LONDON - Even the most fashion conscious of men saw it as the final taboo. A spot of after-shave balm or moisturiser was one thing, but anything more was for women. Times have changed. British gents are slapping on the slap.
High-street chains are embarking on expansions of their male beauty products and a move beyond mere moisturisers and facial scrubs.
In upmarket department stores, male concealer, eyeliner and foundation are already flying off the shelves. Leading luxury brands such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Clinique and Clarins are scrambling to expand their lines to meet the boom in demand. Beauty for blokes is big business.
The UK male cosmetics market has grown 800 per cent over the past seven years. Chemist chain Boots says it is growing faster than any other beauty sector, and supermarket Tesco says men are responsible for "soaring" sales of hair-removal products.
The logical next step is full-on cosmetics. Chemist Superdrug is preparing to launch a range aimed at men and women, include eyeliner, tinted lip balm and "eyebrow grooming gel".
Jeff Wemyss, Superdrug's beauty director, said men were becoming more comfortable with using products to improve their appearance.
"The merging of lines between beauty for men and women is a global trend that we are picking up on constantly," Wemyss said. "Guys are just getting a lot more confident wearing makeup. Fake tan started it all ... It's in tune with a general vanity drive."
According to market analysts Datamonitor, British men spend £920 million ($2.36 billion) on personal hygiene products each year, including about £65 million on skincare products. The male grooming market is expected to reach £1.5 billion by 2007.
The suppliers, particularly at the top end, are having a field day. Jean Paul Gaultier is enjoying notable success with its male eyeliner, bronzing powder and coloured lip balm.
Clinique has responded swiftly to the trend, offering unisex makeup and a burgeoning men's line.
Julie Howard, vice-president of product marketing, said Clinique was trialling new products for the range.
"In the men's market, we've seen a move from basic skincare to an increase in eyecare, wrinkle care and also lip care," she said. "Makeup is now an eventuality in this category ... The demand is absolutely there ... Many men start borrowing products from their girlfriends or wives, and then go on from there."
According to Gillette, the average man now spends 24 minutes a day on personal grooming. At least one in five now also regularly uses face creams.
At Tesco it's a similar story. The company has pinpointed those aged 15 to 34 at the heart of this upsurge.
Barbara Daly, one of the country's most celebrated makeup artists, has designed a line of products for Tesco. "Guys are paying more attention to themselves, and our expectations are changing.