Move over, Harry, Zayn… and Zoella: your pulling power with today’s tweenagers is fading fast. A new pack of pouty male influencers with perfect eyebrows and slick lip tricks is turning their heads – and the beauty industry is taking note, says Kat Brown.
The names Jack Bennett, James Charles and Lewys Ball might sound like cast members of a cosy ITV detective drama to you, but ask your tweenage daughter and chances are that she’ll react as though you just name-dropped Charlotte Tilbury. They’re just three of the fearsomely gifted young men dominating the beauty space on YouTube and Instagram. Where magazines and our parents probably inspired our first signature beauty looks, things are wildly different today. Even if your daughter never wears make-up, it’s likely that she could pull out an arsenal of impressive looks thanks to the tutelage of boys on the internet.
Male beauty influence on women has been brewing for well over a decade, and it helps that there is an increasing respect for men doing make-up in mainstream areas. The fashion designers Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs both launched hugely successful beauty lines in the past decade, but recent years have seen the trend evolve from men creating make-up lines for women to a far more gender-inclusive and genderfluid phenomenon.
In March, Geordie Shore’s Marnie Simpson teamed up with her boyfriend Casey Johnson to launch a unisex make-up collection called Both Ways. The same month, Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya wore Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty foundation to the Oscars, albeit less gloriously than Justice League star Ezra Miller, who rocked a bright pink Fenty lipgloss to his film’s Beijing premiere last October – a video of Ezra proudly name-dropping the brand to reporters went viral on Twitter.
The global success of the long-running American reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race has also shone a spotlight on male beauty. The series follows professional drag queens showing off their best fashion and beauty looks, and the fun – and deadly seriousness – with which the contestants tackle make-up has given genderless cosmetics a real boost. And it’s beauty vloggers who offer an approachable connection to these looks. By combining charismatic, funny, good-looking boys with the catnip of make-up, YouTube has produced a tweenage fixation arguably on a par with the Justin Bieber years – only this time there are plenty more poster boys to go around.
Lewys Ball and 20-year-old Canadian YouTuber Jony Sios were among the big draws at December’s BeautyCon London, the third British iteration of the US convention that attracts thousands of beauty obsessives. Younger teenage girls (or rather, their parents) pay for the privilege of meeting their idols, and with the event concentrated into just one day, it evokes an air of Beatlemania. As one bemused parent noted: ‘This isn’t just a BCL or YouTube phenomenon, it’s a phenomenon of youth.’
In fact, it’s youth-driven social media that has helped beauty become more diverse and inclusive, simply by offering a fairly egalitarian platform where anyone can post and the best will emerge at the top. The original male beauty influencer, Jeffree Star, launched his career on noughties sites such as Face The Jury, where you uploaded a photo for ratings, before becoming huge on MySpace (remember that?) in 2006. Now comparatively ancient at 32, Star is a big player in his own right, having launched a successful line of cosmetics in 2014. By 2016, his Instagram success had led to a two-product limit on sales of his cult Velour Liquid Lipsticks.
Given its aesthetic focus it is little surprise that Instagram is a major force behind why boys are now such big business in beauty; the #boysinmakeup hashtag has 146,000 posts while #malemua (or make-up artist) has 138,000. With the introduction of one-minute videos (and one-hour videos for select accounts) and the ability to post longer captions (crucial for tagging brands and writing up the products you’re using), Instagram has become the go-to social network for niche communities to express themselves. Even Tilbury herself got behind Jake-Jamie’s (aka The Beauty Boy) #makeupisgenderless campaign by reposting one of his videos on Twitter.
But why should we get beauty tips from boys at all? Well, as one fan put it, ‘that’s like saying only males can hunt and fish’. It’s an art form, and the vloggers clocking up huge numbers of subscribers genuinely adore make-up. There’s also the point that there is no competition. Watching their videos, there’s no worrying about whether you’re as pretty as the girl showing you a look; plus, if that foundation looks flawless over stubble, imagine what it could do for you.
This is a safe, welcoming world dedicated to the joy of make-up, making the most of what you have and having vast amounts of fun while doing it. And this online phenomenon is creating the stars of tomorrow’s commercial tie-ins. Big brands are paying attention to male make-up stars who have both serious numbers and a highly engaged audience behind them.
In 2016, the then 17-year-old American YouTuber James Charles went viral after posting pictures of his school yearbook photo in full make-up, which he claimed to have had retaken using his own lighting, the better to make his highlight ‘pop’. That autumn, he was announced as CoverGirl makeup’s first ‘CoverBoy’ – a big step for diversity, especially from a brand that had been a long-time partner of America’s Next Top Model during its women-only seasons.
Other brands quickly caught up, and a slew of companies signed up boy beauty talent. Last year Manny Gutierrez, the 27-year-old sensation known as Manny Muaua, was signed up by Maybelline, and in the UK 19-year-old Lewys Ball became Rimmel London’s first male ambassador. Following his #makeupisgenderless campaign, Jake-Jamie was signed by L’Oréal to launch two products in its Infallible range. The beauty boys are getting to create their own products, too: later that year, Mac chose the American vlogger Gabriel Zamora as the only male participant in its collection of ten lipsticks designed by leading global beauty influencers.
The boys aren’t just selling products aimed at women, or a genderfluid audience. Their interest in beauty – and more responsible ingredients and packaging – is seeing products created specifically for them: a vegan range for men, 31st State, launched in the UK last autumn. Inclusive cosmetics have come a long way since 2008 when early adopter Superdrug launched its Taxi Man range – including ‘guyliner’ and ‘manscara’ – for men. In an Instagram age, every niche can be celebrated – and the more forward-thinking brands have figured out a way to sell to them, too. Now the boys are among those holding the power in what sells and are teaching us how to use it. And boy: our girls are absolutely loving it.
Contour Culture: 6 Influential Beauty Boys
WHO? James Charles, 19
INFLUENCE: 5.8m YouTube subscribers, 5.7m Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR Faux freckles and a sharp winged liner
MUST WATCH Making up actress Maddie Ziegler (9m views)
WHO? Jack Bennett, 11 (aka makeuupbyjack)
INFLUENCE 26k YouTube subscribers, 467k Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR Flawless looks that could outshine a Kardashian
MUST WATCH How to do a smoky halo eye (100k views)
WHO? Jake-Jamie, 26 (aka The Beauty Boy)
INFLUENCE 26k YouTube subscribers, 176k Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR Down-to-earth, practical advice and cheery charm in spades
MUST WATCH Eyebrow tutorial (363.6k views)
WHO? Manny Gutierrez, 27 (aka Manny MUA)
INFLUENCE 5m YouTube subscribers, 4.8m Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR The ultimate sassy delivery and intense skills
MUST WATCH Foam foundation review (6.5m views)
WHO? Lewys Ball, 19 (aka lookingforlewys)
INFLUENCE 296k YouTube subscribers, 123k Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR His wit (and killer eye make-up)
MUST WATCH Playing British songs to American YouTuber Kenzie Elizabeth (1.3m views)
WHO? Jake Warden, 16
INFLUENCE 972k YouTube subscribers, 2.2m Instagram followers
KNOWN FOR Joker with skills: he’s used his iPad and laptop to blend foundation
MUST WATCH The Chapstick Challenge with his YouTuber girlfriend Amanda Diaz (7.6m views).