This story is part of the GP100, Gear Patrol's annual index of the 100 best products of the year. To see the full list of products or read this story in print, check out Gear Patrol Magazine: Issue Eight, available now at the Gear Patrol Store.
To call the growth in the men's grooming market "rapid" would be an understatement. The space is positively booming, with scads of new brands popping up every month, all seeking to take advantage of guys' newfound interest in not-so-basic maintenance. And that's an overwhelmingly good thing for consumers. It means young companies have to work that much harder to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. This has led to excellent products like Harry's new body wash and Rudy's multipurpose Clay Spray. But we've also seen more established brands, like Neutrogena and Aesop, put innovation first and stay ahead of the game with sunscreens that are almost lighter than water and end-to-end systems that bring fresh solutions to common skin problems.
Harry's Body Wash
Harry’s didn't reinvent the body-wash wheel, it just made said wheel smell a whole lot better. The shaving brand's new trio of shower gels features nontraditional scents like Shiso (mint, lemon zest and moss), Stone (yuzu, bergamot and charcoal) and Fig (fig, cardamom and blood orange). They also lather vigorously and don't feature the same harmful sulfates other grooming brands rely on for suds — meaning your skin feels clean and moisturized. — Adam Hurly
- Clean: No sulfates, parabens or dyes
- Availability: Target stores nationwide
- Thrifty: Any other brand would charge you three times as much
Kiehl's Body Fuel Deodorant and Antiperspirant
Leave it to Kiehl’s to produce a deodorant that nourishes while fighting funk. Body Fuel Deodorant stops sweat and blocks odor for 48 hours, but it also uses antioxidant-rich Vitamin Cg (a Vitamin C derivative) to smooth skin, zinc gluconate to calm irritation and caffeine to stimulate circulation. The tingle you get when you apply it underlines just how powerful it is. — AH
- Smell: Fresh, citrusy, not overbearing
- Application: Rollerball (shake before application)
- Longevity: 48 hours
When it comes to sex, loyalty is hard to come by — in product sales as much as in practice. While you might recognize top-shelf names like K-Y Jelly or Durex, chances are that when the time comes to use condoms or lubricant, any handy sexual-wellness product will suffice. What's the difference, so long as you get off?
As they started working on their brand Maude, which launched this year, CEO Eva Goicochea and chief product officer Dina Epstein found through research that 98 percent of consumers didn't stick to products from any one sexual-wellness brand. Until now, the market had been too noisy to inspire any real allegiance.
"If you look at the typical consumer experience around sexual health, either in a drug store or sex shop, it's very gendered, poorly marketed and designed, over-assorted and either taboo or clinical," Goicochea said. "Realizing how much a new approach was needed in this space, we basically said, 'Enough. Let's make a modern line of products for modern people.'"
As a result, its small assortment of products was built with three core principles in mind: inclusivity, quality and simplicity. The packaging says less but aims to speak to a much bigger group of people over the age of 25. Its gender-neutral, ever-so-millennial lineup includes things like condoms inside industrially designed wrappers, organic and silicone lube, a mood-setting candle that turns into a massage oil when burned and a personal massager that's phallic without looking penile.
"Even when we developed the condoms, we received feedback from women saying they use condoms on their toys but couldn't find a brand that markets condoms in a gender-neutral way," Goicochea says. "It seems really simple, but try to find a sexual-wellness company out there that isn't gendered or isn't selling sex to you like you're in college."
Maude puts a lot of attention into each detail, too. Those condoms, called Rise, come wrapped in "buttercup packaging," which is a lot more akin to opening a plastic cup of applesauce than it is to the tear-at-will style that otherwise might rip into your rubber. "You can only open it one way, which is both better for the [consumer] experience and for efficacy," says Goicochea, adding that it also helps you know which end of the condom is "up" when you put it on.
The brand offers two versions of its Shine lube, each for a different range of purposes. "The Shine organic lubricant is a hundred percent natural, pH-balanced, aloe-based formula that works well for vaginal sex and for use with all toys and vibrators as it washes off easily." The silicone version makes more sense for things "like anal play, or for massages" — basically, anywhere the body doesn't produce its own lubrication.
