Make-up for men has come a long way since you surreptitiously borrowed a dab of your sister’s concealer to cover a zit. Today, you can get cosmetics specifically engineered for guy’s skin because – guess what? – men get those spots just before a date, too. And the dark circles because we thought one more drink wouldn’t kill us. And the creases in the skin after working a 50-hour week.
The big difference in men’s cosmetics from women’s, or the crazy, contoured artistry you might see on RuPaul’s Drag Race, is that this make-up is designed to be invisible. It’s more like grooming 2.0, a subtle evolutionary step from your daily moisturiser that slaps an Instagram filter on your face in real life.
Debate what it means for masculinity if you like. We’re not going to. We don’t think it’s really a revolution, or feminisation gone berserk. It’s just an option – one you can take or leave as you see fit to fine-tune your appearance. And if you do, below you’ll find everything you need to know about the products to get with expert advice on how best to use them.
How Make-Up For Men Became A Thing
One in five men of men said they now use make-up, according to a survey for grooming brand Wahl. So, who’s slapping it on? Millennials aged 25-34 are the age group who tend to use it most, with 39 per cent saying they use make-up – that’s more than a third of blokes on the street.
Unsurprisingly, cosmetic brands have been quick to jump on the growing trend for men’s make-up, part of a grooming industry worth $57.7bn (£43.6bn) in 2018 and expected to top $78.6bn (£59.5bn) by 2023. Boy de Chanel and Tom Ford for Men are two recent designer launches that are flying off the shelves and into men’s weekend bags and office drawers, but budget options are increasingly available too.
“More and more products are being launched with men as their specific target,” says make-up artist Kenneth Soh who has groomed the faces of Richard Madden, Hugh Laurie and Martin Freeman. “Brands are now doing skincare and light cosmetic products that are branded and packaged for men and take away the stigma of guys wanting to use products on themselves.”
Despite becoming a zeitgeisty talking point recently, make-up for men is nothing new. As far back as ancient Egypt, kings and pharaohs blackened their eyes with kohl (sort of the OG eyeliner) to ward off evil spirits, a practice that eventually reached Native American tribes who used body paint to psychologically prepare for war. Male beautification remained prevalent even up until the 1600s when it was common for Englishmen to sport powdered faces as well as rouged cheeks and lips.
In more recent decades, subcultures like goths and new romantics disobeyed the gender norms of their day and now, it’s no secret that Hollywood leading men use makeup artists to help them look their best for the red carpet and TV appearances. Take Daniel Kaluuya, who set the internet alight when it was revealed he wore Rihanna’s Fenty beauty brand to the 2018 Oscars, spurring the business to create a series of online make-up tutorials specifically for men.
Kaluuya isn’t the only A-lister to don a bit of slap. David Beckham hit headlines at the start of 2019 for his cover of Love Magazine in which the ex-England football captain wore green eyeshadow, and Ezra Miller has long defied gender expectations, wearing everything from bold lipstick to silver glitter.
When it comes to men’s make-up for the everyday guy, it’s not so much about going to town with a whole Crayola box of colours as more of a fixer for a problem like dark circles or a spot. “For me, men’s make-up should hide imperfections and look believable, a bit like they’ve had a good night’s sleep,” says Soh.
Assuming you’re not immune to the occasional late night or unwanted flare-up, these are the products worth investing in and experimenting with. Blusher not included.
Make-Up Products For Men
You don’t need a wash bag packed with products for a bit of subtle man make-up. Here are seven key pieces that comprise the ultimate kit for guys that want believable, no-bullshit cosmetics.
Even if you’re no oil painting, you still need a good canvas to work with. A primer prepares the skin for everything else that follows, allowing it to go on easier and last longer. It’s not an essential step, so can be skipped in a pinch, but the right formulation can also have additional benefits, like controlling oiliness or hydrating dryness. A double skin win.
BB / CC Cream
The bloke’s more accessible alternative to foundation, BB and CC creams are essentially part moisturiser and part make-up, meaning they’re great at achieving a natural but healthy looking complexion. BB stands for blemish balm and is ideal for spot-prone skin or those in need of a little colour boost. CC stands for colour correcting and provides light coverage while also reducing the appearance of redness or age spots.
Pre-date breakout? Boardroom presentation on three hours’ sleep? This is where concealer comes in. Often a guy’s first dabble with make-up (usually stolen from a sister or girlfriend), this miracle invention is similar to foundation, but is thicker and comes in a stick or liquid wand form (the former being far less messy). It works by blending imperfections into the surrounding skin, so use it for hiding under-eye shadows, or spot coverage, or a death-by-hangover-day.
