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I don’t pat myself on the back for much these days, but when the James Charles/Tati Westbrook YouTube influencer dustup set the world ablaze a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was filled with pride that I, unlike so many millions of clueless others, knew exactly who James Charles was.

Why was I so ahead of the pop-culture curve? Because last autumn, at the demand of my then 12-year-old daughter, I’d spent an entire weekday afternoon welded to the chair in my office trying to buy a limited-edition, online-only James Charles eyeshadow palette she absolutely had to have. At high noon, it was going on sale, and I was under strict orders to get. it. done.

Circa 11:45 A. M. that day, the texts started rolling in from school. “Mom. Mom. You there? You at your computer? It’s almost noon.”

I got it done. Twice, actually, because I accidentally ordered two of the palettes and couldn’t figure out how to release one from my shopping cart. Then I rolled my eyes and resumed my regular activities.

Male Influencers

It’s now about six months since “Operation Mom Get Me That Palette,” and already I find the world markedly different. Male beauty vloggers like Charles, Patrick Starrr and Kenneth “He Flawless” Senegal are routinely racking up millions of video views, male makeup lines are cropping up all over the place, and on the pink carpet at last month’s Met Gala, multiple dudes were sporting a hell of a lot more than “guyliner.”

Case in point regarding Met Gala: The morning after, as I was sifting through all the “beauty recap” emails from brand publicists, I spotted one about Riverdale heartthrob Cole Sprouse. It seems Christine Nelli, Sprouse’s go-to makeup artist, had contoured his already chiseled cheeks with not one but two types of bronzer. After applying a liquid bronzing gel all over his face and lips, Nelli mattified it with loose powder. She then added an even darker bronzer “in the hollows of the cheeks and at the temples fading into the hairline at the sides to give some depth.”

Sprouse actually looked great at Met Gala, and despite the considerable amount of makeup he was wearing, he didn’t “read” as overly painted — especially as compared to some of the other attendees, including Darren Criss, Michael Urie, Marc Jacobs and the aforementioned Charles.

At the risk of sounding like a 50-something, which I totally am, the whole “guys plastered with tons of makeup” thing feels…transient. Fleeting. Kind of a kid thing. (Except for Jacobs, who’s exactly my age.) My daughter is now 13 and regularly watches videos of men applying contour and highlighter so she can finesse her own fledgling skills.

But What About the Average Joes?

But here’s what I’m dying to know: will foundation, brow gel and other boy beautifiers ever find their way into my financier husband’s medicine cabinet? That, to me, is the ultimate litmus test. I don’t think we can really say that the men’s makeup category is legit until it fully mainstreams.

And we may actually be headed in that direction. As influential indie men’s makeup brands (see below for five we’ve identified as trending) drive home the “confidence” message – that, applied sparingly, complexion-improvers like concealer and tinted moisturizer can help guys feel youthful, polished and totally on top of their games – acceptance will continue to build.

Right now, it’s really only the U.S. that hasn’t fully embraced men’s makeup for “regular” guys. In Asia, this is a non-issue. And in pockets of Europe – especially the U.K., which spawned two of our five “hot” brands – it’s clear that younger men, who have come of age in the selfie era, have few qualms about swiping on a dab of makeup before they head out to work or the local pub.

Although men’s makeup typically isn’t broken out as a category (yet), the steady uptick in the grooming market speaks to the rise in male appearance-consciousness. According to Allied Market Research, the global personal care sector for men is expected to hit $166 billion by 2022, notching gains of 5.4 percent per year. Yes, skincare and shave account for far bigger chunks of the market, but trust that sales of “corrective cosmetics” for men are also headed north.

Ever on the hunt for relevance, the biggest cosmetics brands have begun featuring superstar boy beauty vloggers in major ad campaigns. CoverGirl was the first, enlisting James Charles, then just 17, as a CoverBoy in 2016. A year later, Maybelline followed suit, hiring YouTube champ Manny Guiterrez to be the face of its Big Shot mascara.

Still, I’ve yet to see any regular-guy makeup ads by, say, Clinique for Men. That, to me, would signal a seismic shift in beauty.