As for the Vibe personal massager? "Its shape has multiple purposes, and it's universal, no matter your anatomy," Goicochea says. "When men order the vibe, we recommend it for exterior foreplay. But what they do when they get home is their business." — AH
- Rise: Ultra-thin lubricated natural latex condoms
- Shine: Two lubricants made from silicone or aloe
- Vibe: Three-speed personal massager that charges via USB
Clark's Botanicals Retinol Rescue Face Serum
Retinol's efficacy at treating wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of aging has long been established. But those who use it also know how harsh it can be on your skin. So when formulating its new retinol serum, Clark's Botanicals took pains to ensure it wouldn't give users that irritating feeling. Retinol Rescue Face Serum blends a double dose of the title ingredient with colloidal oatmeal, Vitamin E and other calming ingredients like red algae. — AH
- Easy Application: Non-greasy, goes on dry
- Clean: No parabens, phthalates or sulfates
- Pair with: SPF (retinol can increase sensitivity to sunlight)
Lost Explorer Wellness Products
Most clothing brands step into grooming by launching a fragrance — and bath products that smell like that fragrance. But Lost Explorer, the eco-friendly label designed by David de Rothschild, won lots of points this year with its equally organic line of grooming products. Of the many products offered, reach first for the Head to Toe Nourishment Oil. It absorbs quickly to soften and shield your mug, beard, body and hair. — AH
- From the Earth: 100% natural ingredients
- Clean: No harmful parabens, sulfates or phthalates
- Smell Like: Nature, no synthetic fragrances
Hims and Keeps
Against the backdrop of a murky healthcare system — where products and services can be exorbitantly expensive and riddled with caveats and hidden costs — you'll find more and more brands springing up, all with a similar promise: to help consumers cut out the middlemen and save a buck or two hundred. Until now, the most notable have been Warby Parker and Hubble, which tackle the monopolies and steep costs on glasses and contacts, respectively.
But in the last year, two other brands have risen from the ashes of the healthcare wasteland, and though they're unaffiliated, they're targeting men in comparable ways. Their names are Keeps and Hims, and the founders of each know that men are far less inclined to address their personal healthcare concerns (hair loss, erectile dysfunction, skincare) than women are. Hims is a full-spectrum men's wellness and grooming company that addresses everything from erectile dysfunction to combating acne and signs of aging. It launched at the end of 2017, when Viagra's patent expired, and it continues to release new products. Keeps, which focuses specifically on helping men prevent hair loss, hit the market at the beginning of 2018.
The brands allow registered customers to present their needs to a certified doctor online. These doctors assess each case by analyzing photos, asking questions and addressing individual concerns. Then they can issue an FDA-approved prescription. Keeps sends prescriptions for finasteride (the generic name for Propecia, which can help regrow hair in some patients) and minoxidil (the generic for Rogaine, which prevents further hair loss) quarterly, through the mail. Hims mails monthly prescriptions for both drugs; it also offers sells everything from multivitamin gummies to hormone-blocking shampoo, sildenafil (the generic form of Viagra, for ED), cold-sore treatments and an everyday skincare regimen. The process saves men time and money alike: the products are all generic and therefore cost up to 80 percent less than their name-brand counterparts.
Prior to launch, the founders spoke extensively with consumers to better understand their behaviors — or lack thereof. "I quickly discovered that most men were eager to learn about treatment options, but were hesitant to ask for help and confused by the information found online," said Hims founder Andrew Dudum. "Historically, medication for hair loss and ED have been marketed to an older demographic, but in reality, these issues affect younger men, too." He noted that 66 percent of men experience hair loss by the age of 35, and 40 percent of men under age 40 experience ED.
And it's young consumers that each brand wants to attract. Keeps makes use of the fact that finasteride and minoxidil, when used in tandem, can sometimes only restore 20 percent of hair already lost (since the weakened follicles are eventually rendered inactive). But when the two drugs are used together preventively, men can retain up to 90 percent of hair that would otherwise fall out. So, cofounders Steven Gutentag and Demetri Karagas looked to tech-savvy younger men who would be more concerned with prevention than restoration (and who would respond to the brand's clean, frank marketing).
"There's no magic cure for baldness," Gutentag said. "But you can prevent hair loss from happening in the first place. The earlier you take action, the more hair you'll keep."
The marketing behind Hims and Keeps is in line with other millennial-focused direct-to-consumer brands: clean text, relatable models and just a little bit of cheek. Hims winks at its customers with imagery like a limp, phallic cactus, an upright version with a notable head and a bulbous, fuzzy one that looks like a dome of hair. Both brands speak frankly about male health concerns, not shying away from the conversation around hair loss, ED, acne or aging: "Our marketing and messaging focus on educating men about the science of hair loss and the treatment options available to them so that they can feel like active participants in their own healthcare," Gutentag said.
"Society has made men feel it's not normal to experience very common pain points, and that it's weird to want to take care of themselves," Dudum said. "The lack of conversation around men's care has bred confusion and hesitation; men feel they can't broach these conversations with doctors, friends or partners."
Consumer data collected by each brand proves that younger men are responding and taking action. "We've learned that over 90 percent of Hims's customers are receiving treatment for concerns they've never approached a doctor about before," Dudum said. "It illustrates the need for this type of platform—one that is convenient and provides a comfortable setting for men to address their health."
Gutentag said that 79 percent of Keeps customers have never previously seen a doctor to address hair loss. "We continuously hear that these guys want a better and easier solution for taking care of their medical needs. Remember, hair loss is a medical issue! We wanted to build a solution that would meet them where they wanted to be met. Our brand is easy and approachable, very much for the modern guy."
One other thing the Keeps and Hims won't shy away from is the potential side effects of one drug in particular: finasteride is sometimes associated with a compromised sex drive or even erectile dysfunction (in clinical trials, 3.8 percent of men experienced some kind of sexual side effects, though the placebo resulted in 2.1 percent with side effects, proving that some symptoms are manifested).
