Africa

The new African: Male beauty industry hits South Africa

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Media captionThe male grooming and beauty industry is booming in South Africa and products are now targeting a new audience - black men.

The male grooming and beauty industry is booming in South Africa, with products now targeting a new audience - black men, as the BBC's Milton Nkosi finds out.

I have never had a facial before. For me, it sounds like something a woman might do.

It had never even occurred to me that a man, a black African man, might one day go for a facial. Mere talk of pre-wash facial scrubs makes my hair stand on end.

Well, a lot has changed. Because this boy from Soweto has just dived head-first into male grooming.

I felt like a goat going for a traditional slaughter when I walked into Sorbet Men's Grooming salon in the upmarket Sandton district of Johannesburg - nervous, disoriented, even hopeful of a reprieve.

Image caption The hot towel treatment is supposed to open the skin's pores

The salon's staff are dressed in trendy black uniforms. R&B music booms from speakers in the ceiling.

"Hi Milton, welcome to your 1.30pm appointment," says the glamorous young receptionist.

I try to put on a confident smile and she ushers me to Lelanie deJager, my groomer.

A blonde, charming lady, she directs me to a swivelling leather chair in front of a spotless mirror.

Lelanie has 18 years' experience in men's grooming, having begun her training in Ireland.

'Duck to water'

As she prepares me for the initial scrub, she tells me that she loves male grooming and could never work with women.

I smile, still not sure about this. I ask her whether African men are taking to grooming.

"Like a duck to water," she says.

Image caption Research suggests that African men are becoming more discerning with their skin care

According to Siphiwe Mpye, a trends consultant based in Braamfontein, a hipster enclave of Johannesburg, the culture of skin-care has been growing rapidly across Africa, with South Africa leading the way.

As a former editor of South Africa's GQ men's magazine, he knows what he is talking about.

Looking the part himself, he tells me that growth in the beauty and grooming industry is being driven by black African men buying products.

But what is driving that, I ask. It is partly because of global trends, he says, but also because sustained economic growth in Africa has been giving men greater disposable income.

Well-polished partners

So what happened to the traditional Zulu man with a six-pack who prepared to go out by taking a cold shower?

Well, that Zulu man is today's customer for grooming products, says Mr Mpye.

"The continent has changed, the continent continues to change as the world changes, and as the world changes, Africa is being touted as the future," he says.

"I suppose in a lot of ways we are embracing the future right now."

Gone are the days when it was only women who spent time in front of the mirror.

Today, women are looking for partners who are also well-polished and manicured. And the men have got that message.

Image caption Tsakani Mashaba says her research found that African males are more prone to razor bumps

Businesswoman Tsakani Mashaba, founder of Michael Makiala for Men, says there was a gap in the market for products that catered to the specific needs of black male skin.

Research suggests that black men are more prone to razor bumps because their curly beards are more susceptible to ingrown hairs, she says.

She explains that her products soften the hair so that it continues to grow away from the face.

The marketing graduate researched and worked with a biochemist to manufacture the country's first locally produced skin-care range for black men.

"African men suffered a lot from razor bumps, oily skin and pigmentation. There wasn't a brand out there in the market that catered for that.

"So I went on a journey to formulate a product for you guys and here we are," she tells me, beaming.

Township face

Image caption Milton Nkosi says getting a makeover has not detracted from his masculinity

When I grew up, it was much simpler. The local barber would splash on methylated spirit to control razor bumps after a man had had his head shaved clean.

Back in the present, Lelanie has wrapped me in a hot towel for a light steam treatment to open my pores.

After that, she applies a lotion to soften this old township face.

Then comes the razor - a brand new cut-throat blade, like the one used in that memorable scene from the James Bond film, Skyfall.

It is my first time with such a thing. Very gently, Lelanie starts shaving me.

When she has finished, it is time for another hot towel and then moisturiser.

I feel almost as if my skin is breathing. I feel new. I feel like a million dollars!

But that township-man feeling has never left me. I still feel like an African man.

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