Young Yuh’s skin care and makeup routine usually takes 35 minutes: cleanser, toner, some type of serum, moisturizer, sunscreen, primer, concealer, contour, blush and eyeliner.
For many straight men like Yuh, this might seem excessive. But Yuh, who boasts 1.6 million followers on TikTok and posts skin care and makeup tutorials full-time, finds the process key to his self-expression of him.
Makeup and skin care preferences vary greatly from person to person, Yuh, 31, says over the phone from Los Angeles. “It’s like hygiene or it’s like art. There shouldn’t be any stereotypes, especially with gender, linking skin care in that way whatsoever.”
Men and masculine-identifying people have adorned themselves with makeup for thousands of years. But gender binaries established during the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries influenced who typically wears – and who doesn’t wear – makeup today.
Look on TikTok and other social media platforms, however, and you’ll notice a shift: Men of all sexual orientations brush blush on their cheeks and find eyeliners to make their bold eyes pop. The hashtag #meninmakeup has more than 250 million views on TikTok.
“We are experiencing the democratization of makeup across gender lines,” says Meloney Moore, associate dean at the School of Business Innovation at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Expect the makeup gender binary to further blur, beauty experts say, and remember that what is considered “beautiful” depends heavily on the time we’re living in and cultural context.
“Beauty varies from culture to culture,” says Denise H. Sutton, associate professor in the Department of Business at CUNY-City Tech. “It’s important to acknowledge that most of what we see is the Western model of beauty.”
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The (long) history of makeup
From Neanderthals to ancient Egypt, men have worn all kinds of makeup, experts say.
Makeup transcends time, history and place, says David Yi, author of “Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too).” Even the Vikings, perhaps the most masculine or fierce of warriors, were obsessed with their appearance. Mayan rulers would shave down their teeth to resemble corn or elongate their heads to resemble a corn stalk.
Before the Age of Enlightenment, men and women were both using makeup: white face powder, cheek color, lip color, elaborate wigs and a lot of fragrance.
But as science, reason and politics evolved, men asserted themselves as superior to women.
“Anything frivolous was then deemed as feminine behavior,” Yi says.
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Our understanding of the gender binary then came into place. Historians refer to this as the “Great Male Renunciation” – the notion that men shouldn’t waste time with beauty. And like much of our culture, European ideals spread to the US
The cosmetics industry flourished as the decades wore on, partially driven by the two world wars. Women became hyper-feminine versions of themselves, to both make men feel as if they weren’t losing their status in society while away at war and give them something to look forward to when they came home.
“Women were inspired by the made-up faces that they saw on the silver screen,” says editor-in-chief of Beauty Professor Rachel Anise, “and a movement towards modernism encouraged them to integrate makeup – no longer taboo – into their beauty routines. By the 1930s and 1940s, makeup was synonymous with femininity and firmly rooted in the female experience,” though the first makeup artists were men.
Plus, “beauty really was the only type of affordable luxury that women could spend some money on, especially since they also had entered the marketplace,” says Thomaï Serdari, a marketing professor at New York University.
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How makeup for men has become popular again
Late rockstars like David Bowie and Prince often expressed themselves through makeup. This makes sense, given “as the makeup industry evolved throughout the 20th century, we began to see a stronger association between makeup, sex and promiscuity,” Moore says.
Social media has only sped up the process of celebrity influence. Compound that with a generation more in tune with their sexual orientation and gender identity, and the current makeup renaissance speaks for itself.
“We have a generation now that is gender-neutral,” says Lissette Waugh, founder of the L Makeup Institute. “That’s also made an impact on people feeling more comfortable expressing themselves.”
RJ Harkin started wearing makeup for school plays in middle and high school out of necessity. Now, he simply enjoys it.
“If girls can wear makeup to cover up acne and stuff, why can’t you guys?” Harkin, 18, says. The University of Miami student uses eyeliner and mascara to make his eyes stand out.
“It might seem like a big change,” he says to men who might be wary of trying it out. “But in the end it’s just a little thing you’re doing to make yourself look better, to feel better about yourself.”
And remember that Western ideals don’t translate to all ideals. Yi considers South Korea the epicenter of beauty, innovation and pop culture today. K-pop superstars hold heavy influence with younger generations in the US, and they often wear makeup.
Brands have taken notice of a piqued interest in men’s makeup and have introduced lines for men, regardless of their sexual orientation, such as Boy de Chanel and Danny Gray’s War Paint. Other brands, like MAC Cosmetics, align themselves with the LGBTQ community.
Why create a separate line for men, though? Isn’t makeup just makeup? Men may not feel comfortable, Sutton says, “so they can go up to a makeup counter and buy products that are specifically packaged and marketed to men.”
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For men who want to try makeup
Check out social media and YouTube tutorials. From younger influencers to established professionals, makeup artists are never in short supply. In addition to those mentioned here, check out Manny Gutierrez, Troy Surratt, Angel Merino and Deon Clark, among others.
It’s OK to start small. “Concealer is something that can instantly improve the complexion while still being quite subtle,” Anise says. “Whether you’re aiming to cover a rogue blemish or dark under eye circles, concealer is transformative.”
Visit a makeup store near you. Never underestimate the peer-to-peer connection at stores like Sephora or Ulta, Serdari says.
Don’t be afraid. “We are beyond the point where anyone needs permission to express themselves,” Moore says. “Gen Zers want to live their most authentic life, whatever that may be at the moment. There is a level of independence in the artistry we are seeing in makeup. The social labels we relied upon in the past will start to disappear or evolve. “
Something to keep in mind:Many are more comfortable in their bodies during the pandemic. For some LGBTQ people, it’s the opposite.