No one wants a shiny schnoz, which is why most women use pressed or loose powder to keep excess oil at bay. However, men typically have larger pores, which can make this appear obvious. Blotting sheets sort the oil slick without leaving a layer of cakey product on your skin. Plus, they’re small enough to keep in your wallet, so they’re ideal for touching up on the go.
Men’s eyebrows tend to be fuller and hairier than women’s, which means they need maintaining. After all, if your eyes are the windows to your soul, then your eyebrows are the curtains. Brow gel, fix or definer – they have multiple names, but basically all do the same thing. Stick to clear formulations and use sparingly (with the included brush) to keep unruly arches in check.
No guy wants to be called thin-skinned, but when it comes to your lips, that’s literally the case. More prone to damage than almost anywhere else on the body, it’s important to look after your smackers, and that starts with a lip balm. Avoid anything that says ‘gloss’ like the plague. Instead, opt for a manly option: a matte formula that’s moisturising but doesn’t give too much shine when you smile.
You may not think of a bunch of coloured crayons as make-up, but this is where science comes into it. In the same way some colours work for your skin tone, while others work against it, certain shades can be used to your face’s benefit. Green, for example, counteracts redness (see ya, spots), orange counteracts deep-blue (bye bye, eye bags) and lavender counteracts sallowness (have that, hangover.) Apply the appropriate corrector before concealer or foundation and watch your skins disappear.
This is where things get a little scary for some guys, so allow us to mansplain. Like on a construction site, a foundation is usually the load-bearing part of a make-up routine. Thicker than BB or CC cream, foundation is ideal for masking imperfections, evening out skin tone and generally just making you look more youthful and healthy. Opt for a liquid version, which doesn’t require a brush, in a shade that matches your skin colour. If you’re not sure what tone to get, test it on the back of your hand or get matched at a beauty counter.
Easy Male Make-Up Routines For Every Situation
Unless your daily life involves a movie set, chances are you won’t have a personal make-up artist to hide your spots and take down a shiny forehead. Luckily, we found one for you. Whether you’ve got a killer hangover or are suffering sleep deprivation, follow Soh’s advice to go from a solid 7 to a straight-up 10 (probably). And if all fails? You’ve always got that Instagram filter.
The Make-Up Routine To Hide A Hangover
So you’ve woken up feeling the wrath of grapes and now have a two-hour appraisal with your boss. They’re going to spot your eye bags from 10 paces in the boardroom, right? Wrong. Make-up can’t get rid of the cotton wool mouth or beer fear, but it can help disguise The Hangover from Hell. We won’t tell HR if you don’t.
- Your face most likely resembles an unloved box of prunes from dehydration and the lack of shut-eye. Slap on a sheet mask for 5-10 minutes to inject some moisture back in, pronto.
- Too hungover/shaky to think about slathering on primer or BB cream first thing? We’ve all been there. Spritz on a primer water instead, which will refresh and hydrate your skin in seconds.
- Excessive tequila shots (that’s any more that one, FYI) causes blood vessels to dilate, giving the tell-tale ‘red-face’ appearance. Reach for a clever green colour corrector to counteract any blotchiness. Dab a small amount on with your fingertip to balance out any obvious angry zones.
- After Berocca and a very, very dark room, concealer is your best mate on hungover days. Use your ring finger, which is your weakest, to apply it to any dark shadows or eye bags, patting gently until it’s fully blended into your skin.
- Parched lips and boozy breath are two major signs that you were on first name terms with the bar staff the night before. Apply a lip balm loaded with mint for hydrated smackers and more bearable breath.
The Make-Up Routine For Acne-Prone Skin
Spot, zits, blemishes – call them what you want, but having acne-prone skin can put a dent in your confidence levels. Stick to medicated formulations and mineral-based make-up to help camouflage any breakouts, without aggravating them further.
- Any old concealer won’t do when it comes to acne. Look for one specially formulated with anti-irritating ingredients like salicylic acid that will heal blemishes as well as cover them. Dot it directly onto the affected areas and use a small, clean brush to blend so you’re not transferring any bacteria from your fingertips.
- There’s nothing wrong with having acne scars, but if you want to cover them up look for a multi-action foundation (usually labelled something like ‘Anti-Blemish’ that also helps prevent further outbreaks.
- Park the idea of using loose or pressed powder, which can clog pores and cause spots. If oily skin is a major bugbear, arm yourself with blotting sheets to instantly mattify and control a shiny T-zone. They’re also worth flinging in your cross-body bag to counteract heatwave sweats.
