If you’ve sauntered down the cosmetics aisle recently, you’ve probably noticed that products are no longer as gendered as they once were. Not only is there less pink packaging, but companies are making a conscious effort to be more gender-inclusive.
This inclusive shift makes sense since more than half of those in Gen Z believe that gender is a spectrum.
To reflect that spectrum, many beauty brands are no longer stereotypically branding products as “for her” or “for him.” Instead, brands are embracing gender neutrality and branding products “for everyone,” veering marketing practices away from gender and toward playing into the skin concern it addresses. After all, the basic steps of a skincare routine are the same regardless of gender.
Gender-neutral beauty is actually not a new concept—it’s basically as old as hieroglyphics. Makeup was popular among all genders since way back in ancient Egypt (eyeliner, anyone?). And how could we forget the eclectic looks of the French Revolution? There was more than enough rouge and powder to go around and no one batted an eye.
The beauty industry only became gendered in the 19th century when gender norms became deeply ingrained. Since women were tasked with staying at home, they were mainly the ones seeing advertisements in domestic settings (TV and magazines), so marketing became gendered as a ploy to sell directly to them.
Society slowly started to challenge and reject the boundaries of gender again in the ‘90s. Calvin Klein reopened the gendered debate with its CK One fragrance, which was touted as being “a fragrance for a man or a woman.” In that same year, M.A.C. launched its Viva Glam makeup campaign featuring RuPaul.
Today, 40% of adults aged 18 to 22 have expressed an interest in gender-neutral beauty products, according to a NPD Group iGen Beauty Consumer report. And brands are listening. Companies are increasingly embracing gender-nonconforming ads and products in the beauty and cosmetics industries.
Rihanna launched Fenty Skin in 2020 with a tweet saying, “Whoever told you skincare has a gender, LIED to you!” She also stated that Fenty Skin is “the new culture of skincare” that “everyone can apply.”
Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness launched a gender-neutral haircare line called JVN, where products target hair types and textures—not genders.
Another example is Milk Makeup, which made strides with its 2017 advertising campaign “Blur the Lines.” As a way of questioning beauty stereotypes, the brand featured models from all backgrounds and gender identities talking about how makeup and beauty products make them feel beautiful, “Because who says that beauty products have to adhere to gender rules?”
Models and influencers also play a huge role. James Charles changed the game in 2016 when he went viral for his senior portrait and became a famous YouTuber and the first male brand ambassador for CoverGirl. Patrick Starr converted his massive following into $10-million makeup brand One/Size as a “love letter” to his fans. “I get DMs from [cis] men, trans men, and trans women who tell me they’re living vicariously through me [as an Asian man who wears a full face of makeup]. They don’t have the confidence to go up to a counter.”
Recognizing and dismantling traditional expressions of masculinity has been the main cultural driver of this industry shift—and it’s a lesson we can take beyond the beauty space.
We asked Adrianna Schmeichel, a research analyst here at Venturepark, for her thoughts on this industry shift. She says, “From a strategy perspective, brands in different industries could benefit from looking at their audience with a critical eye to see them in a new light.”
And this is a strategy that we advise. In terms of social media, engagement has increased by 50% on content mentioning non-binary, transgender, and gender-fluid terms. It also presents a strong ethos and brand identity that upholds progressive and inclusive values.
According to Schmeichel, “Shifting toward a gender-neutral approach creates a safe space for anyone interested in the products, instead of scaring them away because the products are not ‘for them.’”
In other words, all companies—even those not in the beauty arena—could consider gender-inclusive marketing to attract new users to its products without alienating its current consumer base.
It’s also important to note that gender inclusivity is not a trend. It’s the future.
So take a look at your audience with an open mind. It could be a powerful way to unlock future growth.