Makeup and skin care have long been divided into his and hers products, but more brands are now inclusive of those who don’t fit into a binary gender. Brands like Jordan Samuel Skin and Meloway Makeup are seeking to change the beauty aisle by making products that transcend gender.
“Skin care is inherently genderless. We all have variations of different skin concerns, but they are not dictated solely by either biological gender or gender identity,” said Jordan Samuel Pacitti, the founder of Jordan Samuel Skin. Similarly, Ash Kim and his brother Aiden founded Meloway Makeup because they wanted to make products that they would use themselves. “Makeup being part of the gender binary is arbitrary, and we are determined to upend that and build a brand as inclusive as possible,” Kim said. “Our target customer is anyone who loves makeup. We are not shy about our message that makeup is for everyone,” he added.
Beauty products have been binary for a long time, but is there any benefit to using products designed for one sex or the other? We asked top dermatologists for their views on whether those identified as male or female at birth really need different beauty products, or if it’s all about marketing.
There actually are common differences between men’s and women’s skin
Experts say there are typically four main biological differences in the skin of those assigned male or female at birth.
Dr. Christina Lee Chung, a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology in Pennsylvania, explained that most of these differences can be attributed to hormones.
First, testosterone tends to make men’s skin thicker than women’s. As a result, men may need stronger exfoliating products or stronger concentrations of active ingredients. For example, Chung said men need “significantly higher” concentrations of Botox, and that over-the-counter retinol products may not be sufficient for men.
Second, Dr. Beth Goldstein, a dermatologist at Central Dermatology Center in North Carolina, said that because testosterone stimulates oil production, men’s skin tends to be oilier than women’s. As a result, men can usually tolerate harsh cleansers that strip oil from the skin better than women.
Third, men tend to have more facial hair and many shave regularly. Goldstein said that shaving can lead to irritation, as well as ingrown hairs resulting in pustules and scarring known as pseudofolliculitis barbae. As a result, many men’s skin care products are designed to soothe the skin post-shave. Men also need to be careful about the products they use right after shaving to prevent further irritation, she said.
Fourth, women’s skin tends to be drier than men’s. According to Goldstein, this is in part because men’s skin is more acidic. As a result, women tend to need moisturiser more than men. Drier skin also makes some women susceptible to the drying effects of some products. Goldstein said women’s skin usually gets even drier when they enter menopause.
Finally, men typically form fewer fine lines and wrinkles than women, Goldstein said. According to Chung, this is because men usually have higher collagen density in their skin. As a result, women may seek out more products that target signs of ageing. Chung cautions that many of these products contain moisturiser, which many men may not need and may cause harm by clogging their larger pores.
Do these differences matter when it comes to skin care products?
Despite these common biological differences, “there is absolutely no scientific reason for skin care products to be gender specific,” said Dr. Kristina Collins, a double board-certified dermatologist and founder of the skin care line Foy by Dr. Collins. That’s because “none of these differences lead to major variation in the ideal skin care regimen,” she explained. Instead, she recommends that everyone select skin care that best fits their skin type, not their sex.
When Collins developed her skin care line she focused on “evidence-backed skin care ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and retinoids” that she said can benefit everyone. Many of her customers are men and she gets “a lot of positive feedback” from the men who use her products.
Why are so many products marketed specifically to men or women?
One reason so many gender-based beauty products are marketed specifically to men or women is that there are so many “myths and stereotypes about skin types that are not only misleading but factually inaccurate,” said Dr. Nina Botto, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Vetted Dermlab.
According to Collins, most products marketed by gender have the same key ingredients. She said the biggest difference between beauty products geared toward men or women tends to be the product’s appearance, such as adding a shimmer to a moisturiser. Botto added that beauty products marketed to men tend to have woody, smoky or spicy scents and packaging with dark colours like black or navy.
Botto and her team designed their products “to be appealing to everyone.” Their approach of packaging their products in black and white glass bottles and using ingredients with data to back up their effectiveness has worked. “We have gotten a lot of feedback from people who identify as men, women and those that identify as neither that the packaging feels accessible and elegant.”
Significantly, Collins noted that products marketed to women are often subject to the “pink tax” and cost more than men’s products with nearly identical ingredients.
Botto recognises that many people may not be ready for gender-neutral beauty products. “We won’t please everyone … but our goal is always to be inclusive,” she said.