They view online styling tutorials on the ‘man bun,’ they go to salons to buy styling gels and waxes, but they don’t like to browse drugstore aisles.

youngmanhaircutA young man got his hair styled in Los Angeles in October 2015. Men who grew up on Axe body spray are much more open than
some older guys to buying hair creams, gels and lotions and researching styling tips online. Photo: Getty Images

By Elizabeth Holmes

The Wall Street Journal

Updated March 1, 2016 11:59 p.m. ET

Women aren’t the only ones in search of a good hair day. Men are, too.

Men in their 20s and 30s, who brought back beards and readily apply a daily moisturizer, are now lifting their sights and obsessing over their hair. Having grown up in the advent of Axe body spray, these young men are much more open than some older guys to using grooming products without fear of stigma or judgment, companies say.

dovemencareDove Men+Care Defining Pomade ($5.99) gives men a ‘sleek’ look. Photo: Unilever

Young men are more fashion-forward than previous generations; they keep tabs on A-listers known for their longer locks and styles sculpted with plenty of product—think Jared Leto, Harry Styles, David Beckham. The top five “man bun” tutorials on YouTube were viewed 4.1 million times from January 2013 to August 2015, according to Google’s Beauty Trends 2015 report, which also noted some 6% more Google searches about men’s hair than women’s hair in 2015.

“This generation of men—on all aspects of how they are taking care of themselves—is caring much more than previous generations,” says Rob Candelino, vice president of marketing for hair care at Unilever, UL -0.55 % whose brands include Axe, Dove Men+Care and Suave.

Men’s shampoos and conditioners, along with styling gels, creams, and waxes, are driving growth of men’s personal-care products. More than half of men purchased a hair-styling product in the past 12 months, according to a January 2016 report on a survey of 963 adult men by market-research firm Mintel. Nearly three-quarters of men in the 18-to-34 age range made such a purchase.

stallone hairActor Jared Leto, right, chatting at the Oscars on Sunday with actor Sylvester Stallone, left,
is among the celebrities whose long, styled locks have been a style influence on young men. Photo: WireImage

“Instead of using the female product that’s already in the bathroom, they are buying a product of their own,” says Margie Nanninga, home and personal-care analyst at Mintel.

But speaking to men about hair styling is tricky, product makers say. Guys don’t want a routine that takes too much time, and they don’t want to look like they tried too hard. If a man applies the product incorrectly, he is more apt to blame the product or the haircut than himself.

Men’s hair products, specifically styling products, are driving the growth in the men’s personal-care product sector. WSJ’s Elizabeth Holmes joins Lunch Break to discuss. Photo: Getty

Often, men don’t know what their hair needs are, nor are they willing to spend time browsing drugstore aisles—especially when products for men are relegated to a back corner. “It’s a new behavior,” says Unilever’s Mr. Candelino. “How do we get them to go down those aisles?”

David Beckham’s sculpted coif is yet another style influence on young men; the soccer player, in an H&M ad, wears his hair in a longer style. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Although their interest is growing, many men aren’t comfortable with hair products as a topic of conversation. “One way to get guys into it is to use humor,” says Mike Gilman, founder of online retailer, which has two upscale barbershops in the Washington, D.C., area.

Mr. Gilman says he frequently hears questions like, “What’s the best shampoo you have?” and “Do I really need conditioner?” So when it came time to name the company’s shampoo and conditioner, Mr. Gilman went with The Best Shampoo and You Need Conditioner.

Men want packaging that is direct and easy to understand, says Kevin Crociata, brand director for North America hair care at Procter & Gamble Co. PG -1.71 % The company’s Old Spice line puts pared down language and illustrations on products to show men exactly how to use them. “We’re making things very simple for guys,” says Mr. Crociata.

On the back of a jar of Spiffy Sculpting Pomade, the uppercase label FOR A CLEAN CUT LOOK goes with a tiny silhouette of a man’s head with side-swept hair. Two other silhouettes—one with a spiky hairdo, the other with a bit of a pompadour—are crossed out.

