Make-Up For Men: How To Apply It And Look Your Very Best

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Make-up for men has come a long way since you surreptitiously borrowed a dab of your sister’s concealer to cover a zit. Today, you can get cosmetics specifically engineered for guy’s skin because – guess what? – men get those spots just before a date, too. And the dark circles because we thought one more drink wouldn’t kill us. And the creases in the skin after working a 50-hour week.

The big difference in men’s cosmetics from women’s, or the crazy, contoured artistry you might see on RuPaul’s Drag Race, is that this make-up is designed to be invisible. It’s more like grooming 2.0, a subtle evolutionary step from your daily moisturiser that slaps an Instagram filter on your face in real life.

Debate what it means for masculinity if you like. We’re not going to. We don’t think it’s really a revolution, or feminisation gone berserk. It’s just an option – one you can take or leave as you see fit to fine-tune your appearance. And if you do, below you’ll find everything you need to know about the products to get with expert advice on how best to use them.

How Make-Up For Men Became A Thing

One in five men of men said they now use make-up, according to a survey for grooming brand Wahl. So, who’s slapping it on? Millennials aged 25-34 are the age group who tend to use it most, with 39 per cent saying they use make-up – that’s more than a third of blokes on the street.

Unsurprisingly, cosmetic brands have been quick to jump on the growing trend for men’s make-up, part of a grooming industry worth $57.7bn (£43.6bn) in 2018 and expected to top $78.6bn (£59.5bn) by 2023. Boy de Chanel and Tom Ford for Men are two recent designer launches that are flying off the shelves and into men’s weekend bags and office drawers, but budget options are increasingly available too.

“More and more products are being launched with men as their specific target,” says make-up artist Kenneth Soh who has groomed the faces of Richard Madden, Hugh Laurie and Martin Freeman. “Brands are now doing skincare and light cosmetic products that are branded and packaged for men and take away the stigma of guys wanting to use products on themselves.”

Despite becoming a zeitgeisty talking point recently, make-up for men is nothing new. As far back as ancient Egypt, kings and pharaohs blackened their eyes with kohl (sort of the OG eyeliner) to ward off evil spirits, a practice that eventually reached Native American tribes who used body paint to psychologically prepare for war. Male beautification remained prevalent even up until the 1600s when it was common for Englishmen to sport powdered faces as well as rouged cheeks and lips.

In more recent decades, subcultures like goths and new romantics disobeyed the gender norms of their day and now, it’s no secret that Hollywood leading men use makeup artists to help them look their best for the red carpet and TV appearances. Take Daniel Kaluuya, who set the internet alight when it was revealed he wore Rihanna’s Fenty beauty brand to the 2018 Oscars, spurring the business to create a series of online make-up tutorials specifically for men.

Kaluuya isn’t the only A-lister to don a bit of slap. David Beckham hit headlines at the start of 2019 for his cover of Love Magazine in which the ex-England football captain wore green eyeshadow, and Ezra Miller has long defied gender expectations, wearing everything from bold lipstick to silver glitter.

When it comes to men’s make-up for the everyday guy, it’s not so much about going to town with a whole Crayola box of colours as more of a fixer for a problem like dark circles or a spot. “For me, men’s make-up should hide imperfections and look believable, a bit like they’ve had a good night’s sleep,” says Soh.

Assuming you’re not immune to the occasional late night or unwanted flare-up, these are the products worth investing in and experimenting with. Blusher not included.

Make-Up Products For Men

You don’t need a wash bag packed with products for a bit of subtle man make-up. Here are seven key pieces that comprise the ultimate kit for guys that want believable, no-bullshit cosmetics.


Even if you’re no oil painting, you still need a good canvas to work with. A primer prepares the skin for everything else that follows, allowing it to go on easier and last longer. It’s not an essential step, so can be skipped in a pinch, but the right formulation can also have additional benefits, like controlling oiliness or hydrating dryness. A double skin win.

BB / CC Cream

The bloke’s more accessible alternative to foundation, BB and CC creams are essentially part moisturiser and part make-up, meaning they’re great at achieving a natural but healthy looking complexion. BB stands for blemish balm and is ideal for spot-prone skin or those in need of a little colour boost. CC stands for colour correcting and provides light coverage while also reducing the appearance of redness or age spots.


Pre-date breakout? Boardroom presentation on three hours’ sleep? This is where concealer comes in. Often a guy’s first dabble with make-up (usually stolen from a sister or girlfriend), this miracle invention is similar to foundation, but is thicker and comes in a stick or liquid wand form (the former being far less messy). It works by blending imperfections into the surrounding skin, so use it for hiding under-eye shadows, or spot coverage, or a death-by-hangover-day.

Blotting Sheets

No one wants a shiny schnoz, which is why most women use pressed or loose powder to keep excess oil at bay. However, men typically have larger pores, which can make this appear obvious. Blotting sheets sort the oil slick without leaving a layer of cakey product on your skin. Plus, they’re small enough to keep in your wallet, so they’re ideal for touching up on the go.

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