The musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams has announced the release of Humanrace, his long-awaited skincare line. Significantly, it is gender neutral.
The products – a powder cleanser, lotus enzyme exfoliator and humidifying cream – are described on the website as being for “every individual”, subtly avoiding any pronoun definition.
Williams told Allure magazine: “We want to democratise the experience of achieving wellness.”
For all the subtle biological differences between male and female skin, such as levels of testosterone and collagen, fundamentally “male and female skin has the same anatomy, with the same epidermal and dermal layers and cell types”, said the dermatologist Dr Anita Sturnham, despite skincare products being marketed in a gendered way for decades.
The beauty industry has embraced inclusivity in recent years, with brands such as Asos merging its male and female grooming sections into a face and body section. Bloggers such as James Charles (5.1 million followers on Instagram), Patrick Starrr (4.5 million) and Jake James have redefined the face of gender-neutral glamour for Generation Z.
“The evolution of beauty ideals from primary cis, white, thin and hetero has been a long time in the making,” said Laura Kraber, the founder of Fluide, a gender-neutral makeup brand. “Only recently have underrepresented groups been truly included by mainstream media and fashion and beauty companies,” she says.
“We focus on skin types as opposed to gender,” said Elsie Rutterford from BYBI, which reported an increase in male customers in the past 12 months. “This could be down to skincare generally becoming a more gender neutral concept,” said the brand’s co-founder, Dominika Minarovic.
One third of male/female couples share beauty products, according to research from the Natural Spa Company, while the male beauty market in the UK will be worth £1.62m by 2021, according to Euromonitor. It marks a shift that suggests a move away from patriarchy-led beauty ideals. “It’s created a space to be an empowering means of self-expression for all,” Kraber said.
The issue of gender neutrality is crucial to the younger customers brands are targeting. According to a Pew Research Centre report last year, 35% of Generation Z-ers (roughly those born in the late 90s and early 2000s) polled knew someone who preferred to use gender-neutral pronouns (compared with a quarter of millennials).
“Generation Z is playing an essential role in society developing a broader understanding of gender,” said Jessica Blackler, the founder of the gender-neutral makeup brand Jecca Blac.
Those shoppers expect brands to recognise and reflect their identities. “Gen Z consumers prioritise brands that share their values of inclusivity and sustainability,” said Kraber. “They are the most racially and ethnically diverse in history.”
Into this 47-year-old Williams, with his Dorian Gray features, fits perfectly. Last year speaking about Williams’ luminous skin, Frank Ocean told GQ: “It’s been all these years and Pharrell still hasn’t given us the keys just yet, he just says ‘exfoliate’ but it’s not just ‘exfoliate’ – we need more keys.”
The “keys” in Humanrace include the ingredients of rice powder cleanser, lotus enzyme exfoliator and humidifying cream.
For Kraber this is just the beginning. “The future of beauty is gender expansive,” she said. “It will be less prescriptive and more individualistic, less constrictive and more enjoyable.”