Evolution of man: the rise and rise of the male wellness sector


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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Evolution of man: the rise and rise of the male wellness sector” was written by Alex Moshakis, for The Observer on Sunday 17th March 2019 11.00 UTC

Men, your body is a battlefield. Your skin is sagging. Your hair is thinning. Your insides are screaming for holistic renewal. This is ageing – breathe, it’s natural – but it’s war nevertheless, and the common moisturiser has become too basic a defence. Need new strategies? Fear not, reinforcements are here! Call up your super anti-ageing serum (£265). Enlist your seaweed cleanser (£34). Recruit your biotin vitamin gummies (£12 for 60). “Future you thanks you,” say copywriters employed by the men’s health and wellness brand Hims, which sells the gummies and has hired, it seems, at least one clairvoyant. It is time to be well!

Hims sits on the frontline of the battle for the reinvigorated you, offering supplies. “You should look and feel your best all the time,” its website encourages. Included in its arsenal are a vitamin C serum (“Good morning, handsome”); a wrinkle cream (“Like a time machine for your face”); a performance anxiety aid (“You can’t give a helluva motivating speech when your throat is tight, guy”); and sertraline, a prescription antidepressant that can be used, curiously, to combat premature ejaculation. (Established in the US in 2017, Hims launched in the UK earlier this year with a limited catalogue, the majority of its products at the mercy of stringent European regulations.) Unlike certain women’s brands, which have decided the best thing to do is name marquee products with entire sentences, Hims titles tend toward the straightforward. The brand’s shampoo, which “adds volume” by blocking the hormone that contributes to male pattern baldness, is called “Shampoo”. Onward to great hair!

The wellness industry is worth $4.2 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), which monitors the sector. As a market, it is growing “nearly twice as fast as the global economy”. The possibilities are endless, and irresistible: better skin, better hair, mental clarity, high-quality sleep! The GWI does not break down the wellness economy by gender, but if it did, a report might suggest the following: the women’s market, which has dominated the sector for years, remains enormous, but the male market is exploding. For the most part, it is an explosion that does not involve new items so much as a rebranding of existing products, many long marketed to women. The intensive pore minimiser. The charcoal face wash. The glycolic cleanser. Under layers of packaging, the gloop is the same.

According to the brand’s website, Hims was built by “a band of dudes”, though really it is the brainchild of just one dude, Andrew Dudum, an American entrepreneur with a winning smile and a talented dentist. Dudum is 30 years old. A few years ago, while at dinner, his sisters poured scorn over his approach to self-care. “They sat me down and said, ‘Andrew, give us your credit card,’ and then they bought a whole bunch of things: moisturisers, a shampoo, an anti-ageing cream.” The sisters spent, “like, $200 or $300” on “a month’s worth of products”. To his surprise, they worked. Dudum, whose personal care routine had involved moisturiser at a time when, among men, “nobody had moisturisers” – an early adopter! – began to look and feel better. But “what I found really interesting was, most of the products they bought, if not all of them, were for women”. He could find very little on the market for men, despite the fact that, in the past few years, they have come under increased pressure to meet unattainable cosmetic standards, a position traditionally inhabited by women. “That was a kind of trigger point.”

Two pictures, side by side, of the same male model, one with streaks of cream and his hand on his face, the other with a turban-wrap towel on his head
Facing the future: women have long been expected to meet impossible ideals of perfectionism and now men are suffering under a similar weight, too. Photograph: Donna Trope/The Observer

A couple of weeks ago, a Hims parcel, sent by the brand’s UK PR team, landed on my desk – an event I considered a sort of cosmic sign. Recently, dark grooves have appeared under my eyes (I have a two-year-old), and my hair, though thick, has begun to grey slightly (I’m 34). There is now no fixed state to my face. Wrinkles deepen from one day to the next. A slick can appear on my forehead in moments. The cumulative effect might be distressing, if I had the time to really consider it.

Inside the parcel was a bottle of shampoo, a tub of bright blue gummies (for the heart), and the vitamin C serum, which came wrapped in elegant packaging and promised a youthful glow. I found the promise of a youthful glow appealing – it was a glum week, and my son was rejecting sleep – so I searched for more information on the item’s product page, which reeled off a list of benefits. “Look as though you’ve slept eight hours a night and have your shit together,” it said. Did I not have my shit together? I supposed I could do with the help.

My father did not have a self-care regime above a daily shave, but many of my friends, tail-end millennials in their 30s, are taking all the help they can get. Might they buy a two-speed sonic cleansing device? If it promised to address a skin imbalance and “awaken” the appearance, why not? What about a collagen-based “supplement system”? Sure, if it offered some kind of internal salvation.

There now exists among men an “unprecedented openness” to self-care, says Beth McGroarty, of the GWI, which has led to a dramatic “shake-up in what the male consumer is” – what he buys, and to what end. The number of men’s wellness products now available is so large it can be dizzying to keep up, and every now and then a lack of awareness can lead to comic misunderstandings. As a rule, young men know how to apply an anti-ageing cream, though I once watched a friend proudly use a moisturiser as a hair product.

