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Charlotte Tilbury make-up men
Courtesy of Charlotte Tilbury

Examining the growing trend of men’s make-up, by getting IRL men to try it


As the supposed target market for these products, we asked four men to road test four different brands to see what they really thought

If you’re a regular (read: cis and heterosexual) man, or maybe even if you’re not, you’ll likely have been bombarded by sponsored ads promoting the slew of new brands offering make-up for men. What is make-up for men, you might be wondering? Well, it’s like regular make-up that women use, just angrier. 

It’s 2020, yet the overbearing weight of toxic masculinity still weighs down heavy on the shoulders of men, impacting both them and everyone who isn’t male/male-identifying. Enter men’s make-up, a product that has the tall order of bridging the gap between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and normalising the use of make-up for men. Why it needs normalising isn’t something we’ve quite figured out yet. 

Unsurprisingly, lots of brands are leaning on prehistoric masc semiotics, such as using dark colours for their products and ads that feature ripped men and skull rings – we’re mostly looking at you War Paint – and, rightfully, those brands have come under fire. We couldn’t help but wonder though if any of these brands were living up to the claims that they could make men change their every day routines of using 4-in-1 body washes to include make-up. 

To put this to the test, we got four men to try out four different men’s make-up brands – War Paint, Recipe For Men, Benny Hancock, and Shakeup Cosmetics – to see if they could use them correctly, how it impacted their confidence, and, most importantly, whether they found that wearing make-up made them feel any differently about their masculinity. Find out how they got on below. 

NIALL MCKENNA – WAR PAINT

Lots of us are staying home currently, and life’s paced has slowed. At this slower rhythm, you start to notice unaccounted gaps in your day to day schedule, and you fill them. Maybe you’ve taken up a new hobby, or resurrected an old one. I’ve spent one of my gaps developing what readers of this publication might recognise as a “skincare routine”. It’s nothing special (using a cleanser and moisturiser every day and night) but it’s a good start for someone who stillat 27 years oldsometimes forgets to brush his teeth at night. With this newly blossomed vanity in mind, I was excited to step my routine up a notch and test some products, namely War Paint’s Tinted Moisturiser and Concealer.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the name is a bit silly isn’t it. The only thing I can think of when I see “War Paint” on a male grooming product are those LinkedIn heads who quote Sun Tzu’s Art Of War, believing an ancient Chinese military manuscript has some practical application in their managing a team of six in a bank’s IT department. On second thoughts the name is probably a shrewd marketing move.

First was the tinted moisturiser. I spent a week dabbing conservative blobs of the stuff  on my face, and applying it evenly with the sponge every morning. The colour spooked me at first. Being the toxic masculine soul I am, I was unnerved at spreading something that looked, felt, and smelled like make-up, across my face. But guess what? It was fine. The sky didn’t fall, I didn’t stop getting Joe Rogan videos suggested to me on YouTube. I am still a man. The tint had the effect of evening the colour that was already on my face, not adding anything else, which was nice. It didn’t make me smell like a lovely big Toblerone bar like my beloved cocoa butter does but I’ll survive. 

Next was the concealer. The product is definitely more cake-y and “make-up”-ey than the moisturiser, but you’d be hard pressed to spot it with the naked eye when it’s incorporated into your face. I have relatively clear skin, so covering up a few small red blotches was quite easily done. With the concealer working so well, I decided to put it to the ultimate dude make-up test – covering up a shoddy stick and poke tattoo. Results were average. There was enough concealment if you wanted to, for instance, hide it from a new girlfriend’s conservative parents at a barbeque, but not enough to help you change your identity and evade the police. It’s okay. 

There is a small initial buzz, from manufacturing the illusion of your face on a really good day, when you might be having a really bad one. But the buzz fades quickly. Wearing these products didn’t fill me with a magic confidence. That’s not surprising for someone whose usual level of confidence toggles between Eeyore the donkey and Gil from The Simpsons, but I at least expected a small uptick – maybe I watch too much advertising!

I doubt I’ll continue using either product. War Paint will have to find another warrior. I’m thankful that my psyche doesn’t place too much stock in how my skin looks, so I don’t really feel a pressing need for concealer or tinted moisturiser at present. However, if you’re a guy and you do find yourself getting stressed and sad about acne or blotchy patches, you could do a lot worse than giving these products a try. 

