Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Forget toiletries. One of the fastest-growing beauty categories for men these days is hair color.
A few years ago, the category consisted of Combe’s Just for Men and Grecian Formula brands. But these days, the powerhouses of the women’s color market are also betting on the boys.
The men’s hair color business — along with home hair coloring in general — has been building for the past five years, but has experienced particularly strong growth in the past two, said Carol Hamilton, deputy general manager for L’Oreal.
“There are 13 million men coloring their hair today,” said Hamilton. “Since 1996, 4.4 million new men have begun buying hair color. And many of them have come into the category in the last year or two.” By contrast, Hamilton said, about 60 million women use hair color; these figures include women who color their hair at home and in the salon.
“The category has been growing like crazy. Lately, it has outpaced all other men’s grooming items, except razor blades,” said Laureen Schroeder, product manager for Clairol’s two men’s brands, Natural Instincts for Men and Men’s Choice. Men also buy color more frequently than women do, she said. “Men buy 10 to 12 boxes of hair color yearly, on average,” said Schroeder. “On the other hand, women buy four to six boxes a year.”
According to the consumer marketing firm A.C. Nielsen, the men’s hair color category racked up $130 million in retail sales at food stores, drugstores and mass market outlets for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 22 — an increase of 13.5 percent over the previous year’s figures.
“And men’s acceptance of hair color in general is increasing,” said Schroeder. “Our research shows that 64 percent of men find it acceptable to color their hair, and that in the past, as many as 82 percent of men who had colored their hair have tried a women’s product, like our Hydrience brand. That may be because of a woman’s influence in their lives; they see the box in a woman’s bathroom and feel comfortable trying it themselves.”
Hamilton agreed, adding that L’Oreal started taking a closer look at men’s hair color after hearing reports that many men were buying the brands it was targeting to women, such as Preference. “A lot of these guys were using Preference or a bleach kit, so we decided that we should go where they were already,” she said.
In fact, L’Oreal, Clairol and Revlon have all opted to raise men’s comfort levels by introducing male-specific lines keyed off of popular women’s lines.
L’Oreal took its first step into the men’s category with Feria for Men, a four-stockkeeping-unit offshoot of its Feria permanent color line, last spring. It is targeted at a fashion-forward 18-to-24-year-old male and reportedly did more than $10 million in sales in its first year.
Based on that success, L’Oreal announced earlier this month that it would increase its presence in the men’s category with Casting ColorSpa for Men, a seven-sku line tied to its seven-year-old Casting ColorSpa line for women.
ColorSpa for Men is the first male-specific semi-permanent color line for L’Oreal. It is being shipped now and is expected to be on counter in about 25,000 food, drugstore and mass market doors by May. It will retail for $7.39 a bottle, and industry sources estimate that it will do at least $13 million at retail in its first year of release.
“Not only are we appealing to a new target [with lines like Casting ColorSpa for Men and Feria for Men], we’re setting a goal as leaders of the category that for every man, there should be a one-to-one relationship with hair color,” said Hamilton. “The growth potential is enormous, and we are trying to help make that growth happen.”We’ll put major fuel behind this effort, because we want men to know that they’re as important to us as women are.”
One striking change in the men’s market has been a cosmetic one. While in past years the men’s color movement always seemed to be about hiding gray, now it’s also about experimenting with color, Hamilton believes.
“Take our ColorSpa for Men line,” said Hamilton. “It’s not about hiding anything — it’s about taking care of your hair, your body and your mind in the same way — and it really attracts men who have not thought about doing this to their hair before.”
Hamilton believes that ColorSpa’s fitness positioning will draw more men into the category. “We decided to launch ColorSpa for Men because we found that not only was the men’s hair color market really exploding, but that the brand’s concept — which integrated fitness with the concept of coloring — was a perfect fit with the mind-set of mainstream men thinking about coloring their hair,” she said.
“Feria’s consumer is into radical change, and he was already buying women’s hair color before we started merchandising hair color to men. That’s how he was able to effect the change. Now, we’ve expanded the market,” said Hamilton. Feria for Men is merchandised with its counterpart in the female grooming aisles; Casting ColorSpa for Men will be marketed in the men’s grooming aisles. “ColorSpa’s consumer is a health-oriented man in the 18-to-34-year-old age range. Feria for Men’s consumer, on the other hand, is a very fashion-forward 18-to-24-year-old who isn’t afraid of permanent hair color.”
Clairol also built on male awareness of its Natural Instincts line by marketing Natural Instincts for Men, a demi-permanent line introduced in June 1999. It also sells a second male-specific demi-permanent line, Men’s Choice, which was introduced in 1995.
Demi-permanent lines have very low levels of peroxide and no ammonia, which allows the color to penetrate the cuticle, according to industry sources. But such lines are designed to make only limited color changes.
Natural Instincts for Men, introduced in June 1999, is available in 10 shades and retails for $7.39 a bottle. It can be used on facial hair as well as scalp hair. Men’s Choice is available in six colors and can also be used on facial hair as well as scalp hair. It retails for $5.89 a bottle.
Natural Instincts for Men is targeted to what Schroeder calls a “younger gray coverage” user, from 30 to 54. Men’s Choice is aimed at 40-to-54-year-olds looking to cover gray. Revlon’s men’s entry, ColorStay Naturals for Men, taps into the company’s ColorStay franchise, which includes hair color and color cosmetics. Introduced in 1998, the demi-permanent range includes two versions: a rub-in shampoo hair color in five shades and a brush-on beard and mustache colorant in four colors. The items retail for $6.99 apiece.
Combe’s Just for Men and Grecian Formula lines are also still firmly in the men’s market. Just for Men, in fact, is in the top five hair colors overall — men’s or women’s — according to Information Resources Inc. According to IRI, Just for Men racked up sales of nearly $72 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 30.
That line includes eight demi-permanent shades suitable for use on scalp or facial hair. Its brother brand, Grecian Formula, is a clear solution for the scalp only, and is available in liquid, cream and foam formulations. It is said to work by reacting with the melanin in the user’s hair.
Sources said that they expect to see more of the same in the future. “We’re confident that the growth will continue, for a number of reasons,” said Schroeder. “First, the baby boomers are aging and going gray — and they want to hide their gray. And there’s a comfort level with hair coloring; men see their girlfriends using hair color, and they feel comfortable using it themselves.”
The Internet may also continue to drive growth in this category, said Schroeder. “The Internet offers a huge opportunity to answer men’s questions and to help them make a purchasing decision,” she said.