Spa Services: Selling Moisturizers to Men

How to understand, confront and reverse men’s deep-seated aversion to lotion.

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To spa owners and most female clients, face moisturizing is the stuff of Skin Care 101. Many men, however, have yet to get the memo. Although XYs are becoming more comfortable hitting the spa for a soothing massage or facial, product usage is another story. “The average man is used to a bar cleanser or face wash, but probably doesn’t know what a serum is, why you’d use a separate cream for the eye area, or why you shouldn’t use a body lotion on the face,” says Angela Eriksen-Stanley, director of education for Phytomer. Not surprisingly, men are also less knowledgeable about options on the market. As Caroline Rushworth, director of education for Sothys points out, “Such research can be intimidating and overwhelming.”

Men may very well need moisturizing just as much as women do, but experts are quick to caution that anything that sounds feminine or connotes pampering is apt to keep them at bay. However, there’s hope yet for males, as these same experts say aspects of this stigma are starting to wane.

“We’re seeing a change in male attitudes and perspectives regarding self-care,” says Aaron Marino, owner of Alpha M (iamalpham.com), an image consulting firm geared toward men. “You’re not hearing the term ‘metrosexual’ anymore. Nowadays, it’s competitive out there—economically and socially, not to mention on the singles’ market—and guys know they need every advantage they can get, so it’s becoming socially acceptable for them to take care of their skin and embrace antiaging.”

Yes, the recent surge in sports titans touting the benefits of skin care in the media is evidence of a shift taking root, notes PR professional Nancy Trent of Trent & Company in New York City. But, she adds, like most chronic hangups, lotion phobia runs deep, and spa pros must “offer proof, action and incentive for men to take this step,” Trent says. She—and many other industry watchers—agree that the key to success is a careful approach that blends patience, education and a little old-fashioned exposure therapy.

The Root of the Phobia

For women, skin care tends to be an ingrained ritual. “They’re taught regimens and tips by their mothers,” explains Amy Humfleet, VP of product development and innovation for Aveda. “Men aren’t brought up with their fathers sharing skincare advice, other than how to shave without cutting themselves. So they need to understand that caring for their skin isn’t an emasculating activity, but rather a healthy way to protect themselves from environmental aggressors such as UV rays and pollution.”

Ada Polla, CEO of Alchimie Forever, adds that most men are so used to having nothing on their skin that the idea of adding something is a bit unsettling. “Unlike women, they don’t want to look ‘creamy’ or ‘dewy’,” she explains. “They also don’t like the sound of ‘lotion’ or ‘cream’—those words conjure up thoughts of greasiness and oiliness, the unwelcome sense of something on their skin.”

Marino likewise steers clear of the L word. “I can’t even remember the last time I referred to something as lotion, other than the calamine or suntan variety, in a man’s presence,” he says. “The term sounds feminine and makes them think of what their wives use,” he adds. “However, modern men don’t seem to have a problem with ‘moisturizer’.”

Which is fortunate, because the moisturizing needs of the denser-skinned sex, experts say, are significant.

Moisture Factors

Men typically have oiler skin, more sebaceous glands and larger hair follicles. Yet many labor under the false impression that their skin should be rugged and rough. This is according to Paul Cuthbert, marketing supervisor for GlyMed Plus, who says that the tried-and-true tradition of shaving with soap and water actually dries out pores. “And if left unchecked, dehydration accelerates aging, especially if you’re often exposed to the sun and wind,” he adds.

A regular shaving ritual wreaks havoc on the skin. “Each day the protective barrier is stripped and the acid mantle altered as the skin is scraped with a blade,” Sothys’ Rushworth explains. “A daily lotion is crucial to protect the natural barrier and maintain healthy, clear skin.”

Aveda’s Humfleet notes that the moisture in men’s skin evaporates at a significantly higher rate than does the moisture in women’s. “This, too, is likely due to the stress and damage caused by shaving, which triggers inflammation, irritation and redness, and ultimately leads to compromised barrier function,” she says.

Because their skin is thicker, men are more prone to dull skin tone. “They produce about 30% more oil than women do,” shares Eriksen-Stanley. “Between that and shaving, men are more likely to have conditions associated with sensitive skin. They need a specially formulated moisturizer to keep the complexion revitalized, while balancing the skin’s oil levels.”

