Men of America, perhaps you missed the memo, but this was supposed to be the year your grooming ritual was going to expand beyond the morning shave. A decade and a half beyond the advent of the metrosexual in the mid-'90s, graying baby boomers were supposed to lead the charge by embracing anti- aging serums, with the men and boys of generations X and Y finally adopting a skin-care regimen that consisted of something more than a wet washcloth and a bar of Ivory soap.
Trend analysts forecast it. The grooming industry seized the opportunity, and the last year and a half has seen new gender-specific versions of existing products — Dove Men + Care line, Nivea for Men, Neutrogena Men and even Vaseline Men — hit store shelves. In addition, Procter & Gamble's Gillette brand expanded beyond shaving into scrubs, moisturizers and face washes.
And how did men respond? Chicago-based research firm Mintel, which tracks sales of products at the mass market and drugstore levels, estimates that guys are on track to spend 10.2% fewer of their dollars on skin-care supplies in 2010 than they did in 2009 —making it the worst-performing men's grooming category. (Apparently the money went to their heads — literally — since the same Mintel study found hair-care spending was up 9.9% in the same period.)
So what happened? Why aren't men more gung-ho about increasing their face value? Though Mintel's study, released in September, cited the economy as one reason, those in the skin-care trade say there are other factors at work.
"When it comes to something like Dove for men or L'Oreal for men, I've actually had guys say to me: 'Come on — aren't they just changing the color of the packaging or something?'" says J.P. Mastey, owner of L.A.-based Baxter of California, a men's skin-care line that includes oil-free moisturizers, clay masks, scrubs and shaving creams. "The challenge [these brands] face is the connotation that they are marketing products to men that are first and foremost for women."
Marketing aside, there can be science behind gender-specific products. "Usually male skin has a thicker epidermis and a thicker dermis," says Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer. "The thicker skin and the heavier oil glands make it a much harder target to penetrate, so the products are different — which usually means more highly concentrated."
Lancer says that's why, when a man does find himself exploring skin-care options for the first time, simply defaulting to whatever the lady of the house has on hand is better than nothing but won't be as effective.
Which brings up another guy-specific problem that Lancer says he encounters in his practice. Whether it's procedures or products, his experience has been that "men are not as motivated" as women.
"Men want the quick fix, and they don't understand the concept of process," Lancer says. "And men won't follow more than two steps." That makes the tripartite exfoliate-cleanse-repair regimen he recommends one step too many. So Lancer says he'll often start guys out with just the first two steps (exfoliate and cleanse) and add the "repair" part after a few weeks.
Since this still constitutes one step beyond what many men are accustomed to doing, what's the single best thing for the average guy who's decided to put his best face forward? Exfoliate, Lancer says.
"If you don't remove the dead skin cells and oxidized debris," he says, "nothing else you do — like moisturizing — can reach its target."
Despite the hurdles, Lancer's experience tells him skin care is a segment of the industry ripe for growth. "Women's skin care has been the big thing for years now," he says. "But in the last five years, I've seen men trying to keep up. They're motivated by the same things that motivate women — job pressures, romance — and I'm seeing interest across all age groups — from 18- and 19-year-old guys up to 80-year-old guys, across all ethnicities and income levels."
He said the men who come to him want the same things the women do — only more in a more subtle way. "They want their pores to look smaller, they want to make their skin less oily and less sun-damaged, and they want to reduce fine lines and crow's-feet around their eyes. … The majority of men don't want surgery and they don't want injectable fillers or Botox."
It's the interest in reducing those signs of age — and the aging population — that has Lancer bullish on the men's skin-care business. And, while Mintel's 2010 men's grooming report doesn't see a turnaround in the skin-care products men will be buying over the counter anytime soon (it forecasts sales to drop 3.9% in 2011 and nearly 6% a year after that), a breakdown of the demographics shows a bright spot far on the horizon.
Though men 65 and older were the least likely age group in a Mintel survey to use moisturizers and facial cleansers (only 33% of that age group said they did), the highest reported use was found among 35- to 44-year-olds — generations X and Y — who are likely to keep up their good habits as they get older.
"There's a ton of potential for growth," says Baxter of California's Mastey, "because every new generation that comes onboard doesn't have a connotation that they're using a 'beauty product.'"
"It's not about metrosexual anymore — it's about being healthy and clean. For a growing group of guys, taking proper care of your skin isn't any different than brushing your teeth."