Slap happy: why makeup should be a key component of any man’s mental health kit

Lee Kynaston discusses the impact  of men's makeup on self-esteem.

Man wearing under eye concealer makeup for mental health and self esteem
Words by Lee Kynaston
Oct 07, 2022 
Jessica Punter Men's Grooming Writer for Humanery

Grooming Guru Lee Kynaston is one of the UK’s best-known and most knowledgeable male beauty experts, with over 20 years experience of writing about men's skincare, haircare and fragrance. An award-winning journalist and former magazine editor, his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines and on websites across the world and as an in-demand consultant he has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands. He currently writes for the likes of GQ, Mr. Porter and The Independent – as well as for Humanery.

If I were to tell you there was a product that could instantly boost your self-esteem, improve your appearance and probably improve your mental health at the same time you’d want to know what it is, right?

If I told you it was easy to use, available online and cost less that £20 you’d definitely be interested, yes? Well, there is, and I’m not talking about Viagra here (though that might have a similar effect) – I’m talking about makeup. Instantly less interested? If so, I’m not surprised.

Despite the backing of high-profile celebrities like Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles and scores of male influencers, out in the real world – the world of ordinary blokes – there’s still a certain resistance to the idea of wearing something seen as inherently ‘female’. 

Harry Styles wearing men's makeup

Image source: L'Officiel UK

In the course of my 20-year career writing about men’s skincare I’ve seen men repeatedly blanch at the idea of using cosmetics. “Why would I want to use makeup?!” is the usual response when I suggest a cosmetic product, to which my answer is always the same: if it can make you look good and feel good, why wouldn’t you want to use it? Why wouldn’t you want to disguise that confidence knocking zit? Or hide those dark circles or hangover complexion from your boss when you’ve been burning the candle at both ends? Why wouldn’t you want to look picture perfect for your wedding day or – if you haven’t quite got as far as the aisle yet – for a dating app profile pic?

Why let outdated gender norms, old fashioned notions of what a man is or does or – worst of all – the opinions of your mates (however well-meaning they may be) hold you back from looking the very best you can? In short, why feel self-conscious and hung-up about your appearance when you don’t have to? 

And make no mistake, how you look or, more pertinently, how you think you look, has direct bearing on your overall mental health. Numerous studies have shown links between skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis and depression, for example, while the mood boosting effects of applying makeup are well documented in studies involving women, who’ve understood its transformative effects…forever. I myself know first-hand how visible skin conditions can affect mental health because I suffer from guttate psoriasis – an autoimmune related skin condition that causes angry-looking red spots to appear on the skin and which didn’t appear until my dad passed away when I was 29. 

Overcoming adult male skin issues with just a little help from men's makeup

The initial attack – clearly triggered by the stress of bereavement – was so sudden and so severe my doctor originally thought I had chicken pox and as well as appearing on my elbows and legs it also erupted on my face and scalp. The outbreak knocked my confidence so severely that for a while I rarely left the house and when I absolutely had to, I wore a baseball cap tilted over my forehead to disguise as many of the spots as possible. I became withdrawn, depressed and self-conscious in a way I’d not experienced since I was a teenager and had to face the ignominy of walking into double physics with a nose zit the size of Pluto. It certainly gave me a new perspective on how thoroughly miserable adult skin issues can make a man feel. 

What’s more, with stress one of your epidermis’ worst enemies, worrying about annoying skin problems – whether an isolated spot or a chronic rash – can often make them worse and, of course, the worse they get the more you worry, locking you into a soul-destroying feedback loop from which there seems no escape. 

Thankfully, the relationship between skin and mental health is much better understood now as is the intersection between self-care and self-esteem. There’s even a branch of dermatology called psychodermatology that specifically addresses the link between stress and skin conditions and also aims to tackle the social anxiety that goes hand in hand with conditions affecting the body’s largest – and most visible – organ.

Today, I manage the random outbreaks I still suffer from with a prescription-only cream but when a random psoriasis spot emerges (and like zits they can pop up at the most inappropriate of times – like just before an important presentation or family get together) I instantly reach for a concealer and, with a little dab, instantly reducing my self-consciousness and boosting my self-esteem. It’s the simplest, smallest of acts but one that delivers some of the biggest results of my entire skincare regime. 

Man staring into broken glass shattering self esteem issues with effective skincare and men's makeup

Shatter that veil of invisible self-doubt and social anxiety that holds you back with just a little bit of men's makeup.

Men's Makeup does not have to be over the top. It can be adjunct to your everyday skincare routine...

As someone who also suffers from hereditary dark circles (see, even grooming writers have their share grooming gremlins) it’s the only way I’ve managed to deal with my Uncle Fester eye sockets too. Truth be told, makeup is a far more effective remedy in the short term than any of the anti-wrinkle creams, face scrubs or serums I use, as much as I like having those in my daily routine. 

My point is, I know from personal experience about the psychological benefits of concealers, bronzers and complexion enhancing BB creams. It’s why, like a bank robber relentlessly chipping away at the wall of a vault, I’ve been trying to break down men’s aversion to makeup for years. It is, after all, by far the fastest and most effective way to disguise the type of niggling skincare issues which are notoriously difficult to deal with in a hurry. 

Makeup doesn’t have to be about a smoky eye or a rosy cheek (though all power to you if that’s the look you’re going for) it can be about barely there, barely noticeable concealment, camouflage and complexion enhancement too – an everyday adjunct to your moisturiser and face scrub and it’s easy to apply too. (On the ease-of-application scale it’s certainly less fiddly than flossing.) 

Man putting on light makeup

But if, somewhere at the back of your mind, there’s still a lingering suspicion that makeup is not for men – that only women wear cosmetics – remember that there was a time when moisturiser was seen as being something only women used too. Times have changed; we got over that misconception. We now understand the connection between self-image and self-esteem. 

As acclaimed nail artist Leighton Denny says, there’s far less judgement around what has typically been associated with femininity and masculinity these days. “We’re seeing it in fashion, skincare, makeup and even with nails too,” he points out. “It’s becoming so much more ‘acceptable’ for men to wear makeup and if cosmetics can give you more confidence and make you happier why shouldn’t men get involved?” So, if you’re a guy out there who’s self-esteem is shot by spots, who’s confidence is battered by birthmarks, uneven pigmentation or dark circles put aside your fears, prejudice and preconceived ideas. Don’t be curmudgeonly about cosmetics – give them a try.

With a YouGov poll showing that 1 in 20 British men now wear makeup on a regular basis you certainly won’t be alone and trust me, both your looks and your mental health will thank you for it.

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