The XX Factor

Do Men Really Need Special Beauty Products?

Why do men need special marketing for beauty products?

Remember the metrosexual, that unicorn-like breed of man that existed fleetingly in the middle of the aughts who was straight and actually cared about his appearance? Well, according to the New York Times style section, they’ve recently reemerged from the body-spray mists, their vials of youth-bestowing tonics and tinctures in tow. In his piece, reporter Douglas Quenqua introduces us to a few of these Narcissuses, pointing out that this time, male care-of-the-self is not a reflection of vanity, but a professional requirement.

But there is once again a growing demand among men for high-end skin-care products, in spite of a morbid economy and high unemployment. Or maybe because of it. The reason, beauty analysts say, is a changing attitude among men, who now associate healthy-looking skin less with vanity than with professionalism. At a time when job security is at a low, they say, men do not have to work in front of a camera to place a higher premium on being presentable.

This is wonderful news, a silver-silk lining inside the drab wool coat of the recession. Under the stress of economic competition, men have rediscovered that looking generally clean and fresh can afford considerable social advantages. But if we know this, why all the eggshell-walking around the truth of it; namely, that it takes a little effort and, yes, a few dabs of this and that to keep things in order? Is modern masculinity really so fragile that we need entire marketing firms spending weeks creating something called “007 Ultimate Pimple Stealth Shield,” when we could just as easily procure a modest tube of old-fashioned concealer instead?

One gets the impression from Quenqua’s piece that skin-conscious men are a rather oversensitive group. The notion of adding too many extra steps to our morning routines makes us seem prissy, and if beauty companies don’t coddle us with allusions to “frat culture,” we might just feel, oh, I don’t know, gay or something.

We all know that the differences between men and women’s skin biology cannot be so vast as to merit new, man-specific formulas in the majority of cases—this stuff is just the same pink cream pumped into a navy-blue bottle. Of course, many men no doubt possess the fortitude to pick up a “woman’s” night cream without shame, but for those pathetic few who need the ego-stroking described here, I would simply remind them that silly anxiety is the worst ager of all.