Makeup for men: will blokes ever go big for bronzer?

The head of L’Oréal UK says men’s cosmetic counters will soon arrive in stores and Asos is selling a range of makeup aimed at men. We tried a manly makeover to see if the products will filler gap in the market

Rock stars and circus performers aside, male forays into makeup have often been rather timid. The attitude that “real” men don’t wear warpaint could be due for a makeover, however, as L’Oréal’s UK managing director, Vismay Sharma, predicts male-focused cosmetic counters could be a permanent feature of beauty halls within the next decade. A generation of men raised on selfies and carefully curated social media profiles are much more open to a bit of slap than their fathers.

“Manscara” is going mainstream but are British men ready for it?

You don’t have to look too far to see the world is coming round to the idea that men, too, can enjoy being pampered and looking after themselves, with reality TV particularly being an unlikely champion. ITV2’s surprise summer hit Love Island, hoped for, and got, hot hookups and blazing rows, but the enduring image of the series was the burgeoning bromances between the men. They gave one another beauty treatments, muscle-worshipped each other’s toned bodies and openly discussed their penises.

You couldn’t call the lads on MTV’s famously no-holds-barred Geordie Shore progressive, but their attitude to grooming – helped by their collective vanity and the competition to be the most successful at pulling women – is bang up to date. The men in the reality show think nothing of spending hours getting their look just right, and this is filtering out on to high streets up and down the country, helped along, as ever, by technology. The availability of camera phones and the likelihood we will be photographed or videoed by friends on a night out, with the results inevitably shared on social media, has made men more conscious than ever of the way they look. Filters enhance selfies, sure, but when you’re not the one taking the pictures, you need to make sure you are camera-ready.

Makeup’s image, meanwhile, has largely gone from a necessary evil to one of empowerment. It is armour – an instant confidence boost in a world where we’re constantly scrutinised. In women’s cosmetics, techniques or treatments once considered exclusive, such as contouring, fake lashes and hair extensions, are now easily attainable for all. A common concern of even your most assured metrosexual is looking too “girly” but there is more room for manoeuvre, and men want to up their game. Not too long ago, moisturiser was considered a luxury, or an overtly feminine product, yet it is now a staple of any man’s washbag: there is every chance makeup can eventually find a home there, too.

Darren Scott, the editor of Gay Times, says men in makeup is nothing new, but there is a definite shift to the mainstream. “On social media particularly these days, I see so many guys – predominantly younger ones – noticeably wearing makeup,” he says. “And what of it?”

You could forgive gay men for feeling slightly sour that such titivating is now acceptable only because straight bro-dudes are getting involved, but while Scott thinks makeup is in no way limited to a gay man’s experience, he does question whether they will be interested in targeted male makeup ranges. “I think they’re savvy enough to know what’s good already,” he says. “Makeup doesn’t need to have gender assigned to it.”

It’s as much about the effect of the product than marketing or packaging, which could be why, in 2008, initial enthusiasm for Yves Saint Laurent’s male version of Touche Éclat concealer – unfragranced, more matte and in muted packaging – was short-lived. Customers soon flocked back to the original.

My own relationship with makeup began with my debut stage role – swaying in the chorus of HMS Pinafore in a sailor suit, with rouged cheeks, baby-doll eyes thick with mascara, and bright red lippy – but since then I have dabbled intermittently. I braved clear mascara, then black; risked losing an eye when crudely applying the obligatory guyliner in the mid-00s to ape Brandon Flowers; and occasionally trowelled Touche Éclat under my eyes. As I’ve aged, makeup has become more functional than decorative. A dab of concealer for troublesome plooks, and highlighters to fight off dark circles. I fell in love with Tom Ford’s concealer and his Gelcomb – whose packaging adds a touch of glamour to your wash-bag – and I banished panda-eyed mornings with Benefit’s marvellous Boi-ing Airbrush – but now there’s further to go.

MMUK’s range of men’s makeup products is available on Asos.
MMUK’s range of men’s makeup products is available on Asos. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Men’s makeup brand MMUK first started persuading guys to get a glow-up in 2012, and it’s no surprise it has chosen online fashion giant Asos to assist with its assault on the mainstream. Style-conscious boys can already pick up glitter beards, cleansing brushes – in masculine hues such as slate – and every possible permutation of beard oil, but this is the first time Asos has stocked a full makeup range as part of its grooming offering for guys.

Most men would ordinarily forage for this stuff in the makeup bags of their sisters, girlfriends or understanding gal pals, but there are only so many things a woman is prepared to share. With liquid foundation (£27.50), bronzer (£27.50), beard and brow filler (£15.50) and a range of brushes on offer, guys can now curate their own kit.

Intrigued, I introduced a number of items from the MMUK lineup into my grooming routine.

The biggest stumbling block to its potential popularity, however, may be the sheer time and effort it takes to apply makeup properly. While men can hog bathroom mirrors with the best of them, few morning routines go beyond soaping the holy trinity – pits, balls and bum – in the shower, slapping on some moisturiser, spraying deodorant and practising holding in their tummy. Looking polished and making eyes pop sure eats into your day.

Most men will be strangers to foundation, the false canvas when your face isn’t blank enough. At first it is overwhelming – I apply it as if I am painting the Forth Bridge, and it feels as if I am wearing a pie – but eventually I’m wowed by the disappearance of almost all skin tone variations. Inexplicable redness, gone! Pores, gone! Once I’m used to the uniform colour and smoothness, I confess, I’m pretty into it. But it’s not over yet.

All made up and ready to go.
All made up and ready to go. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

The concealers feel more heavy-duty than female-focused counterparts, and while there’s noticeably less shimmering, they do their job. This is maintenance, remember. Mascara is easy to apply, but one blink before it’s dry and suddenly you’re a chimney sweep. Oh, but baby, my eyes – I could get away with murder with one bat of my lashes. It’s probably here that the enhancements abandon all subtlety and become full-on slap. The beard and brow filler doesn’t quite know what to make of my gingery eyebrows: one sweep of the brush and suddenly I’m sporting Ming the Merciless-style terror slugs, with an Olympic gold in stern. Bronzer is maybe the biggest leap your average man will make – it’s noticeable, a commitment to beautification.

I discover quickly that less is more. Much more. Once applied, the effect is ... pretty dazzling. I look like I had far too much wine with lunch or fell asleep under a grill. When I debut a considerably toned-down look out and about, I don’t mention I’m wearing makeup, but after a few minutes of intense peering, one friend asks if I’ve had surgery, another says I look like my own self-portrait, while a third tells me I look like I’ve been up to no good. I consider all three to be compliments. The overall effect is less dolled-up than it might be for men using women’s products – a muted nip and tuck rather than an extreme makeover.

Adam Walker, a grooming expert at the Male Stylist, welcomes the chance for men to express their personal style, but worries about the thirst for male perfection. “It has a lot to do with the imagery men face and how that affects their own perceptions of their bodies,” he says. “Women have had to deal with this for decades; now these same pressures are being felt by men, as advertising uses athletic men with perfect skin and toned bodies.”

Walker is encouraged by masculinity encompassing grooming and looking after your body, but warns: “Positive body image comes first; from there you build on that with your own styles, cosmetics and routines. Concealing ‘flaws’ can lead down a path of body image issues and shame, which can ultimately be both costly and self-destructive.”

I know makeup isn’t a magic wand, but if there’s a glimmer of hope that it can make my next selfie filter-free, I’ll take what I can get. Make way at the mirror: us boys are ready for our closeup. But can you please show us how to get our bronzer right?


Justin Myers

The GuardianTramp

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