LAST AUGUST headlines blasted that French president Emmanuel Macron had spent approximately $30,000 on a personal makeup artist during his first three months in office. That’s about $330 a day. On makeup. For a man. (The Élysée did not respond to requests for comments on this matter.) Although male politicians and TV anchors have long used makeup for public appearances, Mr. Macron’s eyebrow-raising budget (and tawny, photogenic face) sent a message that powerful men are going to great lengths to look their best. But even among non-heads of state, the once-absurd notion that makeup can reasonably be part of a man’s grooming routine is slowly shedding its punchline status.
Just ask footballer David Beckham, whose new men’s grooming line, House 99, includes an eye balm and a face moisturizer, gateway drugs to the expanding universe of male primping. On the website of New York-based cosmetics brand Milk Makeup, 13% of customers are now men. At Bluemercury, a skin-care chain with over 170 stores, 20% of its shoppers pack a Y-chromosome. And they’re not just coming in for shaving cream: Men are increasingly buying concealers, bronzers and tinted moisturizers there. Later this year, Bluemercury will launch its own men’s makeup line.
This isn’t the first time gentlemen have brandished makeup brushes. In early-aughts America, emo bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy sported “guyliner,” inspiring angsty young men to steal their mothers’ eyeliner. In 1970s and ’80s London, following the lead of David Bowie and Boy George, male new wavers sidled up to the cosmetics counter for powder and mascara. Going further back, to 17th-century France, some historians claim it was men, perhaps more often than women, who pancaked their cheeks.
Despite these antecedents, it’s fair to wager that today most men think wearing makeup is just too image-conscious to be masculine. In high school I had terrible acne, but I never thought to wear makeup. The idea of a teen boy with makeup stashed in his locker was too embarrassing to fathom; it was better to be seen as acne-ridden than concealer-covered. As Hayden Cohen, a 24-year-old digital marketing manager from Boston said, “When men think of makeup they relate it to femininity, so a lot of men are way too ego-driven and ‘I’m so masculine’ to even consider it.”
Lisa Eldridge, a London-based makeup artist and author of “Face Paint: The Story of Makeup,” noted that women have an incredible arsenal of products at their disposal to compensate for late nights and bad skin. Of being without that option, she said, “I always felt kind of sorry for guys. There’s always been such a stigma.”
For many millennials, that stigma is passe, and a band of progressive men is working diligently to shred it. Confident vloggers on YouTube earn millions of views with tutorials on how to deftly daub on a full-face look. In 2016, CoverGirl announced its first male brand representative, then-17-year-old vlogger James Charles. In joining the ranks of models like Christie Brinkley as a face of CoverGirl in global advertising, Mr. Charles is putting a somewhat more masculine face on the decades-old American brand.
How-to videos about multi-product contouring and CoverGirl ads showing young men in eye shadow might portray a culture shift, but the real-life shift is much more incremental, at least in the experience of Dr. Bradley Glodny, a New York-based dermatologist who’s seen an uptick in men’s inquiring about makeup over the past two years. “There aren’t many people coming in asking, ‘Can I wear a full face of makeup?’” he said. “It’s more subtle.” He recommends concealer and tinted moisturizers with SPF to male patients as a nonintrusive, impermanent way for them to conceal skin issues.
Daniel Mollino, 34, a part-time lobbyist in Ringwood, N.J., uses makeup to softly conceal some scars on his face and his post-shave skin splotches. A BareMinerals foundation, he said, “smooths out the face and gives a more professional look.” He applies foundation before business meetings, date nights with his wife, “nice functions” like weddings, or anywhere he thinks photos might be taken.
Which could be anywhere these days, with the constant photo documentation of our lives via smartphones, and those photos’ immortalization on social media. And whether in phone selfies or the mirror, men are seeing the strain of busy schedules on their faces. Late nights at the office left Ernest James, CEO of digital influencer agency Noire Mgmt. in New York City, looking “like a raccoon,” so he turned to Sephora concealer. “It’s the best thing ever,” said the 32-year-old of the boost in confidence that came with covering up his dark circles.
Mr. James made makeup sound like such an easy fix that I began to wonder if I had been wrong to write it off as a teen. With more men dabbing on concealer after rolling on deodorant, I decided to join them and try makeup for one week, even though my skin problems are (mostly) a thing of the past. My goal wasn’t to change anything drastically. I wanted my own face, just better.
I visited Bluemercury’s midtown New York location, where its district manager Maggie Dewine helped me assemble a battery of men-specific products to be used regularly: Lune+Aster concealer to erase the occasional pimple, Bobbi Brown foundation to even out my blotchy skin, Chantecaille bronzer for a vacation-y glow, and a brow gel, also by Lune+Aster, to smooth my eyebrows. She swore these products would provide a “no-makeup” makeup look.
Ms. Dewine made it all look easy when she showed me how to use the products, but alone in my bathroom, I was befuddled. I clumsily rubbed and brushed at my face like a monkey swiping at a banana in a tree. Smearing in the concealer was like applying moisturizer, which had been the one and only step in my erstwhile beauty routine, but flecking my brows up with the gel-wand was not nearly as familiar.
Once I’d mastered the application, I had to admit that I looked good: no under-eye bags, a slight glow. It was as if I had slept 16 hours instead of six. I just looked like a Photoshopped version of myself. I couldn’t even tell I was wearing makeup. Nor could two female friends I saw later that afternoon. An hour into our conversation, I told them that I had makeup on. They inspected my face like a moth under a microscope but couldn’t see anything. Or so they said.
I felt more confident, and as the week wore on, I got comfortable with my new routine. (In my bachelor’s bathroom, though, the products looked alien and accusatory. If I had guests, I would’ve tucked them under the sink.) My colleagues admitted they didn’t realize I had anything on my face until I told them. The strongest comment I heard all week was, “Yeah, I guess, you do look a little glowing.” Shrug.
Walking into Bluemercury on that first day, I was a skeptic. I had chuckled at President Macron’s budget and cast sideways glances at friends who kept eye cream on their bathroom counter. I’d even tried to hide my Bluemercury bag as I walked back to my office.
By week’s end, though, I was a convert. I thought back to what Dianna Ruth, Milk Makeup’s chief operating officer, had told me earlier: “The fact that it’s taboo for a guy to be able to cover a blemish when it’s been acceptable for a girl since the age of 10 is such a strange concept.” Now I agree: a concealer for a zit, or foundation to even out your skin post-shave? Why not? Whatever gets you through the night (though I still think President Macron’s makeup budget should be chopped by 99.9%).
The morning after my test-drive wrapped up, I caught a few pimples bubbling up on my chin. Two dabs of the concealer and my skin was “clear.” If it hadn’t been for this article, no one would have ever known.