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Baltimore-area spas tap into a growing male clientele

For The Baltimore Sun
Women still dominate the spa scene, but more men are seeking out treatments -- and spas are responding.

Midweek at lunch hour, there are two clients soaking their feet at Zena's Spa and Salon in Mount Vernon.

Both are men.

Although female clients still dominate the spa scene, Baltimore-area spas are seeing more men and have responded with services specifically geared toward them — mirroring a national trend. Nationally, the proportion of male spa-goers has grown to 47 percent, up from from 31 percent less than 10 years ago, according to the International Spa Association.

"It is more mainstream," said Ryan Chaney, a 25-year-old customer from Bolton Hill, one of the two men getting a pedicure. "… Men are a lot more receptive to it."

While not all Baltimore-area spas are seeing such a high male market share, local spa managers say men make up 20 to 40 percent of their customers.

"Men come to us to be fit and to look younger," said Toni Sullivan, director of the Four Seasons Spa in Baltimore. "The [younger] generation of men are smarter about taking care of their skin."

At the Four Seasons Spa in Baltimore, a Natty Suds Scrub & Massage includes a Domino Sugar full-body exfoliation, scalp massage with the locally famous beer and full-body massage. The piece de resistance: a chilled Natty Boh and bowl of Old Bay chips.

At The Pearl Spa in Maple Lawn, "The Metro Man" services include "The 007," evoking James Bond to describe hand and foot treatments. "The Terminator" package promises to elevate gentlemen to "superhero status," with a combination facial, massage and manicure.

And at Zena's Spa and Salon, services include a "manzillion" — the male equivalent of a Brazilian bikini wax.

It never occurred to Gordon Lane that a spa might be considered female territory. With its coastal decor and diffused light through windows and skylights, Brightwater Spa feels comfortable to the 63-year-old general contractor from Columbia.

Lane books massages and facials often, looking forward to the hourlong break.

"I never even thought about it being less common for men," he said.

As if to underscore his point, another male client walks by on his way to a weekly reflexology appointment.

Clients range from teens combating acne to retirees looking for health benefits, says Jamie Bright, owner of Brightwater Spa.

While men have been going to spas dating back to ancient times, today's male spa client is typically 25 to 44 years old, and is likely to hold a job as a manager or above, according to statistics collected by the International Spa Association.

Some are looking for stress relief and relaxation. Others are seeking the aesthetic results of facials, tanning, waxing and nail services.

If there's a difference in what men are looking for in their spa appointments, it may be a focus on results, rather than the less-tangible experience, says Tim Whiting, a 36-year-old business owner and regular at Zena's.

"I think guys generally appreciate an explanation of how to replicate results at home, rather than the pomp and circumstance," he says.

Craig Martin, owner of The QG (short for Quinntessential Gentleman) on Charles Street, agrees.

"Men want to feel they've accomplished something," he said.

QG is one of the salons that has helped introduce Baltimore-area men to the spa concept, boosting trends locally. It opened as an upscale grooming shop in 2005.

"It took a few years to gain traction," said Martin, whose business now spans six floors and includes a tailor, retail shop, cigar lounge, spa and barber.

At Zena's Spa, which opened in 1984, men have always made up a significant portion of the customers, and not just because of the gay-friendly neighborhood, says owner Zena Fox. But what's changing is the comfort factor, she says.

"It's more open now — an accepted [practice]," Fox said. "Men talk about it."

They aren't shy about booking pedicures, waxing or facials, Fox says.

Still, a significant number of men get their introduction to a spa with couples' treatments. Others are given the experience as a gift.

"Then, he 'has' to come," Bright says. "After that initial visit, they're much more open."

Sharon Schmitz, spa director at The Pearl Spa in Maple Lawn, says men are often brought in by spouses and partners to their Blue Grotto, where clients apply mud treatments themselves, then follow with steam and specialized showers.

"For those who are hesitant, it's a good introduction," Schmitz said.

"They're not being touched by strangers… By the time, it's over, they're asking, 'What's next? When's your next opening?' "

Like a lot of men going to a spa for the first time, Nate Anderson booked a massage.

"I kept hearing how good they were, and they really are," said Anderson, a 39-year-old Baltimore disc jockey.

But when a staff person at The Spa at Turf Valley in Ellicott City recommended that he try a Vichy shower body treatment, Anderson was game. "I'll try anything once," he said.

Now, he's body treatment devotee, not to mention a regular customer at the spa.

That's how it often goes, said director of The Spa at Turf Valley: "The massage is the like the gateway drug."

It's not long before the male clients are experimenting with facials, body wraps and reflexology.

The actual treatments offered to men aren't that different from those for women, except for the scents used, Kroll said.

"We're probably not using rose or lilac," she said, "unless they request it."

Of course, plenty of services are all-gender, from spray tanning to manicures.

The decor in many local spas is also gender-neutral. The Spa at Turf Valley, for example, features Tuscan decor done in beige hues. Lights are dimmed and tea candles flicker in votives, but the robes are white (not floral).

"It's welcoming to everyone," said Kroll.

But, others, such as The Pearl Spa, are designed with men in mind. The men's lounge features leather recliners, a steam room, flat screen TVs, and bottled beer.

The atmosphere is an ideal setting for an alternative bachelor party, said Schmitz.

Long popular with brides and their wedding parties, Kroll said she's is starting to see more male wedding parties at her spa, too. Just recently, a groom, his father and his brother came in, she said. The groom was balking at the idea of a male spa day but quickly changed his mind.

"He was butter the rest of the day," she said.

Spa staff expect to see even more men checking in.

"Some of it is word of mouth [recommendations]," said Schmitz. "But I think we'll also see more men as spas become more mainstream."

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