The Truth About Beauty Products for Men

Yes, you can use men's razors. Face shaving is optional. (Photo: Esquire Magazine, 1965)Remember the days when families relied on classic beauty products like Ivory soap and Prell shampoo that everyone could use? Some cosmetics and hair products have been marketed solely to women for nearly 100 years, but as time goes by, the beauty market is all about catering to gender-specific needs. There are soaps created just for men and soaps created specifically for women. Men's razors and female razors. Men's deodorants and female deodorants. Are brands just doubling their money by rebranding the same products with varying scents and packaging, or do our bodies and lifestyles differ so much that we require radically different formulas?

A new article on Slate claims one major issue that's dictating the expanding beauty market is that guys don't want to buy items marketed for or even associated with women. Reporter Libby Copland writes, "Unilever's vice president of skin care, Rob Candelino, told me that before Dove launched a cleansing bar specifically for men in 2010, the company's research showed that men made up as much as a third of those using the traditional Dove beauty bar. But the original product was strongly associated with women, and as a result the men were using the product in a passive way, often letting their wives or girlfriends buy it, and 'probably not telling their guy friends,' Candelino says."

Because of societal norms and stereotypes, apparently some men will only buy and use products with certain packaging. "You have to make sure you're harnessing the right male codes," Cheryl Swanson, managing director of the Manhattan brand strategy firm Toniq, told Slate. "In order for guys to even remotely check it out, they need to have permission."

Likewise, some women may prefer items that cater to women. In examining some of the key beauty categories however, most products may differ in appearance and scent, but are often very similar when it comes to the overall function and result. Check out how three gender-specific items fare.

(Old Spice)Body wash

Formula: There are opaque creamy washes and clear gel-like options for every skin type for both sexes. They all have the same composition of a lipophilic part, which is fat-soluble, and a hydrophilic part, which is water-soluble, to make a surfactant (which makes the stuff foam). They may also include emulsifiers, which keep chemicals from separating, as well as biocides, which eliminate bacteria. Moisturizing formulas could also contain other ingredients like shea butter, aloe, and oils, while exfoliating scrubs contain microbeads of plastic (yes, plastic!) to buff skin.
Objectives: Guys' products aim to deodorize, clear up body acne, and even double as shampoo or shave gel. Women's body wash is typically more about moisturizing and exfoliating, but some claim to also soften the skin or improve elasticity.
Scent: Men's products like Axe promote sex appeal through potent musky scents, while no-frills types may opt for clean fresh nature scents. The women's market is flooded with everything from creamy warm scents to fresh citrus to florals.
Application: While women have loved using poufs for nearly 20 years, it's taken longer for guys to embrace the lather-inducing sponges.
Verdict: Just look for any product that caters to your skin type, and a fragrance that's pleasant.

(Gillette Venus)Razors

Blades: While there are now anywhere from one to five blades on varying products, the actual blades are identical on men's and women's razors.
Color: Men's are now typically futuristic-looking devices in black or chrome, while women's items are clean white with accents in bright colors like pink, purple, or yellow.
Handles: The options for guys are streamlined with a narrow handle, while female versions often have a wider handle and rubbery grip for easier use in the shower and maneuverability over curved surfaces.
Shape: The head of men's razors is angular to get into small areas, while women's are more oval-shaped. Gillette claims this shape helps pull the skin taut to shave tricky areas like underarms.
Angle: Some razors claim to have different shave angles -- more aggressive exposure for men's blades, and less so for women who tend to shave faster and aren't looking to nick themselves. But a close examination of Gillette's Mach razor and the company's Venus razor reveals the positioning appears to be identical.
Moisturizing strips: Many women's razors feature multiple strips or even giant moisture bars surrounding the blade that double as shaving gel. This is great for women's legs, but may be too much for men's faces.
Verdict: You will get the same shave, but buying the product designed for your gender may be easier or more pleasant to use.


Formula: There are creams, gels, sprays, and solids for both sexes, but the active ingredients in deodorant (not crystals or natural products) are identical. Propylene glycol is common in deodorants and aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY and aluminium chlorohydrate are the main ingredients in antiperspirants. They all work to mask or plug your sweat glands to prevent odor and perspiration.Though some men's or clinical-strength formulas may offer stronger protection. Look at the concentration of active ingredients on the package.
Feel: Since many women shave their arm pits, some female products may contain additional moisturizing elements for smoother, softer skin.
Scent: Men's are often musky, sporty, or fresh with smells like "rain." Women's formulas offer more powdery, fruity, or floral aromas.
Verdict: Whether you chose deodorant or antiperspirant, you can find a similar product for each sex. If all the fragrances turn you off, go for unscented.

Related links:
Man Up: 7 Guy's Grooming Products to Steal for Yourself
Best of the Best: Classic Beauty Products We Swear By
The New Classics: 15 Modern Products That Have Achieved Cult Status