Until then, let’s talk indies. I thought it would be interesting-slash-helpful to take a look at five mostly direct-to-consumer men’s brands that don’t have the massive war chests of a Procter & Gamble or a L’Oréal behind them. What’s their vibe? Marketing M.O.? Hero product? Off we go, in alphabetical order…

Five Trending Men’s Makeup Brands

1. Altr

Backstory: I share this not to be mean, but because I find it charming: in the About Us section of Altr’s website, brand founder Alex Doyle tells us that his own acne- and eczema-plagued skin led him to create products he felt he couldn’t find anywhere else. Prior to making his own stuff, he depended on women’s concealer and “non-irritable” moisturizer. I love that so much. In all my years in this business, I’ve never stopped to consider my moisturizer’s emotional state.

Point of Difference: Whiskey, baby! For reasons that are unclear, both Altr’s face wash and moisturizer are whiskey-infused. In the website description of the moisturizer, it states that “a subtle whiskey extract helps your skin absorb the goodness” of other ingredients. It does? News to me.

Design Vibe: Weirdly 70s. It kinda looks like the male makeup version of that groovy bus The Partridge Family use to tour in.

Instagram Followers: 6825

Likely Consumer Target: Young Brits, for the most part. Although it sells to the U.S., this is principally a U.K. brand.

2. House of Formen

Backstory: Declaring itself “the globe’s first professional male cosmetic house,” Formen was founded by someone named Andrew. “Born and raised in Canada, Formen’s offices have amplified into the heart of New York City.” No other intel is forthcoming on the site about this Andrew person’s beauty credentials, or why he chose to “amplify” in Gotham.

Point of Difference: Very much a problem-solution play, several of the Formen makeup products feature multiple shades for professional-level color-correction. This is sophisticated merch.

Design Vibe: It’s pretty straightforward and no-frills, and the elk(?) head with antler logo is cool – a smart, easy way to “macho up” next-level men’s makeup.

Instagram Followers: 12.7k

Likely Consumer Target: Are Wall Streeters and other “amplified” types really nabbing complicated color-correctors? Perhaps they are, if they’ve spent any time on Formen’s helpful, instructional, “this is why you need this” site.

3. Mënaji

Backstory: By far the mack daddy of this group, Mënaji Advanced Men’s Skincare was way ahead of the boy beauty curve – launching in 2000, to be exact. Yet with hero products like Urban CAMO concealer and anti-shine sunless face powder, it still feels 2019-relevant.

Point of Difference: An established presence, Mënaji has solid connections with top celebrity groomers and high red carpet visibility.

Design Vibe: Lots of black sends a clear “for dudes” message.

Instagram Followers: 20.3k

Likely Consumer Target: Lifted from an April blog post on the brand’s website, this should give us a clue about Mënaji’s polished, upscale target: “You are a man of action. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. Gallant, independent, confident, sophisticated. Your best self demands respect, catches sidelong glances from strangers and leaves them…intrigued.”

4. Stryx

Backstory: With just two products in its arsenal – a concealer “tool” and a moisturizer – Stryx has somehow managed to garner massive buzz since its 2018 launch. Maybe that’s because its parent company had already maintained a robust, popular men’s blog – The Peak Lapel – long before embarking on product creation.

Point of Difference: Discretion, discretion and more discretion. At first glance, it’s impossible to know what Stryx’s products are.

Design Vibe: All black, save the white owl logo and Stryx name. Basically, the James Bond of men’s grooming.

Instagram Followers: 195k

Likely Consumer Target: With the mandate of “rethinking the meaning of men’s cosmetic’ products,” Stryx undoubtedly appeals to tech-savvy, design-obsessed younger men who still want to stay on the DL with their use of makeup.

5. War Paint

Backstory: Score one for controversy! This poor brand, launched just last year, has gotten thoroughly brutalized by the media for promoting what the chattering class has dubbed “toxic masculinity.” Surely, that’s because of War Paint’s admittedly overly macho social media imagery. But anyone who watches brand founder Daniel Gray’s slick “About Us” videos on the brand’s website would learn that it was his severe issues with his looks that led to the creation of War Paint. It seems Gray was heavily bullied about his adolescent acne, which led to body dysmorphia, something he struggles with to this day. As such, War Paint gives a portion of every concealer sale to CALM, aka Campaign Against Living Miserably, a UK-based mental health non-profit.

Point of Difference: War Paint is unapologetically textbook “masculine,” in an era in which that stance is thoroughly frowned upon.

Design Vibe: Sleek and design-y, with a bit of an old-world apothecary feel.

Instagram Followers: 14.2k

Likely Consumer Target: Despite the name, War Paint is largely aimed at regular guys who just want to cover imperfections and feel a bit more confident. The brand also makes it known that it’s U.K.-produced, vegan and cruelty-free, so Brits who eschew animal products are probably fully on board.