“Makeup designed by men, for men” claims it’s gender neutral

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Toxic masculinity, but make it makeup. This is the marketing angle for men’s makeup startup “War Paint” (tagline: “Make Up Design By Men, For Men”) seems to be banking on with its brand debut. It officially launched yesterday (May 8) with a video showing a Herculean, tattooed bro showering, à la Old Spice commercial. He then applies concealer before slipping on a skull ring.

The UK-based company, which told Quartz that it is not making comments at this time, immediately faced a mass groan from the internet. Some pointed out that its “War Paint” moniker was a sloppy rip on a Native American pre-battle practice; Twitter user Two Feet noted that the ad used his music without asking or crediting him.

Most critics, however, were concerned that the combative, macho man advertising was pandering squarely to male insecurities about using beauty products, something that cosmetic companies have been moving away from in recent years.

Interestingly, War Paint itself claimed the opposite, noting that its tactical, for-men-only branding was actually an attempt to create a gender-neutral line of makeup:

And toxic masculinity-accusations aside, War Paint appears to be building its brand on misguided messaging about the differences between male and female skin. Its site notes that “men and women’s skin are very much different. Men’s skin is naturally tougher, produces more sebum (natural oils) which means men’s skin is more naturally moisturized, however regular shaving causes dryness. The increased natural oils in men’s skin makes their skin more prone to blackheads and spots.”

Anthony M. Rossi, a dermatologist and assistant attending at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told Quartz over email that while there are “some biological differences between the skin and sebum production of men and women,” such as hormone-related sebum production, and a different density of hairs in the beard area, “it is still hard to say that all men would need a different type of makeup,” adding that women will differ amongst other women and between men as well.

Rossi also points out that most makeup is developed with similar ingredients, and that War Paint is no exception. “From the website it seems they add vitamin e and tea tree extract, but these still do not address the biological difference of men’s skin,” he says. The point being, that War Paint’s bronzer and concealer won’t necessarily work differently than something from CoverGirl.

Beauty for Boys

Beauty for men is big business. Last year, Chanel launched its first men’s makeup line with three products called “Boy de Chanel.” The label said in a press release that it wanted to promote the idea that “beauty is not a matter of gender, it is a matter of style.” Other brands across the beauty industry are echoing this sentiment. Other major brands like CoverGirl and Maybelline have tapped male beauty gurus as spokespeople.

Likewise, men’s wellness and health companies have mostly abandoned the testosterone-soaked, shame-inducing marketing of male grooming products that dominated the early-aughts. You’ve seen those ads: The sad Rogaine-man pondering his disappearing hairline in the mirror; the meek Axe-man finding his mojo in a spray-deodorant.

Many brands—like Hims, Aesop, and Chanel—have been favoring an inclusive, gender fluid, or genderless approach to grooming products (of course, they’re also paying closer attention to what might resonate with audiences in 2019, so as to better serve their corporate interests). In spite of that, the message is ultimately one of empowerment: that you don’t have to identify with a certain gender to use our hairspray, lipstick, or lotion, and you don’t have to be ashamed of using those things in the first place. War Paint, meanwhile, is playing on a particular brand of male insecurity to sell its products, and while its unclear if that will resonate with some, it’s certainly striking many as a tone that’s out of step with the times.