Can the leopard change his spots? the Bible asks rhetorically. These days, the answer might be yes. Want to lose those age spots? Go for a deep chemical peel. If brown eyes don't become you, colored contact lenses will make them blue. Bothered by the bags under your eyes? Get rid of them with blepharoplasty. If you find your nose a tad oversized, a rhinoplasty will fix that. The '90s has been called the Information Age, but, when it comes to grooming, perhaps the Age of Reversal is more to the point.
Every 15 seconds, a male baby boomer turns 50, and many want to turn back the clock. Women have long bought into the cosmetics industry's "hope-in-a-bottle" promises of prolonged youth. Recently, men have begun to pay and play. Fortune magazine reports that American men are spending some $9.5 billion a year on anti-aging expedients including face-lifts, anti-wrinkle creams and collagen injections.
Men spent $33.7 million on face-lifts in 1994, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. Matthew, the 42-year-old owner of a large New York City gym, says, "My body looked really good, but my face seemed tired all the time. So I had my face lifted, my neck tightened and the bags under my eyes removed." He's had cosmetic surgery eight times over the last three years, all by a Long Island-based Cohiba-smoking plastic surgeon, Zachary Gerut. About a third of Gerut's patients are men, and in the United States men account for almost one in four cosmetic surgeries. "A good cosmetic surgery is like a good toupee. People say they've never seen a good toupee, and that is true," Gerut quips. "You don't see the good ones."
"Men want something that's fast, easy and will give them instant results," says 47-year-old Fredric Brandt, a cosmetic dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami. Known for his "lunchtime treatments" (in-office procedures that take little time, but make a big difference), Brandt is the second largest user of injectable collagen in the United States. About 20 percent of his patients are men, generally in their 30s or older.
Their newest procedure of choice? Botox injections. Brandt himself has been taking them for the past year and a half. They smooth forehead frown lines, crow's feet and creases from the chin to the neck. Botox, an acronym for botulinum toxin type A, is derived from the same bacteria that causes botulism. (The Food and Drug Administration has approved Botox only for treatment of two eye muscle disorders, but physicians are allowed to use it for other applications. Doctors who use it say the low levels used in the injections are no health threat.) Botox inhibits wrinkles by paralyzing the impulse between nerve and muscle. The muscles "relax," so you can no longer frown, squint or grimace. Visibly, anyway.
Brandt doesn't use Botox around the mouth (this would preclude smiling, the old-fashioned way to lift a dropping face) or under the eyes, where instead he injects collagen to plump up the skin.
Botox treats the cause rather than the effect. Since it takes about 200,000 frowns--muscle contractions--to produce one permanent brow line, paralyzing the muscles also prevents further furrowing or wrinkling. The treatments take less than 30 minutes each, and there's no pain, no recuperation time and no serious side effects, although temporary headaches and bruising are possible. (Long-term usage over decades has yet to be studied.) The effects of one treatment, visible within a few days, last four to six months.
All these benefits have their price: anywhere from $400 to $1,200 per visit. A South American real estate developer named Edmundo, one of Brandt's Botox/collagen patients, says he's shelled out $10,000 in the past 10 months. "I'm hooked" on Botox and collagen, says the 42-year-old, who first went to Brandt for a light chemical peel. "Once I saw myself looking better, I couldn't stop. I'm a youth freak--I'd like to look 15!"
Brandt and Gerut report that men are most concerned about droopy eyes, baggy necks and furrowed brows. It's not so much the lines per se--it's the image you project as a result of having them, and their potential to put wrinkles in your life that's troublesome. Men don't want to look angry, worried or tired. Given the corporate downsizing trend, they also don't want to look ready for early retirement.
Men care more about feeling young than looking young. Actually, the telltale signs of male aging--graying temples and smile lines around the mouth and eyes--are often perceived as symbols of power. "Men want to look generally strong and healthy, while women want to look a specific age--as old as they were at a perfect time in their lives," notes Debra Holstein, a New York marketing consultant to the personal care industry. "Men aren't really counting each of the lines around their eyes as women do. A woman might start to worry [about aging] at 30, and a man at 42."
A man's skin ages at a slower rate than a woman's. (A man's biological clock ticks less hurriedly, too.) There are a few anatomical explanations for slower-to-sag skin.
