Howard Dean might not have invented the word (heck, he subsequently admitted he didn't even know what it meant), but the metrosexual industry sure got a boost when the primal screamer called himself one last October. Metrosexual industry? You mean there's a whole industry? Well, yes. And it's booming.

First coined in 1994 by a British journalist, metrosexuals are allegedly urban, heterosexual men who have the incurable urge to wax, exfoliate, and otherwise pamper their vanity. Or, as the global marketing and advertising agency Euro RSGC termed it: It's a man with "internally referenced masculinity." Uh huh. And now it's front and center on the popular television makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

According to market researchers Mintel Group, mextrosexuals are a worldwide $8 billion-a-year industry, with the U.S. accounting for more than $2.4 billion. Department stores alone sold $86 million worth of male grooming products in the first nine months of 2003, notes NPD Group, and market research firm Kline & Co. says such sales nearly tripled in the last 10 years. Helping men find their feminine side is reaching far into the apparel, cosmetics, self-improvement, and personal-care segments.

Investors could profit from this trend by embracing the new concept of the high-maintenance male and backing companies that are repositioning older skin-care products. Procter & Gamble's (NYSE:PG) Old Spice has joined category trailblazers such as Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) Neutrogena for Men in catering to the new-found male desire to be pretty.

In the men's hair-care segment, there's apparently more than a brush or comb. P&G's Clairol is adding men's hair lighteners under its Herbal Essences brand, as well as Natural Instincts for Men and Men's Choice hair-care products. L'Oreal has its own lines with Feria for Men and VIVE, five products to be used in a regimen to thicken and fortify the hair. (Um, Tom, are you reading?)

While male grooming products are still sandwiched between deodorants and hair dyes, chain drugstores are starting to realize there's money to be made off male self-consciousness. An investor could, too, by buying into a leader like CVS (NYSE:CVS). It saw double-digit growth in the men's category and cleared space on its shelves, even inking a two-year deal with Britain's No. 2 shave brand, King of Shaves, for "discretionary facial enhancement products" -- otherwise known as makeup.

It's also a possibility CVS might snap up parts of rival Eckerd that J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) is trying to unload. Eckerd also sees male primping as a growth opportunity. Well, it needs something to be a growth opportunity considering its continued losses, and it hit on Tweezerman Men, a line of "tools" including moustache scissors and nose hair trimmers.

Speaking of trimming hair, Gillette (NYSE:G) says hair removal by traditional razors -- the method used by 72% of the male population -- was a $2.2 billion business all by itself in 2002. At least for now, most men don't have smoother legs than many women, but you could always buy a pair of low-rise jeans for men at Gap (NYSE:GPS) to cover up your hairy stumps.

In an apocryphal story, the mother of Helena Rubinstein reportedly told the future U.S. cosmetics queen when she was young, "Cream will make you beautiful, and to be beautiful is to be a woman." Or a metrosexual.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey doesn't own any of the companies -- or products! -- mentioned in the story.