If you, too, were blindsided by recent skin-care debuts from Hollywood veterans like Brad Pitt and Travis Barker, maybe it’s because you haven’t heard: unassuming famous men are entering the skin-care chat, transitioning from steady careers in Hollywood to beauty brand founders.
These last few months alone have seen the launch of luxury skin-care lines by the aforementioned stars (Le Domaine and Barker Wellness, respectively), as well as an affordable range from television host Michael Strahan called Daily Defense and a joint venture by Idris Elba and his wife called S’able Labs. In 2021, Harry Styles launched his own offering (Pleasing, which now includes makeup), preceded by Pharrell (Humanrace) and Karamo Brown (Mantl) in 2020.
It would seem the men’s beauty market is booming: according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “brotox” (Botox for guys) is the highest-requested cosmetic procedure by men, with a 400 percent increase in treatments administered since 2000. By 2029, Future Market Insights projects that the global men’s skin-care products market will reach $28.3 billion. Celebrity-backed or not, there’s money to be made. And where there’s money to be made, you can be sure to find men.
What Gives Skin-Care Products a Star Factor?
What these celebrity men have in common could be boiled down to fame, capital, connections, and day jobs. If an A-lister has a hero quality about them — say, great hair like Keanu Reeves or youthful skin like Pharrell — then research indicates consumers are more likely to pay top dollar to achieve their likeness or something close to it. “At the end of the day, celebrities are perceived tastemakers and authority figures to a lot of consumers,” says Phillip Wong, who cofounded men’s wellness brand Hawthorne with friend Brian Jeong. “But you like to see it be done in a manner that feels authentic to who they are as people and honest to where they are on their own personal skin-care journeys.”
The price ranges and products themselves under each brand vary — from $385 serums to $12 aftershave balms (and, of course, merch). However, one term seems to set them apart from other skin-care lines on the market: genderless. Perhaps a marketing ploy or an earnest call to action, it’s not a footnote but a prominent focal point in each brand’s messaging, from websites to packaging and social media.
Celebrity-backed or not, there’s money to be made. And where there’s money to be made, you can be sure to find men.
David Yi, founder of men’s beauty and grooming site Very Good Light and its skin-care offset, Good Light, is curious but remains nonpartisan. “It’s powerful that these men are launching more expressive tools,” Yi says. “On one hand, it provides permission for other men to also partake in beauty. On the other, it creates this idea that in order to participate, you need others to ensure that what you’re doing is socially or societally OK to do.”
The term genderless, though powerful in theory, is a bit sticky. Where the health of our skin is concerned, does that mean it works for everyone? For sensitive skin, and oily skin, and combination, dry, and acne-prone skin? As brands continue to evolve, how precise or inclusive the language is can be a determining factor between formulas that work for every skin type or just wanting to be liked by everyone. Launching a product for the most consumers possible isn’t limiting, nor does it have much to do with gender. Though saying “genderless” or “for all” might feel good, it might really mean it’s not actually for everyone.
Is the Face Behind a Brand Enough?
Few famous faces have usurped their Hollywood fame with their business endeavors in the ways that, say, Kylie Jenner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rihanna, or Jessica Alba have. In fact, the mere surprise or delight that a celebrity makeup or skin-care line turns out to be actually good most often, if not always, becomes its selling point beyond shade ranges or formulas. And platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube — in addition to the old-school word-of-mouth tactic — assist in convincing others that a night oil by Kim Kardashian is better than something you’d find at the drugstore due to myriad reasons beyond their star status. Yi insists there has to be more to the story than just a familiar face.
“The most compelling brand-founder stories are those you can relate to, where you can see yourselves in them,” Yi says. “It’s even more difficult for these brands to create communities when celebrities are limited in how much time they can spend building one, too. If a celebrity decides to launch a beauty brand, they should do so humbly, listening to industry veterans, taking time to create community, and be in it for the long haul.”
In some cases, being an influential brand founder can move the needle, despite prior industry knowledge. Pitt, for example, was asked by Vogue to demo his own skin-care routine and laughed, admitting he actually doesn’t know how to properly clean his face and that he’d have to be in character to pull it off. Then, ahead of Le Domaine’s launch, a group of beauty entrepreneurs published an open letter pleading him to leave the already crowded market. “You, dear celebrities, have NO experience in this industry. And no, showing up to a photoshoot does not count as an experience,” they write. “You never interned in this industry or started as a low-level employee. You will never have to haul your day’s orders to the post office or learn to code your own site. You will never not sleep because you don’t know how you’re going to pay your staff or for your inventory. But you will get recognition because you are a celebrity.”
But Wong isn’t threatened. “I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to play gatekeeper,” Wong says. “There should always be a level of mindfulness and tact to anyone starting any new business — celebrity or not — and they have to be conscious of how it is affecting their industry positively. I, too, had no experience in the beauty world before starting my business — but sometimes the most beautiful ideas come out of this newness.”
The Way Forward
One way for celebrities to put their money where their mouth is would be to back existing or emerging brands, Yi posits. “At a time when capital is not widely given — when women, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC entrepreneurs are passed on by venture capitalists — it’d be a nice gesture for celebrities to back existing brands with missions that go deeper than gender or notoriety.” Unfortunately, that route’s not exactly a way to increase one’s star power when some celebrities want the accolades, attention, and credit along with an increased net worth, and being a passive investor doesn’t allow them to do so.
Of course, at the end of the day, change is often affected by spending power, so it’s up to consumers to decide whether a celebrity-made vs. celebrity-backed vs. celebrity-approved brand is right for them. Because, as we know in beauty, there are some legitimately viable, must-have products out there — especially when a celebrity-linked aesthetician is involved. But by now, we know too well that staying power is usually marked by a celebrity’s penchant to constantly evolve. And the health of our skin, from the inside out, isn’t measured by fame or money either.
Image Sources: Getty / Eugene Gologursky, Emma McIntyre, and Amy Sussman; Daily Defense; Le Domaine; Barker Wellness and Photo Illustration by Ava Cruz
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