First, men really do have thicker skin, and thick skin is less prone to crinkle or droop. Think of the difference between an average balloon and an automobile tire: the balloon puckers when it deflates, while the tire keeps more of its original form. The dermis, the layer beneath the epidermis, or skin's outer surface, contains collagen and elastin that provide the skin's support structure; the dermis is a little thicker in men, which gives men's skin a more substantial, sustainable support system. Research shows that the average man's skin begins to thin at age 50.
Second, men have more sebaceous glands, which may stay productive until as late as age 80 (a woman's slacken at menopause). These glands are tiny squirt gun-like structures that secrete oils to the surface of the skin, preventing it from becoming rough and dry, which would make it more apt to show signs of age. Sebaceous glands are attached to hair follicles, which, being more abundant in men, result in more body and facial hair.
Shaving gives men a further edge in the aging game. Each time a man shaves he exfoliates, removing dead cells from the skin's surface layer and exposing new ones. This increased cell turnover is what gives skin its clarity, even tone and smooth texture.
Suddenly, men want smooth, even-toned skin. Among men, chemical facial peeling is the most common dermatological cosmetic surgery procedure after liposuction. In 1994, 36,300 American men had chemical facial peels (to the tune of $44 million) and 16,650 had dermabrasion (totaling $11 million.) Both are in-office procedures that resurface the skin. Also popular is a new resurfacing technique done with a laser. Real men now want their faces to feel like a baby's bottom.
Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey and Jean Claude Van Damme are a few that do. They are regulars at the Beverly Hills branch of the Georgette Klinger salon (one of nine nationwide), where more than 25 percent of the customers who go for facials and anti-aging treatments are men. For more than 50 years, Georgette Klinger's method has been based on her philosophy of individualized skin care. Clients get their own "prescription" based on their skin's needs, not on gender. Klinger does sell five products designed specifically for men, including a scrub mask, pre-shave softener, shaving treatment cream and an aftershave balm. The company sells more than 25 different cleansers and 15 moisturizers, for both women and men.
Recently, Klinger introduced her newest products: "Advanced Oxygen Moisturizer" containing vitamin esters of A, C, E and beta carotene, and "Advanced Oxygen Facial Mask," made with alpha hydroxy acids (exfoliating agents derived from fruit, sugar and milk acids, said to reduce wrinkling by dissolving bonds that hold dead cells to the skin), amino acids and collagen.
To emphasize the importance of oxidating the skin, Lawrence Farber, the company's senior vice president who oversees research and development, explains, "At the age of 40, our skin probably has about half the oxygen it once had." Oxygen is necessary for skin respiration, which helps nourish the cells, aids in the elimination of skin impurities and assists in the war against free radicals.
The term "free radicals" comes up in almost any conversation on health and aging. Along with sun exposure, free radicals are now known to be one of the primary instigators of aging skin. The same oxidation process that causes iron to rust occurs inside our bodies. Free radicals are the body's "rust." An overabundance of free radicals can attack and break down body cells. Certain nutrients called antioxidants fight back by latching onto the free radicals and sabotaging their destructive ability.
Antioxidants are the newest ingredients to be hailed by the skin care industry as effective age retardants. Among a group of powerful antioxidants that prevent the formation of free radicals are vitamins C, E and beta carotene, which are all turning up in the most high-tech anti-aging creams.
Topical vitamin C is one of the trendiest free radical fighters. Applied to the skin, it is said to induce skin cells to produce collagen, the skin-supporting fibrous protein that thins with age. More collagen underneath results in smoother, firmer, younger-looking skin on the surface.
Topical C is a nonprescription, unisex "cosmeceutical" (beauty product with druglike effects). It is available in serum form (Cellex-C), capsule form (Anew Formula C Facial Treatment Capsules by Avon) and in a hermetically sealed powder by La Prairie. Brandt says men like it because, unlike Retin-A, which you can't use in the sun, C comes with neither caveats nor known side effects. A study at Duke University Medical School found that Cellex-C, which is applied on the skin, delivered 20 times more vitamin C to the skin than the body absorbs when it is taken orally.
