Latin America & Caribbean

Shine on: Why Colombian men like to get their nails done

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Media captionColombian men explain why they like having manicures

A group of men serving sentences for corruption and financial misconduct in a Bogota prison had a manicurist visit them in their cells to get their nails done.

The little luxury the inmates treated themselves caused anger in Colombia when it was revealed in September.

People asked why the prisoners were allowed access to special privileges.

However, no-one seemed surprised by the fact that a group of men would want to have a manicure.

That is because here in Colombia it is not unusual for men to "get their hands done".

The first time I noticed this trend was at a conference hosted by the Colombian Armed Forces' Retired Officers Association.

Wherever I looked, I saw hands with shiny, perfectly polished nails - many of them covered by a subtle varnish.

There was hardly a hand in the room which had not been improved by a manicure.

Male grooming

Ever since, I have kept looking at Colombian men's hands to try to confirm if it was more than just coincidence.

Image caption Colombian men enjoy having their nails done for them, but do not like to do them themselves

Well, it turns out that my first impression has been backed up by a survey conducted by the e-commerce website Groupon.

It suggests that Colombian men are much more likely than any of their regional neighbours to get their hands and/or feet done.

According to the survey, more than 27% of Colombians get manicures, while only 14% of Brazilians, 11% of Mexicans, 9% of Argentines and 5% of Chileans are likely to do so.

Fabian Ojeda of the men's grooming salon La Barberia in Bogota, is not surprised by the figures.

"Unlike in other places in Latin America and the world, here it is very common," he tells me of Colombian men's penchant for manicures.

Image caption Fabian Ojeda says about 30% of the men who visit his salon for a haircut also ask for manicures

He says that on average, out of the 50 men who will visit Las Barberia to get their hair cut, 15 will also get a manicure.

And that, he says, does not include the men whose sole purpose in visiting La Barberia is to get their nails done.

While Mr Ojeda's clients are mostly well off, he says the practice is not limited to any particular socio-economic group.

Generational treat

Juan Carlos Castro is the director of the Cosmetics and Grooming Chamber of the National Association of Businesses of Colombia.

He says he believes it is a Colombian cultural phenomenon. A few months ago he was in Paris, attending an international cosmetics fair.

When he mentioned male manicures to delegates from other countries, they found the concept strange.

But Mr Castro has grown up with it.

His father used to be in the military and is fond of manicures.

He still does get his nails done, even now that he is 80.

"It shows rank, somehow, in the armed forces," Mr Castro explains.

His grandfather also did it, he recalls.


Luis Alfonso Parra owns one of the largest nail varnish factories in Colombia; he sells a million bottles per month.

Image caption Colombian men say women look at their hands and it is important to have them looking well groomed

He reckons Colombian men get their hands manicured for one obvious reason: "Women look at your shoes, your suit or shirt and your nails."

He sells three products for men: base (to strengthen the nails), tone (in a light pink colour) and gloss (to give them shine).

Products specifically made for men represent 10-15% of his production.

But he says, men will not apply his products at home.

They much prefer to go to a hairdresser or a grooming salon to get their nails cut, filed, polished and varnished.

Mr Ojeda says that prices can vary from anything between 15,000 pesos ($4.50; £3.00) to 40,000 pesos, making it an accessible treat to most Colombian men.

"You will find men getting their hands manicured in upmarket grooming salons but also in any corner hairdresser," he says.

And I can attest to the fact that I have seen Colombians from many backgrounds and in many occupations who boast the tell-tale shiny nails.

From bankers to policemen in the middle of the jungle and even demobilised Farc rebels.

It is a habit that almost everyone seems to have embraced.

Just not this correspondent, or at least not yet.

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