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How Grooming Is Introducing Men to Self-care and Redefining Masculinity

Men's personal care brands are challenging masculinity norms through brand messaging and aligning with nonprofit organizations.

Philips Norelco in October unveiled a partnership with Movember, the annual event where men grow their facial hair to raise awareness for men’s health and mental health.

Since its establishment in 2003, Movember has funded more than 1,250 global men’s health projects, and this year it’s aligned with Philips Norelco to grow the conversation. The grooming brand is also committing a donation up to $550,000, including more than 850 Philips Norelco shavers and funding for Movember to develop their men’s health research and programs.

“I think it’s a huge part of the Movember campaign to make it normal for men to prioritize their own health and wellness and that includes mental health,” said Dr. Jake Taylor, chief resident in urology at NYU Langone and a Philips Norelco partner.

Taylor is creating content for Philips in addition to his ongoing series of Instagram Live conversations with experts on aspects of men’s health. “I think definitely with the explosion of social media, a lot of men feel more comfortable speaking about health in general and can speak to more effects on mental health,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of men had increased anxiety due to the pandemic and men are willing to speak about it openly now.”

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That attitude is a far cry from previous decades and generations where the acknowledgement of anxiety and mental health issues weren’t as commonplace nor accepted. Taylor said there has been a huge shift in the past 10 to 20 years in regard to men speaking about their health and mental health. With Philips, they hope to get men to do more than just grow their facial hair, but also “dig deeper on what’s beneath the surface,” he said. He believes the mental and physical check-ins can start after shaving in the mirror.

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“They can go to the mirror after picking up the Philips One Blade and after shaving do an assessment and check in on themselves,” said Taylor. “I often say a healthy life is a happy life and we’re trying to help men realize there is no reason they don’t deserve to feel healthy, too.”

Skin care has often been considered a gateway to self-care and has been a growing interest among men.

In 2016, Allied Market Research projected the global men’s personal care market would generate sales of $166 billion by 2022 and a Research and Markets report from 2019 said the global male grooming market is expected to reach $81.2 billion by 2024.

Though men initially take an interest in skin care in their youth to combat acne and learn how to shave, that’s more out of practicality than mental restoration and relaxation.

The past 10 years saw the rise of grooming brands and barber shops like Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and Frank’s Chop Shop, among others. Still, the focus was on facial hair and hairstyling, despite players like Kiehl’s, Malin & Goetz and Aesop expanding their skin care businesses exponentially. Men have more options today, but at one time they borrowed products from their significant others, helping popularize unisex fragrances and skin care.

Last year saw a rising acceptance of men’s makeup and nail polish, which was a favorite among celebrities like Harry Styles and Evan Mock, as well as designers like Virgil Abloh. Modern grooming brand Faculty launched with nail polish and in May 2021 secured $3 million in seed funding led by the Esteé Lauder Cos. Inc.

Men’s grooming companies that offer subscriptions like Gillette on Demand, Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s Bevel and The Beard Club, according to Bloomberg Second Measure, saw a higher percentage of new customers in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019 and 2021, and average quarterly sales in third-quarter 2021 for Bevel and The Beard Club exceeded $70 a person, illustrating how much men are willing to spend on their grooming and skin care products.

A survey from Miraval Group, in partnership with StudyLogic LLC, describes self-care as “engaging in behaviors that support one’s own well-being” and found that more than half of men between the ages of 18 and 65 practice self-care through “healthy cooking, mindfulness, fitness and spa,” with younger respondents between the ages 18 and 34 practicing self-care more regularly than the older respondents. Traditionally these practices, with the exception of fitness, were not considered to be masculine acts and were rejected.

Traditional masculine norms have been portrayed by fictional characters and real people with cocksure personas, displaying acts of heroism through bravery and withholding vulnerability. These norms were once ideals to strive for, but they come with issues like aggressive behavior and fits of anger, and at the worst abusing substances to alleviate stress and anxiety. It has also helped birth the phrase “toxic masculinity,” which is when traditional masculinity norms limit the emotions that men and boys can express.

The American Psychological Association released in 2018 guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men, and these guidelines explained that there are several forms of masculinities, with the most traditional masculinity ideologies being linked to mental health stigmas. They also say that boys and men don’t receive the help that they need, that boys are taught “from an early age to be self-reliant…and to minimize and manage their problems on their own,” which leads to the question — how are men taking care of themselves, and what are grooming and skin care brands doing about that?

 

How Men's Skin Care and Grooming
Maapilim makes natural, high-end men’s grooming products.

Maapilim, the Tel Aviv-based skin care line founded in 2015, was born from an art project, “Flowers Are Manly,” that showcased how masculinity is varied. Founder Jonathan Keren and his husband Doron Baduach made oils to sell to fund their art exhibition, and created their business as a result of the success. They launched the brand serving the men’s grooming market but have since changed to a gender-neutral brand.

“What we’re trying to do is inspire men to have slow moments in their lives,” said Keren. “Honestly when I started, I had just become obsessed with essential oils, but when we saw we were selling products, we felt like something was lacking in the men’s space.”

Keren hopes to inspire more dialogue among men about skin care regimens. He believes that work needs to be done for men to be less emotionally rigid and believes this can be achieved by complimenting another’s skin and openly discussing regimens. He added, “People understand that if they want to achieve great things, they have to take care of themselves. Skin care is great for that and beauty in general, because you spend time with yourself and your thinking.”

