Men’s Skin Care Lines

Men’s  skincare, like all aspects of male  grooming, has  a long  and  complicated history. In the ancient Egyptian world, men practiced a beauty  and health regimen that  included the  application of skin  conditioners and  moisturizers. Cosmetics, especially  those  intended to protect, shadow, and  enhance the appearance of the eyes, were also routinely used  in life and death among the Egyptians. Additionally, they applied  ingenious concoctions made  from  ingredients like olive oil, Cyprus bark,  and  oil of fenugreek to  their  faces  in  an  effort  to  eliminate freckles  and wrinkles. In the  Classical  Greek  and  Roman worlds,  men  paid  special  attention to  the  appearance of the  skin  and  the  face. In  Roman baths, they  received  facial treatments with ointments that  were intended to beautify  and  replenish. The importance of this  particular ritual  of personal hygiene  was reflected  in the  fact that  these  ointments were applied  by a special  masseuse, known as an aliptes, in a purpose-specific room  referred to  as an  unctuarium. Roman men  also  used  a chalk-based powder to render their  complexions more  youthful and  frequently dyed their  hair to achieve  a fairer look.

In other regions, men  and women alike used  a broad  range  of facial treatments that  were intended to improve the  appearance of the  skin.  In the  Islamic  world, from  the  9th  through the  12th  centuries, physicians and  alchemists used  their specialized forms  of knowledge to  devise  skin  care  treatments. These included skin cleansers made  of almond oil and facial masks  composed of rice, grains,  seashells, lime, egg, and  other ingredients that  removed layers of dead skin from  the face. Despite a tendency on the part of the medieval Christian church in Europe to condemn the practices of excessive adornment and the use of cosmetics, evidence suggests that  men  persisted in  their  efforts  to  beautify  their  faces.  During the Renaissance, the  physician and  alchemist Theophrastus  Paracelsus (1493–1541) drew on his knowledge of botany and plants from the New World  to prescribe the use of artichokes and aloe to treat baldness and the application of wine vinegar to eliminate wrinkles. It was within  this  period, as well, that  Europeans began  to be exposed to other forms  of skin care and adornment, such  as facial tattoos, found in places  like the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

United States

Men  in the American colonies and  the  early United States  continued to care for the  skin  and  treat  problems such  as acne  with a broad  array of concoctions and home remedies, though the  impact  of Puritanism in the  New  England colonies and the exigencies  of colonial life often  precluded excessive vanity or indulgence. Still, some American men in the 18th  century affected the powdered and primped appearance of the European macaroni, who was known for his excess, indulgence, and the extravagant adornment of his person. By the mid 19th  century, men  were seeking  remedies for skin  ailments, as well as a host  of internal or neurological problems, in  the  form  of unregulated patent or  quack  medicines. Hundreds  of remedies, frequently alcoholor  opium-based, were  advertised in  the  pages  of American magazines and  newspapers throughout the 19th  century. Concoctions like Acker’s Blood Elixir, advertised in a Bloomington, Illinois, newspaper in 1888, for example,  promised to cure  ulcers,  eruptions, and syphilitic  poisoning, the aesthetic  effects of which  could  be quite  devastating. A similar  potion, advertised in a Montrose, Pennsylvania, publication in 1880,  extolled  the  pimple-eliminating virtues  of vegetable  balm. Whatever the intended use, the marketability of cure-all elixirs appealed, in part, to the male and female desire to beautify the skin and create as pleasing  an appearance as possible to secure success in business, courtship, and marriage. Some  men,  in seeking  a competitive edge in life during this period, also sought out  the services  of beauticians like Madame Velaro in New York City to have their  wrinkles treated and their  mustaches tinted.

Men’s  skin care was most  affected  by one  late-19th-century development: the introduction of the  safety razor  and  the  emergence of self-shaving in the  1880s. Accompanying  this   important technological  change  was  the emergence of a host of new products meant to  ease  shaving  and  cleanse, nourish, and beautify  the skin. By the 1920s, producers were offering a range of new products, in often highly masculinized advertisements in magazines like Fortune (f. 1930) and  Esquire (f. 1933),  which promised to improve facial appearance. New  lines  of lotions, powders, and  moisturizers like Florian were  directed specifically  at  the  male  beauty   consumer. In  the  1930s, market research firms  were  beginning to  study  white-collar workers to  determine  how frequently they used  products like aftershave lotions and moisturizers. In one survey from 1936, they discovered that  one in two middle-class New York men  was using  at least some  sort of beauty  product. Some  of these  men  relied on skin  care services  offered  by their  barbers, and  some  used  female-oriented products like Ponds to treat acne or Covermark to hide embarrassing blemishes. A few even took  to visiting the beauty  culture studios of industry entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden  and Helena Rubinstein, both of whom  entered the lucrative beauty business in the  1910s.  This  embrace of new skin  care regimens was not  entirely unproblematic for those  who  were  concerned about the  gendered implications of this  form  of consumption. Some  heterosexual men  worried that  behaviors of this sort might  lump  them  in with what were viewed as the painted fairies of New York (and other cities), who used  makeup as a way to visually express  their  sexual identity.

During World  War  II, American men  in the  armed  forces  were expected, as a component of military  discipline, to  keep  their  hair  neat  and  short, their  faces clean  shaven, and  their  clothes and  shoes  pressed and  polished. With  this  new emphasis on  fastidious male  grooming came  a dramatic expansion of the  men’s shaving  and  skin  care  industry. In  the  1950s  and  1960s,  companies concerned primarily  with  female  consumers began  to  develop  lines  of aftershave products and  skins  lotions that  were marketed to men  as ways to achieve  the  desired aesthetic  effect  of cleanliness. This  development really  took  off as companies like Clinique and Lancôme began  to market products, previously confined exclusively to a female audience, to male consumers in magazines like Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ)  (f. 1957)  and  Esquire. By the  mid  1980s,  Clinique was selling  products like Scruffing Lotion to a new, large market of men  who  were increasingly comfortable requesting male beauty  aids in department stores  and specialty  shops.

Since  the  1990s,  features on  men’s  skin  care have been  fairly standard fare in a broad  range  of magazines directed at different segments of the  male  market, including youthful heterosexuals (Maxim, f. 1995)  and  gay men  (Out, f. 1992). Discussions of dry skin,  acne,  shaving  techniques, tanning, and  aging  not  only punctuate the  pages  of these  popular magazines but,  since  the  late 1990s,  have also appeared on countless Web sites and online publications. One  such Web site,, bills itself as “the Internet’s first male grooming site and the premiere online destination for men  of style and  substance” and  offers products  for sale and a broad  range  of advice on skin and hair care, as well as shaving. In some  instances, discussions of men’s  skincare have taken  on a critical  edge or brought up  potentially controversial topics  like the  use  of cosmetics. In a 2007 article  that  appeared in the online publication, for example,  the virtues, as well as potential pitfalls, of guyliner  and mancake were discussed in relation to Zac Efron, the teen-idol star of High School Musical. While controversies about the excesses  of male  vanity (especially  as they  relate  to the  frequently discussed and much-maligned metrosexual) continue, it would  appear  that  the  current obsession with male skin care is here  to stay.

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