WHEN cosmetics began disappearing from her bathroom drawer a few years ago, Gretchen Bain, who lives in Merchantville, N.J., knew the culprit.
Her husband, Jarrod.
It turned out that Mr. Bain, 34, a Customs and border-protection officer who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 240 pounds — and whose uniform includes a 9-millimeter handgun — had developed a fondness for his wife’s under-eye concealer, which hid his occasional dark circles. He was also swiping her face lotions and mud masks.
“At one point I just started buying stuff for him because I don’t want him stealing mine,” Ms. Bain said. Now she orders products online for him at Menaji.com, which bills itself as a “masculine” and “undetectable” line of cosmetics and skin-care products. His favorites are an eye gel and stick concealer that target dark circles, and an anti-shine powder that comes (shhh!) in a compact.
“When you looked at him you wouldn’t think he’d have his own supply of men’s skin-care products in the cabinet,” said Ms. Bain, 40, a fashion buyer for Lane Bryant Outlets. “He’s got a short, military haircut — and he’s very butch.”
Whether they admit it or not, more men are using cosmetics, judging from sales figures and the number of new products arriving on store shelves. But please don’t call it “makeup” — cosmetics marketers pointedly steer clear of the term, which men tend to find emasculating. And the products men are using promise not to add color to masculine eyelids or stubbly cheeks, but rather to mask imperfections like razor burn and blemishes.
“Having makeup become part of guys’ daily habits is kind of far-fetched,” said Jason Chen, the grooming editor at GQ, who admits to occasionally using an inexpensive concealer for blemishes. But he acknowledged that certain products, like moisturizers that can even out skin tone or reduce shine on the face, have been growing in popularity.
“There is a little bit of that stealth makeup thing going on, where you’re not slapping foundation onto your face but as part of your other routines — it sort of creeps in,” Mr. Chen said.
True, neither the “manscara” look of Adam Lambert, the “American Idol” star, nor the “guyliner” stylings of Russell Brand, the comedian, will likely be adopted anytime soon by the guy who fixes your car.
But men’s use of stealth makeup like concealers is on the upswing.
American consumers spent $4.8 billion on men’s grooming products in 2009, according to Euromonitor International, a market data firm. In 1997, the figure was half that — $2.4 billion.
Among the fastest growing men’s segments is skin care, which refers to nonshaving products like facial cleansers, moisturizers and exfoliants. That category grew more than fivefold over the period, to $217 million from $40.9 million, Euromonitor said.
While the data suggests more mirror time for men, it doesn’t give the full picture. By and large, men’s cosmetics are sold online by companies that fly under the radar of researchers.
Among those brands, business appears to be booming. Menaji, for example, reports a 70 percent increase in online sales over the last three years, according to Michele Probst, the makeup artist who founded the company 10 years ago.
“People thought it was nuts when I came out with the idea,” said Ms. Probst, who lives in Nashville. “But men have always been very vain and always have groomed, and these are just new grooming tools.”
At 4Voo, a seven-year-old Canadian company, sales have tripled over the last four years, according to Marek Hewryk, the founder. Its products — all targeted to men — include a lipstick-shaped concealer called Confidence Corrector ($34); a Lash and Brow Styling Glaze, applied with a mascara wand ($23); and even an eyeliner ($19).
“Women use cosmetic products to beautify, but men have a totally different approach and totally different goals,” said Mr. Hewryk, who holds degrees in applied chemistry and biology. “Men use cosmetic products in order to cover up or correct imperfections, not to enhance beauty.”
Another Canadian men’s line that says it has thousands of customers in the United States, KenMen, has quadrupled sales since 2005, according to Lee Gilbert, its founder. Ms. Gilbert, a film industry makeup artist, developed the products for Hollywood actors, but now many use her line every day off-screen, she said, though she declined to name any. KenMen’s products include Guy-liner pens ($22), a slightly tinted lip salve ($25) and pens ($22) to “sculpt and define” eyebrows and to fill gaps in beards.
One argument that men’s cosmetics are going mainstream: some men are not even self-conscious about using them. Jeffrey Lederer, 63, a principal in several investment partnerships and a former Wall Street trader, openly applies Menaji products — including a Bronze Star facial bronzing gel, concealer and anti-shine powder — after his workouts at a private Manhattan club.
