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The Myth of “Men’s Only” Beauty Products

Any woman who lives with a man and has seen his masculinely-packaged face cream has wondered at some point in their lives, “Is there any difference between men’s beauty products and women’s?” Here’s the answer.

I’m just going to be honest with you…I am a beauty product creeper. Let me come over to your home and I guarantee at some point I am going to A) ask if I can pet your pets, B) ask to use your bathroom C) check out all of the various lotions, potions, and beautifiers you might happen to have left lying around (don’t worry, your medicine cabinet is safe). It’s part childish, grabby-hands curiosity, part judgmental beauty writer, part the product version of palm-reading. I love what beauty products tell me about the people who use them, I love discovering new moisturizers and perfumes and drugstore secrets artfully arranged on bathroom shelves. And I love getting to explore the other side of the beauty tracks: guys’ grooming stashes.

Beauty products have a long tradition of being gendered to a degree that seems, frankly confusing (consider the term “beauty” alone, then consider the number of guys who would cringe at being referred to by it.) After all, we all have skin, we all have hair, and they’re all made of the same stuff, no matter how differently we may treat them. And yet, we’ve been told that unlike your favorite white tee, beauty products aren’t made to mix and match genders. Why? What could men’s products do that women’s don’t? What could possibly be so different about them?

Honest answer: not much. Further honest answer: There’s not much that’s not worth stealing.

The ingredients in men’s products:

See, there are some differences between the way men’s and women’s bodies develop, but often, products don’t do much more than pay lip service to these differences. Pick up a men’s moisturizer off of the drugstore shelf and compare it to your average women’s version; a grey tube here, a pink bottle there, but the good stuff inside will likely be very much the same.

The hyaluronic acid in the sci-fi pretty, totally dude-approachable Missha Super Aqua Ultra Water Full Clear Cream is just as hydrating for men’s skin as it is women’s, BHAs will bust just as many zits on a nonbinary face (like the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid), and the argan oil in the Skinfood Argan Oil Repair Plus Treatment Mask brings just as much moisture to the party no matter what kind of mane you apply it on.

The formulations in men’s products:

But men’s products are not 100% identical to women’s. Men’s skin can be as much as 25% thicker, with more collagen, more sebum, and bigger hair follicles. This has its perks along with some downsides—because it’s denser and more collagen rich, men’s skin is generally less sensitive, meaning they can handle treatments like intense acne regimens and hardcore exfoliation more easily than ladies. The bad news: They are also more prone to major breakouts and usually suffer from them for longer periods of their life than women, with the added joy bonus of irritation and ingrown hairs from shaving. 

All of that means that men’s beauty products sometimes pack more of a punch than women’s. While there are particular rules about how potent over-the-counter ingredients can be, men’s products generally opt for the most powerful percentages, particularly on fronts like acne. Likewise, their scrubs are often grittier than the versions aimed at women, while their moisturizers are generally less greasy to compensate for the extra oil guys produce. If all of that sounded like a recipe for an ideal oily skin regimen, you’re not wrong. The key is to keep an eye on the ingredient lists; many skincare products, particularly those for blemishes, will list an active ingredient and the percentage of the product it makes up. If your skin starts acting up under the stronger regime, try alternating every other day with your usual set. 

And that shaving irritation we mentioned? Yeah, guys aren’t the only ones who have to suffer through red bumps and itchy dryness. So when it comes to men’s lines making A+ shaving gear like ultra-rich shaving cream (I like The Art of Shaving Unscented Shaving Cream), razors, and ingrown-preventing post-shave treatments (shout out to the super light Baxter of California Shave Tonic spray) the only real surprise is that more ladies aren’t borrowing them already.

The bottom line:

While gendered beauty products are more the result of marketing than drastically different formulas, there are a few small tweaks that can make stealing beauty swag from the other side of the aisle worthwhile. At the end of the day, the best choice for your optimal beauty life is to forget all about “men’s” and “women’s” and just pick out the best product to suit your needs.

+ Do you love using men’s beauty products? Tell us which ones in the comments!
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