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I'm a Believer: How My First Men's Facial Changed Everything

12/13/2013 11:52 EST | Updated 02/12/2014 05:59 EST

I've been searching for the perfect hangover cure for half of my four decades. I didn't expect to find it in my first men's facial. A night after several glasses of Rioja and Malbec at my favourite Toronto wine bar, I arrived fighting a headache and fatigue for an appointment at the spa at the InterContinental Toronto Centre. I left feeling the way I do after a massage; calm and pain-free, tension in my shoulders gone, and my muscles loosened to a state similar to a rubber band. The headache vanished, the fatigue ebbed. It's not at all how I expected to feel, nor is this the story I expected to write.

The point of receiving a facial was to provide fodder for a self-deprecating article about how no amount of miracle creams or aesthetician effort could ever turn me into George Clooney. While that's still true, my idea of a facial -- and I think, most men's idea of a facial -- was completely wrong.

In fact, if it was termed "face therapy" or "above-the-shoulders massage", I think the spa industry would have much more success convincing men to give it a try. "Facial" sounds far too feminine -- and vain. I thought I would be sitting in a chair resembling what you would plant yourself in at a hair salon. While my face was slathered with muddy cream, I imagined being surrounded by other facial customers -- all women, no doubt -- who would be twittering (not tweeting; no cell phones are allowed in the spa rooms) about recipes and travel plans and how much they wished the men in their lives looked like George Clooney. I have no idea how I came up with that misconception, because that's not at all what the experience at the InterContinental was like.

It began with the presentation of a robe, flip-flops and locker-room key. I still didn't fully comprehend the situation after I was directed to the men's change room. "I'm just going for a facial," I thought to myself, while staring at the open half locker, "do I really need to take off my clothes and put on a robe?"

The answer to this question is a resounding "yes". The hour-long treatment took place in a massage room. With my head feeling like it had been used as a substitute for a snare drum, the thought of a dark room and a flat surface to slide down upon were welcome. The treatment began with the therapist waving a variety of scents in front of my nose. I chose the one I found the most appealing, a citrus-y aroma that went straight to my synapses, instantly calming the drum beat.

The scent was from a blend of oils that would be used to massage my neck, shoulders, and head, as well as my feet. A cloth covered my eyes while water bubbled near my noise, its evaporating vapours warming my lip. The therapist applied creams that cleansed and exfoliated the skin, then she did the most painful part of the procedure, which was also something that will sound, well, gross. Using a tiny tweezer, she pulled a few blackheads -- oily specks that have accumulated dirt and hardened on the exterior of the nose -- out of my pores. It hurt. But I could breathe easier and was all the proof I needed that guys should get this done.

Another reason? The food. The InterContintental Toronto Centre features a spa menu with options that are delicious and healthy. I enjoyed the grilled lime and cilantro shrimp ($22), which extended the restorative sensation of the facial and massage.

Spa days, it turns out, have been one of those clubby activities ladies have hung onto without much encroachment from men. That began to change about 25 years ago when men began to routinely receive massage treatments, partly because the athletes we admire exposed the benefits of wellness therapy. Couples' massages have brought more men into the spa. In 2000, a survey of the industry from Price-Waterhouse and Yeasavich & Pepperdine showed that 33 per cent of spa clients were men. The InterContinental Toronto Centre told me it has about that many male clients. But some spas in Europe report having equal or slightly more male clients than female. The shift in marketing from beauty care to physical and fitness care has bolstered male participation at spas. Facials, however, have been one spa product that men haven't yet adopted. I think that will change as perception shifts.

After all, how many guys wouldn't love a foolproof hangover cure?

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