How men’s beauty brands plan to take off in 2022

Companies in the growing space are emphasizing ease-of-use and subtlety to package, sell, and teach their products.
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· 7 min read

When Umar ElBably graduated from the Canadian Ivey Business School in 2019, his line of men’s grooming and cosmetic products was just a class project. Now, it’s a full-fledged business—called Faculty—and even landed $3 million in seed funding, led by the Esteé Lauder Cos. “In our pitch deck, there’s a picture of me when I was like seven years old with dyed-blue hair,” he told Retail Brew. “I was experimenting with fashion and beauty, stealing my sister’s makeup.”

The “steal my girlfriend’s concealer” line was a common refrain among the men’s grooming companies and analysts we spoke to. As it turns out, the rise of men’s beauty is actually unmasking a trend that already existed. “Every five years, guys are getting new ways to groom,” Jon Shanahan, co-founder and CMO of the men’s cosmetic brand Stryx, told us.

“In the mid-2000s, you had Axe and Old Spice taking scent mainstream. In the early 2010s, you had guys wake up to haircare and beard care. Over the past five years, that trend continued into manscaping,” he explained. Looking forward, 2022 will help carve out what the men’s beauty category looks like for the next half decade.

Base coat

If the last 10 years were marked by the macho, the next five seem to be dropping the tough-guy act. One new item men are introducing to their dopp kits: nail polish.

Faculty started with four SKUs in 2020, three shades of polish and one manicure-art sticker sheet, but that wasn’t always the plan. The company was originally going to sell concealer—“which still will be in market eventually,” ElBably said—but pivoted to nail lacquer due to financial constraints and supply issues during Covid.

A culture driven by individualism and a market embracing men with painted nails—Harry Styles, Machine Gun Kelly, and Tyler, The Creator are just a few of the celebrities who’ve recently launched nail-polish lines—also made it an easy choice.

  • There was a 16% increase in nail-care products sales in the US prestige market from last January through October, compared to the same period in 2019, per NPD data.

“Once [celebs] wear nail polish or makeup, the world takes note. They project this message that it’s okay to use these products,” ElBably noted. “There’s [also] a lot of work that’s been done by the LGBTQ+ community, which I think the world should be very thankful for.”

The company will roll out skincare and makeup products in the future, but it’s in no rush, ElBably explained. “At the end of the day, beauty is our core focus for our product portfolio. We’re trying to figure out ways to stretch what that definition actually is.”

Michele Probst, the founder of Menaji Men's Skincare, concurred: “Maintenance used to mean something different” for men. “It’s no longer the slap on the face of the aftershave that burns your skin. It’s what is going to make me look better, feel better, and be confident.

But, depending on the brand, the meaning of men’s beauty can range from self-expression to low-key.

Fuss-free: Stryx hit the market in 2019, and it found that around 70% of its customer base had never purchased a cosmetic product before. Surveys also uncovered that its male buyers were (wait for it) stealing from their partners’ beauty bags.

“A big thing with [many cosmetic brands] is that they assume a routine,” Shanahan said. Stryx, on the other hand, has found its niche helping customers build from the ground up.

  • The company’s products—sold online and, as of December, in Nordstrom—range from cleansers to pimple patches to tinted moisturizers. Prices go up to $42.

Shanahan, and his co-founder and CEO Devir Kahan, realized the men buying Stryx don’t respond to gritty details about a product’s formulation or the latest breakthrough in organic ingredients. The company experimented with messaging around “the best of Korean skincare for men,” and it failed to resonate with the brand’s audience.

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What’s working is simple—literally.

“Guys want the instant fix,” Shanahan continued. “They want to know that it’s made for them, they want to know that it’s easy.” That aforementioned tinted moisturizer, in fact, went viral on TikTok last year. Sales of the product jumped 430% a month after the brand posted a 50-second how-to clip. Shanahan chalks up its popularity to being a one-step solution and undetectable, like a blurring filter.

  • Stryx said it has more than doubled sales each year since it debuted. In 2021, the company saw e-comm grow 250% YoY. (Shanahan declined to share specific figures.)

Covert ops: Beyond branding, brands are also starting to think about ease of use with product design. Stryx, for example, goes for “discreet and imperceptible” with its pen concealer, a tool that doesn’t require an additional brush or sponge.

Probst even labeled Menaji’s hyaluronic moisturizer as an aftershave. “You have to rephrase the packaging. It’s all in the way you present it to them,” she said.

Lessons learned

There are still some taboos in the growing space, so the ways these companies are packaging, selling, and teaching their products are increasingly leaning on ease and subtlety. And for men’s beauty to really take off, education has to be the next step.

Stryx’s YouTube and TikTok channels, for example, consist of videos answering customer questions and demonstrating how to use the core products. “Guys want to be spoken to on their level,” Shanahan told us. “You can put this stuff on the shelf, but when it’s explained to guys, that’s really powerful.”

“E-commerce is going to be a big driver in this space,” Manola Soler, senior director at Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group, told us. “It’s easier to shop that way, and if you don’t know a lot about the category, it’s just more friendly toward education, and grouping products and comparing.”

Soler suggested people buying men’s beauty and grooming products will be more willing to learn if the lessons are simple. She points to the grooming brand Harry’s “streamlined SKU count” and “results-oriented messaging” as an example of effectively tapping a typically “low-engagement customer.”

  • Men’s beauty and grooming brands could look to product bundling and auto-replenishment subscriptions, she said, options that require less action and decision on the shopper’s behalf.

The biggest obstacle is getting these hesitant consumers to actually try a new product, but the reward is significant. “Men tend to be more sticky, more loyal to brands because they don’t have as much knowledge of the space,” Soler claimed. “So that initial barrier of making that first purchase or trying a particular product line…it's a big opportunity.”

Crystal ball: Product-wise, men’s anti-aging products look like the next frontier, Soler and Probst agree. Probst predicts more tanning products and lash-and-brow care are on the horizon, as well. Meanwhile, Stryx is betting on men’s cosmetics and skincare with more advanced and personalized formulas, and the continued influence of quick fixes like pimple cover-ups and temporary beard and hair color.

But with all this emphasis on men and simplicity, the best move might be to abandon gender labels altogether as the category becomes more widely accepted. (Shanahan noted that the word “men” is nowhere to be found on Stryx’s packaging.).

“In the not too distant future…we’re not necessarily talking about men’s skincare. It’s just skincare,” Soler explained. “And then we have different customer segments within that may have slightly different needs.”

“There’s no reason brands can’t go after both men and women with the same product, but just with targeted and more consumer-specific marketing campaigns,” she said.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that Stryx products are available on Nordstrom’s website and its NYC men’s store, not all its locations.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.