No Body Hair Left Behind for Men
MARK BRYCE, the operations manager at a semi-trailer dealership in Grand Rapids, Mich., has lost most of the hair on his head, but he is “really good at growing it everywhere else,” particularly on his back, said his wife, Anna, a publicist for Amway. “My husband is blond, so he doesn’t look like a big hairy ape, but he does look like a golden retriever,” she said.
For years, before the couple packed for the beach or a cruise, Ms. Bryce shaved her husband’s back with a razor in the shower. Then one of her colleagues took a job with Remington, the shaver maker, and Ms. Bryce noticed on the company’s Web site a new shaver with a telescoping handle for unaided trimming of back hair. She joked with her former colleague that her husband could use one.
Two months ago, it arrived in the mail.
“It works really well,” Ms. Bryce said. “He doesn’t need my help with that anymore, which is nice because I have a lot of other stuff to do besides shaving my husband’s back.”
As hairless torsos have become the norm for male models and actors, below-the-neck hair removal has gone mainstream. The nascent category of body shavers has surpassed $10 million in annual sales, according to Nielsen data cited by Remington. But many men who aspire to the polished trunks of the “Jersey Shore” men face a dilemma when it comes to their backs: they don’t want to undergo the expense of waxing or laser hair removal but are embarrassed to ask others for assistance.
Enter the extendable Remington Body and Back Groomer, which came out last year and costs $39.99. It’s an update of shorter Remington Body Groomers, which have sold briskly since being introduced in 2005.
To make the next-generation model, Remington conducted studies of men as they wielded various products to trim body hair. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been in a bathroom with a man watching him shave all his body parts,” said Carl Kammer, director of new product development at Remington.
A competing product is the Mangroomer ($49.99), a rechargeable electric trimmer that resembles a back scratcher when fully extended. It was brought to market in 2006 by Brett Marut, a former equities trader, and is now sold in stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Bed, Bath & Beyond. It was, like so many products, created in order to solve a problem for its inventor: while Mr. Marut is no Sasquatch, he did have enough hair on his back that he was “self-conscious about it at the beach,” he said.
And there’s the sort of razor-meets-back-scrubber approach. A product called Razorba, which costs $29.95 to $69.95 (depending on the model), is a hammer-shaped contraption that holds an embedded Gillette razor. It was invented by a video game programmer, Patrick Alphonso. He said that many customers told him that they were not necessarily averse to back hair, but that theirs grew so oddly that they felt compelled to take action. “Some guys get like a Fu Manchu on their backs, and it’s just stupid looking,” Mr. Alphonso said.
Another option for the back is depilatory cream. Nair for Men has been on the market since 2001, and in 2008 the brand introduced a spray version ($6.99) that “allows for no-touch application” for “those hard to reach places such as the back,” according to marketing materials. The Nair for Men line has climbed steadily to about $4.5 million in annual revenue, according to Stacey Feldman, vice president of marketing at Church & Dwight, which makes the Nair products.
Research from Philips Norelco, which makes Bodygroom, a popular body razor, indicates that 47 percent of men use some method of below-the-neck tidying, while among men 18 to 29, 61 percent do. The most popular region to trim, according to the company, is the groin, followed by armpits, chest, and back.
“Women universally are not keen on back hair, and when they talk about men’s bodies that’s one of the least attractive things,” said Rose Cameron, who tracks men’s grooming at the advertising agency Euro RSCG Chicago. “It’s like hair on women’s thighs now — it’s just not done,” she said.
Michael Yagudev, 21, an electrical engineering major at Stony Brook University, uses the Bodygroom on his entire trunk. While “having a hairy body was a little more in style 10 or 20 years ago, now it’s sexy to be more bare,” he said. “The male supermodels are completely bare.”
Mr. Yagudev, who said that he has so much body hair on his untrimmed arms and legs that “mosquitoes can’t reach all the way down to my skin,” took part in a promotional event for Philips Norelco in April. Along with several other men, he appeared shirtless on a stage in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, where the actress Carmen Electra used a Bodygroom to shave his chest.
“It’s a story for the grandkids,” Mr. Yagudev said.
Although the Bodygroom is the size of a conventional trimmer, Mr. Yagudev said he manages to shave his own back because he has long arms, an impossible feat for many. In customer reviews of back-hair removal products on Amazon.com, some men describe their earlier MacGyver-worthy approaches to the task, like taking a razor to a spatula or affixing an electric shaver to a golf putter.
But some men have grown less sheepish about seeking help outside the home.
“Five years ago it was their wives and girlfriends who dragged them in, but now they come of their own volition,” said Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Cambridge, Mass., who does laser hair removal.
Among her steadiest clients for back hair laser removal are male actors, models and professional athletes, especially basketball players, Dr. Hirsch said. “It’s become more socially acceptable for men to care about their appearance,” she said.
At the Grooming Lounge, a men’s hair salon and spa with locations in Washington and McLean, Va., appointments for back waxes, which cost $70, have grown steadily more popular since 2002, when the business was started, said Michael Gilman, a founder.
“We’re packed morning to night with back waxes,” he said. It probably is a help that ESPN is always on and beer is served. But men can still be self-conscious, as Mr. Gilman discovered in the spa’s early days, when he observed an employee greeting a client in the waiting room.
“He said, ‘Hi, I’ll be doing your back wax today,’ and the look on the guy’s face was horrified,” Mr. Gilman said. “Now we just say, ‘My name is Mike, and I’ll be providing your services today,’ whether it’s a haircut, shave, wax or manicure.”
Matt Qureshi, 35, who lives in Washington, gets his back waxed at the Grooming Lounge about three times a year.
“It’s nice to go to a salon and be able to ask to have services done without there being a lot of women there and being put in an embarrassing situation,” said Mr. Qureshi, who works for a technology and security company.
Sometimes he reconnects with fraternity buddies who used to call him Chewbacca.
“I’ll be out boating with guys who have known me for a while, and they’ll say, ‘What happened?’ ” Mr. Qureshi said. “ ‘Did you shed or something?’ ”
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