The secret history of the Irish male: the salon

 

Men aren't exactly storming that bastion of female indulgence, the beauty salon, but the number looking for beauty treatments is on the increase. Good grooming, once an extra asset for men, is coming to be seen as an essential part of their everyday lives. Many men now view getting a bit of help from the beauty salon, not as a once-off indulgence or something to be coy about, but a practical way to ensure they get on in the marketplace.

That said, it's not that easy to find salons that are unisex, since some are reluctant to advertise treatments available for men. The ones that do advertise take great care to make sure the calls are genuine. Beauty salons receive a lot of phone calls from men who appear to confuse their treatments with some of the sex services advertised in the racier magazines.

Heidi Jane's salon in Malahide, Co Dublin, used to advertise treatments for men but found they were keener on coming in the evenings for body massage than for beauty treatments. "It's just asking for trouble taking them," Heidi says. Now, like a lot of other salons, they tend only to see men recommended by their women clients. They also have a lot of male European and American visitors who see the sign and come in asking for waxing and manicures. These men, Heidi says, are more used to having beauty treatments than Irish men and would be very surprised if she said she couldn't deal with them.

Foreign visitors also make up a lot of the male trade at Buttercups in the Powerscourt Town House centre, Dublin, which also has a regular Irish male clientele. Debbie Wynne, just back from working in Australia, says the beauty business for men is a big thing Down Under. "Australian men really care about grooming. Fifty per cent of my clients there were male. But since I've been back in Dublin I've noticed a big increase in the number of men coming to the salon for treatments like waxes, facials, pedicures and manicures. They're mostly businessmen who need to be well turned out, although we do notice an increasing number of men who work in offices in the area coming in. The big thing men want in Dublin is red vein treatment."

Virgine Claire, a Frenchwoman who has opened a salon in Harold's Cross, Dublin, thinks that French men are much more concerned about grooming and skincare than Irish men but she has some hope for the latter. "Irish men are beginning to take more care about their appearance and are increasingly coming to us for facials, manicures and waxing - mainly for the eyebrows and back of the hands."

Virgine uses essential oils which she says "ensure deep relaxation of both mind and body". She recommends an Indian head massage for releasing tension around the head, neck and shoulder area.

While Virgine welcomes men to the salon who have been recommended by her female clientele, she now employs a man to give body massage to other men. "When men come for full body massage we always have a problem with them," she says. "They have a funny idea about what body massage is. Now I have a male practitioner who does shiatsu (finger-pressure massage).

It comes as a bit of a surprise to find that men worry just as much about their bodies when going on holiday as women do, which accounts for the popularity of back and chest waxing. Jennifer Naughton in the Baggot Beauty Clinic says: "Men don't like to have a heavy growth on their backs when they're exposed to all and sundry on the beach. We don't advertise that it's a unisex salon so therefore avoid a lot of requests for that `extra something'. " They have no trouble attracting men to take their treatments because of the number of offices in the area. "Women pass on the word about the various treatments on offer and although the guys are a little shy and embarrassed on their first visit, by the second they have no problem."

One of the few salons that do advertise treatments for men is the Skin Treatment Clinic run by Ethna Casey at Haddington Road, Dublin. Forty per cent of their clients are male. They say that the fact that it's a medical clinic tends to screen out a lot of men who might otherwise phone with strange requests. Their most popular treatments for men are laser hair removal, red vein treatment, massage and waxing. They have a male masseur and female masseuse and don't mind offering a full body massage, since the clinic has plenty of people about and the masseuses are never left on their own.

In Donnybrook, Rosanna Crothers also advertises its treatments for men and women. It says the number of men coming for facials, red vein treatment and hair removal is growing and put it down to the availability of new, unisex beauty products. They say it's now the thing for women to bring in their partners.