Let's face facts: your balls stink. And while grooming brands aren't exactly laughing, they are taking your smelly insecurities all the way to the bank.
Aaron Marino was 16 when he realized his balls were going to be problematic.
It was at that tender age when he noticed the smell for the first time. In a video on his YouTube channel Alpha M., the 40-year-old Atlanta-based image consultant describes it as "a musky, manly aroma emanating from my crotch."
As a teenager (and well into his adulthood) Marino tried pretty much everything he could to control—or at least cover up—the scent, from applying underarm deodorant to his undercarriage to spritzing his boys with cologne. But it wasn't until this February that he found something that actually works.
"I test a lot of products out, and I love testing products," Marino told GQ, noting that around 15 of the 500-plus videos live on his channel are specifically about keeping this smell in check. "The one I've found that works best is by a company called Chassis," he said. "It absorbs the wetness incredibly well. It also absorbs the odor."
Marino's testicular trial and error didn't last for over 20 years because he's a particularly pungent guy. In fact, the smell (produced by an unavoidable marriage of sweat and bacteria in an area that's not usually well ventilated) is something virtually all can men produce. But only recently have grooming brands begun to address the issue head on, creating a peculiar and growing ecosystem of powders, creams, wipes, and other products all designed to keep a man's delta region as fresh as a spring breeze.
Gold Bond simply isn't the only horse in this race anymore. In addition to Chassis, there are winkingly named options like DZ Nuts, Fresh Balls, and Fromonda. Other companies take this slightly more seriously: Jack Black makes a powder called Dry Down, and an aerosol spray called Dry Goods promises ease in application.
Higher-end brands are in on it, too: Menscience makes an Advanced Body Powder with green tea extract, and even tony Acqua di Parma will sell you talc scented like its Colonia fragrance for $51 a can. (If you're interested, you can save a few bucks by ordering it from Sephora's website. Shipping is free.) This list goes on and on.
"I hate to say this market has exploded, but that's probably true," said Michael Gilman, the founder and CEO of the DC-based barbershop chain Grooming Lounge. The store started selling a powder called Balla online in 2011. It now sells most of the other products mentioned above, and released its own option, called Super Powder, in early 2015.
"Guys can use it on their feet," he said. "But certainly the target is… what the target area is."
Super Powder is now one of the site's top performers, and Gilman's college friends shamelessly ask him to send it to them. But taken together, ball-centric products account for about five percent of Grooming Lounge's business overall. "It's grown at least 100 times over in terms of the number of options out there, whether we carry them or not," Gilman said.
It's difficult to calculate just how much the grooming market is worth—and harder still to tell how well an emerging product category is performing. What's a certainty is that sales of dude stuff are growing a lot faster than women's beauty. Karen Grant, senior vice president at the market research firm NPD Group, told GQ that women's skincare grew two percent in 2015, while men's grew by 11 percent. That's impressive enough on its own, but even more so when you consider that statistically, most guys still only buy the products they feel are necessary.
"Men don't like a lot of fuss. They'll use what they need, address what they feel they have a problem with," Grant said. "The numbers belie the fact that if you can get men incentivized around an item, they're definitely going to go after it."
Anthony Sosnick, the founder of the eponymously named men's grooming brand Anthony, said his No Sweat Body Defense—a cream-to-powder formula released just last year—was one of the first products he dreamed up when he started his company 16 years ago. "I wish I hadn't put that off so long, because it's one of our best sellers," he said.
A big part of these products' appeal is that guys are starting to get a tiny taste of the pressure that women have long felt to look—and smell—like they stepped off the page of a magazine at all times. And we do mean tiny: In an era where the ladies of reality TV can get rhinoplasty and bleach their anuses without anyone batting an eyelash, controlling crotch stank is small potatoes (no pun intended) by comparison.
But that doesn't mean the use of these products will stop growing anytime soon.
"Really it boils down to confidence, sexual in nature," Marino said. "It's starting to become a lot more socially acceptable for men to deal with things that are bothering them in an open way, as opposed to years ago where we really just didn't talk about stuff."
"It's just part of the grooming routine, you know?" he added. "You fix your hair, you put on deodorant, you powder your nuts."