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Gender-Free Beauty

Why lipstick, eyeshadow and blush are transcending stereotypes…

By Adriana Ermter

Between women wearing boyfriend jeans and button-down shirts, and men using women’s face creams and salon-style shampoos, when haven’t we borrowed from one another? With androgyny firmly entrenched in the style conversation, men applying cosmetics is rapidly becoming the latest, albeit not new, gender-free trend to transcend stereotypes—flash back to Little Richard in the ’50s; Mick Jagger in the ‘60s; Kiss in the ’70s; David Bowie, Prince, Billy Idol, Nick Rhodes and anybody who could rock a beat in the ’80s; and Marilyn Manson in the ’90s.

“Singers and actors have always influenced this,” affirms Veronica Chu, the CoverGirl Makeup Pro for Canada. “But more recently, because of social media and the younger generation, we are seeing [men wearing makeup] everywhere.”

All it takes is a double tap on the iPad to watch the growing influx of male beauty vloggers guide their Instagram and YouTube followers in applying Kardashian-worthy false lashes, embracing sparkle and creating a contoured cheek. Predominantly driving consumption are Millennials and Generation Z’ers. Not only are they creating their own style-reality through video, their quadruple-digit ‘Likes’ have captured—and held—the attention of bigwig beauty labels.

Last year, 17-year-old makeup artist and YouTube star James Charles was named CoverGirl’s first male beauty spokesperson. This year, 26-year-old, California-born Manny Gutierrez became Maybelline’s premier male ambassador and 25-year-old Jake-Jamie (a.k.a. The Beauty Boy) was named as a spokesmodel for L’Oréal Paris. Combined, the three have nearly 6.5 million followers on Instagram and four million subscribers on YouTube—and all of them are empowering men and women with an equal and new sense of freedom and acceptance in exploring and wearing cosmetics. “Social media is giving everyone a platform to express themselves,” explains Chu. “People are being more fearless in showing their true selves and breaking conventional norms from the past.”

Fearless from the start, M.A.C Cosmetics was one of the first beauty brands to break down makeup barriers. Launched in 1985 by Canadian co-founders Frank Angelo and Frank Toskan, the brand was initially created for professional makeup artists to use on both male and female models. But with a tagline boasting “all ages/all races/all sexes,” the label was too good of a beauty secret to remain backstage at fashion shows. By 1994, M.A.C had developed a cult following for its Twig lipstick and Spice lipliner, and for its six-foot-three supermodel and drag queen, RuPaul—the face of the original Viva Glam lipstick (complete with a comeback in 2013), supporting the company’s AIDS Fund.

“They opened the door,” says Chu. “Now, other brands are acknowledging that the male audience is real and there is an appetite and need for makeup for men.”

Evidence that large consumer goods companies like L’Oréal and Coty (which owns cosmetic brands Maybelline and CoverGirl) are absorbing the male makeup market as part of their DNA is the unlimited exposure they’re giving their products. It’s no longer just a “guyliner” industry: everything from mascara, lipstick and blush to foundation, concealer and eyeshadow is up for grabs and being touted by the once unknown web celebs, who are happily sharing the spotlight with pop culture icons Gigi Hadid, Rihanna and Katy Perry, to name a few.

According to the Financial Times, it’s all simply an extension of the ever-growing male grooming industry, which, by the way, pulled in $50 billion in sales last year alone. And having left its indelible mark, gender-free makeup is seemingly one transcendent trend that’s predicted to stay.

“It’s a very exciting time for the cosmetics industry,” adds Chu, who believes that now more than ever, makeup is being seen as a form of self-expression and art. “Have fun with it and experiment!”

Five expert tips to know

Rule of thumb: before you apply your makeup, hydrate your skin to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. “This restores the balance of moisture in the skin barrier and helps to plump cells,” says Wan Lu, founder of Pretty Organic Cosmetics. “It delays the aging process by deeply hydrating and repairing the skin.” Try: Pretty Organic Cosmetics’ Love Affair Unscented Organic Virgin Coconut natural moisturizer, $30, available online at

Create a sheer and even palette of coverage on your face with a tinted moisturizer or BB cream. “They’re easy to use, have moisturizing benefits and don’t require you be a makeup artist to apply them,” says Chu. Try: Clé de Peau UV Protective Cream Tinted, SPF 50, $120, available at Nordstrom stores.

Stick to universally appealing colours on your eyebrows and eyelashes. “Brown and black shades are more natural and neutral,” explains Chu, “so they’re easy for any gender or age to use.” Plus, they frame your face, allowing you to play up colour elsewhere. Try: CoverGirl Katy Kat Mascara in Very Black, and Easy Breezy Brow Fill + Shape + Define Brow Powder in Soft Brown, $11 each, available at drugstores.

Play with colour on your eyes, cheeks and lips. “Experiment with eyeshadow at home,” suggests Chu. “Try shades that contrast with your natural eye colour to complement it.” Then opt for a coral and/or pinkish hue for your lips and cheeks. The colour will be subtly present, enhancing your natural glow. Try: CoverGirl Trunaked Jewels eyeshadow palette, from $13, available at drugstores; Fresh Sugar Petal Tinted Lip Treatment, SPF 15, $24, available online at; and NARS Orgasm Liquid Blush, $38, available at Holt Renfrew stores.

What goes on must come off. “Removing your makeup is an essential part of a good skincare regimen,” advises Lu. “It is important to remove makeup at the end of the day, along with dead skin cells, environmental pollutants and other skin debris, to allow for the optimal repair of your skin.” Try: Pretty Organic Cosmetics Soothing Cream Cleanser, $24, available online at

ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based, lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe, writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.

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