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Are You Man Enough to Buy These Skin-Care Products?

SOAP MADE FROM beer. Deodorant that smells like bourbon. Shave cream named after a sherpa. All of these indelicate products come to us thanks to skin-care companies, launched over the past few years, that are marketing strenuously—some would say, overcompensatingly—to men.

As anyone who remembers the musky scent of Lucky Tiger aftershave can attest, aggressively male-targeted products aren’t a new phenomenon. Relegated to the shadowy corners of drugstore shelves by the endless array of eye creams and makeup removers for women, they’ve always seemed like an afterthought, and never particularly cool or stylish.

A shift is under way due to millennial males, more blithely vain than their elders. According to Karen Grant, a global industry analyst for beauty at market-research firm NPD Group, younger men are much more apt to buy these products. “Overall, only 25% of men say they use grooming products,” said Ms. Grant, “but when you go under 35, it becomes almost 40%.”

These relatively fresh-faced customers have made skin care one of the fastest-growing categories at Huckberry, an online retailer launched in 2011 that started out selling Americana-influenced wares like Tellason denim and Topo Designs backpacks. Since it added skin care late in its first year, sales of these products have increased more than 150% annually; and in the first months of 2017, they’re already up 265% from the same period last year. You won’t find a Clinique or Dove product in the mix, though. Huckberry stocks rugged-sounding brands like Duke Cannon Supply Co., Juniper Ridge and Oars + Alps. While each has its own ethos and witty slogan, Huckberry co-founder Richard Greiner said they’re united by “manly names and scents that are not ‘foufou’.”

Both genders might welcome the latter. Oars + Alps co-founder Mia Duchnowski said she launched her company because she was tired of her husband using her expensive, exquisitely fragrant moisturizers. “Whenever I was kissing him,” she said, “I felt like I was kissing a girl.”

Mr. Greiner has found that macho marketing helps men feel more comfortable buying grooming products. But within the macho stereotype in which the brands traffic, there are nuanced distinctions men may not appreciate at first. To make it all clearer, we compared five recently launched brands, breaking them down into helpful, he-man subcategories.

THE MANLY HIPSTER

Portland General Store

Back story Lisa and Troy Brodar launched women’s beauty products on Etsy in 2007. Two years later, the Portland, Me., couple turned their focus to men.

Macho factor Medium. The font and “General Store” moniker feel rooted in menswear’s late-aughts Americana revival with its Paul Bunyan overtones.

Natural habitat In the bathroom of a home with a decorative ax.

Ideal spokesman Johnny Depp—bearded and bespectacled—with an environmentalist bent. The range is mostly vegan and not animal-tested.

And the products? Like the stock of an old-time apothecary: beard oil, beeswax pomade and a gritty bar of pumice soap. A warning: The fragrances, like that of the Wood hand cream (pictured, $14, portlandgeneralstore.com) can be overpowering.

THE BURLY BARTENDER

Olivina Men

Back story Olivina has made olive- and hempseed-oil products since 2002. But after noticing that few men’s brands use these natural ingredients, CEO Joseph Moore shifted Olivina toward XY-chromosome clients 18 months ago.

Macho factor Medium-high. Mr. Moore drew inspiration from craft cocktails, so Olivina’s natty labels look straight from the liquor cabinet.

Natural habitat As close to your bar cart as possible.

Ideal spokesman Sam Elliott—a classic with a touch of whiskey.

And the products? Cocktail references aside, items like the all-natural Bourbon Cedar deodorant (pictured, $10, olivinamen.com ) are a non-greasy, environmentally friendly alternative to drugstore brands.