Father's Day Special: Guys Who Dye

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Do real men color their hair? In a youth-obsessed society filled with lots of middle-aging men, indeed they do. The same boomers who visit plastic surgeons are also seeking the fountain of youth in $6 bottles of peroxide. Barbers serving Viagra cocktails are surely just around the corner.

Sales of hair color for men hit $113.5 million last year, reports Information Resources, Inc., triple the amount a decade ago. One in 12 American men today color their hair, according to NFO Research, and they defy the usual stereotypes. A disproportionate number of guys who dye are in their 30s and 40s, single or divorced, and lead active social lives. They're more likely than average Americans to work out, go to bars, attend the theater, and take adult education courses (like painting and drawing). They tend to be upper-middle-class, but not rich enough to let money alone make a first impression.

"The two reasons men color their hair are the bedroom and the boardroom," says Julie Bohl, director of public relations for Combe, maker of Just For Men and Grecian Formula. "They use hair color because it makes them look younger and more virile when competing on the job and in the dating scene."

This portrait of the upwardly-striving male helps explain the concentration of dyers in the fast-growing markets of the South, West, and Mountain states, as shown in the accompanying map. Residents there are likely to be unattached, college-educated, and mobile-white-collar workers who've followed the migration of jobs westward. In metro areas like Los Angeles, Denver, and Dallas, research shows a strong correlation between population growth and hair-color product sales.

Trend-watcher Roger Selbert notes that men have turned to hair color in response to a changing workplace, filled with young colleagues and superiors, a growing number of whom are female. "In the past, looking older and more experienced was a benefit," says Selbert, who publishes the Century City, California-based Growth Strategies newsletter. "Now, you have to keep up with all the changes in technology and look vigorous and youthful to succeed." As men adapt, sales of other men's products, including cologne and skin moisturizers, are also booming.

With pop culture icons like Dennis Rodman running around with rainbow-colored locks, it's only natural that college students have also gotten into the act. The current NFO survey found that university towns like Gainesville, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Lafayette, Indiana, rank among the nation's top-ten markets for men's hair color. These consumers tend to be students who highlight their hair with psychedelic shades to complement inventive body piercings and baggy shorts.

Hispanic men, who are younger than the general population, also color their hair at surprisingly high rates. One survey found that Hispanics are 50 percent more likely than average Americans to use hair color products. The top two markets on the map are Laredo and El Paso, Texas, both home to large numbers of Hispanics "trying to keep a youthful look," says Combe's Bohl.

Patterns of hair color use also mirror those of other anti-aging products targeted to U.S. men. Our map, for instance, is strikingly similar to one that depicts the 10 percent of American men who want to try Viagra. The prime years for using hair color, from ages 30 to 50, also coincide with the period when most American men visit plastic surgeons-often for preferred procedures like liposuction and eyelifts. This preoccupation with appearance also shows a geographic variance: California, which appears awash in peroxide, is also home to 20 percent of the nation's cosmetic surgery patients. By contrast, you'd be hard pressed to find even a bad dye job among the rural, elderly men who live in the Dakotas and Montana.

With many boomer men facing their salt-and-pepper years, the outlook for hair color is as bright as newly covered gray. The one-time '60s pleasure seekers who got their kicks with sex and drugs now get turned on by massages and manicures. The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that three times as many men got liposuction between 1992 and 1997; the number getting eyelifts doubled. But unlike costly cosmetic surgery, spending a few dollars for a bottle of youth seems like quite the bargain. And for menopausal men, that may really put a swagger in their step.

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