As gender begins to take a back seat in beauty, we’re investigating the new opportunities opening up for brands
When it comes to beauty, the binary is suffocating. As many millennials would agree, gender doesn’t define a person. Gender is a reflection of the culture and the culture is ever-changing. The current rise of genderless brands and products is just one piece of that.
Think about the last time you’ve stepped into a department store. Most likely, you’ve immediately looked for the section devoted to your gender (or the person you’re shopping for). One is usually light, airy and pastel-colored, while the other is a complete opposite, eluding power and dominance. These basic attributes have been determining how we shop for decades, considering gender as the first step in our purchasing process. For a very long time brands have been offering completely different products targeting men and women, promoting them through heavily gendered marketing.
Over the past few years however, the way in which we consume beauty has seen a shift in the non-binary direction and even big beauty brands have started to take notice. Catering to the shift in consumer mindset, there’s a growing trend of unisex and/or genderless products ramping up retail expansion.
According to the Mintel beauty retailing report “Consumers are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes, in part driven by the increased visibility of gender diversity. As such, the traditional gender boundaries associated with fashion and beauty trends are becoming progressively blurred.”
Genderless, or gender-neutral products are not an entirely new concept, and within cosmetics, fragrances are perhaps the most developed category. According to Mintel, the share of global fragrance launches taken by unisex products grew from 9.5-11.9% between 2015-16 as brands responded to the new consumer demands and continue to grow every year.
But gender-fluid beauty goes far beyond fragrances. With the rise of male beauty and makeup influencers as well as androgynous models and brand ambassadors, major industry players are trying their best to appeal to the new consumer demographic. Minimalist packaging and removing gender labels puts a focus on the specific properties of the product and its benefits.
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Pricing differences are one of the main drivers of unisex beauty. The infamous pink tax – an upcharge for products and services marketed towards women – is something women worldwide are dealing with on a daily basis. A study commissioned by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs from 2015 found that on average women pay 7% more for products marketed towards women, with the highest price discrimination found in the personal care category at an upcharge of 13% more for women’s products.
The social media brought awareness about The Pink Tax and led to many women turning to pour homme aisles when shopping for their razors, body washes and soap. Now, when you strip the products from their gender-colored packaging and flashy names, is there a real difference between a moisturizer suited for women and the one marketed towards men?
Genderless products may not work for every brand across different industries, but when it comes to beauty, should we really position products based on gender? While experts agree that women and men have some differences, mainly in skin texture, pore size and overall thickness of the skin, they are actually minimal. What consumers should take into consideration when shopping in the skincare aisle is their skin type, ethnicity, age and genetics, focusing on the specific needs and concerns of their skin. The focus should be towards the efficiency of the ingredients, rather than gender biases.
Shifting towards genderless products and marketing presents a huge potential for brands to expand their target audience, too. By blurring the gender-lines beauty brands are opening new doors and have a good chance of increasing their revenue if they manage to attract a whole other demographic.
Mintel’s advice for beauty brands recommends a more inclusive stance to take into account the increased demand for specialist and informed beauty advice: “With young men being the most likely to agree that they value the advice of beauty bloggers more than store staff (47% of male 16-24s), UK retailers could benefit from diversifying their brand collaborators to capitalise on the rising male beauty trend, the promotion of gender diversity and the influence of social media celebrities.”
With sexes being more alike than different when it comes to skincare needs, what genderless beauty actually comes down to is prioritizing product efficiency.
Temporarily disregarding the color of the packaging and even the scent and shifting your focus to the fine print of all the ingredients in the descending order of concentration is how one should be making their purchasing decisions. In the end, if it leaves your skin with a happy, healthy glow, does it really matter which aisle you got it from?