"What we want to do is give our customers a safe place to do the research, understand the risks and make the right decision for them," Gutentag said of Keeps. "It's important to be transparent. The health of our customers is the most important thing to us, and we take that responsibility seriously. We speak with customers every single day about their experiences and concerns, and our doctors are always available to address side-effects-related questions."
Dudum echoes the sentiment for Hims: "We're committed to providing access to the best course of treatment, and do not hesitate in rejecting patients that we've determined aren't the best fit for the medication we prescribe." — AH
- Thinning: One-two punch of finasteride and minoxidil treats overall hair loss
- Receding: 1mg daily finasteride tablet treats hair loss on the crown, hairline and vertex
- Crowning: Topical solution helps hair on the crown and vertex get thicker and longer
- Face: Get everything from cleanser to wrinkle cream
- Hair: Offers monthly prescriptions of finasteride and minoxidil to manage hair loss
- Body: Generic versions of Viagra and Valtrex available without going to a doctor's office
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen
Wearing SPF every day is a must, but some sunscreens can feel like a wool blanket spread over your face. Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost is a water-light, oil-free blend that hydrates skin like a moisturizer for eight hours after application (though you should still re-apply it regularly). It's also a broad-spectrum sunscreen, so it blocks even the strongest of UV rays — meaning it's equally welcome at the beach and on the slopes. — AH
- SPF: 30 - 50
- Oil-Free: Noncomedogenic, so it won't block your pores
- Chalk Factor: No white residue after application
Louis Vuitton Les Parfums Pour Homme
It's so common for a fashion brand to release spates of fragrances that it's hard to believe a 164-year-old French luxury house just released its first line of men's scents this year. Hard, that is, until you hear master perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud explain simply, "At Louis Vuitton, we have the luxury to take time."
Cavallier Belletrud, who's created over 80 fragrances for just about every brand you can think of, only joined Vuitton himself six years ago. That's when he started traveling the world perfecting its initial roster of scents, Les Parfums, a line of seven sprays targeted at women released in 2016. Two more women's fragrances were released earlier this year.
But Cavallier Belletrud wasn't leaving guys in the dark. All the while, he was working on Les Parfums Pour Hommes, a group of five scents which together, evoke "the adventurer on a journey of self-discovery," Cavallier Belletrud says. There's no rhyme or reason to releasing five fragrances at once, other than it happens to be the perfumer's lucky number.
He doesn't need superstition on his side, however, because each scent is wonderful in its own way. Cavallier Belletrud is known for creating high-contrast scents, and his creative vision for Les Parfums Pour Hommes was driven by the evolution of men's fashion.
"Nowadays, men dare to wear colorful clothes," he says. "They are more disruptive, less classical, but still chic. Clothes and accessories are more and more creative. It is time for men's perfume to be in the same mood. Perfumery for men is evolving, just as fashion."
Leading the pack is an ode to patchouli, Orage, which means "thunderstorm." The perfumer says his goal was "to make [it] very airy, as if the scent were traveling across the skies, floating through air like the ebb and flow of a tranquil sea." He layers it with fresh iris — a sharp contrast to broody patchouli.
L'Immensité ("The Immensity") is right on its tail. The ginger and amber scent is crisp, yet deep, and somehow still fresh. "I was dreaming of a fragrance with intense freshness, without any limits," Cavallier Belletrud says. "A perfume that you spray in the morning and that lasts on skin until late at night with the same freshness."
Rounding out the collection are three stellar contrasts: the citron-balsam blend Sur la Route ("On the Road"), the sandalwood-cardamom-fueled Au Hasard ("Randomly") as well as Nouveau Monde ("New World"), a blend of oud and cocoa.
And while you should never judge a book by its cover, the way these fragrances are packaged is just as noteworthy as the scents themselves. Aside from featuring silver caps instead of brass, the men's bottles are identical to those in the women's line, which makes sense. Cavallier Belletrud says he wanted to make fragrances that women would want to smell on a man, so they had to appeal to both parties. And besides that, he says, "The perfume market is full of all the stereotypes of masculinity. I wanted to break this because I believe men are ready to use their perfumes as women do: with more sophistication." — AH
- Lucky Number: Five fragrances released all at once
- Bottle: Designed by Marc Newson
- Inspiration: An adventurer's trip around the world
Rudy's Clay Spray
Sea salt sprays are revered for their ability to give your hair a fresh-from-the-surf feeling, but on their own, they're not proper styling products: they give you texture but not much hold. The Clay Spray from Rudy's Barbershop, however, combines salt (which helps define and lift the hair) with kaolin clay (for medium hold and a matte finish). The result is perfectly tousled surfer hair that won’t wipe out. — AH
- Hold: Medium
- Finish: Matte
- Ingredients: Kaolin clay, silica, tapioca starch
The Best Grooming Product of 2018: Aesop In Two Minds
Aesop's line for people with combination skin, In Two Minds, does everything you could ask for: it takes an effective, science-based approach to a common problem, smells good and looks pretty on the bathroom sink. And because using it every day feels more like a luxury than a chore, users are more likely to stick with the program — and see actual results.