On a recent morning before work, I found myself fidgeting nervously in a makeup chair at Sephora as beauty director and veteran makeup artist David Razzano schooled me in the proper application of liquid foundation.
“Always start in the center of the face,” Razzano said as he gently ran a brush across my face. “A lot of times women have had their mom or an older sister to teach them this, but guys most of the time have not been taught how to do makeup right.”
Razzano had agreed help me put together a fierce makeup look — something to cause a stir in the staid New York offices of NPR.
“We’re gonna have some fun, we’re gonna do a colorful smoky eye on you,” he said.
For many women, the experience of getting makeup done at a Sephora may be familiar, even mundane. But for me, and for many American men, it’s completely uncharted territory.
That may be changing. A survey conducted by market research firm Euromonitor International found that more than half of U.S. men now say they’ve tried some kind of facial cosmetic, whether that’s foundation, concealer or bronzer.
Razzano said he’s seeing more and more men coming in interested in makeup. From Wall Street traders looking to cover a blemish before a big meeting, to the more adventurous types, searching for that perfect pink eye shadow.
“There are these rules that are all being broken in the most brilliant and beautiful way because, whatever, it’s makeup,” Razzano said.
The market for men’s makeup is estimated to be about $1.1 billion, still just a small fraction of the $71 billion global cosmetics industry, according to market researcher JUV Consulting.
Even so, cosmetics companies are betting on the future of this growing segment. Covergirl recently made headlines when it announced its first-ever cover boy, Internet makeup guru James Charles.
Fellow makeup giant Maybelline has also hired its first male spokesperson and ditched its iconic slogan, “Maybe she’s born with it” in favor of the more inclusive, “Make it happen.”
Chanel launched its first line of makeup for men called Boy De Chanel, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty offers a Gentleman’s Fenty Face box set, and just this past summer nail polish giant OPI launched the #ManiUp campaign encouraging men to get their first manicures.
This shift to a more gender-fluid beauty ideal is driven in part by the rise of male beauty influencers like Bretman Rock and Manny Mua who, with their millions of followers, are increasingly leading the conversation around what it means to be beautiful.
Gabriel Zamora runs a popular YouTube channel featuring makeup tutorials and product reviews. He’s collaborated with brands like Mac Cosmetics on gender neutral makeup lines. He says social media has helped expand the idea of beauty by giving a platform to people who might otherwise not have been seen.
“A lot of what we thought was supposed to be the norm was kind of fed to us by the fashion industry, by the beauty industry,” he said, “and I think people were like: We don’t look like that.”
Zamora struggled as an openly gay teenager growing up in Houston experimenting with makeup. He says he’s encouraged to see rigid ideas about gender and sexuality breaking down.
“I’m so excited to see the progress that our culture is having, in having these middle school boys wearing makeup to school when for me that wasn’t even a thought,” Zamora said.
Back in the makeup chair at Sephora, I waited with anticipation as Razzano put the finishing touches on my makeup, blending together a gradient of pink and purple eye shadows with names like “Radioactive” and “Hazmat” into a bold explosion of color.
“I’m telling you, hot pink is the secret eye-shadow weapon,” Razzano said.
As I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I was surprised by how much I liked it. Suddenly, all the things I hated about my face — the stubborn dark circles, the dull, boring color of my eyes — were transformed. I felt powerful, I felt confidant, I felt pretty. I though to myself, maybe I could get used to this.
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