Man in the seaweed mask

The Herald ‘Health & Wellbeing’ supplement
Men’s Health section

I’m glad to note that the small circular pads being placed gently onto my eyes are not in fact slices of cucumber. I can’t stand cucumber, and I’ve only ever seen women wearing them. Not that I should be worried about appearing girly.

Lots of men apply face masks nowadays, or so I’m told. Facials are healthy, they’re de-stressing and they take years off you. (Though I could also say much the same of walking my dog.) So why, I wondered, as I sat in the light and airy waiting area at Stobo Castle, Scotland’s premier destination spa, was I entirely surrounded by women in bathrobes? If that didn’t make me conspicuous enough, my own robe would have looked large on Pavarotti and I appeared to be the only person present who’d forgotten his slippers.

My treatment specialist, Elizabeth, does her best to reassure me. She moves around the dimly-lit room quietly and explains everything she does and what I should expect at each stage of the process. This, I learn, is the first rule of spa treatment: keep your client well informed so that they are never jolted from their relaxed state. “Oh yes,” she says when I enquire, “we have people of all ages here”, adding – perhaps a little too tactfully – “and people of every shape and size.” I know she’s right, and I shouldn’t be so self-conscious but this last comment only serves to remind me that my particular treatment (a massage and facial combination that goes by the classy title of Marine Spa Prestige) is designed to be anti-ageing.

But that’s precisely why men of all ages are taking up pampering treatments of this kind, says John Stapleton, General Manager of the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St. Andrews. “They’re used by the successful man who feels he’s got to look youthful and on the ball. Massages have always been popular with men; now they have them regularly as part of a de-stressing lifestyle, and not just once in a while.” And what Stapleton suggests is also changing is the growing range of services being taken up by men – facials, certainly, but also manicures, pedicures and wet shaves. “Thirty years ago, my father would go and have a wet shave and a manicure. That’s now returning.”

In 2006, the Old Course Hotel will add the traditional wet shave to its list of treatments for men, in line with Gleneagles which has just launched the same service to complement such manly-sounding offerings as ‘The Laird’s Remedy’ (a full-body massage and detox treatment). Being rather attached to my beard, this is not something I’m ever likely to experience, but when I ask car and bike enthusiast Stephen about his recent wet shave treatment, he raves about it. “I’ve never had such a fantastic close shave in all my life. It was as smooth as a baby’s bum.” No quick lather and Gillette job this. A birthday present from his daughter, Stephen lovingly recalls every detail of his visit to the barber at Edinburgh’s Jenners store: the towels, the oils and, it has to be said, the attractive female in charge of operations.

Moreover, Stephen would happily try other pampering treatments, such as the full-body massage he’s bought for the women in his life. James, on the other hand – a thirty-something civil servant – is more sceptical. “If it’s not for a sore back, then what’s the point?” In any case, he adds, “you need premises, trained staff, time – it’s inherently expensive” A wet shave, yes, but anything else is a waste of his money.

Not everyone thinks so. At my side, Elizabeth is mixing up a face mask mixture (“you don’t mind the smell of seaweed do you?”). She is sure that more men now visit Stobo, putting it down in part to the recently developed health facilities also on offer. Lest this suggests simply the re-emergence in luxury guise of the traditional workout-and-massage combo, it’s worth noting that male grooming products are beginning to outsell female products in the UK, according to that sharp-eyed observer of fashion trends, the British Council. One recent survey suggests that men now spend £11.5 million a year on grooming products. Five years ago, that figure was just £1.5 million.

John Stapleton readily acknowledges that these pampering trends are not for everyone. He knows plenty of people who’d have to be tied down before they let anyone near their toe nails. He also believes, however, that where America goes, the UK will eventually follow. The “teeth brigade” used only to be in the States, he says, but that gleaming Osmonds smile is increasingly sought after over here, too. “Even interventive surgery is on the horizon – taking out face lines and so on.” Increasingly, he predicts, we’ll see relationships developing between spas and surgeons.”

And to think that pampering used to be a squirt of Fairy Liquid in the bath. I’ll stick to my anti-ageing facial, I think – or even just walking the dog.