While filming the first two seasons of Queer Eye, Karamo Brown was living a lie. Or at least his scalp was. Unbeknownst to fans of the then-new series, Brown had already lost most of his hair and used makeup to fake his notably sharp hairline on camera. "My cast knew because I would be driving in the car, and we'd go over a bump and on the roof, my hairline would be there," he recalls to Allure. "And the guys would be like, 'Oh, we know where Karamo's at,' because my hairline was covering the roof."
It never sat right with him, helping the show's makeover candidates (or "heroes") defeat their insecurities while harboring one that became near debilitating on the job. So Brown had to have one of his famously emotional heart-to-heart conversations — with himself. "I was like, I have a fiancé who loves me, I have two kids who are happy and healthy, and I'm on a hit show... What am I holding on to?" Brown says.
The night of Queer Eye's first season premiere in February of 2018, Brown shaved his head completely and made his red-carpet debut with a totally bald head and a red coat that was bright enough to guarantee he'd be noticed. He never touched that hairline makeup again. And after two years of embracing his baldness, he's founded a brand in hopes it'll encourage other men who are bald or have thinning hair to do the same.
Mantl, which is out on February 6, will debut with four skin-care and grooming products designed to nourish and protect bare scalps — but Brown insists people of any age or hairline status can also use them on their faces. "My sisters have stolen all of them. So even though we're gearing them toward men, they're for everyone," Brown explains.
It's an intentional move on Brown's part that the brand's debut lineup is a small roster of staple products: cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen, and oil-absorbing blotting papers. "There are a lot of people who love to use a lot of products. I get overwhelmed because I never got the training to understand how to navigate that," he explains. For that reason, each of Mantl's products can be used on the scalp and on the face.
Brown keeps his Face + Scalp Cleanser in the shower and uses it in place of shampoo so he can "make sure that my scalp is moisturized, make sure that I'm getting the dirt off, [and] make sure there are no acne or bumps" without drying out his skin. Its main ingredients, by the way, are aloe leaf juice and glycerin, making it ideal for dry and sensitive skin types. He follows that with the squalane-rich Age Defense Moisturizer before moving on to his favorite creation, the sunscreen.
The Invisible Daily SPF 30 is a gel sunscreen, which Brown says is the most important item of the line "because every single person needs SPF." It's clear and dries down matte, so anyone can use it without fear of a cast, and it can also be worn underneath makeup. Brown wanted this formula to be clear so it could be applied around facial hair seamlessly too. "I think that's so important, especially for men who have been afraid to use sunscreen and who have skin damage," he says.
Lastly, Brown and his team developed No-Shine Sheets, a type of oil-blotting paper that prevents shine on the scalp. He tells Allure that they're crucial because they can reduce shine without having to wash off any moisturizer or sunscreen. They're designed for the whole head, so the No-Shine Sheets are packaged differently than the oil-blotting papers you're probably used to. The bamboo- and charcoal-based paper comes in one continuous roll. You can use the tube's serrated opening to rip sheets off at whatever length you need and buy a refill roll when you run out.
Brown's real goal is to create a conversation about hair loss and why we're so afraid of it. "No one ever tells [balding] men that this is naturally going to happen to them and that they're still attractive," he says. "All they hear is that they're ugly... If we're not talking to men about their self-esteem and not giving them something to follow it up with, then we're doing them a disservice."
He also wouldn't hate it if the skin-care loving women of the world got in on the action too because women are often the "catalyst or conduit" for men learning how to take care of their skin. "I used to steal my sister's products all the time because I didn't know where to go," Brown recalls. "No one taught me."
If you have a partner — bald or not — who's lacking in the self-care department, he recommends taking this stuff home for both of you to use (at least until they end up stealing it all!).
Mantl's Face + Scalp Cleanser, $17, Age Defense Moisturizer, $25, Invisible Daily SPF 30, $27, and No-Shine Sheets, $10, are available now from mantlmen.com.
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