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It seems common sense these days: gendering inanimate objects is pointless. So cried the general public in response to BIC’s pens ‘For Her’ and extortionately priced women’s tool sets (despite the well-known, scientific fact that women will burst into flames if they are made to hold anything that is not pink or purple). Though the vast majority of the population will agree that women and men do not require different stationary and tools in order to function properly, it seems as though we’re still adamant on having male and female skincare and haircare products.
First of all, let’s do the sciencey bit. Male skin is generally 25% thicker than female skin. It produces more oil than female skin and loses collagen, linked to the appearance of youth and skin’s elasticity, at a lower rate than female skin. In case you didn’t know, males can also grow beards, whereas females generally don’t. This can lead to greater redness and inflammation if said male chooses to shave. Basically, if we were to create a replication of the most stereotypical male skin type on the planet, it would be on the slightly oily side, maybe with a bit of redness if they shave.
What therefore confuses me is the pervading idea that men shouldn’t be using face masks or cleansers or moisturisers. If men struggle with skincare issues just as much as women, surely it should be equally acceptable for men to have a skincare routine if they so choose?
But no. Men must only purchase big grey or black bottles with “FOR MEN” proudly emblazoned on the front, so that everyone knows that this is not a prissy girly moisturiser. No. This is a male moisturiser.
As we’re throwing out the facts, let me add another to the mix: if you find a skincare product that works for you, it doesn’t matter if it marketed towards a specific gender or not. Having worked with an ungendered skin and haircare company for many years, I am continually surprised by the sheer number of customers who turn down a product that would be ideal for their skin on the basis that it isn’t specifically marketed for their gender. Usually, this applies to men who wish to buy from the men’s section; when told that there isn’t a specific men’s range, but they can be recommended a product that works for their skin, many choose to leave the shop. Products have been marketed as male and female for so long that I can certainly understand the urge to continue to buy into it, and while it’s certainly not a crime to buy cosmetics marketed towards genders, it strikes me as odd that some people simply will not buy a moisturiser unless it comes in a pink or blue bottle.
I asked my colleagues if they had experienced similar situations. Every member of staff at the shop said they had encountered a customer who had changed their mind about a product once they found out it wasn’t designed with a gender in mind. Numerous colleagues mentioned they had experienced men who were embarrassed to be buying skincare products in the first place, with one customer repeatedly stating “I’m not gay or anything” when explaining that he wanted to buy a face mask. Perhaps this is linked to the fact that women are generally encouraged to look after their appearance while men are expected to be rugged and ‘low maintenance’. Personally, it’s sad for me to see men come into the shop visibly embarrassed by the mere fact that they want to look after their skin.
This doesn’t just apply to skincare and haircare. I’ve experienced customers who refuse to buy a bath bomb because it had a star on it, as “stars are for girls”. In one of the most extreme cases, I watched a young boy, no older than four, bound into the shop in awe of a sparkly pink bath bomb he’d seen in the window and its “magic water”. His Mum refused to let him spend his pocket money on the bath bomb (“you can’t have that, pink is for girls”) and was given a blue robot shaped bath bomb instead. Now I do not mean to shock and alarm, but sitting in sparkly pink water does not cause one’s penis to fall off. Similarly, putting a fizzy blue robot into a bath with a little girl is not going to cause her to sprout a Gandalf-like beard. Let kids be kids! If a little boy wants to play in glittery water, what harm is that going to do?
So yes, gendered skincare may seem like a trivial issue at first, but it seems less than fair to me that men are discouraged from looking after their skin to the same extent as women, even more so that some poor kid is going to miss out on having a fun rainbow coloured bath, full of confetti and glitter, simply because their parent thinks it’s not for boys. Having a skincare routine or enjoying a bath does not automatically make you ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. Men and women do not need intrinsically different bath products and a woman’s hair will not fall out if she uses a shampoo marketed towards men.
Okay, rant over. I need a bath.