Old Spice Spiffy Sculpting Pomade ($6.99-$7.99) from Procter & Gamble features styling tips on the back of the jar, including illustrations of the right and wrong ways to use it. Photo: Procter & Gamble

Sales of men’s hair-care products are only about 16% of the $4.2 billion men’s personal-care market, according to Mintel. But with an estimated 6.1% growth last year, and sales reaching $665 million, it is the fastest-growing sector at a time when others are slowing. Sales of men’s skincare products grew just 2.4% from 2014 to 2015. Sales of shaving products fell 2.9%, challenged by the popularity of beards and facial hair.

At Bumble and Bumble, the Estee Lauder EL 1.14 % Cos.-owned brand with two New York salons and 2,400 affiliated salons, men’s services are growing 50% faster than women’s, says Zach Rieken, global general manager. In the brand’s retail sales, men’s growth is twice that of women’s.

Bumble and Bumble’s products are unisex, though the brand sends subtle cues to men through packaging and marketing. A top-selling product, Sumotech “molding compound,” is sold in a black jar with white block lettering. Invisible Oil, a priming and finishing spray popular with women, has a script font with an orange-and-pink watercolor print.

In its salons, Bumble and Bumble keeps 15 or so products that men gravitate toward in a separate area from its other roughly 60 products. The area features photographs of men and speaks to short-hair topics. “They see immediately that this space is special,” Mr. Rieken says.

Mike Gilman, founder of online retailer, says he was asked, “Do I really need conditioner?” so many times that he named the company’s conditioner You Need Conditioner ($21). Photo: Grooming Lounge

Hair stylists are critical players in the haircare business, providing trusted product recommendations. Jordan Blackmore, a celebrity-and-fashion hair stylist and owner of a New York City salon, Three Squares Studio, says his male clients often ask him which products to use. “I break it down,” he says. “I go through it a couple of times.”

Mr. Blackmore typically offers two options—a several-step regimen for special occasions, and a quick daily routine. Men who pay $300 for a haircut at his salon don’t hesitate to spend another $100 or more on products, he says.

Although hipster barber shops are a trendy business around the country, many men still rely on traditionally female-focused salons. Hair coloring, which can be time consuming, is a particularly sensitive service, says Trevor Attenborough, president and general manager of Kao Corp.’s U.S. salon division.

Kao created a gray-camouflaging dye, Goldwell Men Reshade, that can be applied at the shampoo station, so men don’t have to sit in a stylist’s chair with foil paper in their hair. “It’ll suds in. They can do a quick four or five minutes at the basin,” Mr. Attenborough says. The dye slowly fades, rather than growing out and creating a potentially embarrassing line of demarcation.

Aveda, Estée Lauder Cos.’ line of hair products and salons, made several changes to its new men’s version of the Invati line for thinning hair. Instead of a separate conditioner, Aveda added conditioning properties to Invati Men shampoo. Many men don’t use conditioner, says Marianne Knutson, Aveda’s senior vice president of global marketing.

Estée Lauder Cos.’ Aveda adjusted its Invati Men Scalp Revitalizer treatment ($65) for thinning hair to make it a ‘drip-free serum’ instead of a spray, after learning men were spraying it from afar, like hairspray, instead of applying it at the root. Photo: Aveda

The Invati Men “Scalp Revitalizer” treatment is a “drip-free serum,” instead of the spray liquid in the women’s line. Market research showed men were spraying the liquid version from afar, like hairspray, instead of at the root as intended. The thicker serum helps the formula stay in shorter hair, Ms. Knutson said.

Rather than making claims about how much stronger or fuller Invati Men makes hair, Aveda plans to market the new line, out next month, by referring to what other men have experienced with the product: Four out of five men say their hair “feels stronger and looks thicker.”

“Peer to peer is so important for men,” says Ms. Knutson. “They are really conscious of what other men are saying.”

Write to Elizabeth Holmes at