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Gender & Cosmetics

Early deodorant ads obnoxiously exploited female insecurity, one that did not exist before, or at least, was not gendered. Everybody loved to smell good. People used home-made concoctions, practically bathed in fragrances, used a ton of perfume or employed super interesting strategies to achieve that.

These advertisements, however, suggested that women’s sweat and body odor was something to be embarrassed about, something offensive that gets people talking behind your back and something that scares men away. Women of the 1920s were really quite insulted by these advertisements not only because bodily fluids were mentioned at a time it was a taboo, but also because… duh? Of course, it worked, sales skyrocketed, and so did a number of other insecurities about our bodies during that era.

We all know the basics; body hair is gross, sweating is not feminine, menstruation is taboo, one has to adhere to a beauty standard, keep up with the trends, spend a ton of money to be desirable, and that women and men are different.

Every shampoo, body wash, deodorant, face cream has a female and male category, and if not the latter, a choice for women is always present.

The cosmetic industry of today is geared towards women, disproportionately representing (or inventing?) their needs over men’s. Just go down the cosmetics aisle of any drugstore and compare the offer range of men’s and women’s products. Why is there a larger range for women? Why do they get to choose from so many more scent options? More brands? Why are their products so colourful and why is the men’s section so dark and intense?

It seems like the industry is telling men they need functional products that do their job, and do it quickly and effectively. While women have to take the time to take care of themselves and their million body parts.

When it comes to cosmetic and personal care products, there has always been a market segmentation, following the normative binary system of sexes and genders.

Gender segmentation

Cosmetic products to this day target men or women, usually with marketing and design strategies connected to our ideas of what’s typically ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’.

The design, the packaging and the call-to-actions are always adjusted to appeal to the target group. Women spend on beauty items, while men purchase grooming products.

In advertisements, women are young and youthful, using products to maintain their beauty. Men are portrayed in powerful positions, using products to increase their manliness and help maintain their positions.

Design elements, such as brand name, colour, logo and even the font influences our perceptions on a brand’s femininity or masculinity and we do tend to respond more positively when we recognise these cues. Research suggests that lighter colours, slender shapes, round logos are associated with brand femininity, while darker colours, angular shapes increases brand masculinity and activates our knowledge on gender stereotypes. With gender segmentation, of course, also comes implied gender norms (and or vice versa, this is another chicken or the egg question) and a ton of profit.

Is there no base to gendered products then?

Yes, there are slight differences between male and female skin, but so many products have appeared on the shelves that target specific concerns that go beyond these differences. These products target a million concerns and are specific to different skin types, that so many of us could benefit from, regardless of gender.

Since ‘skincare/beauty/makeup is for girls’, people are seriously stigmatized for using women’s products, when not identifying as such. Men’s products show “MEN” in capitals, which screams masculinity but also pressures some to pick that one up, instead of another, lighter-coloured, sweet-scented alternative.

The perceived huge market of female buyers also means more product options for women.

Did you know men fear ageing as much as women, yet only 4% of ‘male’ face creams include anti-aging claims? Not only that, but did you know some products are practically the same, but you pay more if you’re getting the girl version? This is called the Pink Tax, and yes, it's possible the deodorant on the men’s section is more effective and less expensive ;) And there's no reason for not using these products interchangeably!

Why do we care about genderless cosmetics?

Gender-based practices of the cosmetics industry has excluded so many from freely participating in it, yet made billions by exploiting gender expectations. Gender-based differences reinforce the idea of innate differences between the sexes, upholding gender normativity and harm those who go against it. A cosmetic world that is gender-neutral and more welcoming towards everybody, is what we strive for.

With MIKLØ, the number one criteria of production is effectiveness.

Our ambition is to make products that work.

And since sweat has no gender, we aim to make MIKLØ suitable for everyone, regardless of who you are.

For the record, our colourful packaging much more reflects who We are, rather than who You should be!




  1. Lieven, T., Grohmann, B., Herrmann, A., Landwehr, J.R. and van Tilburg, M. (2015), "The effect of brand design on brand gender perceptions and brand preference", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49 No. 1/2, pp. 146-169.

  2. Alexandra Claudia Hess, Valentyna Melnyk, (2016) "Pink or blue? The impact of gender cues on brand perceptions", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 Issue: 9/10,pp. 1550-1574, doi: 10.1108/EJM-11-2014-0723








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