- If you’re prone to acne outbreaks, cleansing becomes even more important when wearing make-up. As well as lathering up in the morning, use a face wash at night to remove any product for a calmer, clearer complexion.
The Make-Up Routine For Sleep-Deprived Dads
Woken up looking like an extra from the Walking Dead? Reserve the deathly look for Halloween fancy dress parties. The rest of the year, dull, lifeless skin is a sure sign that you haven’t face planted a pillow for long enough. Take your morning coffee with a side order of cosmetics.
- Sod the cucumber slices. Roll a cooling eye serum over your extra undereye baggage instead to feel less like a salad bowl. Look for a formulation loaded up with caffeine to pep up droopy peepers.
- Fight off the look of fatigued, sluggish skin with a ginseng-infused primer or CC base to amp up your blood circulation. It’s like giving your skin a double shot of espresso.
- In the same way green can be used to counteract redness, lavender tones work a treat at giving sallow skin a pick-me-up. Grab a colour corrector in handy stick form to add instant brightness to zombie-like dull skin wherever it’s most needed.
- Night owls can inject a bit of life back into their cheeks (in the most subtle way possible) with a tinted moisturiser. The healthy colour boost is instant. Plus, most offer bonus sun protection for when you see daylight hours, too.
The Make-Up Routine For Everyday Guys
If you’re lucky enough to have skin that’s not particularly prone to spots, lines or blemishes, congrats. But, come on, unless you’re one of the Hemsworth brothers even everyday skin can do with a little pick-me-up from time to time. Go for subtle, multi-use products to help enhance your best bits.
- Eyebrows can make the biggest difference to your face, just ask Liam Gallagher. Use a clear brow gel sparingly to tidy up unruly hairs and look instantly more together. Just remember to lose any monobrow fluff with a quick tweeze.
- With no real skin concerns, you should be able to find a base product that does everything in one convenient hit. Look for a primer with a built-in SPF that mattifies, or hydrates – whatever your skin needs most.
- Only use a dab of concealer where it’s really needed, i.e. under-eye shadows or on the odd blemish. Forget the messy liquid formulas, choose a handy stick or pen that does the application for you.
- Want to get an open-eyed look without going near your girlfriend/sister/mum’s mascara wand? Eyelash curlers are Hollywood guys’ secret weapon. Just clamp the tool as close to your lash line as possible for a few seconds.
- Dry, chapped lips are never a good look. Reach for a matte lip balm so your lips don’t look shiny, or like you’re wearing lip gloss.
How To Apply Make-Up For Men: 7 Expert Tips
Mix It Up
Into skincare? Don’t be afraid to mix your make-up with your face potions, says Nikki DeRoest, a make-up artist who has got models camera-ready for the likes of Nike and Calvin Klein. “If you’re doing something like disguising heavy night dark circles, go for a light veil of concealer and mix it with a gel-based eye cream so you get a more diluted formula.”
Less Is More
Men naturally have stronger features so, when you add make-up to the face, it naturally looks more dramatic and prominent. “Using a light hand is crucial to nail the most subtle look possible,” says DeRoest. Always start with a small amount of product and build up from there.
Blend Blend Blend
When using a BB or CC cream, apply a small amount and blend into your skin until it disappears. “If you use the right product and colour, there should be no need to blend into the neck – the last thing you want is make-up marks on your collar,” says Soh.
Hide The Signs
“Avoid getting BB/CC creams in your eyebrows, beard or sideburns as this is always a tell-tale sign,” says Soh. After applying products to your face, used a beard brush to comb through any excess and avoid build-up.
Keep Your Kit Simple
You really don’t need a haul of make-up brushes and beauty blenders. A clean fingertip is usually all you need to blend in your product. “If you have a spot, apply a dot over the spot and tap it lightly into the skin with your finger,” says DeRoest.
Fake A Full Beard
A patchy beard is the Achilles heel of most well-groomed men. To add thickness and definition without the expense of a transplant, use an eyebrow pencil to fill in any gaps. Avoid the top line of your facial hair, which can look artificial, and always brush through after for a natural finish.
Do Pre-Make-up Prep Work
Any make-up artist will preach that skincare is paramount if you want to achieve seamless ‘WTF-are-you-really-wearing-make-up?’ make-up. “Before you even start investing in products, consider upping your skincare game,” says Soh. “The better the complexion, the less make-up you’ll actually need and the more natural and real the results.”