Products used: War Paint tinted moisturiser (Fair) and concealer (Fair) 

PATRICK HEARDMAN – RECIPE FOR MEN

As a man with a very simple skincare routine – a quick moisture each morning and before bed – the idea of adding another five steps to it seems unreasonable. But I’m lucky. I’m blessed with fair Irish skin that (mostly) stays clear, rarely gets too dry or too oily, and doesn’t need much maintenance. 

This wasn’t always the case though, I had pretty bad eczema as a child and it can flare up during periods of high stress. In my final year of university, rashes broke out all over my back and my face – they would get infected, the weeping sores crystallising into impossibly itchy honey-coloured crusts – I’d turn up to lectures in sunglasses to hide myself. After trying various steroid treatments including hydrocortisone, which essentially burns a layer of your skin off leaving it red and raw, I was eventually recommended an oat-based cream called Aveeno by a friend, and I’ve not had an outbreak of eczema since. 

So naturally, I’m apprehensive about disturbing this moisture equilibrium with additional products, but as someone with ghostly pale skin, verging dangerously close to a gaunt shade of grey in winter, maybe I could benefit from adding a little colour? For the past week, I’ve been trialling a few products by Recipe for Men, a brand that provides “logical skincare” for blokes. It targets straight men who won’t buy beauty products unless they also look like some form of mechanical motor oil. Bold white lettering set on deep red packaging reminds you, if you were in any doubt, that these facial enhancers are definitely “for men”. 

I tried the Energising Bronze Cream, the Anti-Blemish Coverstick, two different shades of concealer, and a Super Smooth Lip Balm. It’s… a lot. But spring is on the way and I’m ready to revitalise my visage. Squeezing the bronzer out for the first time I’m struck by how dark it is, and its glistening metallic finish – I’m not sure I want my face to be permanently encased in a glassy Instagram filter – but it blends well and matches my tone better than I expected. 

Reaching for the concealer, I can immediately see the ‘0.2 Medium’ shade is off, so I go for the ‘0.1 Light’ to touch up any red spots. It seemed to mask a redness in between my eyebrows pretty nicely. Now the blemish stick (I have no idea what to do with this) but I run it over any areas I think could do with a little touch-up.

It genuinely felt pretty great having more of an even tone and not having to worry so much about any break-out areas. After around day five though, I noticed the bronzer had been drying out and latching onto my beard hair in places, and I had increasingly less of a need for the concealers (lucky me I don’t get many spots). 

But did my housemate notice any difference? “Yeah you’ve definitely got a noticeable natural glow, you look healthier for sure!” She had just taken a microdose of mushrooms though so make of that what you will. On a purely practical level, I’m not sure I could find the time each day to apply the five layers of treatment even if I felt I could really benefit from doing so (again I’m lucky to have so few *blemishes* and *breakouts*), so the two concealers and the coverstick don’t qualify for me. But I was impressed with the balm, which will see regular use, and I’m keeping the energising cream to use on special occasions, as a treat. 

Products used: Recipe for Men Energising Bronze Cream, Anti-Blemish Cover Stick, Concealer (0.1 Light), and Super Smooth Lip Balm 

ROBERT KAZANDJIAN – BENNY HANCOCK 

I guess I’ve got combination skin; sometimes it’s good, sometimes shit. Generally speaking, my skincare routine is washing my face with warm water, and slapping on some moisturiser if my skin is visibly dry. I’d never considered make-up as a solution to my many imperfections. This week I’ve been wearing Benny Hancock’s Corrective Pen, Moisturising Face Perfecter, and Hydrating Lip Balm. 

I planned to make my corrected, face perfected debut at football training on Monday, but the products had no instructions on how to apply. Luckily my girlfriend was at hand to give me a crash course on Sunday evening, so I watched Call the Midwife on the sofa in full slap, and was impressed that the Face Perfecter didn’t run or smear even when I cried. 

On Monday, I applied the products myself, without much hassle. I used an ‘application sponge’ (I think that’s what it’s called), taking care underneath my eyes and on the borderlands between beard and cheekbones. Whether it was by luck or design, I’d been sent ‘NC30 tan’ foundation, which was a great match for my Armenian skin. I was also pretty pleased with the concealing effect of the corrective pen on the birthmark on my forehead, which strangers often mistake for a burn or scar. The lip balm did what lip balm does. 

I didn’t feel particularly self-conscious at training, because the lads are predictably unobservant. So after a sweaty hour on the pitch, I asked my guy Dav if he could tell I was wearing make-up and he said, “nah, to be honest bro I just thought you was glowing.” Other than a little smear on the bridge of my nose, the foundation stood as firm as Virgil Van Dijk. 

