Gender-Inclusive Products Are Pushing Beauty Standards Beyond the Binary
When Procter & Gamble sponsored the first “soap opera” to promote its fragranced soap bar to women homemakers in the 1920s, gendered beauty products entered the shower in earnest—and they haven’t left it since. But a full century later, many people are questioning why products are divided by gender in the first place. Soap is soap, after all. What hair and skin need depends upon many factors, but gender is near the bottom of the list. As consumers become savvy to this reality and a new generation of beauty buyers becomes increasingly gender fluid, in 2022, we’ll see brands place gender inclusivity at the forefront of their launch and expansion plans.
According to the marketing firm Wunderman Thompson, more than 50 percent of Gen Zers shop beyond their gender in beauty categories, which is prompting some in the industry to think outside of the gender binary. “Up until this point, skin care and beauty [marketers] have been largely talking to feminine-presenting women, which leaves a huge gap for anyone who doesn’t fit into that bucket,” says Shai Eisenman, the founder of the skin-care brand Bubble (launched in 2020), which says it is “made for everyone.” “We are leaning toward gender-positive communication that includes everyone, because we feel that that will allow our consumers to see themselves for who they are and to feel comfortable in their own skin,” Eisenman says. “To us, ‘everyone’ includes the entire spectrum of gender identity: cis, trans, and gender nonconforming people.”
Fenty was early on the scene in regards to gender inclusivity. When the brand launched Fenty Skin in 2020, Rihanna tweeted: “Whoever told you skin care has a gender, LIED to you!” and that ethos has carried through the brand’s marketing materials to this day. In December, M.A.C announced Keith Haring as the Viva Glam Ambassador along with three special-edition lipsticks––100 percent of the proceeds from sales will go to All Ages, All Races and All Genders, M.A.C's charitable organization. And skin-care brand Good Light, which launched in March of 2021 has the tagline: "beauty beyond the binary."
Of course, genderless products and marketing in the beauty and personal care space aren't entirely new. CK One's unisex fragrance was the quintessential '90s scent, and products from brands such as Aesop (est. 1987) and Malin+Goetz (est. 2004) are intended for anyone to use. “We wanted to create regimens and products that were easy and uncomplicated, that couples could share,” says Matthew Malin, co-founder of Malin+Goetz.
However, once outliers, gender-neutral brands and scents are becoming the new norm. Launched in 2016, the body-care-for-all brand Bathing Culture saw a huge demand for the unisex, woodsy scent at the heart of its Mind and Body Wash. When it launched its Cathedral Grove Perfume Oil in early November 2021, the roll-on fragrance had a 1,000 person waitlist.
In the hair category, we’re similarly seeing a push toward gender inclusivity. “The traditional ‘short hair for men, long hair for women’—that just shouldn’t exist,” says Megan Andrews, co-founder of Barb, a new pomade brand for people with short hair. “We don’t need to have that binary.” Next year, the brand has plans for expansion with a pomade specifically for those with short, natural textures; a hair powder; and a beach spray. Meanwhile, Queer Eye beauty luminary Jonathan Van Ness dropped his 10-product, gender-neutral hair-care line, JVN Hair in August 2021, and is expanding with a product that can be used either on the beard or hair lengths.
Finally, makeup is decidedly breaking out of its traditional target market of solely cisgender women. “Adaptable, multifunctional products that don't subscribe to gender norms will open up the personal care and beauty categories to non-binary people, previously left out of the conversation by an industry that operates within the constructs of gender,” says Jenni Middleton, the marketing firm WGSN’s director of beauty.
Case in point: We Are Fluide, a gender-expansive makeup brand with a purpose to amplify queer identities, showcases its line of highly pigmented lipsticks, eyeshadows, and glitters cis, trans, and non-binary people in marketing. Up next: The brand has plans to launch an inky black mascara that won’t sweat off. On its website, biodegradable glitter brand TooD Beauty, likewise showcases video snapshots of people of all genders applying and wearing the brand’s chunky, ultra-bright loose glitters and smooth shimmer glosses. In December, the brand will drop glitter collections bundled in up-cycled XO GOGO mini purses. Not to mention, Harry Styles just dropped a line for all genders called Pleasing, with dual-ended lip oil eye serum, a luminescent serum, and a line of nail polishes.
Will the future of beauty be open to all genders? “In some ways, I do see gender inclusivity in the beauty space in the same framework as cruelty-free or clean beauty in that it’s becoming a standard that all brands will need to adjust [to]," says Laura Kraber, the co-founder of We Are Fluide. It's a long way from those early days of marketing pink soap to cisgender women—and long overdue.
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