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Breaking the Taboo
by Melissa Dennis
Issue 12
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Working as a writer in the professional beauty industry, I sometimes take for granted the number of male skincare and body treatments emerging from around the world onto our high streets, but it's never far from my mind when hearing of new male-orientated products, that traditionally vanity is not linked to masculinity. However now that the 21st century world of sport and entertainment has its 'perfect' male icons, it's now becoming increasingly acceptable for men to groom.

In the Beauty Industry Survey 2005, an annual source of data which focuses on the UK professional beauty sector, it was revealed that 81% of beauty salons in the UK cater for men, with each averaging just over 10 male clients per month and representing an increase on 2004's figures.

When you consider that, according to this research, salons in the UK attracted an average of just over 350 client visits each month in 2005, it becomes clear that, although still in the minority, men are contributing to this industry's continued growth. So why is vanity becoming increasingly popular amongst our males and will it ever replace football and women as the main topic of conversation down the pub?

I receive parcels of products designed for men from across Europe more or less every month, and with my partner encouraged to try them out, it has become common for the man of our house to cleanse, tone and moisturise morning and night. His masculinity is never in question, but still he refrains from telling his friends for fear they may think him a sissy. Yet closer inspection of their bathroom cabinets (there's nothing I won't do for a good story!), reveals that they too hide away copious amounts of face wash, spot remedies, anti-shine moisturisers, and in several cases, fake tan.

Stuart Brear, 29, uses moisturiser sporadically when his skin feels dry, particularly in the winter months. He believes men now have little choice as to whether they consider beauty treatments.

"Everywhere you go there's more pressure to look good, it's in magazines, on TV, people in gyms, peer pressure from your friends, people going on holiday, going to weddings… even when you go to the dentists there are adverts for cosmetic surgery, and that's coming down in price too. It's everywhere," he says.

Stuart adds: "In my father's day, something like plucking a stray hair out of your eyebrows would have been considered taboo. But today's man is practically at the same level as a woman. The only real difference is that women wear make-up."

Matt Horsburgh, 26, often visits a tanning salon to use the sunbeds, and has mixed views about indulging in beauty.

"I would definitely consider a treatment such as waxing or a facial if they offered it at my salon and made it clear it was aimed at men…But you don't really want to advertise the fact that you go tanning or have waxing," he explains.

In recognition of this 'underground' trend, skincare companies are building portfolios of products aimed specifically at the man on the street. As with all good marketing campaigns, imagery is of strong, successful and popular individuals - sometimes endorsed by sport or movie stars - with an overdose of masculinity, and products are packaged in traditionally male colours, fragranced with fresh, zesty or musky perfumes.

Even the terminology used to describe the products is carefully conceived, using terms with powerful, scientific connotations such as 'Moisture Charge' or 'Hydra Performer' as opposed female-orientated products, which largely have names which offer the suggestion of nurture and care, such as 'De-Stressing Soother' or 'Night Recovery'.

Whilst the more cynical may think that these products simply contain the same concoctions gender-specifically rebranded, they would be wrong. The skin is a human's heaviest and largest organ, weighing between 3 to 3.5kg (in an adult). Whilst the basic three-layer make-up of the skin and its functions is the same in males and females, a man's skin is actually a lot different to a woman's, as Nic Coomber, a skincare distributor in the UK, explains:

"Regular shaving systematically deprives a man's skin of moisture and oil. Men's skin has more horny layers, making it about 20% thicker than women's. Men's skin is also more elastic. Owing to different tissue structure and skin thickness, men's skin generally remains firm and resilient until about age 30. Then, however, it loses its elasticity and tone much faster than women's skin.

"Additionally, men's skin has different sebum gland activity, because male hormones (androgens) influence the lipid metabolism of the sebum glands. So men naturally have different skin problems than women. The man frequently has to deal with blackheads, impurities, dry skin, inflammations of beard hairs, or oily skin." Therefore, products are developed to deal with these skincare issues.

Professional therapists, salons and Spas are more than aware of this difference, and so specifically tailor face and body care programmes, and the environments within which they are administered, to encourage male clientele. Again, these are branded in a style attractive to men, as Sarah North, a skincare brand manager explains:

"Treatment descriptions should be more precise and logical for men. Although ladies tend to prefer a wordy, enticing treatment description, men want to know exactly what it does."

Thirty-year old Tim Wooldridge, a Personal Trainer, visits a salon regularly, and has a strong view on what would appeal to male clients: "Making the salon a bit more masculine would be a good start if you want to get more chaps through the doors… it's a shame you can't just stick Playstation in there!"

Salon owner Karen Cook-Wadman has found that most men initially enter the salon for massage treatments, often relating to sports injuries. "Once they have made that decision to visit a salon, however, they can become loyal customers and start to book treatments like facials and manicures," she says.

Sarah North agrees: "Once a male client starts having treatments they generally tend to be much more loyal."

Tim Wooldridge adds: "Maybe if salon owners were to hold an open day just for men, or offer something for free at first just to break the ice. Men love a freebie and once they're in that'll be it. As a personal trainer I know how nerve-racking people find places like salons for the first time… it's a bit like gyms.

"I had a free salt scrub at the beauty salon at the gym where I work the other day… and enjoyed it so much that I'd definitely have another now, and pay for it!"

With attitudes like this it seems that the taboo is becoming the norm for this modern generation of males, and only time will tell whether our sons and grandsons will spend their Saturday afternoon's in the salon rather than at the football stadium.

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