For as long as I can remember, there were two sides to skin-care aisles: Those lined with bottles brimming with floral scents and feminine touches and those that were sturdy and gray, meant to signify manliness. Now, though? The two are converging. Instead of a segregation between the sexes, we’re now seeing chic, unisex packaging for products that are meant for all.
It’s not that surprising that gender neutrality has come for our beauty shelves. Gender-neutral fashion started making waves last year, and it’s only been growing. According to a survey done among Generation Z, or people aged 13 to 20, about 81 percent said that gender doesn’t define a person. “It’s a reflection of the culture,” says Ty McLaren, cofounder of Koa, a gender-neutral skin-care line. “Gen-Z is the most socially aware generation, and they don’t care about traditional identity markers or the marketing gimmicks that came with them. The future is androgynous, or at least less well defined, and the rise of genderless products is just one piece of that.”
“The future is androgynous, or at least less well-defined, and the rise of genderless products is just one piece of that.” —Ty McLaren
While it seems like skin should just be skin, according to studies women and men’s complexions differ a bit on a biological level. “Women and men have many similarities in their skin, but despite the overlap in anatomy, they have some differences, too,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She points out that many studies have been done to determine sex-dependent differences in skin, and though variations exist, the results aren’t fully defined because there are additional variations like age, ethnicity, skin type, and genetic influences.
That said, the main distinction is the amount of oil produced. “Most men have an increased number of thicker hair follicles and oil or sebum glands on their face and body than women do,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Men’s skin is approximately 25 percent thicker due to androgen stimulation,” says Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Men have a higher collagen density leading to a firmer, more lifted appearance.”
So yes: Women and men have some differences, but all of this doesn’t necessarily mean we require different skin-care products. “Your skin-care routine shouldn’t be dependent on gender,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “The most important factors are individual skin type and areas of concern.” Both sexes are more alike than different, adds Dr. Nazarian, and “a majority of skin-care products have ingredients that could be effectively used by both men and women—but the appeal varies,” she says. It boils down to this: Men and women’s skin does differ in some ways, but that just creates different skin conditions (acne, oily skin, dry skin, and so on), and those are what we should be addressing.
While genderless beauty might be a brainchild of marketing and packaging, it’s still important in a number of ways. For starters, it banishes the pink tax that has required that women pay more for the same results as men. “All skin care can work for all genders—the bigger question is, ‘what do I want from my products?’ and genderless or unisex products shine a spotlight on that by focusing on the desired results,” says Dr. Nussbaum.
By leading with the skin benefits rather than catering to dated ideals of masculine and feminine, brands are able to better meet the needs of those slathering on products. “We made the brand we wished existed: a brand that helps educate people about why it’s important to take care of themselves, that doesn’t come with gendered baggage, speaks intelligently and clearly, and aligns with our values,” says McLaren. Nina Zilka, CEO and co-founder of Alder New York, another unisex skin-care brand, simply wanted to make chic and sophisticated products. “People are drawn to our products because they’re beautiful and they work,” she says, noting that her products are fragrance-free or naturally scented with fresh, clean, unisex notes.
Don’t be surprised if you start noticing more of these genderless skin-care products as you shop for your regimen. “As a society, we’re starting to acknowledge that gender isn’t this super binary thing, and people are more comfortable moving away from that type of marketing,” says Zilka. “It’s okay for anyone to care about their skin and want to play around with skin care and makeup—it’s exciting, and it’s the future, and I see it becoming much more the norm.”
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