Yes, Virginia, Men Can Go to the Spa

Maybe we're returning to the ancient Roman tradition of bathing as male ritual. One million annual tourists still visit the site of the Great Bath in Bath, England.
Maybe we're returning to the ancient Roman tradition of bathing as male ritual. One million annual tourists still visit the site of the Great Bath in Bath, England.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

What's the difference between a "manicure" and a "nail treatment"?

It's the difference between being teased by the guys and simply being a relaxed, well-groomed man. A thin line, perhaps, but a significant one if you're a guy who loves a good spa day.

In the last decade, spas have gone from being the exclusive domain of women to providing a full menu of treatments tailored specifically to the needs of men. And as the "metrosexual" trend goes increasingly mainstream, men are embracing the experience: The International Spa Association reports that men now constitute about a third of all spa-goers.

Perhaps we're returning to the ancient Roman (and Nordic and Turkish) tradition of bathing as male ritual, where soft-skinned men were men and where one's mode of cleaning up was a matter of rank.

Or maybe guys are just discovering the deep joy that is the facial.

Either way, the spa experience has entered the male realm, and the result (or maybe the cause) is a menu of tantalizing treatments designed with a man's body in mind -- treatments with words like "camouflage" and "golf" in their names...

Take a Load Off

Is it more acceptable if that deep shoulder rub is called a "golfers' massage"?
Is it more acceptable if that deep shoulder rub is called a "golfers' massage"?
Photo courtesy of NIH.gov

Outside of L.A., and maybe inside it, too, "manscaping" can be something of a punch line. But the fact is, lots of women love their men waxed clean, and where there is an admiring woman there is usually at least one willing man.

In this case, there are lots of them. Men are, if not flocking, then at least heavily trickling in to spas to have their backs (among other areas) waxed, shaved or lasered into a smooth, neat manscape. But the man's hair removal menu, which typically includes the traditional barbershop hot-towel shave, with spa-type additions like botanical oils to soften bristly facial hair, is just one of the categories of male spa treatments.

Traditionally female favorites like facials, manicures and other skin-and-beauty services have been tweaked, to varying degrees, to accommodate the male patron, treatments like:

  • Manicure -- It's "hand-detailing" or a "nail treatment," and it ends with buffing instead of polishing.
  • Cellulite treatment/body wraps -- It typically targets male "problem areas" like the abdomen, rather than the female bane, the thighs. (The "ab wrap" at SIR spa in Chicago, for instance, will "enhance your workout results.")
  • Male facial -- It often comes in a "backne" version and might have hotter towels than they use on the gals, to open up a man's rough-'n'-tough pores.
  • Hair color -- It's to "camouflage" gray, not "color" or "dye" hair.

And then there is the wide variety of massages -- Swedish, Ayurvedic, hot-stone -- to ease the tensions of the work day, the golf course, the gym, the carrying out the trash and recycling. The scent of lilies is replaced with sandalwood, and they're called "golfers' massages," or "shoulder and back rubs." Some spas claim to offer greater pressure in the man's version of the treatment, and all offer masseuses (female masseurs) to alleviate the possible discomfort of being rubbed by another guy.

Massage, especially one intended to loosen sports-sore muscles, is one of those "spa things" that reminds us that guys have actually been going to the spa for stress-relief forever, and in groups to boot. Only they've been calling it "a steam," "a sweat," or maybe "a shvitz." The real difference we see now is the environment in which that male relaxation is happening. It's the typical "spa" ambiance that has encouraged an all-female vibe. That's where spas have made the most serious adjustments for male clientele.

Have a Shot

Many men get their first taste of spa luxury with their partners as a part of a couple's package.
Many men get their first taste of spa luxury with their partners as a part of a couple's package.
Caroline von Tuempling/Iconica/Getty Images

The wafting scent of potpourri is not, perhaps, a man-magnet. But men love a good doting-on as much as the ladies do, and many spas are trading the flowers for flat-screen TVs to show men that "pampered" doesn't mean "girlie."

Spas calling themselves unisex have toned down the goddess vibe in terms of décor and accoutrements, opting for "modern and sparse" or "warm and neutral" -- anything simultaneously posh and gender-neutral. Other spas have gone all the way to the all-men extreme and might as well have a "No Girls Allowed" sign on the door, sporting TVs set on sports and money channels, leather chairs, cigar lounges and fully stocked bars.

There are spas that have billiard tables, spas where a shot of hard liquor accompanies the back-wax package, spas where you walk into the "locker room" to find buckets of ice-cold beer. The American Male spa chain features sports-memorabilia décor, and the Nickel Spa in Manhattan looks like the inside of a sub (and calls laser hair removal and wrinkle-reduction "Tech Treatments").

Catering to the man's man is paying off, with new men's spas popping up wherever there are men willing to break the taboo -- which in many cases has already been accomplished via an insisted-upon Valentine's couple's package. Men who would have never set foot in a spa on their own, dragged in by a wife or girlfriend against their will, have found out they like it and, with the rise of the men-only spa, that it can be as much a manly endeavor as a workout or a trip to the barber.

Metropolitan cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas are prime locations to find some good male pampering. But with the increasing focus on stress relief for health (some health insurance plans cover massage) and the spreading metrosexual revolution, before we know it, men's spas could be dotting the heartland like so many windmills. Cowboys need clear pores, too.

For more information on men's spas, including how to find the right one for you or your guy, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Eldor, Karin. "Spas For Guys: Can You Handle It?" AskMen. (Sept. 14, 2010)http://www.askmen.com/fashion/trends_60/61_fashion_men.html
  • "History of Ancient Roman Baths." KET Distance Learning.http://www.dl.ket.org/latin2/mores/baths/history/page02.htm
  • "Men's spas: What's new on the menu?" Revolution Health. Dec. 5, 2006. (Sept. 14, 2010)http://www.revolutionhealth.com/healthy-living/mens-health/mirror/grooming/salons
  • Ohlendorf, Cory. Reviews of Day Spas for Men." Washingtonian. July 1, 2006. (Sept. 14, 2010)http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/shopping/2008.html
  • Spa LUXE Men's Menu. (Sept.14, 2010)http://www.spa-luxe.com/spa/mensvc.shtm
  • Swanson, David. "Men Enjoying Spa Treatments, Too." Dallas News. Sept. 6, 2008. (Sept. 14, 2010)http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/fea/travel/thisweek/stories/DN-manspa_0504tra.ART.State.Edition1.1c32254.html
  • Wynne, Terry. "New day spas create 'manly' niche for men." MSNBC. June 16, 2005. (Sept. 14, 2010)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8215550