Who's a pretty boy, then?

The cosmetics industry is booming like never before, thanks to men's obsession with looking good

T

ony won't leave the house until he's followed his three golden rules. Cleanse. one. Moisturise. Only then does he feel able to face the world. His skin looks smooth; the bags are gone and his lips feel soft. ony's bathroom cabinet is a temple to Nineties male consumerism.

Foundation, concealer, hemp lip balm, eye gel, loose powder and hair gel fill the shelves. You name it, it's all in there, slickly packaged in greys and blacks with resolutely no-nonsense labels like Scruffing Lotion, Lift Off Face Wash, Sharp Shooter Vitamin reater. Even cowboys would feel at home with names like these. hat's the idea, anyway. And men seem to buy it.

According to figures published last week by Colipa, the European cosmetics industry body, men's growing predilection for skin care products, perfumes and other toiletries has contributed to the biggest growth in sales for the European cosmetics industry since the start of the 1990s. We're now spending as much on beauty products and toiletries as Americans do on bread, while in the US men spend nine-and-a-half billion dollars a year on plastic surgery, cosmetics, fitness equipment and hair products. Over there, men and women spend more on the beauty industry than on education.

Much of the upturn is due to the booming market for cosmetics for men. Mintel International, the consumer market research organisation, reveals that male toiletries have increased by 25 per cent over the last five years - by the end of last year the men's market was worth around pounds 560m.

Mintel also report that men are increasingly brand-aware; they know their Clinique from their Ralph Lauren, and they can afford to be choosy.

hat's all very well from a statistical standpoint but how many men do you see lingering self-indulgently at beauty counters in the marbled halls of Harvey Nicks or Selfridges? Or even Boots for that matter? Clinique's PR manager, Emma Dawson, says: "A lot of products are bought by women who want men to take an interest but men are more likely to purchase than they've ever been." Even the counter displays are designed to welcome the bashful male. "We try to put the men's products on one side so they don't have to enter into the realm of lipsticks which can put them off." he fashionable make-up company MAC, with counters in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and a shop in the King's Road, has gone one step further to coax men to the purchasing coal-face. It has employed two unlikely representatives: the drag queen RuPaul and the singer k d lang. Which covers all camps. Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest, points out this development in her book and comments: "Lipstick, the symbol of female adornment for male favour, is now being marketed by a man dressed as a woman and by a woman who dresses as a man."

ony works for MAC and is, he says, a typical male buyer. "I probably spend around pounds 50 a month on products. I like to look a bit more polished. I want my skin to look even." Ruth, 25 and also a make-up artist for MAC in Selfridges, says she's been surprised how many men have ventured to their counter. "Once they're brave enough to get this far, they're quite open to advice." hey also know what they like, according to Dawson. "he men's market is more streamlined. If a product works, there's no reason for him to change it. He's not as interested in buying the newest products as women are." In terms of profit, he doesn't have to; Dawson says that in the last five years, business from male products has doubled.

Beauty is increasingly a necessity in a way that bread and education are not. Women - and men - starve themselves, suffer painful surgery and spend enormous amounts to improve their appearance. Youth and beauty is revered more than ever, as Etcoff makes clear in her book: "People hold the tacit assumption that the beautiful must be good. It makes them feel better about their attraction to the beautiful (it's not skin deep, it has nothing to do with sex or status) and it makes the world seem just." Somehow, though, this assumption is more strongly held than ever; fuelled by the beauty industry, both sexes feel more obliged to conform to certain physical ideals. Perhaps because they believe they can; that the technology is there to achieve our desires. Martin Skinner, lecturer in social psychology at the University of Warwick, says: "We're encouraged to believe we can transform our identity, much more so than has ever been the case. It seems we're sold the line that we can change ourselves through buying certain products, be they cosmetics, paving stones or furniture." As our insecurities grow, so do the products promising to allay them. Mr Skinner says: "Youth is the big theme; we used to feel old by 40. Now we have to extend that period in which we feel young and attractive. Cosmetics are something we apply to re-create ourselves." Something we invest with the power to transform, even though we know they can't. Mr Skinner says: "Far more now than, say, 10 years ago we're encouraged to believe in quick-fix transformation. Change is much slower and harder to achieve than we're led to believe; it's harder won than through the purchase of a product."

As more young men fall for this particular consumer promise, more seem vulnerable to emotional problems that used to be exclusively female. Dr Pat Hartley, research fellow in psychiatry who specialises in male body- image at the University of Manchester, treats young men with eating disorders. She is particularly aware of young men's preoccupation with looking fit, young and healthy. "Increasingly, their self-esteem is becoming more and more linked with appearance rather than other parts of their life. here's a significant shift," she says. When men come to see her with eating disorders, it's usually a consequence of getting obsessed with fitness, rather than dieting. "It is linked to a desire for a highly-toned body. Men are expected to adorn themselves as a way of making themselves feel good."

Ms Hartley also believes the emphasis on appearance is a Western habit. "We don't value the inner person to the extent of Eastern culture which is why eating disorders are more common in the West. he idea that you can change your inner self by altering the outer is a myth." A myth that men have spent decades selling wholesale to women through advertising. Potentially they could be the victims of their own seductive promises; that self-esteem is bound up with the attainment of beauty and youth; buy this and you'll look great, feel even better, younger, slimmer. At least some of them are honest about why they've finally fallen foul of their own hype. ony says: "I don't think I'd be able to leave the house without wearing a bit of foundation. I wouldn't deny it - I wear it because I'm vain." Now, what woman would care to admit to that?

BAHROOM CABINE ESSENIALS

SCRUFFING LOION Sweeps the daily layer of dead kin away.

URNAROUND LOION Reduces those fine lines and sun damage.

ALOE GEL According to Clinique, it's "every man's shaving pleasure".

OUCH-SICK Dries up the "trouble-spot".

SKIN CLEARING SOLUION Keeps spots at bay.

SHARP SHOOER VIAMIN REAMEN COMPLEX According to Aramis, "reloads the skin while you sleep, surges the skin with essential vitamins".

RAZOR BURN RELIEF For that post-shave irritation.

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