June 03 2011
Cary Grant, Serge Gainsbourg, Steve McQueen: the classic, timeless icons of male style and charisma. Can you imagine any of them asking for a brow lift? That their looks came with crow’s-feet, brows furrowed with brooding intensity, the hint of a chin not entirely chiselled all added to their character, and even their sex appeal. But as much as some may cling to the adage that men improve with age, recent figures show that we increasingly believe otherwise: more and more are turning to plastic surgery and non-surgical dermatological procedures in an attempt to turn back the years or at least hold them at bay and/or iron out the flaws in the next frontier of male image maintenance.
According to figures released in January by BAAPS (The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons), 10 per cent of cosmetic surgical procedures carried out in the UK last year were performed on men. A relative drop in the ocean of nips and tucks, yes, but the year-on-year rise is significant, particularly considering the recent state of the economy. Overall, male cosmetic surgery demonstrated a year-on-year rise of seven per cent in 2010, with rhinoplasty (nose procedures) among men rising by 13 per cent in the past year, while eyelid surgery is up nearly six per cent.
And it’s not just surgery. One of the world’s pre-eminent aesthetic doctors (those who perform non-surgical “rejuvenation” procedures), Jean-Louis Sebagh, estimates that the number of men requesting Botox (both in his practice and those of other doctors) has increased by roughly 10 per cent in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, a recent study by pharmaceutical giant Allergan showed that though the vast majority of procedures are carried out on women, when it comes to considering a treatment the numbers are more even between the sexes: 12 per cent of men think about undergoing a facelift or injectable treatment on a weekly, or more frequent, basis, compared with 13 per cent of women, while in Italy and Germany two per cent more men than women are weighing the decision; in France men came out four per cent higher.
These figures beg the question: why? And more importantly, why now? Beverly Hills-based surgeon Dr Greg Mueller suggests that the current economic climate may be playing its part. “In my practice, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of men who are in the process of seeking a new job, or a new career, coming in to improve their facial appearance,” he says. “Many of the 40- to 50-year-old displaced executives I see as patients are competing with men almost half their age for the same job. They want to look young, rested and ambitious.”
A patient of Dr Sebagh’s echoes this sentiment. “I work in an industry that is focused on having your finger on the pulse,” says a screenwriter in his 50s who had Botox a year ago after consulting his wife, herself a patient of Dr Sebagh. “With new blood coming in in droves, the risk of looking out of touch, of not being with it, is the death knell in my line of work, and turning 50 I felt vulnerable. It’s an investment.”
Ah, yes; investment. It’s a word that peppers many conversations, by both men and women, on the topic. “Men definitely view [such procedures] as an investment that will last for a year, five years, 10 years,” says Dr Nicholas Lowe, a dermatologist with practices in London and Southern California. “For a relatively small amount of money, they can manipulate the way they look for the better.” Liverpool-based cosmetic surgeon Kevin Hancock has also noticed a change: “Men are becoming aware of what’s available, and what will last them.”
In the same manner that it’s been proved that men shop differently to women, buying more expensive items with less frequency (the Dunhill suit every couple of years as opposed to multiple forays to favourite boutiques), so too the new frontier of men’s maintenance means that in lieu of myriad creams and facials, they’re more liable to turn to costlier procedures to fight ageing, change the contour of a jawline and reduce bags under their eyes. And they go about it differently from women, too. “Men tend to do a huge amount of research online to learn about surgeons and procedures, while women talk to each other about cosmetic options,” says Mueller. “Men do not have the social support system that women have, or the comfort level with [the topic].” Dr Sebagh, meanwhile, offers another observation. “Generally men are easier patients,” he says. “Once they have made the decision to have a treatment, they’re usually happy to leave the decision [as to which is most appropriate] to me without much further discussion or questioning.”