Some doctors advocate oral dietary supplements. "I don't think you can approach the skin issue just externally. You must focus on what's happening internally as well, by maintaining a sufficient level of antioxidants in your system," says Raphael Kellman, a New York internist who founded The Center for Progressive Medicine and tends to treat illnesses with vitamins and herbs. He recommends internal dosages of vitamins C, E and beta carotene, which function as antioxidants, the herb gotukola to improve skin texture and clarity, and grape seed extract to increase intracellular vitamin levels. "Taken in combination, they work synergistically to help prevent the ravages of aging," Kellman says.
Skin--the one suit you never take off--is the largest organ in the body. So it would seem sensible to treat it both ways: from the inside out and from the outside in.
Women have, of course, been pampering their skin on the outside for ages. In recent history, men have not. But there are more and more gels, balms and lotion-potions on the market that claim to enrich the washing and shaving processes.
"We must look at men as distinctly different creatures with different habits, who've been brought up differently from women," says Sharon Rader of Unilever Research U.S., speaking last November at a skin symposium in New Paltz, New York, which was sponsored by beauty product maker Lever Brothers. "Men are taught to get clean and remove the hair from their face."
The most successful companies making for-men-only products acknowledge that men are creatures of the wash-and-shave habit, and are banking on their ability to persuade men to take the next steps: moisturize and protect. Men may be won over on the necessity of using sunscreen while out in the sun, but they still aren't sold on the importance of its routine daily use. Brandt says, "I tell men to put on an SPF 15 sunscreen every morning, just like they brush their teeth."
Cosmetics industry marketers presume men want quick-fix, no-nonsense, reasonably priced, multipurpose products they feel comfortable using. Perhaps that's why self-tanning products sell well: you get a big healthy glow from just a little lotion.
The biggest slices of the fast-growing $100 million-plus men's skin-care pie belong to Ralph Lauren's Polo Sport Skin Fitness and Clinique's Skin Supplies for Men. Both offer streamlined products that fit into a simple three-step system.
The Polo Sport "Team," is a four-item line with in-your-face names: SCRUB, SHAVE, LOTION and FACE FITNESS AHA (a moisturizing, protective alpha hydroxy acid formula with a SPF 8 that they dub their "do-everything-you-need-to-have-done-to-your face-in-one-product").
"These products are about a new definition of personal presentation as it relates to health and fitness," says Camille McDonald, senior vice president of marketing and creative services at Ralph Lauren fragrances. "It is about architecting your body, and going for a fitness of mind, body and soul." It's hard to believe that four small, fragrance-free tubes can do so much.
Clinique's line basically consists of its highly successful women's products repackaged to be more user-friendly to men. Cleverly, Clinique tagged the men's line "Skin Supplies," giving it the connotation that these are tools necessary to get the job done. The twice daily three-step regime entreats you to: cleanse (with "Face Soap"), exfoliate (using "Scruffing Lotion") and lubricate (with either "M Lotion" or "Turnaround Lotion"). The line also includes an eye cream ("Daily Eye Benefits") and an aftershave soother ("Post Shave Healer").
Joshua, a 40-year-old actor and Partagas aficionado, gave the products a try. "I've been using the Turnaround Lotion," he says, pointing to the phrase "de-ages skin's appearance" on the tube. "But I still feel 40." Kidding aside, men really do expect products to live up to their names and claims.
Men are used to evaluating things based on their performance, from mutual funds to cars to ball clubs. The men's grooming business hinges on the same standards. After trying the Aramis Lab Series line, 43-year-old Ken's initial comment was, "Once I blotted it, [the Sharp Shooter Anti-Oxidant Vitamin Lotion] performed great."
When it comes to anti-aging, keywords are repair, replace and renew if you want results, results, results. Men do. The Lab Series for Men Sharp Shooter Lotion tube declares, "READY to fight the effects of yesterday. AIM to battle today's signs of aging. FIRE away fine lines for firmer, healthier looking skin tomorrow." The graphic logo on the box is a target. And the other moisturizer in the line is called Lift Off! Moisture Formula. This is Space Age skin care meeting the needs of every good goal-oriented American male.
Nancy Wolfson is a former beauty editor on Glamour, Redbook, Parents and Seventeen.