Dove Men+Care launched in 2010 to “expand men’s opportunities to care,” said Amy Stepanian, senior marketing director of Dove & Dove Men+Care U.S.

The brand has become a champion for fatherhood and helped raise awareness and lead the conversation on paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees. A study from Boston College Center for Work and Family said “only 60 percent of U.S. employees meet the criteria for protection under FMLA and many employees cannot afford to take unpaid time off.”

“We’ve always been committed to fighting stereotypes,” Stepanian said. “In 2018, we began to move from talking about the issues to take action around paternity leave.” She also believes that skin care can be an entry point to self-care and contributes to the change in conversation about masculinity. “It should and it does,” she said. “We encourage the practice of self-care.”

Harry’s is taking a similar marketing approach by focusing on men’s mental health. The company was founded in 2013 when typical men’s grooming and personal care ads alluded to using their products to increase sex appeal and attraction. Maggie Hureau, Harry’s head of social impact who spent 15 years in nonprofit work, said those ads didn’t resonate with men.

“There are so many more brands trying to find their voice and we took the opportunity to meet customers where they’re at,” Hureau said. “We landed [on social impact work] and didn’t want to just create an awareness campaign, but ensure we were adding real value to mental health programming. It’s a big issue, but we wanted to give significantly directly to programs.”

Harry’s has always set aside 1 percent of sales for its social mission. Most recently, Harry’s has reached 850,000 men through $6 million in donations to charity partners A Call to Men, Crisis Text Line, The Trevor Project, Headstrong, Stop Soldier Suicide, Beam, Black Men Heal and The Steve Fund.

In addition to launching skin care this year, Harry’s introduced The Open Minds Initiative, a search for the next big idea that can change the state of mental health in the U.S., and the company will award a nonprofit organization $5 million to bring the idea to life over the next three years. Hureau said less than 5 percent of philanthropy gives to mental health resources.

“We deeply care about fostering real change around mental health, whether that takes the form of changing how masculinity is discussed, self-care, therapy or training,” she said. “It’s hard to talk about masculinity without saying it’s good or bad, and I don’t feel they’re any of those things. What we’re learning from working with our partners is masculinity looks really different to everyone. Broadening the definition is only going to help. I think overall customers are demanding a lot more and want brands to care about and stand for something.”

“I do think that norms are shifting, as is the growth of our understanding of how masculinities are enacted,” said Wizdom Powell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and director of health disparities institute at UConn Health. “I have been urging us all to move away from using the term [toxic masculinity]. I’ve really been intentional about lifting up that using this term may inadvertently inform men that they are irreparably toxic or damaged. The danger in that is when you have young men and boys hearing those messages during sensitive developmental transitions like emerging adulthood when self-esteem is coming into focus. Those messages internalized at that point could have long-term and real impacts on how young men and boys perceive themselves.”

Powell was hired by Dove Men+Care as an adviser for her research in mental health among men and boys in marginalized communities. She has published works in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry and the American Journal of Public Health, among others, and was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011 and 2012 to serve as a White House Fellow to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for her expertise on military mental health.

“We are encouraging men to take time to care,” she said about the Dove Men+Care campaign. “We know that when fathers are involved at the very early stages of life, the children have better outcomes. They’re more emotionally stable and reap the benefits of fathers being present.” She added that fewer than 40 percent of workers can take family and medical leave and men face scrutiny or believe they will be scrutinized when they take paternity leave.

Powell said she felt “called” to her work after losing her maternal grandfather to preventable cancer partly due to his struggles with unmet behavioral health needs. She said the loss has impacted her family more than 40 years later.

“When men believe that they should not tell people about stressors, they have more pronounced depression and are less likely to seek care and get mental health screenings and follow through on treatment,” she said. “The power of working with a brand and the potential to put out these messages about self-care can’t be understated.”

Oli Walsh and Josh LeVine founded Asystem with the mission to help men be their best selves. The duo launched the brand to help men slow down and check in with themselves and their peers, and take better care of their bodies and minds for the betterment of themselves and those around them.

“Thankfully the norms of what is defined as masculinity have evolved hugely in the past 20 years,” said Walsh. “The mainstream media has recently helped to shift these paradigms and it is fantastic to see. Skin care is obviously a key conversation driver in and around this topic.”

Asystem launched with a cleanser to be used twice a day; moisturizer; rebuilding cream, and a 30-day supply of supplements, and has expanded since.

“It is becoming more and more normalized for men to integrate aspects of wellness into their daily lives,” Walsh said. “Speaking candidly about my friends, I’ve noticed this desire to be one’s best self — and therefore taking care of one’s self — becoming a more important central theme in their lives.”

Asystem
Products from Asystem and an image from its ad campaign. Courtesy Photo

Asystem is one of five men’s and unisex skin care brands that launched in 2019 within months of each other — alongside Normalife, Fabric, Disco and Kelsen — that are redefining masculinity by encouraging skin care routines and shedding masculinity norms that have been proven to be detrimental to men’s mental and physical health.

But do grooming and skin care brands need to address masculinity when the self-care conversation is becoming more mainstream? Keren said: “I don’t think that they can just be a product company. You need to have an agenda. You need to talk about something that interests you. If you believe that something is important, you should put that so your message gets across to your users.”

Hureau added, “I think overall customers are demanding a lot more and want brands to care about and stand for something.”