The LGBTQ+ community has had a longstanding influence over the beauty and grooming industry. From the earliest days of drag in the late 1890s to today’s legion of YouTube tutorials and online influencers, leaders from across the queer spectrum have played a pivotal role in shaping beauty standards. While that role was largely hidden in the past, the queer community’s influence over the industry is now officially “out,” with people of all genders and orientations creating products, running companies, and organizing global conventions. While a handful of these leaders are certainly creating products specifically for the queer community, many are building brands that serve as a universal glow-up, nourishing and beautifying faces regardless of gender or orientation.
To spotlight the contribution that LGBTQ+ people are making to beauty, skin care, and grooming, we spoke with a few of our favorite founders whose brands have been largely built by and for the queer community.
Tell us about the pre-genderless grooming world as you experienced it.
David J. Krause, co-founder and CCO of Alder New York: When I was a young person, I used to gravitate toward clinical products because they were most often not gendered or heavily fragranced. But I always wanted something a bit more sophisticated and stylish, even fun. Things today aren’t that different — to this day, most stores are divided into men’s and women’s sections. The reality is that many of the products in one section would work for anyone, no matter how they identify themselves.
Nasera Alayon, brand director of Freck Beauty: I never felt that my friends and I were personally represented in the brands available to us before the rise of direct-to-consumer brands. There was a shift in the game when Indie Beauty entered the chat. Being a Brand Director and being able to have a seat at the table and help move that marker is a privilege that I take with great responsibility. We still live in a society where the mere existence of queer leadership is viewed as political.
Tim Hollinger, co-founder of Bathing Culture: A lot of products and shopping spaces felt like they were off limits when we grew up because they were so gendered. There were stores and products that I would have loved, but thought weren’t for me because the branding or images associated with them signaled they were for a certain type of woman or man. I wasn’t compelled by or comfortable with either extreme of the gender spectrum, so I ended up with a lot of utilitarian, unexciting products that often sacrificed personal or planetary health.
Other countries, especially Australia, have been way ahead of the curve on making non-gendered skin care. The internet and social media opened my eyes to brands I’d never heard of before that, prioritized effectiveness and safety over being for a particular type of person. The internet also made it much easier to get products and not to feel like a product is being sold in a store in a way that is not for me.
What inspired you to jump into the grooming industry?
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Krause: As a queer person, I have personally experienced the feeling of not belonging and self-hate that comes with living in a gender binary world. This experience has provided me with sensitivity to gender microaggressions. It’s given me the ability to question gender norms and stereotypes that need to be re-examined and changed. I know that I’m not the only person out there that has picked up a product off of the shelf and felt bad about it because it wasn’t for me. I don’t want anyone to feel like that and I make sure that every product we make is inclusive of skin type, ethnicity, and gender identity.
Hollinger: We created Bathing Culture out of personal necessity. None of the products on the market met our needs. They were either gendered, harmed personal and planetary health, or didn’t mesh with our lifestyle and needs. For us, bathing is joyful and a celebration of coming clean after getting dirty. We wanted to share our joy and love for the environment, our community, and for quality products.
How does a genderless approach improve grooming for everyone, regardless of their orientations?
Krause: Genderless skincare often cuts out the marketing nonsense. When a product is not trying to prove it’s good for a man or a woman, it has to focus on what it actually does, and what ingredients are in it. How to use the product. These are the things consumers really need and want to know. We all benefit from it.
Alayon: One conscious choice we made at Freck was to speak to our users in gender neutral language. We opt for words like family, babes, aliens, anything else … before we call them girls, boys, or ladies. Small considerations like that open up to a more inclusive way of communication and help everyone feel welcome.
What do you hope to see in the future, regarding inclusivity, representation, or service tailored to the LGBTQ+ community? What’s still missing?
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Alayon: I am tremendously excited for the next generation of representation that goes beyond the casting of queer folk. The one where they are the creators behind the scenes and bringing their unique gaze into crafting the future of beauty.
Krause: I want to see more clean brands in the gender inclusive space. The top clean retailers are so hyper feminine and cater to a female-identifying customer. I would love to see the stigma of clean skincare being for women disappear — we all need clean products. I would also love to see a change in store format. No more men’s and women’s sections.
Hollinger: We’re still surprised by how many brands are gendered and generally non-inclusive. It makes sense for a product to target different skin or hair needs, but these need to transcend race and sex. The concept that different types of people need different products is still incredibly entrenched, and we have a long way to go in making products more inclusive.
Brands that target an archetype of femininity, masculinity, or race are perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Brands need to get with the reality of gender fluidity. Companies, us included, need to work harder to make sure the staff is representative of our communities and that we’re not making assumptions about who our customer is. We want everyone to be comfortable using our products and being their best damn self.
Other Queer-Centered Grooming Brands We Love
Kiss My Face
Perhaps the oldest of old-school queer grooming brands, this one was founded by partners (in life as well as work) Bob MacLeod and Steve Byckiewicz back in the early 1980s. Today, their deodorant, lotion, and of course their giant bars of olive oil soap, can be found everywhere from the corner drugstore to your favorite boutique.
You read that right — one of the top global makeup brands in the world was founded by two out-and-proud makeup artists, and has consistently supported their community by featuring queer models and ambassadors, as well as funding awareness and research efforts toward health and safety in the queer community.
This high-end genderless apothecary brand is known as much for its founders’ cute factor as for their flagship eucalyptus body wash.
In addition to being queer-led, this holistic brand specializes in non-disposable, upcycled, zero-waste, and beautifully designed wares for bath, body, and a whole lot more.
What happens when makeup artist, a dermatologist, and a wellness guru (all queer identifying) get together? An ultra-clean beauty brand that serves up the quintessential “no makeup” look.
Not only does this queer-owned brand feature a unique and irresistible spectrum of genderless fragrance, but all products are made with 100% natural plant oils.
This genderless makeup company is on a mission to democratize the beauty industry, beginning with a vast array of universal “nude” lip shades that suit every skin tone under the sun.
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