And the hallmark of a good investment is, of course, value for money, which is arguably at the root of why men appear increasingly to choose the tougher stuff over the cosmetics-counter offerings. As one 60-something who’s had surgical and dermatological work puts it, “There’s only so much that anti-ageing creams, serums and exfoliants can do for us. I wanted something permanent and I wanted people to notice a difference immediately. And there’s the financial factor: for one whack of money I can put right what 100 pots of Crème De La Mer can’t. So in the long run, it’s more effective and less expensive.”
And what exactly is it that men are investing in? Dr Lowe cites the efficiency of having what he terms “combination non-invasive treatments, carried out with caution” – in essence, opting for a cocktail of minor corrections as opposed to a sledgehammer-style full lift. “I do think men view [procedures] as a sort of physical MOT,” he says, adding that if there is any scarring – say, at the jaw or hairline – it is harder for men to hide than women, who can conceal the telltale effects of a lift in ways (make-up, hairstyling) that men generally can’t.
Lowe knows of what he speaks: men account for 20 per cent of his client base, a percentage that’s doubled since he began practising 16 years ago and which, he reports, has spiked in the past year. It’s a similar story in the office of Mueller, who, thanks to a patented procedure called iGuide that has a minimum recovery time and few visible side effects (more on this later), counts his client base at 60 per cent men, ranging from actors to corporate executives. Hancock notes that cosmetic surgery and non-cosmetic “rejuvenation” procedures among men are no longer limited to an élite sphere. “I get clients from all professions, all backgrounds,” he says. “They’re more aware than before that it isn’t hugely expensive – for the price of a holiday a man can change a couple of things he doesn’t like about his appearance, with lasting effect.”
Another factor? “Procedures and recovery times are now much quicker,” says Lowe; the administration of now-routine treatments such as Botox (from £300) has been perfected for minimal downtime, while new technology addresses problems that before required the knife, and is as often as not targeted to unique male ageing issues. “Our radio frequency treatment addresses [non-surgically] the onset of early jowl development” – something that tends to be more prevalent in ageing men than women – “very effectively”. The patented ThermaCool CPT (Comfort Plus Technology system, from £1,500) tightens skin using radiofrequency to heat collagen fibres within the epidermis, causing them to contract and stimulating cell growth. Discomfort is minimal, and so is recovery time.
Mueller, meanwhile, has developed and patented the iGuide procedure (from around £3,000), whereby a suture can be delivered through a needle-sized puncture, allowing the over-sewing of the underlying muscles and effectively creating a “tent” that elevates sagging skin on and around the chin and jawline. This acts like a lift in almost every way, but leaves little swelling and can be completed without general anaesthesia.
Indeed, what was once an area of little consequence to men, or was sufficiently rarefied as to be off their radar, is, as Sebagh observes, rapidly becoming part of their common culture. No stranger to the pressure of keeping one’s edge in the workplace and the public eye, entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice Lord Sugar has spoken openly about his decision in 2007 to undergo surgery to lift his eyelids, although he maintained that the impetus was less to do with vanity and rather a practical solution to prevent droopy skin impeding his vision while pursuing his hobby of flying Learjets.
And for those who want to go beyond the cocktail into major alteration territory? What’s clear is that the paradigm of men investing in the pursuit of improved, more youthful looks is shifting away from associations with the Modern Prometheus (or, latterly, the Mutated Movie Idol) and far more towards that everyman beside us in the lift, on the way to the executive suite. “I think it’s very telling that the two surgical procedures experiencing the most growth with men [nose jobs and breast-tissue reductions] are cosmetic,” says Newby Hands, health and beauty director of UK Harper’s Bazaar magazine. “Something like rhinoplasty is incredibly obvious; unless you lie and say you were floored in a fight, your colleagues and friends will know you’ve had a nose job. What’s interesting is that men are willing to let that be known and embrace [cosmetic] surgery.”
Which leaves one wondering: who will be the Cary Grants and Humphrey Bogarts for future generations? Time will tell; just perhaps not on their faces.