“People are reticent to ask what they are, even though I think they’re interested,” Mr. Lederer said. “It does take a certain amount of self-confidence to use it in public.”
Mr. Lederer, who wears tailor-made suits from Milan, called himself an “aesthetic person” who attains an “airbrushed look” from the cosmetics.
“As I get older, the one thing you never want to do is look foolish, like dying one’s hair, which I think is probably the most obvious and egregious thing a man can do,” he said. “But I don’t think any of these products in any way makes the user look less respectable, or foolish, or less manly.”
Mainstream beauty brands are listening to men like him. Among the big-name brands that make products for men are Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and Clinique.
A 2009 report by Packaged Facts, a market research firm, expressed high hopes for the product category. “Pass the manscara, Joe! Makeup for men is here,” the report proclaimed.
Widespread use, though, is a way off, the report continued: “It might take a long time, possibly a generation, but makeup for men — yes, color cosmetics for male eyes, lips, face, and maybe nails — will eventually be a viable category, even if a relatively small one in terms of retail dollars.”
For now, there are early adopters, some of whom have their first brush (or sponge) with makeup at Sephora. Gilbert Soliz, a makeup artist based at a Sephora store in Times Square, said that he tends to steer men to products that are fragrance-free and packaged neutrally, including Sephora’s own brand.
At Sephora, the makeup areas are the least frequented by men, whose preferred habitat is the fragrance section, followed by the shaving and skin-care areas, Mr. Soliz said. If a shopper tells a consultant at the store that he wants to, say, reduce shine, “the consultation might take place in front of the fragrance wall, or in men’s skin care, so they’re more at ease and we’re not staging a consultation in front of a lot of blushes and eye shadows,” Mr. Soliz said.
Julian Kynaston, the founder of Illamasqua, a unisex makeup line from England, said the obsession over whether makeup is manly ignores the past: “The irony for me is that it’s only in the last century that makeup and men parted company.”
As far back as 3500 B.C., Egyptian men and women wore an eye color made of crushed ant eggs, perhaps more for the sake of sun protection than decoration, according to Stephan Kanlian, the chairman of the master’s program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Use of makeup by men was common among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and throughout the Renaissance, and the founding fathers powdered their cheeks as well as their wigs, Mr. Kanlian said.
Today, the heirs to this tradition include Peter Albert, 41, who directs a corporate training program for an education company in Baltimore. He applies Illusionist Concealer by Vapour Organic Beauty ($20 for a 4.5-gram stick) to the circles under his eyes.
“They’re not severe dark circles, but the concealer makes me look less tired when I have had just four hours’ sleep, as I have had today,” Mr. Albert said in a telephone interview.
Before he discovered the concealer on a Web site last year, he was a devoted user of the men’s Facial Fuel Eye Depuffer by Kiehl’s ($18.50 for a 0.17-ounce stick). The eye product “was the gateway drug” that led him to the concealer, he said.
Vapour Organic Beauty, which started a year ago, does not even market products to men and features only female models on its Web site, but about 15 percent of customers who order the makeup online have been men, “which is really kind of shocking,” said Eric Sakas, a founder of Vapour and a makeup artist for more than 20 years.
But Mr. Sakas, who lives in Los Angeles and once or twice a week is hired to do women’s makeup in their homes for special occasions, said that something has been happening in the last couple of years that might have prepared him for so many male shoppers.
“I’ll be doing her makeup, and the husband will poke his head in and say, ‘Can you do anything for these dark circles under my eyes?’ or ‘Can you do anything for this redness?’ ” Mr. Sakas said. “That never used to happen before, and I would say it happens 60 percent of the time now.”
Win Tuttle, 52, a real estate developer in Palm Springs, Calif., shows the effects of having Vapour cosmetics applied to only the left side of his face (right in photo) by Eric Sakas (inset). Mr. Sakas applied a concealer under Mr. Tuttle’s eye and to mask the redness below. Then with a mascara wand, he wiped all but a slight residue off with a tissue and brushed Mr. Tuttle’s lashes and brow.