Jared Leto says he’s not interested in skincare – while selling $97 eye cream

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In 2022, it seems you’re more likely to see a celebrity announce a new beauty line than promote their next project. This year alone, Hailey Bieber, Gwen Stefani, Halsey, Ciara and Winnie Harlow all dropped new brands. But it’s not just a woman’s game – now men want a piece of the $5bn market, too.

Last week, Jared Leto announced Twentynine Palms, “an 11-piece range of gender-neutral skin care, body care and hair care products”, per Vogue. Though the 50-year-old told the glossy he’s “never been really interested in beauty products”, he unveiled items like $47 hand wash and $97 eye cream. Each product is made from “desert botanicals” like prickly pear extract.

Despite Vogue’s Liam Hess describing Leto, 50, as having “the porcelain-smooth complexion of a Renaissance cherub”, some shoppers remained less than enthused. “You can be gender neutral without spending $97 on a marketing ploy,” one person wrote on Twitter. “Anything over [$10] for a cleanser is fucking ridiculous,” opined another.

Kirbie Johnson, a writer and host of the podcast Gloss Angeles, told the Guardian that cosmetics lines had become the gold standard in celebrity side hustles after Rihanna launched her own, Fenty Beauty, in 2017. (The brand, lauded for its inclusive foundation shade range, has since catapulted the singer to billionaire status.) “Celebrities aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their heart, to share creativity,” she said. “They saw what Rihanna did, and they wanted a piece of the pie.”

Leto joined Brad Pitt and Travis Barker, who in recent weeks launched their own respective lines. Pitt, who is exhibiting original sculptures in Finland, jumped into something decidedly more commercial: Le Domaine, a “science-meets-nature line of genderless skincare essentials”. According to British Vogue, the products are made with grapes harvested by the Perrin family, who own a Rhône winery.

Pitt told Vogue that he had created Le Domaine partly to emulate his ex Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop empire. “It’s exciting that you can, you know, explore other corners [of your creativity] like the old Renaissance artists in a way,” he said of the decision to hawk $80 face wash and $385 serum.

And then there’s Barker, the head-to-toe tattooed Blink-182 drummer and husband to Kourtney Kardashian. Less than a week after his wife announced her new gig as a “sustainability adviser” to the fast fashion retailer Boohoo comes Barker Wellness, a line of five CBD-infused products.

“It’s all vegan. It’s good. Rub it all over your body,” Barker wrote in an Instagram caption underneath a black-and-white photo of him shirtless, biting a tube of his $130 eye serum as if it were a ball gag.

While Kardashian proudly hyped Barker Wellness at its Nobu Malibu launch party, others weren’t quite as welcoming. Estée Laundry, an Instagram account with anonymous moderators who style themselves as beauty industry watchdogs, wrote in a post that they were “a little confused by Travis Barker’s celebrity skincare line”.

One of the comments on that post read: “There is no one’s skin care I’m LESS interested in than Travis Barker.” Another predicted: “I’ll see this on TJ Maxx shelves in a year.” Pitt’s foray didn’t fare much better, either. “I’ll pass and so will my bank account,” wrote one person. “Literally who even buys this?” asked another.

Experts say they’re skeptical of just how involved either man is with the brands. Rachel Weingarten, a product development consultant, said “some celebs have zero involvement” in their so-called passion projects. “Most often, [stars] have a meeting, throw around some vague thoughts, and then are presented with several options. If they choose one, they think they designed the entire thing.”

Johnson, the podcast host, noted that the famous women behind brands – like Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Hailey Bieber and Ciara – all position themselves as experts in their field who take authority over their companies. Leto and Pitt, meanwhile, have openly described themselves as newbies.

“At least the women and Pharrell [who founded the skincare line Humanrace] put in the time and effort to understand this industry and what they’ve gotten themselves into,” Johnson said. “With Brad, it’s bonkers that he would do all this splashy media for [Domaine], and then claim he doesn’t have a skincare routine.”

Alfredo Mineo, a grooming and wellness writer for Vogue Mexico and Byrdie, said that despite celebrities’ huge followings, “skincare is a saturated space at this point, and the ship has sailed”.

But Griffin Wynne, a staff writer who covers shopping trends for HuffPost, believes there is an audience – at least for a brand’s initial drop. That success can’t always be sustained. After all, Rihanna was lauded for becoming the first Black woman to lead a fashion house under LVMH in 2019, but production was shut down less than two years later.

“We’re in a prime time where ‘self care’ means justifying expensive purchases, especially for body products,” Wynne said. “Sometimes, an outrageously high price point can psych you into buying something, because it feels like you’re making some grand proclamation. So, yes, I think some man somewhere will buy it, or if not have their girlfriend buy it for them.”

Part of these brands’ slick marketing includes the idea of creating “genderless” products that expand beyond a binary. That’s par for the course in 2022, as Harry Styles leads a nail polish line and Lil Nas X was just named the face of YSL Beauty.

“A beauty product does not have a gender, period,” Johnson added. “Anyone can use it, no matter how you identify it. Consumers are privy to this.” The data backs this up: according to the marketing firm Wunderman Thompson, 50% of Gen Z “shops beyond their gender”. But whether they can afford to do so with Le Domaine or Barker Wellness remains to be seen.

As Wynne puts it, “There is a proliferation of pricey gender-free products, but you know what else is gender-free? Vaseline, toothpaste, and sunscreen.” And – celebrities, take note – those don’t cost $385.

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