MOST men consider shaving a chore worthy of Sisyphus, who was damned to push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down. No matter whether your five o’clock shadow shows by lunchtime or you need a razor only once every 48 hours, shaving can be hell.
“It’s a wonderful irony,” said Eric Malka, a founder of the Art of Shaving, a national chain of barbershops. “Young people can’t wait to do adult things and see shaving as a rite of passage into manhood. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to avoid it.”
At 29, Anthony Pilowa is already fed up. “It’s a repetitive, daily frustration,” said Mr. Pilowa, a manager of clinical trials at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. “I really look forward to the weekends when I can have a couple of days without the shaving.”
What man doesn’t? Shaving has its perils: ingrown hairs, irritation, razor burn and bumps. And like death and taxes, facial-hair growth is unavoidable for men. But that hasn’t stopped companies like Clarins and Lab Series from offering ways to delay the inevitable.
In the last two years, a bevy of after-shaves and night treatments that promise to slow the appearance of stubble have hit the market. They don’t help shavers kick the habit, just reduce how often their four-blade must be used.
Some hair retardants have sold well. Sales of Clarins Men Skin Difference, which promises to slow beard growth and improve skin texture, have increased by 10 percent since its January debut, and the oil now ranks third among the company’s 16 men’s products. Another beard-slower, Origins for Men Fire Fighter Plus after-shave, accounted for an 11.4 percent boost in sales of the Origins nine-product male line in 2007.
Others have yet to find their footing. Released in 2005, Clinique Skin Supplies for Men Post-Shave Soother Beard Control Formula still isn’t a top seller, a company spokeswoman said.
Still, many of the hirsute are clamoring for a reprieve. “A number of men come into our stores requesting ways to slow beard growth,” Mr. Malka said.
Three weeks after slathering on Clarins Men Skin Difference, Mr. Pilowa, who suffered from ingrown hairs and prodigious growth, said it improved his skin. “My five o’clock shadow shows up around 10 or 11 at night,” said Mr. Pilowa, who also has fewer ingrown hairs.
Steven Horn, a director of international merchandising for Converse, said Lab Series for Men Triple Benefit Post-Shave Remedy was a face-saver on long overseas flights. “When I land 20 hours later, I don’t look like I need a shave,” Mr. Horn, 36, said. “I used to have to shave again once I reached my hotel and that was irritating to my skin, but now I can just go.”
The products rely on plant extracts that interfere with the growth in the follicles that produce facial hair, manufacturers say. One common ingredient saw palmetto, an extract of the dwarf palm tree inhibits the enzyme responsible for converting the hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, which regulates hair growth.
“The funny thing is that saw palmetto actually promotes hair growth on the head,” said Tom Mammone, the executive director of research for Clinique. Blocking the hormone in the follicles on your face can slow hair growth while having the opposite reaction if applied to the scalp, Mr. Mammone explained.
Palmatine, a plant extract, is another common ingredient in hair-growth delayers. Its exact function is unknown, but product developers like Clarins suggest it slows the division of cells responsible for creating hair.
The new slew of hair-slowing options doesn’t impress some dermatologists. “There is a lot of discussions involving these products and little actual scientific research to substantiate the claims,” said Dr. Neil Sadick, a clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.
“Saw palmetto is a weak enzyme inhibitor, so theoretically it might slow hair growth on the face,” Dr. Sadick said. “But it has never been proven to work that way.”
And palmatine? If in fact it does hamper the division of cells responsible for hair growth, then, Dr. Sadick said, it would be similar to Vaniqa, the only prescription medication of its kind approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Vaniqa is usually prescribed to women with unwanted facial hair.)
Dr. Bradford Katchen, a cosmetic dermatologist in SoHo, remembers a male patient who applied Vaniqa to his beard and experienced patchy hair growth. “Hair-growth-slowing treatments can’t block 100 percent of the enzyme, so a guy’s facial hair wouldn’t have a uniform look,” he said.
Patchiness aside, there’s little harm in men using these products, said Dr. Debra Jaliman, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s an inexpensive technology compared to other treatments like laser hair removal, and seemingly benign,” she said. “Guys with sensitive skin, thick beards or just those who don’t like to shave a lot might like it.”