New York For executive Frederic Mayerson, being pampered is the only time he has to relax.
"It's not about looking good. I look good whether I do this or not," said Mayerson, chairman of The Walnut Group, a venture capital firm with offices in Cincinnati and New York. "It's about feeling good. I work 14-hour days. In order to have a high-speed life, you have to have a bit of balance."
Mayerson was getting primped in a private room at the Avon Centre Salon and Spa at the swank Trump Plaza. While a manicurist was filing his nails, a hairstylist trimmed his gray locks.
Mayerson, who said he's in his early 50s, isn't alone. A growing number of men are turning to upscale salons and retailers' cosmetic counters for some heavy-duty indulgences.
Beyond the basic buzz
That means not just slapping on moisturizers, but also getting their eyebrows tweezed and eyelashes tinted, faces exfoliated and back hair waxed.
As for hairstyling, forget the basic buzz many men now want theirs glossed or tinted. Hair extensions offered at places like Oscar Blandi Salon in New York are gaining in popularity.
Department stores nationwide, including Neiman Marcus, Macy's West, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, are waking up to the new demands from their male customers by expanding their men's skincare offerings like facial creams that conceal wrinkles or reduce shine. And salons are designing packages for time-pressed men.
"Men are getting sensuous and self-indulgent for sure," said Camille Lavington, a New York-based executive image consultant. "And they are no longer embarrassed about it."
In growing demand
Margaret Kimura, a Los Angeles makeup consultant to such celebrities as Tom Hanks and Michael Jordan, sees the phenomenon gaining across all income levels.
"I am seeing firemen and plumbers all interested in skincare treatments," said Kimura, who is launching a unisex cosmetics line this year.
A number of factors are fueling the male narcissistic trend, observers said. For one, the long stock market boom raised affluence and allowed executives to spend lavishly on themselves. Plus, an increasingly cutthroat business environment makes a polished image even more important.
"Appearance is very important for business. It shows you are paying attention to detail," Aaron Newman, 24, who heads Wax Technology, an Internet company in New York. He and a colleague spent a recent lunch break at a salon called La Boite A Coupe to get their hair styled and nails buffed.
"Men are waking up to such pampering. It's less of a stigma," he said. "Anyway, my girlfriend likes it."
Many merchants don't expect the current economic slowdown to dampen sales of the beauty and spa industry any time soon. In fact, some think the weak economy could even help business.
"Recessionary times are when men will want to be even more pampered," said Lia Schorr, who runs a New York-based upscale skincare treatment salon. "Maybe they won't go on an extravagant vacation, but they'll want to get waxed or get a massage."
Schorr's salon offers such services as $500 laser treatments to remove back hair and $75 glycolic facial peels, which use food acids to slough out dry skin.
Not all men want such touchy-feely treatments.
"I get an occasional massage, but I think the rest is kind of ridiculous," Ken Barron, 34, who works in financial services. Barron had just gotten a haircut for $27, including a $5 tip, at a no-frills New York barber shop.
"I went for a really expensive hair cut once, where I was being rubbed and massaged," he said. "It was really kind of embarrassing."
Time for male bonding
Salon owners and retailers are determined to make men feel just as comfortable as women while being attended to.
Elizabeth Arden put TV screens in the men's relaxation areas in its salons at Seaview at the Marriott spa in Seaview, N.J., and La Paloma spa in Tuscon, Ariz., so male clients can track the stock market or sports. The women's areas do not have TVs.
"Men are now bringing their associates to the spas to talk business during a massage, just like on a golf course," said marketing director Dina Keenan, who estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the upscale salon's clients are men, up from 5 to 10 percent two years ago.
"Men in New York, San Francisco and Dallas markets caught on earlier, but our suburban salons are strong, too," she said.
She added that the customers in the urban markets want the most advanced treatments, like oxygen facials. Popular treatments overall are eyebrow waxing, manicures and deep muscle massages.
Bloomingdale's, which is carving out special men's skincare and consultation areas in all its stores this spring, will offer men the opportunity to have private chats in treatment rooms off the main floor.