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For Whiskers Only : Whether Aiming for a Different Look or a Better Match, Men Are Using New Gels to Change the Color of Their Beards


When Dave Cordova decided to change his look, he drove past the mall and beyond the hair salon to the corner drugstore.

"It's just easier, and cheaper, to change the color of my beard and mustache than it is to go out and buy a new outfit," says Cordova, a Los Angeles hairdresser whose mustache and goatee have gone from purple to blond to black in the last 30 days.

David K. (his professional name), an L.A. wardrobe stylist, went for a less drastic change, coloring his neatly trimmed mustache and beard a rich shade of brown. "It has a lot of attitude and gives some character to my face," he says.

Over-the-counter, shampoo-in products formulated for facial hair--everything from mutton chops and French forks to handlebars, goatees, beards and sideburns--are expected to be the biggest thing in men's hair care since Grecian Formula. After all, 42.5% of American men cultivate some form of facial hair, a recent study by the Home Testing Institute shows.

Although primarily a fashion statement, the penchant for growing whiskers may have deeper roots, experts say. "Most men probably don't know they are sending signals of maturity, competence and sexual prowess when they grow facial hair," explains Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and author of the book "Anatomy of Love." Fisher also suggests that there is a correlation between a man's beard thickness and his testosterone level. "It acts as a signal to females that the male is not only virile but mature and ready to take on the world and fight off danger."

With so much at stake, no wonder many guys go to the trouble of using hair color.

"Our market research told us that more men are growing facial hair today, and many are seeing their first gray hairs as early as 25, or earlier," says Dominic DeMain, group vice president for Combe Inc., the White Plains, N.Y., maker of Grecian Formula 16 and Just for Men Shampoo-in Haircolor. "In fact, many men won't grow facial hair because it tends to come in with gray, or red, or it just doesn't match the hair on their heads at all."

As a result, Combe and a handful of other companies have developed products aimed squarely at men's chins. Combe's Just for Men Brush-In Color Gel for Mustache, Beard & Sideburns sells for about $5.69 in grocery and discount drugstores. Its biggest competitor is Men's Choice by Clairol, a $5.49 gel that works on beards and head hair. Another entry, Dark & Natural by Carson Products, is designed for African American men.

Brush-In Color Gel and Men's Choice offer color in the form of thick gels that promise not to drip and not to leave any color buildup. They also promise to work in less than five minutes, a claim expected to lure a new category of users: men who have eschewed hair colors because they feel awkward standing around with chemicals on their heads or beards for 30 minutes or more.

Still, many men remain skeptical of hair colors, particularly those promising a quick fix, says Ross Goldstein, president of Generations Insight, a San Francisco company that tracks trends among baby boomers. For such a product to attract a man, he says, "Number one, it has to work, and secondly, it has to be fast, convenient and easy to use. In that order."

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