Bulldog Skincare co-founder Simon Duffy.

Bulldog Skincare co-founder Simon Duffy.

Picking a fight with a trio of the world's largest cosmetic and skincare companies isn't something many 36-year-olds would relish, but Simon Duffy is a little bit different to most.

In fact, the Englishman was just 29 when the lack of naturally-based men's skincare options on supermarket shelves so irked him that he mapped out an ambitious business plan that has evolved into an epic David-and-Goliath battle.

"If there's one thing I've learned, it's just don't scrimp on the ingredients so you can do more advertising." 

The result is Bulldog Skincare, established with business partner Rhodri Ferrier to offer a range of products that are free of parabens, sodium laureth sulfate and artificial colours and fragrances, while also eschewing the routine testing on animals that many competitors still use.

Like the mythical David, Duffy has a slingshot in one hand and an ingredient list in the other as he takes aim with acorns of righteousness at the likes of rivals Nivea, L'Oreal and Gillette. The former pair command up to 80 per cent of men's skincare sales in the UK, while Bulldog's measly-but-growing 5 per cent is expected to knock off Gillette for third place this year.

Australia is the latest battleground in Bulldog's ambitious global mission, and looms as a harder nut to crack than even Duffy's home market. Men's skincare has traditionally been an oxymoron to Aussie blokes, with a lather of hand soap and a liberal splash of Brut (aftershave, not champagne) the furthest extent to which most have been prepared submit themselves.

But the growing spending power of the more image-conscious Generation Y - as well as a renaissance in self-awareness among more mature types - has kicked off strong growth in the segment, albeit from a very low base.

For Duffy, a former advertising "ideas man", the lightbulb moment came in a New York health food supermarket in 2006.

"There was only two products for men, both from the same brand, and they were terrible products with terrible packaging. And that was the moment we thought there was a gap in the market," Duffy says.

"I wanted to buy these certain products that avoided certain ingredients and they just weren't in this big store, and the thought was that maybe no one is doing it in the world."

Duffy and Ferrier put together a business plan, raised £1.2 million ($A1.8 million) from investors and set out to "disrupt" the status quo with a strong brand message and distinctive packaging.

"There is a lot of institutional thinking from the big brands that always leads to the same result, and no one has really been disruptive in the category for a long time," Duffy says.

"I think (the reason) only one in five men use these products (is) because everything feels the same."

It was immediately apparent that Bulldog could not hope to match its massive rivals in advertising, marketing, sponsorship or endorsement spending.

"We've got a belief that we invest in the best quality ingredients and make the best product we can. If they're the best products in the world for men, then the fame will spread itself," he says.

"If you were to compare a natural product such as Bulldog to a more synthetic counterpart, I guess what you'd be able to say about both of them is that our ingredients would be more expensive, because that's the reality of using natural products versus cheaper chemicals.

"There's chemicals in conventional skincare products that you'll find in toilet bleach. A lot of these companies' labour and production costs will be much less as well.

"The fact people think we're really good value means the bigger companies are spending hardly anything on their formulas and they've got this huge amount of margin to spend on marketing. It's a totally different model."

A 20 per cent take-up rate in skincare products among UK men badly lags around 90 per cent for UK women, and Aussie blokes are anecdotally even more resistant. But Duffy says that is changing over time, led by self-aware Gen Y.

"With Bulldog we've found that there's a big variety of the type of men who use the products, but broadly there's a trend to a lot of the younger guys using more skincare products, probably driven a lot by media and being comfortable with products that older guys are not," he says.

"I think generationally more younger men are getting into it, but there's also pressure on older men to look good, to retain their looks, to look vibrant in the workplace."

Bulldog's products – there are 11 items in the range but only five currently on sale in Australia - are solely manufactured in the UK, which is partly the reason for choosing an iconic British figurehead for the brand.

"(The bulldog) was also chosen because he's man's best friend. He's not a David Beckham with a rippling six-pack, with that unobtainable, commoditised view of what men are. We think of him as a bit lazy, a bit wrinkly, a bit overweight, but on the positive side he's loyal and tenacious, dogged and a companion," Duffy says.

Bulldog's products now sell in several European and Scandinavian countries, with Australia and New Zealand added late last year. Retail deals have been struck locally with Woolworths, Big W and several health food store chains.

"The starting point is that you need to have amazing products. Men are very loyal and when they find something they like, they'll tell their friends," Duffy says.

"We can't afford to do big print advertising but we can think of these supermarket shelves as our billboard, so we don't want to blend in, we want to stand out, create a disruption.

"If there's one thing I've learned, it's just don't scrimp on the ingredients so you can do more advertising. Just make perfect products and everything should take care of itself."