The new battered face of cosmetics

What is a 15st 7lb flanker doing plugging moisturiser? It seems that beauty is more than skin deep in the world of men's grooming
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The Independent Online

Budge Pountney, the Scotland and Northampton rugby player, spends most Saturday afternoons face down in the mud or knocking others to the ground. He has had a broken nose, a fractured eye socket and his face is constantly being cut and stitched together again.

The rugby player hardly sounds the type who would be concerned about looking after his skin. But he is actually a big fan of Clinique's skin care products, and although often battered and bruised he is part of the retailer's drive to capture the growing market of male beauty products.

It appears as if the rugby world is coming to terms with the fact that some of its most bulky players are spending more time in front of the mirror. "The boys at the club took the mickey until they started to try some of the lotions and the shaving gel. I think people are getting more used to the fact that men are using moisturisers, creams and shaving gel to look after their skin," says Mr Pountney, who particularly likes Clinique's shaving products.

Clinique, which has taken the rather unusual step of developing "informal" rather than financial relationships with rugby players and celebrities – such as Mr Pountney and Ant and Dec, the Geordie TV presenters – to promote its brands, has noticed the growing demand for male grooming products. So have retailers Boots and Lynx, who have been trying to cash in on this growth sector, with varying degrees of success. The retail research group Verdict says the market size for toiletries for men which includes products such as moisturisers, gel and bath foam, is worth £1.2bn in the UK and is continuing to grow.

But the market is still only a fifth of the size of that for female beauty products, and it has lagged behind the US and other developed European countries such as France and Italy. But British men are catching up.

"Men's toiletries is a growing market," says Richard Hyman, chairman of Verdict.

"There is now a better range of products for men, there is less stigma about buying products and men are more health-conscious and more interested in looking better." Jordana Reuben, health and beauty assistant at Vogue, says: "The male grooming market is definitely expanding and has not reached its full potential."

British men are also increasingly buying products themselves rather than relying on wives or girlfriends, which Italian men can't yet bring themselves to do.

This shift in attitudes is partly driven by the growth in men's magazines. Clinique, at the upper end of the market, was among the first retailers to develop a range of products and launched their Skin Supplies for Men range in 1976.

Helen Bowers, Clinique's marketing manager, believes the double-digit annual sales growth it is achieving will continue. "Our range is doing particularly well. We are investing in skin supplies for men." The idea of male "beauty" products has not achieved complete acceptance and Clinique is trying to succeed where others have failed.

Boots spotted the trend in the market and opened a store dedicated to men's products in Edinburgh and a separate section for men in its Bristol shop. Despite a rise in sales by 4.5 per cent year on year the venture has not been seen as a success.

The Edinburgh store was closed last month and the section in Bristol is to be incorporated into the rest of the shop. The group has no plans for further such specialist initiatives. "This is the biggest year for male grooming products being launched, but the reality is that most men don't tend to want to buy their own products in male-only stores," says a Boots spokesman.

Lynx, the male toiletries producer and supplier owned by Unilever, opened a flagship store in Oxford Street in October dedicated to men's "beauty needs" and another in Kingston in March. The stores have been designed for men aged 16 to 25 and include PlayStations and TVs to amuse customers while they wait to have their hair cut. The stores also offer massages, pedicures, waxing, colouring and beauty treatments. The group cannot confirm whether the venture has been successful enough to be rolled out across the country.

Ms Reuben believes retailers have to reach men so they know what products are on offer. "The products can't be too girlie," she adds. Not an accusation one might make easily to Budge Pountney and his team mates. Or the average British male.