Men’s grooming: A look at the top treatments and products designed specifically for men
The sound of water cascading into a star-shaped pool filled with flower petals welcomes you to the Emirates Palace Spa, located just west of the opulent hotel’s main gates. About 20 steps to your right lies Gentlemen’s Tonic, an all-male salon – or “establishment”, as the staff like to call it, since it’s really nothing like your average salon.
Striped tiles are reminiscent of a traditional gymnasium floor, and are offset by dark brown marble countertops and olive green walls. Two reclining seats separated by a sleek black pedestal sink face a wall of mirrors, which double up as television screens that customers can watch while getting their shaves or haircuts. The back wall houses 20 steel lockers, reserved for clients who have paid the annual fee of Dh24,990 or semi-annual fee of Dh14,990 to become exclusive members of Gentlemen’s Tonic. Each locker contains a personalised leather pouch filled with grooming essentials, such as shaving kits, brushes and tweezers, to be used exclusively on that member during his future visits. Hannah Dowd, director of Emirates Palace Spa, explains that Olivier Bonnefoy, the former investment banker who founded the first Gentlemen’s Tonic in London, would often take his associates to a men’s salon for a touch of grooming – a preferable outing, in his opinion, to a night out with the guys.
Traditionally, men’s grooming has consisted of a visit to the neighbourhood barber for a quick cut and speedy shave, and, until relatively recently, most men wouldn’t be caught dead getting a manicure. But today, the growing number of men’s beauty blogs, such as www.manface.uk and www.thespaman.co.uk, where men post reviews of skin and hair products, as well as fragrances and spa treatments, point to changing attitudes to men’s grooming. With the international male-grooming market currently valued at Dh74.5 billion, and estimated to grow to a worth of almost Dh98 billion by 2020, it appears that grooming is no longer a girls-only game.
So are spas and salons the new billiard rooms? Maybe not, but men around the world are becoming increasingly willing to experience treatments and purchase specialised grooming products. “It’s more acceptable now for men to be seen styling their hair with a straightener or putting on hand cream,” says Dowd. “Twenty years ago, you had to have rough hands to be a man – but that’s all changed.”
A decade or two ago, hair wax or gel was likely to be the only specialist product used by your average man, aside from his routine shampoo, conditioner and body wash, most likely from an over-the-counter brand such as Dove or Nivea. Today, products with snazzy names such as Well Groomed Ultralight Cream, Strong Hold Control Balm and Brightening Shampoo for Silvering Hair line the shelves of major luxury department stores. These in particular are from American brand V76 by Vaughn, which promises classic and uncomplicated grooming essentials for the modern man. With the likes of Bill Clinton, Richard Gere and Ashton Kutcher on his client list, men’s stylist Vaughn Acord launched V76 by Vaughn two years ago, and the brand is now available in the region exclusively at Harvey Nichols - Dubai. “Guys right now care what they look like,” says Acord, adding that the main focus of most men is their hair.
While a hip hairdo may be a top priority for many, facial hair is considered to be equally image making – or breaking. With the rise of hipster styles, full beards have become popular of late, with men worldwide sporting the lumberjack look. This has spurred beauty brands to manufacture products especially for beards, with oils, balms and different types of beard combs having come to the market, along with a variety of razors and blades for shaving. Kiehl’s offers an entire line of men’s shaving-related formulas, called Close-Shavers Squadron, with products such as the Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream and Post Shave Repair Gel.
But there’s much more to men’s grooming than manicured beard lines. Cammie Cannella, vice president of global education and customer experience at Kiehl’s, notes that there has been a significant change in men’s attitudes towards skin products. “Traditionally, there was a sense that masculinity was tied to minimalism when it came to personal care,” she says, explaining that men used to focus on simple and unspecialised products for daily grooming. “We are now hearing demands for more sophisticated formulas, such as anti-ageing serums and eye-area treatments,” she says. The Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer, Ultimate Strength Hand Salve and Anti-Shine Moisturizers by Kiehl’s are now available especially for men.
And when these kinds of products just won’t get the job done, a growing number of men are seeking out spa and beauty treatments. Just as women aren’t born with hairless bodies, beautiful blowouts and impeccably shaped brows, men, too, are enlisting experts to help them achieve a certain look.
Mona Mirza, director of Dubai’s Biolite Aesthetic Clinic, reveals that many men come in each week for fat-freezing sessions, acne-scarring remedies and regular laser hair-removal treatments for both facial and body hair. “The whole beach lifestyle of looking fit and hairless – that’s very much the ‘in’ thing,” she says.
Mirza has seen a 25 per cent increase in male clients since the clinic’s opening in 2007, and today, approximately 30 per cent of Biolite’s clients are men.
She attributes the general increase in male spa and salon goers to magazines and social media. “The image of perfect male masculinity is being promoted so heavily that men are feeling somewhat pressured to look good,” she says. “On Instagram, too, there’s a constant bombardment of toned abs, clear skin and manicured brows.”
Some may discredit men’s grooming as a passing craze; a trend that will fade into oblivion once men retreat back to an uncaring and unkempt typecast. But industry experts predict that the men’s grooming market will only continue to expand and diversify in the coming years. They also point out that men make particularly loyal clients. “I must say that men are fantastic clients, because once they’ve set their mind on a treatment and are through our doors, they will follow it through – they will be there on time, and they will follow each step of the products we give them,” says Mirza.
Noella Gabriel, co-founder and managing director of Elemis, explains that men no longer feel awkward in booking facials and treatments, especially when a spa is set up to be warm and intimate, rather than having a clinical feel. She also notes that men can be very loyal, and when they find a brand or treatment that works for them, they stick to it.
While male grooming is becoming an increasingly accepted part of many cultures around the world, in the Middle East, it is not so much of a trend as an ingrained part of the culture, says Mirza. From cutting one’s nails before Friday prayers to maintaining a clean appearance, she says that grooming in this part of the world is not so much driven by vanity or how a man wants to appear to others, but is a part of everyday life. “They’ve seen their fathers do it and their grandfathers do it – it’s an important part of an Arab man’s culture and part of his routine,” says Mirza. “It has never needed a label – it’s just part of the Islamic methodology.”
When asked about the difference between male clientele in London and in the UAE, Dowd also notes that men here are more comfortable with a culture of grooming. “If anything, London is probably catching up to here – I think the rest of the world is catching up to us in terms of men’s grooming,” she says. “In this region it’s not something that is entirely new; men have always been going for shaves, and they’ve always cared for their appearances.”
Mirza agrees. “I’d say the Middle East is particularly ahead of everyone – in the West, they’re still being educated to some degree on the importance of men’s grooming,” she says.
Perhaps men in this region are not following, but rather setting, grooming trends and standards. But even in this region, where men’s grooming may be more deeply rooted, there has been a clear progression from standard shaves to targeted treatments and luxury club memberships. But whether or not extremities like laser chest-hair removal will become a norm among men, here or internationally, remains to be seen.