I mentor from Tuesday to Thursday at a primary school. Initially, I definitely did feel conspicuous in my makeup in this context; the significant majority of my colleagues are women and if children notice something different about you, be it a bogey in your nose, or tuna on your breath, they will hot you up.

My mind was quickly put at ease. A quick selfie in the carpark confirmed my face was absolutely banging, and a couple of teachers told me I looked fresh, without me prompting them. I avoided being cussed by the children I work with too, and actually felt pretty good about myself all week.

On Saturday (pre-lockdown) we had pals over at the flat for a couple of cans. By now, I was fully in the flow and loving the glow. I asked my friend Josh if he noticed anything different about my boat, and he said I looked like I’d been on holiday, then asked if I’d had a sun-bed. He was surprised when I told him I was wearing make-up and I told him he was too pasty when he asked to borrow my foundation.

I really enjoyed wearing Benny’s products this week, largely because of the Insta filter-like visual effects. I can’t say my skin felt obviously more hydrated. My lips did, and I will carry on wearing the lip balm until it runs out. Out of sheer laziness, and wanting to steal a few more minutes drinking coffee in bed every morning, I won’t carry on wearing the concealer and foundation on a daily vibe. BUT I definitely will put my face on for special occasions where I’m likely to be photographed a lot. 

Products used: Benny Hancock Moisturising Face Perfecter (NC30 Tan), Corrective Pen, and Hydrating Lip Balm

JOE MILLS – SHAKEUP COSMETICS 

Aside from a short-lived fling with eyeliner in my early 20s, I’ve never worn make-up before, but I’ve always quite liked the idea of it. I’m a self-conscious person and my skin is a big source of anxiety for me. It’s spot-prone, and the colour is far more on the red, ageing driving instructor end of the spectrum than I’d like. A couple of years ago when I was working in a cafe, my colleague told me that a customer had referred to me as the boy with the rosy cheeks – it killed me! I wanted to look pale and mysterious, not like a character from an Enid Blyton book. These days I care less, but I’m always aware of the state of my appearance, so was intrigued to use the products given to me as they seemed pretty well tailored to the issues I have around my appearance, as well as a fairly undaunting gateway into the world of make-up.

On first application, my girlfriend laughed that it was like watching a toddler learn how to walk for the first time. As I cack-handedly scraped the BB cream around my face, I worried that it would clog up my facial hair, but it quite easily rubbed in through my beard and I immediately thought my skin looked great! The tone was slightly darker than my natural skin colour, but it gave it a healthy glow. It felt kind of weird at first, but once it was fully applied I couldn’t notice that I was wearing it.

I initially found the under-eye concealer confusing, but it was easy enough to apply once I’d worked out how to use the strange little tube with a silver ball on the end. The product claims to mask dark circles under the eyes, but I couldn’t see a huge amount of difference. I was immediately put off by the taste of the lip balm, though eventually established that it wasn’t especially unpleasant, it was just a sensation I wasn’t used to. It claims to be “volumising”, and says it will make your lips appear “firmer and more plumped”, but I didn’t notice any change.

“As make-up goes, the cream is pretty innocuous, but even then my inner straight male is telling me I’m silly for wearing it. Society has come a long way in tackling gender stereotypes, but this is one that I feel like won’t budge for a long time”

After eagerly presenting the new and improved version of myself to my housemate, he crushingly told me that my skin looked unnatural because of the BB cream, and compared me to Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit). It was less obvious in natural light, but as the week went on I made sure to use the cream more sparingly, which looked better. Overall, the make-up only made a subtle difference, but I was told that my skin looked really healthy, and that my naturally red and blotchy skin was smoother and nicely toned. I loved knowing that I was wearing it, and think it was actually great for my confidence.

Unfortunately, by the end of the week I’d developed a few spots on my forehead, which could have been brought on by the cream. Out of all of the products, I probably wouldn’t bother with the eyes or lips, but I want to continue using the BB cream. I just wish I didn’t feel embarrassed for thinking that! As make-up goes, the cream is pretty innocuous, but even then my inner straight male is telling me I’m silly for wearing it. Society has come a long way in tackling gender stereotypes, but this is one that I feel like won’t budge for a long time. Maybe this is my opportunity to buck the trend?

Products used: Shakeup Cosmetics ‘Let’s Face It’ BB tinted moisturiser (Medium), Eye Eye Captain under eye concealer (Light), and Lip Life to the Full volumising lip gel

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