Makeup has come to be thought of as a feminine endeavor, but many don’t realize that men have historically used cosmetics as well. Back in 4000 BC, guys used black pigment to create intricate eye looks. In Elizabethan England, toxic face powders were en vogue. And eyeliner and nail polish have long been favored by punk bands. All of this is to say, men’s makeup has always been a part of the zeitgeist in one way or another.
The late 2000s and early 2010s saw a decline in men wearing makeup (at least in an overt way), but social media, vlogs, and the rise of men as beauty and grooming gurus have ushered in a resurgence that’s hard to ignore. “I think Gen Z and social media influencers have made it more acceptable,” says Charlie Riddle, a celebrity makeup artist and global beauty director of Stila. “Men are seeing themselves back for the first time and seeing more tutorials or applications on Instagram and TikTok, and it’s become more normalized.”
In fact, the United States has some catching up to do. “In Korea, they have been using male models to promote BB creams and makeup for quite some time, and we are starting to see that in beauty campaigns for U.S. brands now as well,” he adds. Since we haven’t yet reached critical mass in the category, it can be hard for men who wish to experiment with makeup to know how to go about it. If that sounds like you, consider this your primer on how to curate your own makeup routine.
Men’s Makeup 101
First things first: You don’t need to buy gender-specific products. Despite what the packaging might say or who the product might be marketed to, anyone can use any of the makeup that you can find in beauty retailers today. “Same ingredients, same concept,” Riddle says. Instead, focus on the look you are trying to create. “The important thing would be, if you are looking for products that are skin-mimicking, just avoid anything illuminating or sparkly,” he adds.
When building a basic makeup collection, Riddle says guys should start with:
These products are specifically aimed at evening out the complexion and defining key facial features, which means finding the right shade(s) is essential. “Have someone help you with color matching — whether it’s for face or eyebrows,” Riddle suggests. “Getting the correct color match will be key for a natural looking application.”
The Building Blocks of Men’s Makeup
Now that you know the basics of your beauty routine, it’s time to dive into the specifics. Below, we’re breaking down some of our favorite products in each of the categories Riddle laid out above:
Tinted Moisturizer & Concealer
The beauty of tinted moisturizers is that they are the ultimate multitaskers. Most formulas have both hydrating and complexion-perfecting properties. Some of our favorite tinted moisturizers include the Fenty Beauty Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Tint and the Glossier Skin Tint. The former is available in 25, the latter in 12. Both offer buildable, sheer to medium coverage that allows for maximum versatility. The Stila Tinted Moisturizer Skin Balm, meanwhile, has an innovative solid texture that makes it portable and perfect for touch ups.
On the concealer side of things, you’ll want to consider what you are looking to conceal. The MAC Studio Fix Concealer and L.A. Girl HD Pro Concealer are both easy to blend and will cover dark circles and/or blemishes. For under-eye brightening, consider opting for a concealer shade that is slightly lighter than your tinted moisturizer or skin tone. For camouflaging redness or blemishes, a truer match will work best.
Contour powder may seem redundant for a guy that already has a strong jawline, but Riddle says a good contour can add even more definition. “Guys love this because you can really shade and define the jawline, and it actually gives a more masculine appearance,” he explains.
The NYX Highlight & Contour Pro Face Palette is great for beginners, thanks to its eight (!) highly blendable powders that can sculpt on pretty much any skin tone. More advanced users can try the brand’s 3C Conceal Correct Contour Palette. The cream-based set comes in three shade ranges for more customization, and each palette features six crease-free hues that can be used to conceal, color corrector, and/or contour.
Contouring is an art form, so you’ll definitely benefit from watching a tutorial (or two!). With that said, keep in mind that it’s all about creating dimension. Highlight the areas you want to bring forward with a lighter shade, and contour the areas you want to recede with darker hues.
Men naturally have a stronger brow and further defining it helps to anchor the face. The aptly named Glossier Boy Brow is a no-brainer thanks to its gentle hold and buildable color. It comes in five shades, including clear. Speaking of clear, you don’t necessarily need to add color to your eyebrows to make an impact. If you are happy with the density of your arches but are looking to tame unruly hairs, consider a colorless pomade — like the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Freeze Styling Wax — that will simply keep everything in place.
In the event you don’t already have a lip balm that you rely on to keep you pout healthy and hydrated, allow us to recommend a couple. The Kiehl’s Butterstick Lip Treatment SPF 30 has a matte finish and is loaded with skin-softening ingredients, including coconut and sunflower seed oils and lemon and shea butters, and protecting extras, like vitamins C and E and SPF 30 (yes, your pout needs sunscreen, too).
Open to exploring a your-lips-but-better look? consider the Dior Addict Lip Glow. The cult-favorite formula adjusts to your skin's pH to impart a custom tint and up to 24 hours of hydration.
If you’re ready to take the next step, additional elements like highlighter, blush, and lashes will elevate your look. “A face gloss or highlighter can be really nice to pop the cheekbones,” Riddle says. On the face gloss front, you can’t go wrong with the Patrick Ta Major Glow All-Over Glow Balm or Jones Road Beauty Miracle Balm. For a more traditional highlight, consider the Sephora Collection Golden Hour Luminizing Powder, Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder, or Stila Heaven's Hue Highlighter.
Want a pop of color on your cheeks? “Cream blush in a flushed shade can be a really nice element for a healthy, sun-kissed look,” Riddle notes. The Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blush may look intimidating, but it melts seamlessly into the skin. For a truly foolproof application, the e.l.f. Monochromatic Multi Stick is quick, easy, and insanely affordable.
When it comes to lashes, “a dark brown mascara or lash tint can also be really nice,” Riddle says. If you don’t have a lot of lashes, you can consider adding some faux fringe. He recommends Lashify because the brand “makes some great natural options for men that look virtually undetectable but give a really nice eye opening effect.”
How to Apply & Remove Makeup
Whether you’re going for an everyday look or full-on glam, the rules are the same. When applying makeup, Riddle says it’s important to remember that “a little goes a long way.” After all, it is far simpler to add more than it is to remove. “If the idea is to make it look as natural as possible, be delicate and precise with your application,” he suggests.
A lot of makeup artists believe the hands and fingers make the best tools, but, if you are trying to limit mess, it might be worth investing in an applicator. Riddle’s tool of choice? “A Beautyblender is a great tool to apply face products because it can also take away any excess texture.” There are also countless brushes on the market, and we’ve got a comprehensive guide to help you choose the right one. Just make sure to keep them clean!
Last but not least, we’d be remiss not to mention that all that goes on must come off. If you are applying makeup, you need to make sure you are removing it properly. Check out this advice from dermatologists for the best way to do so, and don’t miss our roundup of the best makeup removers for every skin type, too.
Starting a men’s makeup routine from scratch may seem like a daunting task, but it really can be quite simple. If you stick to the basics, prioritize finding a tinted moisturizer and concealer that complements your skin tone. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, fun extras can include long (or short!) lashes, highlighter, blush, and more. At the end of the day, have fun with it! “Remember, you are doing this for yourself to make you feel good,” Riddle shares. “Just like going to gym or getting a new haircut, makeup can be a confidence-booster you never knew you needed.”
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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