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Gender-Neutral Skin-Care: The Next Big Thing?

Men and Women applying face packs and eye creams
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How often have you heard the archaic expression ‘men are from Mars and women from Venus? We reckon the answer looms somewhere around: ‘Too many times to care’! Despite the obvious differences between the sexes, it turns out, our skin-care/beauty essentials need not be necessarily from different planets. 

In July 2020, Rihanna, international pop/contemporary R&B queen and entrepreneur, dropped a video—as a teaser to the new skin-care range from her brand Fenty, Fenty Skin. The clip featured her along with models and rappers Lil Nas X and A$AP Rocky. The brand communicated to both men and women in the same breath. Big brands rarely do that!  Having said that, Fenty Skin isn’t the first one to do so. In 1994, Calvin Klein made history with CK ONE, ‘a fragrance for a man or a woman’. That same year, M.A.C Cosmetics, a brand whose core philosophy has always been—for all ages, all races, all genders, debuted its first Viva Glam campaign with RuPaul. 


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It’s not that men haven’t been sold beauty products for decades either, it’s just that they have often been packaged and sold on the ‘male grooming products’ aisle at your favourite superstore.  In the past, whenever the beauty industry has communicated to men through brand campaigns and so on—it has always been with an overtly masculine tone that gave men ‘permission’ to take care of themselves in a metrosexual way, which was acceptable by the society. Societal norms and the dawn of capitalism, conditioned us to classify certain colours, toys and products as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. Pink outfits and dolls for girls, and cars and planes for the boys. You get the drift. Walk into any beauty store today, and it’s clear that the gender divide is still alive. Packaging in vibrant colours ‘for her’ and deep, moody browns and blues ‘for him’. 

However, the beauty business, like that of entertainment and many others, is learning the ropes of being inclusive and diverse. Representation matters, and brands are now discovering that it sells too! In an age when outdated ideas and stereotypes about gender and beauty are being cast aside, what’s good for business may also have the power to help make a paradigm shift in cultural norms!

Generation Z and the power of inclusivity

Amit Gupta, a 27-year-old Bangalore-based entrepreneur says, “I have no qualms about heading to the store with my girlfriend to check out skin-care products for myself. Even if some of my male friends won’t admit it, I know a lot of them use serums and creams marketed towards women because they have a wider range of products. I know some of them used to make their sisters or girlfriends buy products for them after getting recommendations from the skin experts at the store! So, I’m all for gender-neutral/fluid beauty goodies.” There are also a growing number of women who don’t relate to overtly feminine packages or gender-specific perfumes. Bollywood star Alia Bhatt supposedly prefers men’s fragrances over women’s. 

Many men like Gupta and other Millennials and Gen Z (roughly those born in the late 90s and early 2000s), are playing an essential role in society developing a broader understanding of gender. Sensing this cultural transformation, various Indian brands are gradually coming forward with ‘inclusivity’ as their key motto through their products. Indian brands like Super Smelly, WOW Skincare, MCaffeine, Mamaearth Studio West, and Fastrack (fashion accessories) have also come up with gender-neutral products.


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Skin-types and ingredients first, gender last

Mumbai-based celebrity dermatologist and author of Skin Rules, Dr Jaishree Sharad elucidates, “Skin is primarily the same. Male and female skin (or all genders for that matter), have the same anatomy—with the same epidermal (outer) and dermal (below the epidermis) layers, collagen (the protein that keeps your skin plumb and from sagging), and sweat and oil glands.” These are the components which make up for our skin, the human body’s largest organ.  

“As a medical practitioner, when a male/female client comes up for a consult for skin troubles such as acne, sensitive skin and so on, the prescription is and always have been, skin-based and never gender based!” adds Dr Sharad. She goes on to explain further that “men may have more oil glands than women” though that needn’t be always the case. “The one major difference between men and women’s skin is that the former ages a bit slower than the latter. Women lose collagen due to menopause, and the signs of ageing like saggy skin and wrinkles start showing up sooner in women than men,” she says. Dr Sharad also went on to reveal that she has used her husband’s facewashes and moisturisers in the past without hesitation!
Hinaa Khan, Head of Education, Dermalogica India, says, “Skin care is, always has been and should be gender-neutral. The basic skin care rule is to cleanse, exfoliate, tone, treat, moisturise and protect with a sunscreen.  It’s crucial to customise the routine as per your unique skin-care needs focusing on your skin type, skin condition, and lifestyle. It shouldn’t be gender-dependent. Skin-care is and should be based on ingredients and efficacy and nothing else!” 

For example, Vitamin E is vital for the health of your hair and skin, regardless of whose hair/skin it is! Vitamin E is good for all!

The future is here

Today’s consumers have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips. Brands cannot take their basic intelligence for granted. Gender-specific marketing tactics won’t work in the long run. Platforms like Instagram elevate people you don’t traditionally see or hear from, often from diverse backgrounds. They’re demanding change, and corporations have no choice but to listen up! 


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The beauty industry has embraced inclusivity in recent years, with brands such as ASOS merging its male and female grooming sections into a face and body section! Bloggers and Instagram stars with millions of followers such as James Charles, Patrick Starrr and Jake James have redefined the face of gender-neutral glamour for Generation Z! India-based Ankush Bahuguna, a content creator and actor often breaks gender-stereotypes by putting up makeup tutorials for men for his growing base of IG followers!


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 The accelerated reach of the internet means that even men from smaller towns have access to social media, and want to look good and feel good about themselves. In an interview with Financial Express Manish Gupta, COO, Accessories Division at Titan Company, said: “The lines are blurring between fashion for men and women. This is apparent from the choice of cosmetics to personal care products as well. It is mostly because grooming has become equally important to both the sexes, and there is an internal gratification in terms of feeling good about oneself and external in terms of getting the right look.”

In November 2020, singer/hitmaking-producer Pharrell Williams launched a project close to his heart: Humanrace, a vegan and gender-neutral skin-care line. Over a Zoom interview with Allure magazine, he quoted that he wanted “to democratise the experience of achieving wellness.” India’s own international star, Priyanka Chopra Jonas has become an entrepreneur by launching a gender neutral hair-care brand, Anomaly. Gender-neutral and produced entirely in the US, Anomaly is labelled cruelty-free, free of harmful chemicals and packaged in recyclable bottles made with post-consumer recycled materials. In an interview with WWD she said: “In the campaign that we do for Anomaly, it’s natural everyday beauty. Not the blown-out, silky hair. It’s all kinds of hair, everyone’s hair. It’s every gender. It’s every colour. It’s every kind. That is the idea of Anomaly, that all of us are anomalies.”


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Adds Dr Sharad, “Perhaps, in the past, men associated taking care of their skin and applying products, as a ‘girly’ thing to do. Today, men are more comfortable taking care of themselves because they’re not going to be judged for it like they would have been a few years ago or don’t care even if they are. Now that men’s brands are innovating for the time and as Millennials and Gen Z become the majority of the population, those stereotypical gender roles will go away.”


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However, it’s not enough to merge men and women together because we have people coming out who may not identify with either, and therefore, the future of beauty will be or need to be gender-fluid. Retailers are going to start getting rid of sections and having product categories instead like ASOS. No matter what you believe, your appearance is the first impression, and making a good impression is critical at the workplace or for our social lives—irrespective of the gender you identify with. 


[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]