Beer, bourbon and tobacco. These aren’t just for drinking and smoking anymore. Peruse some of the most popular men’s grooming products, and you’ll notice that many of them feature ingredients and scents inspired by or incorporating some of these manly vices. In fact, a lot of men’s grooming products lean into a hypermasculine theme, with names like Duke Cannon, Viking Revolution and Outlaw.
Many drug store brands like Old Spice also lean into the hyper-masculine approach, and today Old Spice body washes use names like “Hydro Steel”, “Captain” and “Bearglove”. These obviously have manly-sounding names, but it’s not just that they’re manly. They imply a very specific brand of masculinity. And who can forget the famous Old Spice commercials featuring the man on the horse? To entice men to try new grooming products, many brands rely on a blend of traditional masculine stereotypes and humor.
Where a classic brand like Proraso, for example, carries a sense of masculine elegance and class, a brand like Duke Cannon or Outlaw implies a level of rough-and-tumble outdoor ruggedness. Proraso looks most at home on a black marble countertop, suited for the cosmopolitan man who gets his shoes shined on a weekly basis. Pine Tar from Dr. Squatch, on the other hand, seems like something you’d use to wash up with next to a shallow creek after outrunning a bear.
Once upon a time, the nascent men’s beauty industry had to convince a generation of men to buy more skincare, hair and anti-aging products. Clearly, the marketing teams behind these brands decided that ultra-masculine branding and fragrances were the best way to convince skeptical millennials to try a more advanced (and expensive) skincare regimen.
Now, the men’s grooming industry is huge, and these hypermasculine brands are colliding with a newer trend in skincare: gender-neutrality. In 2021 we’ve seen an explosion
Grooming Brands Evolve As Masculinity Evolves
As conversations around masculinity evolve, a new crop of grooming brands have embraced a more minimalist aesthetic. Still others go a step further and formulate gender-neutral products for men, women and folks of all kinds. One brand that embodies both minimalism and gender neutrality is The Ordinary, which has very simple packaging and a focus on affordable pricing and clean ingredients. Anthony is a men’s beauty brand that leans embraces a minimalist aesthetic, while Malin+Goetz has a streamlined yet colorful aesthetic, and most of their products are gender-neutral. Even big-box retailers like Target have introduced new gender-neutral grooming brands this year.
Interestingly, the bourbon-and-leather stuff is not so different from gender-neutral products in a key way, and that’s the approach to ingredients. An emphasis on natural, organic and cruelty-free ingredients can be found across the spectrum. Take Duke Cannon, a brand that proudly broadcasts that its products are never tested on animals, or Dr. Squatch, who emphasizes the natural ingredients and traditional processes they use. Likewise, the aforementioned brands The Ordinary, Anthony and Malin+Goetz all emphasize that their products are made with natural ingredients and free of harsh chemicals.
Another factor that unites hypermasculine grooming brands with uber-minimalist skincare brands is a focus on simplicity in terms of a regimen. Malin+Goetz’s tagline, for example, is “Uncomplicate your Regimen.” In their “Our Story” page, Anthony says “men don’t desire an overcomplicated routine.” Olivina Men sits somewhere in the middle of the minimalist/manly spectrum — the branding is a little more simple, but the products feature scents like “bourbon cedar” and “mountain sage.” They also claim “our regimen of skin and hair products saves time without cutting corners.” Duke Cannon bills their products as a return to a simpler time, lamenting the modern era with copy that reads “instead of getting up before dawn to build railroads, men started going to the gym at 9 a.m. to ride pretend bicycles” (as if the people building the railroads were doing it because they really wanted to). Basically, these products are for manly men who do stuff.
The emphasis on simplicity reflects a self-consciousness that spending time primping might be taken as unmanly. And from a practical perspective, men who’ve been slow to move on from that 3-in-1 body wash they’ve been using since college might not be ready for 14-step Korean skincare. And of course, since many men might be sheepish about “beauty” or “cosmetics” most of these brands are billed as “grooming” and “skincare”. Duke Cannon calls itself a “Supply Co” as if they sell hardware and power tools and not beauty products. And just look at a brand like Bravo Sierra, which touts the fact that its products are field tested by members of the military to establish their masculine bona fides. There is an irony to these brands being for confident, tough men who also flinch when they read the words “self-care” and “beauty.”
But as easy as it is to make fun of the rah-rah jingoism and he-man branding of some of these brands,(we’re looking at you Duke Cannon), using natural ingredients and not testing on animals is something any elliptical-riding liberal can get behind.
But Seriously, Why Bourbon and Tobacco?
Even as some grooming brands move away from the ultra-masculine approach, we’re still seeing lots of bourbon and tobacco fragrances in the men’s grooming industry. One big question remains about many bourbon and tobacco-infused stuff. Is it even good for you? After all, If drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes are so disastrous for your complexion, you might be wondering if you should be putting these ingredients on your face. It depends on how you look at it. Miami-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Roberta Del Campo noted that “ultra-masculine fragrances and ingredients such as bourbon and tobacco can actually be irritating to the skin.”
But while overwhelming fragrances can be damaging, there are potential benefits found within the ingredients themselves. Dr. Anna H. Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist and writer with Zelen Life, noted that “alcohol-based products such as bourbon [appear] to have some skin benefits related to boosting the immune system as well as serving as an antiseptic.” Likewise, she notes “wild tobacco has certain amino acids and peptides that are also found in collagen, such as glycine and proline, which may lead to potential benefits as an anti-aging source in cosmeceuticals and skincare.”
The brand that leans the furthest into the beer and bourbon aesthetic is Duke Cannon, who features Buffalo Trace right on their soap packaging (and in the soap itself). For their part, Duke Cannon is amusingly equivocal, admitting on the product page: “Does Bourbon benefit the skin? We have no idea, but bourbon tends to make everything better, so why not?”
Ultimately, whether you want a bourbon-infused soap bar or something simple, there are plenty of options made for men to choose from. Simply put, whatever your taste, there’s a beauty product for you — if you’re not afraid to call it that.