Last year, the GWI published a report that investigated the state of the wellness market – what sectors it incorporates, where people spend their money, and why. The why is important. Women have long been expected to meet impossible ideals. In a culture of perfectionism, men have begun to suffer under similar weight. But the drivers to male wellness often relate more to economic instability.

A male model with orange drips on his face and a gloved hand on his cheek
Helping hand: men are said to be the ‘weaker economic engine’, which has created a panic of inadequacy. Photograph: Donna Trope/The Observer

“Men are trying to look young, look fit,” according to Ophelia Yeung, an economist employed by the GWI, “because if you don’t look young and fit, you know, ageism, all that discrimination, it will hurt your career.” Men are currently the “weaker economic engine”, Yeung argues, which has created a panic of inadequacy. If I lose my job, am I still valuable? What, then, is my worth? McGroarty told me, “When people say, ‘The future is female,’ that’s an economic statement.” We’ve worried for years that the robots are coming for our jobs. But – gasp! – what if women get there first?

Economic insecurity has created a frenzy around the way men function and appear. As survival in the workplace becomes onerous, as costs rise, as social media dictates our presentation, men are veering towards products marketed as being able to help them look and perform better. They ask: “How can I become the best version of myself?” And they answer: “Serums and supplements!” “All these start-ups moving into the male wellness market, they try to be cheeky with their marketing,” McGroarty says. “But there is a vulnerability, about looks, about performance, about sexual performance.” Yeung agrees. “This is an economically uncertain time for men. The whole ‘what is masculine?’ question, it’s shifting.”

In the months after the dinner with his sisters, Dudum noticed that his friends all seemed to be struggling with similar issues – hair loss, acne, different kinds of sexual dysfunction – but few would talk openly about it, and even fewer would seek professional help.

Prior to launch, Hims raised a reported $7m in seed money, an indication of the male wellness sector’s rising worth, but also of the commercial viability of the Hims mission, which is fundamentally noble: to chip away at male shame. Men have mastered the dark art of avoiding the doctor, as if a visit might result in an embarrassing problem, not help cure one. Dudum figured a tele-medical model, which allows men to avoid awkward in-person diagnoses, might help. “It became very apparent that we needed to build something men could trust,” Dudum says. He describes Hims as “a place to learn and get affordable medicine”. A line on the Hims website reads: “The point of it all – and the message that’s so important to us – is making sure you realise this one specific thing: having an issue isn’t weird. Not dealing with it is weird.”

Hims launched in the US with the same two products the brand currently sells in the UK: finasteride, a hair-loss treatment, and sildenafil, the generic form of Viagra which treats erectile dysfunction – prescription medicines marketed through the wellness lens. “About half of young adult men are worried about or suffering from one of these things,” Dudum says. The majority struggle in silence. “It’s awkward, it’s stigmatised, it’s uncomfortable, they feel like they’re the only person suffering from it.” Hims exists to normalise painfully difficult conversations, Dudum says – “to help men feel like they aren’t the only ones, and there are real medicines to help”.

When the Hims website launched, freighted in millennial pink, this approach struck a chord. “I think in our first week we did $1m in sales,” Dudum says. “And that week has been the smallest week we’ve ever had.” Almost more importantly to Dudum (though, given he’s a serial entrepreneur, you’d imagine not quite), a dialogue was born. He watched men talk openly about the nasty stuff that sometimes afflicts their bodies. Finally, in hard times, they were beginning to speak up.

A open-palmed hand with blue gummy bears landing on it
Chew it over: vitamin gummies

So long as you can look past questions associated with the efficacy of online consultations – can a doctor, working remotely and without access to an extensive patient history, really know what’s good for you? – Hims might be considered effective. But the brand, like others, is working in a blurry middle ground that supposes a vulnerable man willing to treat a not insignificant medical problem might also be susceptible to splash out on cosmetic products, whose true value is questionable. Come for the pills, the brand quietly suggests, and stay for the creams.

When we spoke on the phone, Dudum spitballed new ideas. In recent months, Hims has added new products to its US catalogue, including minoxidil, a topical solution that “can put a stop to hair loss and may even help new hair growth”, and propranolol, a “beta blocker that can help control the physical symptoms of anxiety”. In the pipeline are items that remedy the heart, and the mind. Dudum described his intention to deal with problems “common” to men. “It’s about improvement,” he said, “and self-care”.

In the weeks after we spoke, I took to using the vitamin C serum once a day, though I was unsure whether or not it was working. One morning, I asked my wife, who is 34 but could pass for 25, and approaches anti-ageing products cautiously, what she thought. “Looks nice,” she said, by which she meant I looked no different. Onwards to the new me!

Makeup stylist: Juliana Sergot. Clothes stylist: Hope Lawrie. T-shirt, £34, sunspel.com; robe, £250, derek-rose.com. Jewellery: True Image Rocks. Model: Adam at Named Models

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