Next time you restock your skincare essentials, pay special attention to the hallmarks that epitomize men’s grooming. Notice the monochromatic or grayscale packaging, with hard lines and minimal graphics. Does the product’s overall vibe skew rugged, sporty, and outdoorsy? Take a sniff. Catch those notes of sage, tobacco, mint, or musk? There’s a reason behind this relatively narrow spectrum of characteristics: Each element has been strategically engineered to be a perfect foil to women’s products and cosmetics— overcorrecting for bright colors; uplifting names, and fruity, floral aromas.
For the founders of men’s skincare brand Soft, this pink-versus-blue tactic is shockingly outdated. Patrick Dolezal, Emily Farra, and James O’Dwyer—three friends who met at Indiana University—joined forces to tackle the men’s aisle, redefining how the marketplace can interpret and sell masculinity in the form of cosmetics. For the launch of their debut product, the Soft Moisture Mask, masculinity means coloring outside the lines. This is a mask for the modern man. Or anyone, really. And that’s the point.
“The philosophy behind Soft is really rooted in the name,” says Dolezal. “Not long ago, if you weren’t ‘masculine enough,’ or you showed any sort of emotion, you were ‘soft,’ and that was considered a negative thing. But being soft is actually great—it means you’re in touch with your emotions, you’re okay with being sensitive, and mostly you’re just comfortable with who you are.” It also has a double meaning: The mask is supremely hydrating, making your skin incredibly soft.
The modern man actually wants to embrace skincare as a self-care ritual rather than a hygienic necessity—and knows that it doesn’t make him any less of a man. How much longer can we wait for brands to acknowledge this natural evolution? With its unconventional branding and engaging messaging, the trio behind Soft shares a message that’s more than skin-deep: that antiquated notions of masculinity need not persist.
“When we began researching the men’s brands out there, we really didn’t find many options,” O’Dwyer chimes in. “Most of the ‘men’s brands’ weren’t selling masks—or if they did, the branding felt really outdated and didn’t resonate with our New York lifestyle.”
Just take a peek at Soft’s website. From the ’70s-inspired graphics to the diverse cast of models wearing pastel shirts and holding flowers, we see that the approachably confident “soft guy” eschews what it means to be a man’s man. It’s more aligned with the “soft masculinity” cultural movement spurred by male K-Pop stars who proudly wear makeup (just not all the way there).
“We tried to subvert these archaic rules of what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine,’ ” he adds. “At the end of the day, we think the guy who’s buying Soft is into the fact that we represent a departure from the historically conservative narrative around men’s skincare and masculinity.”
O’Dwyer himself is a believer that the ritualistic aspect of skincare lends itself to general well-being. “We really enjoy the ritual: dimming the lights, putting on a record, listening to a guided meditation, burning palo santo, and smoothing on the mask at the end of the day,” he professes. “That’s something everyone can (and should) treat themselves to at least once a week.” Soft packages up self-care quite nicely, with guided meditations, cocktail recipes, and self-care advice posted on their site. For a self-care starter pack, you can purchase the Ritual Set, which throws in Palo Santo sticks with the Moisture Mask for spiritual cleansing.
“Our branding and photo shoots were conceived to fill a void in the market, but we never wanted to exclude people who are female or non-binary. It was always important to us that people of every gender would identify with Soft—especially since it’s a complete myth that skincare should vary by gender,” tells Dolezal. “Skin is skin, and most of these products have the same ingredients in them. We’ve had great feedback from women from the very beginning; some of them are really into our soft masculinity messaging, but others don’t seem to consider Soft a ‘men’s brand’ at all.”
With “toxic masculinity” in the rearview mirror, the launch product had to be non-toxic—naturally. So the founders chose to abide by strict EU standards in cosmetic production. Whereas the U.S. FDA bans or restricts just 11 (!) potentially harmful chemicals, the EU’s list features over 1,400 elements. “It was a no-brainer for us, and we didn’t need to compromise anything in terms of quality or efficacy by avoiding those ingredients,” says Dolezal.
By tapping the expertise of a formulist, the team developed an incredibly effective moisturizing mask, one that boasts exceptional concentrations of enriching ingredients like hyaluronic acid for hydration, niacinamide for skin barrier protection, and squalane for smoothness. Nailing down the scent was also imperative. They landed on refreshing ginger root, a zesty aroma with a subtle earthiness that could easily differentiate itself from a sea of overpowering mint and cedar. Ginger is also reputed to protect against free radicals.
As for the future, Soft has its eyes on expansion. “We want to create products that tap into the ritual of skincare, from additional face masks to bath products, candles, and other items,” says O’Dwyer. “We also like the idea of keeping our product range small so we can really focus on each item and ensure it’s the very best.”
While they’re sticking with a direct-to-consumer online business, the Soft team is also exploring brick-and-mortar retail opportunities, and collaborations with like-minded names in fashion, skincare, music, and beyond. “People are increasingly drawn to brands with a clear purpose and a limited offering, not the ones that are trying to be everything for everyone.”
We give Soft a hard “yes.”
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