I had a pimple," Kennedy explained. "So she was like 'put some makeup on.' " By agreeing to his lady's request, Kennedy left the house blemish-free and therefore less likely to draw looks of unwanted attention.

"The joke has worn off,” Bobbie Thomas explained. “Men don't have to be embarrassed about caring about their appearance anymore."