Grime, dirt, stink and funk: Tween boys are skin care’s hottest market

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Check the aisles at Walmart, Target or your neighborhood drug store and you’ll find them chock full of scented, lathering, moisturizing, bubbling – even glittering – face and body cleansers for kids and adults.

But, until recently, there’s been a glaring shortage of products targeting the skin-care needs of one key demographic – tween boys.

“It’s a huge white space in the market,” said Carson Kitzmiller, senior beauty and personal care analyst with market research firm Mintel. It’s a missed opportunity, she said, because “we’re seeing teen boys becoming more interested in their own skin-care needs than in the past and they’re really leaning into it,” she said.

A handful of boutique companies and entrepreneurs have spotted the gap and, in the absence of big brands, are trying to fill it. Some of them happen to be moms.

Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness said the lack of products for the evolving cleansing and hygiene needs of her two sons, ages nine and 11, inspired her to develop Stryke Club.

Maguiness, a board-certified pediatric dermatologist, and three other co-founders launched the boys skin-care brand in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The affordable line, which includes a face wash, body wash, moisturizer and topical acne treatment priced under $25, rolled into Target stores and online the following year.

“Walmart then came to us recognizing there was this gap in the market and picked us up,” she said. “Our sales have increased by 45% year-over-year since 2020, and our ballpark sales for 2023 are projected to be around $3 million.”

Still, Stryke Club, which Maguiness said uses gentle ingredients that won’t irritate young skin, remains one of the few brands for male consumers ages 7 to young adulthood, while store shelves continue to overflow with options for girls’ needs.

“Whether it’s young sensitive skin, or acne, eczema or their first shave, boys have specific skin needs,” said Maguiness. “We also have to help them overcome this stigma about being a boy and engaging in self care.”

Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, cofounder of Stryke Cub, a line of skincare products for boys.

The personal care products market overall in the US amounts to more than $25 billion annually (according to market research firm NPD), but very little of it caters to boys.

The void is there because body care brands largely prioritize female shoppers even as several indie or boutique brands championing adult male grooming – Harry’s, Dollar Shave Club, Bevel – have proven to be big successes.

According to Dr. Rhonda Klein, a board certified dermatologist, “Brands follow spending power, and until rather recently boys weren’t very interested in skin care,” said Klein. “It’s easier to invest in products and marketing toward an audience that is seeking it.”

But older boys are becoming more aware and invested in their personal care needs thanks in large part to social media influencers.

“Social media has its pitfalls [but] it has also brought skin care to the mainstream conversation across gender and age,” said Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.

“For better or worse it’s also brought our outward appearance to larger audiences than ever before, something that in my opinion has everyone, including teen and tween boys, becoming more aware and caring more how their skin looks,” she said.

Julie Bowen and Jill Biren were friends first before they became business partners through a shared quest to provide their sons with skin care products they would actually be excited to use.

In January, Bowen and Biren launched direct-to-consumer brand JB SKRUB, a collection of five products (priced at $16 to $20) – face wash, face lotion, body wash, body spray and oil-control face wipe pads – formulated and packaged for boys 10 to 16 years old.

“We met when our sons were in elementary school together. Jill and I were at a birthday party together and started talking about why there isn’t a body product for our boys that’s not overly scented,” said Bowen, a mom to three teenage sons. Jill said let’s do something.”

If Bowen’s name seems familiar, it’s because she is an actress, producer and director, perhaps most famous for starring as Claire Dunphy in the ABC sitcom “Modern Family.”

Biren, a mom to both a tween and teen son, is a former long-time Conde Nast executive, who led marketing campaigns for beauty and fashion companies.

 JB SKRUB cofounders Julie Bowen, left, and Jill Biren, right.

Bowen and Biren said they wanted their products to help change the approach that tween and teen boys adopt when it comes to personal hygiene.

“Typically in most households, boys are either using whatever products their parents or sisters have bought,” said Bowen. “So either it smells like strawberries or is too babyish, or isn’t meeting them where they are in terms of how their skin and body are developing as puberty hits.”

“Our goal with JB SKRUB was to simplify. Simple and frank language, clean and sustainable ingredients and easy-to-use packaging,” she said.

The women bootstrapped the business and took three years to develop the products, working in consultation with skin-care experts. The products are made with clean ingredients. The body wash, for example, contains prebiotic chia seed extract, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial ingredient, said Biren.

Bowen said the packaging was also developed with the end-user, and sustainability in mind. “We put the face lotion in a pump tube instead of a jar to make it easier for boys to use,” she said. The brand also expected to launch product refills later this year.

The women hope to eventually get JB SKRUB into retail stores.

“We have proof of concept and we know we are addressing a need in the market,” said Bowen, who projects sales to hit seven figures by the end of the first year.

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