Humfleet points to another compelling argument that should make guys listen up: “Men’s skin has about 30% more collagen than women’s, and they retain this level for longer,” she says. As a result, women suffer the signs of aging much earlier, at around age 35; however, they are able to age gracefully over time. Meanwhile, men stay younger-looking for longer, but once they hit 50, the signs of aging are immediate and advance at a more rapid pace. “Regular moisturizing boosts collagen production in men’s skin, making their skin more resilient to the effects of gravity in the long term,” Humfleet says.

Trent is quick to note that men also have fewer options for covering up dry patches, blemishes or a less-than-vital complexion. “They don’t typically rely on makeup to mask their flaws, which makes skin care and aging prevention that much more important.”

The Cure

When selling moisturizers to men, there are five basic principles to keep in mind: verbiage, masculinity, minimalism, straightforwardness and simplicity.
The vocabulary part is easy. “Any time you’re tempted to say ‘dewy’ or ‘silky’, go with ‘supple’ instead,” advises Polla. “Among our men’s line, the products that are ‘oil-free’ sell about four to one against the others. The term ‘oil-free’ makes these products feel safe, and true to their promise that they won’t leave any shine or residue behind. Men like that.” Polla adds that she almost always recommends “simple products” that are “lighter in texture and weight.”

Christian Jurist, medical director of global education for Pevonia , is a big proponent of coaching estheticians to employ terms to which men can relate. “Men are problem solvers, natural ‘fixers’ of everything from a flat tire to a squeaky door hinge,” Jurist explains, and suggests that ingrown hair or razor burn would be ideal issues for these clients to address (“fix”).

GlyMed Plus’ Cuthbert believes the simplest way to initiate a skincare discussion is to address the man’s shaving ritual. “It’s a routine they know, so verbally incorporate the notion of a skincare regimen into this process—one that encompasses cleansing, a beard-softening shaving cream, post-shave recovery balm and an oil-free protective moisturizer.”

Polla likewise points out, “A lot of guys only think about or examine their skin when they’re shaving.” She encourages men to think about how their skin feels after they’ve shaved before she segues into a sales pitch. “If I mention things like bumps or razor burn, or shaving discomfort, I have their attention,” she says. “But if I start the conversation with, ‘This has lycopene from tomato extract to fight free radicals,’ they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go stand over there now’.”

Whichever approach you take, be sure to avoid coming on strong or overwhelming clients with too much instruction. “A complex skincare regimen won’t make sense to most men, nor jive with their existing routines,” cautions Eriksen-Stanley. “Find out what he’s doing, and identify a moisturizer that fits into this existing routine. Keep it familiar, adding one new move at a time.”

Even better? Carrying a product or two that can pull double-duty. Think shaving lubricant/facial masks, or a 2-in-1 aftershave and moisturizer. Humfleet reminds to promote products that are “masculine in look, color and shape,” and that the aroma “must appeal to men.”

Marino agrees. “Companies are smart to have ‘butched up’ the packaging and names of products, making the skincare experience more about being a guy,” he says. “It helps to show male clients macho, daring items, with names like ‘Turbo Scrub’.”

Stick to scents that are clean and invigorating, says Pevonia’s Jurist. “Choose natural essential oils like patchouli, lemon and grapefruit,” he explains. “Some fragrances can overwhelm men or make the product appear too feminine.”

Rushworth recommends emphasizing value and simplicity. “Men are typically skeptical of the cost of skin care, which can seem extreme for something they don’t yet view as essential.”

Marino, however, favors a more primal approach. “If you can boil any marketing down to money or sex, men will listen,” he insists. “Try things like, ‘Hey, this is what you want to do to look good in a business meeting’ or ‘This is how you show her how put-together you are’.”

Trent also advocates for persistence, as men still lag far behind women in terms of skincare education. “It takes 7 to 11 times for someone to really ‘hear’ something they’ve never heard before,” she says. “Consistently speak using language men can identify with—tech, science, sports and women—relating skin care to various tangible aspects of their lives. They’ll soon get the message!”