Manicures (pun intended) are one of the more 'accepted' beauty treatments for men.
Photograph: Cultura/Rex Features
Certainly, among all the men I spoke to there seems to be a sense of upping one's game in the grooming stakes. Like shaving, manicures have always been one of the less stigmatised areas of male grooming. "They're one of the more 'accepted' treatments for men", says Helena Biggs, of nail industry magazine Scratch. "A businessman with well-groomed, clean hands gives a far better impression while shaking hands with a client than one with dirty fingernails and chapped cuticles." Mark Smith, who runs a blog called the Spa Man dedicated to male spa treatments, agrees that there's a competitive aspect to it. "You take a look around any urban setting and guys look good, they take pride in their appearance and dress really well and have maintained their hairstyle, beard or tache," he says. "That may be different in the regional parts of the UK. But in any metropolitan city, guys groom. It's aspirational." Grooming is in fact booming everywhere in the UK – it's just that salons in the north-east and north-west are reporting that men tend to favour fake tanning treatments slightly over a wax.
If indeed men are feeling increasingly competitive when it comes to grooming, what impact is it having on self-confidence and body image? "Magazines continually present the perfect image of masculinity," says Mark, "but it's more complex than simply wanting to look like celebrity X … the aesthetic pressure is different [to other pressures]. It's more self-imposed than coming from outside influences." Thom Watson, of the male makeup blog Man Face, is a skincare specialist. "Spots are one of the most common concerns among men, and yet there is no education about it." He highlights adverts on television in which the spotty guy is always portrayed as the loser. "The new cosmetic ranges, such as Tom Ford's, don't play on insecurities so much." Instead, brands such as this position grooming as a luxury endeavour for the modern man who takes pride in his appearance. "It's about time guys stepped up", he says.