The myth of the Metrosexual Man might be debunked and his love of exfoliating and moisturising ridiculed (a recent survey showed that just one in five British men is actually enthusiastic about grooming) but one aspect of the men’s beauty market that is powering ahead with macho self-assurance is shaving. Indeed, it has become the driver of the men’s grooming market.

According to Euromonitor, global sales of men’s shaving products – razors, shavers and lotions – were worth $9.4bn world-wide in 2003, with razors and shavers accounting for the lion’s share. Not that such news is surprising: 90 per cent of men shave on a regular basis, and while doing it right can be a pleasurable experience, getting it wrong can be a bloody, uncomfortable chore. Besides, unlike exfoliating and moisturising, it is also unquestionably manly.

Since Wilkinson Sword invented the safety razor in 1898 and a Colonel Shick patented the first electric version in 1931, technical innovation has been unstinting, and the current state of the industry is no different. Indeed, if anything, technology is fast becoming the battleground for this year’s razor wars are being fought.

“Men look for the most technologically advanced products available – whether it’s an MP3 player or a
camera, a mobile phone or a shaver,” says Justine Guest of Philips. Men first started shaving, it is thought, to prevent enemies soldiers from grabbing their beards in during battle, but now the struggle is between dry, electric or wet shaving.

“It has to be a wet shave,” says Mike Mason of Geo F Trumper’s shave school. “It’s cleaner – when you lather, the tips of the brush clean your face and when you shave you exfoliate. An electric shaver tends to mash the hairs without making as clean a cut.” Mason recommends the Gillette Mach3 or the Wilkinson Protector. range for softer hair and younger skin.

Indeed, the Mach3, with its triple blade system, was a huge success, upped slightly by the Mach3 Turbo with reduced friction thanks to a special coating. Competition between the major players is, well, cut-throat and so, not to be out-done, Wilkinson Sword introduced Quattro – with guess how many blades?

“Five blades will happen at some stage,” predicts Nick Powell of Wilkinson Sword, where blades are bombarded with carbon atoms, improving sharpness and longevity.“Comfort is most important to men, followed by closeness.”

Because facial hair varies in its coarseness and direction of growth, the idea is that, with more blades, more hairs are likely to be picked up at a single stroke. These blades then need a sensitive suspension system. “Our blades are atomically thin – in other words just a few thousand atoms thick at the cutting edge,” says Kevin Powell, lab director at Gillette, and former creator of jet engines for Rolls-Royce.

“Human physiology is very complex, so you also need to get the angle and distance between the blades exactly right and be able to mass-produce them by the billion.”

A good pre-shave product also helps reduce friction, but now foams are out, with sales are falling. “They dry the face,” says Alphonsus Modebe of pur:phuel. “We are finding that more men are returning to shaving cream – it feels like a real luxury.”

It is a measure of how dynamic and innovative the shaving market is that despite the dominance of a few main players – Gillette, Wilkinson Sword and Philips – there is still room for a plucky maverick with a good idea. “I’d always suffered awful razor burn,” says Will King, founder of King of Shaves. “One day I was in the bathroom and I asked my girlfriend to chuck over a bottle of her bath oil to see if I could use it to shave.”

He could, he discovered, and from that he developed his shaving oil. Sales have now reached £10m, and King is introducing MagnaGel MME – a shaving preparation containing billions of miniscule tiny magnetised ball-bearings matched with a magnetised razor to ensure the two work together closely.

Meanwhile, the use of moisturisers and shave balms has grown rapidly over the years. “Men are beginning to understand that they need to cleanse their skin properly before they shave,” says Nicholas Ratut of Zirh. “They need to moisturise but also to protect the skin from the elements when it’s still raw. Our Protect lotion, which contains alpha hydroxy acids and avocado oil, is one of our best-selling products.”

Three quarters of men wet-shave but electric shaver manufacturers makers have been working hard to catching up. Panasonic and Remington have produced a washable shaver that can be used in the shower. Philips has introduced Turbovac, which vacuums up stubble. Foil covering is the main area of innovation. Philips’ Sensotec offers nine different settings depending on hair thickness and length. Braun boasts of a “mathematical formula” with different holes and directions offering “20 different hair-catapulting opportunities”.

One of the biggest barriers to the use of electric shavers is dryness, so electric razors which ooze moisturiser are a new foray into the wet-shave market. Braun’s FreeGlider automatically dispenses Gillette’s Protective Lotion. The Philishave Cool Skin has a collaboration with Nivea for Men as well as its contoured surface, which aims for that much sought after wet-shave closeness.

“I used to use a traditional razor but now you can get such a good, close shave from an electric shaver and it’s much more convenient,” says Gareth Mead, a local government officer from west London. On the other hand,But wet shaves still have their fans. “It feels cleaner and my skin seems to take less of a bashing,” says William Hall, a management consultant.

The current vogue for elaborate beards has presented the electric shaver market with a new challenge and business opportunity. Forty six per cent of men aged 25-34 trim their beard every day, according to Remington, while Braun has recently introduced an electric shaver with a carefully engineered, manoeuvrable beard trimmer. En garde.

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