Aesop’s sale to L’Oréal for $2.5bn marked not only the highest price for an Australian luxury brand, but the ascent of a brand instrumental in transforming the men’s skincare business from a niche offering into a luxury mainstay. Since Mr. Porter introduced a male grooming category ten years ago, the market has grown steadily.
In 2022, the grooming market reached a $32bn valuation with skincare products making up around half of that. But there’s more to the story than sales figures: the audience is not only increasing in size but also in sophistication. From trusted mom-and-pop shops to larger mainstream operations, the skincare industry is evolving.
Western consumers are playing catch up: male consumers in China, Japan, and South Korea have long embraced skincare, with Korean men spending more in the area than any others. In recent surveys, three quarters of Korean men reported using some kind of beauty treatment at least once a week. Analysts suggest that perfect hair and skin of K-Pop stars has become aspirational for those whose musical celebrity stretches only to the occasional karaoke session.
There are some technical differences between male and female skin. Men sweat more during exercise, their skin is thicker and it has more oil. This means they need different products and formulations, and that some unisex products are likely to be unsatisfying. But differences in skin chemistry have long been outstripped by symbolic differences. Early attempts to market male skincare to the West tended to obsess over separating it from women’s products, and especially from the cosmetics market. Nivea’s campaigns using football players to deliver that message became so well known that Ryan Reynolds could parody them in an ad for a password manager featuring Wrexham FC.
The transformation from treatment to lifestyle product has taken many forms. Aesop mastered the luxury form by positioning its products somewhere between the spa and philosophy salon, using restrained branding and architectural, library-like retail spaces. Malin and Goetz, founded in New York in 2004, took a more crisp, scientific and contemporary outlook, offering “advanced skincare” in a simple package, while heritage brands like C.O. Bigelow used an old-school barbershop aesthetic to develop a distinctively masculine range.
Recently, a new generation of specialist brands have emerged. Harry Aaronson’s brand, Heath, founded in 2017, specifically aimed at serving urban professionals, both as protection from stress and pollution, and as a ritual in a busy working life. The following year, New York-based Geologie stressed personalized skin-specific treatment, while in 2022, James Chase founded Baz and Co, a brand that brings a farm-to-table philosophy to skincare.
“After a decade spent in the alcohol industry I was lucky to travel the world and immerse myself in the global cocktail culture,” Chase tells Klein’s Journal. “However, this lifestyle took its toll.”
Having researched vertical farming while developing a gin, he turned to the same technology to grow botanicals for skincare, seeing an opportunity for an all-natural brand, championing basil as the central botanical. The brand’s current offering includes a herbal body wash, a basil and aloe vera exfoliating cleanser, and a luxurious, buttery moisturizer with basil, frankincense and juniper. An all-natural deodorant (another men’s category sorely lacking in a world of microplastics, phthalates, and contaminants) is coming in the summer, Chase says.
As the market matures, Western brands no longer need to make the argument for male skincare. Instead, they’re starting to talk more seriously about the effects of pollution and stress on the body, and the place of considered care and ritual in the good life.