Cleanse It Like Beckham

15th April 2011

He’s the epitome of the modern metrosexual man, with a suitcase (or several) stuffed with moisturisers, serums and balms… yet most of the legions of fans who follow Beckham’s antics on the pitch have yet to replicate his activities in the bathroom. What is it about men’s grooming that divides the nation?

Heather Harris finds out…

Thirty five pounds and forty pence. Not the amount of pocket money I remember to give my children in a year, or the current price of one drop of petrol, but the average amount a British man spends on grooming products. And that even includes those basics which keep him marginally above the family pet in the fragrance stakes: deodorant, shampoo and after shave.

The spotless men at Mintel Market Research quote this figure to show how men are turning the other cheek when it comes to lotions and potions: “Men's grooming habits are slowly changing, but not as quickly as the men's grooming industry would like. The market has grown by a rather meagre 3% over the last three years."

The men in my life (and there’s a fair few) all felt that this figure was rather a lot. “A multi-pack of Imperial Leather, a few bottles of Head and Shoulders and some Boots shaving foam, and you’d still have change,” was the general consensus, while a journalist at The Guardian, writing on the subject recently, admitted that a straw poll of his colleagues had generated revelations such as: "I persevere with soap and bought a deodorant last year which I keep meaning to use…"

Clearly, like Marmite, you either love male moisturiser or hate it. Coming from a house full of brothers where the style icon was more Geldof than Beckham, it’s hardly surprising that I married an equally Neanderthal man and that we bred two offensively smelling boys.

Just who are the men for whom cleanliness is next to godliness and who are pushing up the value of the male grooming industry to its current value of £484 million?

The answer is not that many. A relatively small group of smooth operators are boosting sales. As the Mintel report noted, “Only a third of men use any products beyond the basics and only one in five were using these products daily – and under 35s were far more likely to use products than their elders…”

…which is ironic, as the award for Best Male Performer in the 2010 Beauty Industry Oscars went to the snappily titled Clinique Skin Supplies for Men Age Defense for Eyes. Costing an eye-watering £22.50 for 15ml, it contains ‘Whey protein, Vitamin C and E and Hyaluronic acid’ and promises to reduce fine lines, dark circles and puffs. Sadly it also only leaves the poor man less than £13 to spend on the rest of his body for the rest of the year.

In the mass market category, the top prize went to A'kin PureMAN Calming After Shave Balm, which, at £10.99 for 75ml, seems far better value, especially as it is designed to relieve ‘irritability’. Anything that can do that for my grumpy husband at 7am is worth every penny.

Interestingly, a recent poll for the website apetogentleman.com found that less than eight per cent of respondents considered price to be a determining factor for their grooming products (probably because most men think Boots is an industrial footwear shop).

A brow-furrowing 65% based their choice on ‘how effective the product is’. As dermatologist Harold Lancer commented, “Men want the quick fix and they don’t understand the concept of process.”

In other words, they want their 50ml of magic to turn them into Brad Pitt overnight and if it doesn’t then they’re back to talc and TCP.

Certainly – and as women have always known – men are a tough lot to communicate with. Even the top talkers at advertising agency Satchi and Satchi concluded, “We haven’t yet scratched the surface when it comes to men”

The big problem is that skincare is still not macho. To admit to using a moisturiser is almost akin to joining a Gay Pride March in the mind of many Alpha Males, and Mint or Lemon are about the only fragrances allowed to venture from the garden to the bathroom shelf.

Men hate the smell of sweat, but still can’t understand why wearing a polyester football shirt for three days in a row doesn’t encourage physical closeness from others, including their gagging offspring. I’d disagree strongly with James Thompson, the men’s toiletries’ buyer for Boots, and his opinion that “The scientific background and benefits of modern male skincare products seem to overcome the unmanly stereotype”.

Advertisers have been trying for years to rub the manly image in. Ever since fiercely heterosexual Henry Cooper convinced us that ‘splashing it all over’ with Brut would give us the smell of a champion boxer, sporting giants have been used to promote the tenuous link between beautifully smooth skin and hitting a tennis ball or scoring at Wembley. Notice, though, that Rooney has yet to launch his own skincare range.

A new home delivery company, launched by a man, finally hits the spot when it comes to male grooming. Menareuseless.com – a male grooming essentials subscription service – promises ‘To give men (and the people who love them) more time to play out, fight sharks, catch baddies, build dens, practise wheelies and hit the heights they deserve. For around the same price you'd pay in the shops we do your essential toiletry shopping for you, box it up and deliver through your letterbox!”

Menareuseless recognises that mankind can be split in many ways… by race, class, income – and by ‘morning routine’. There are those for whom ten minutes is more than ample to spruce themselves up for a day in the office including time for a breath-stencher coffee, and there are others with a five step programme involving words such as exfoliate, balm, cleanse and even floss.

The vast majority of men tread a wrinkly line between the two. They sneakily pinch our moisturiser and hair gel, but would never actually buy any; they comment on the bags under other men’s eyes but would never invest in an eye cream.

After all they have far more macho things to buy with their £35.40. The latest pink football boots for a start…

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