Today we're going to shine our Fashion Focus Spotlight on a topic of vital concern to everybody who stands to make money from it: male skin care. Years ago, of course, men would not have dared even talk about caring for their skin, because they would have felt like "sissies." Fortunately, however, we modern males have shed our macho hangups. We feel perfectly free to engage in skin care if we want to, and if anybody laughs at us we'll break a chair on his face.

But first, some background. Men's skin is different from women's skin. It is usually bigger, and it has more snakes tattooed on it. Also, if you examine a woman's skin very closely, inch by inch, starting at her shapely ankles, then gently tracing the slender curve of her calves, then moving up to her . . .

(EDITOR'S NOTE: To make room for news articles about important world events such as agriculture, we're going to delete the next few square feet of the woman's skin. Thank you.)

. . . finally the two of you are lying there, spent, smoking your cigarettes, and suddenly it hits you: Human skin is actually made up of billions of tiny units of protoplasm, called "cells"! And what is even more interesting, the ones on the outside are all dying! This is a fact. Your skin is like an aggressive modern corporation, where the older veteran cells, who have finally worked their way to the top and obtained offices with nice views, are constantly being shoved out the window head first, without so much as a pension plan, by younger hotshot cells moving up from below. Of course, any day now, scientists will claim that cells do have a pension plan and newspapers, which believe anything scientists tell them, will print it ("Skin Cells Have Pension Plan, Scientists Discover").

And so, men, we can see that human skin is an even more complex and fascinating organ than we thought it was and, if we want to keep it looking good, we have to care for it as though it were our own. One approach is to undergo a painful surgical procedure wherein your skin is turned inside-out, so the young cells are on the outside, but then, of course, you have the unpleasant side effect that your insides gradually fill up with dead old cells and you explode. So this procedure is pretty much limited to top Hollywood stars for whom youthful beauty is a career necessity, such as Elizabeth Taylor and the late Orson Welles.

A more practical approach is to have a Skin Care Ritual. This is the secret of those primitive South American jungle tribesmen you often see in public televison documentaries: Before they leave the safety of the village to hunt Boogah the Mighty Jungle Panther, they ritually apply colorful decorative root-based compounds to their faces and, as a result, they all appear to be very youthful. In fact, they all are very youthful, because in the latest standings Boogah is leading the tribe 2,391 to zip, but the Skin Care Ritual undoubtedly also plays a key role.

Of course, most of us are not in a position to obtain root-based compounds. To fill this void, a whole male skin-care industry has been born and mutated several times, resulting in such outfits as the Erno Laszlo Institute in New York, named for the famous Hungarian dermatologist Dr. Erno Institute. (Ha ha!) Seriously, this is a genuine institute with a telephone and everything. A spokeswoman there told me that if you want to join, you have to go to a participating store, where a specialist does an in-depth analysis of your skin and gives you your personal ritual. You also get your official membership card, which entitles you to purchase, for $50, your Men's Skin Strategy Kit, which contains the ingredients you need for your ritual. This is the truth.

I asked the spokeswoman to describe a typical morning ritual, and she said you'd start by applying your Erno Laszlo Pre-Cleansing Oil; then you'd rub on your Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Soap, which is made from natural sea mud and which I am also not making up; then you'd splash yourself 20 times in the face with your hot soapy oily water; then you'd shave (ideally with Erno Laszlo Protective Shave Cream, which may be purchased by the general public even without an institute membership card); then you'd swab your face with a cotton ball saturated with your Erno Laszlo light-controlling lotion; then you'd apply your Erno Laszlo skin conditioner and moisturizer; and voila! Your morning ritual is complete, leaving just time enough for a brief nap, followed by your evening ritual!

My ritual differs slightly. What I do, first thing, is I hop into the shower stall. Then I hop right back out, because when I hopped in I landed barefoot right on top of C3P0, a little plastic robot character from "Star Wars" whom my son Robert likes to pull the legs off of while he showers. Then I hop right back into the stall because our dog Earnest, who has been alone in the basement all night building up powerful dog emotions, has come bounding and quivering into the bathroom and wants to greet me with 60 or 70 thousand playful nips, any one of which -- bear in mind that I am naked and, without my contact lenses, essentially blind -- could result in the kind of injury where you have to learn a whole new part if you want to sing the "Messiah," if you get my drift. Then I hop right back out, because Robert, with that uncanny sixth sense some children have -- you cannot teach it; they either have it or they don't -- has chosen exactly that moment to flush one of the toilets. Perhaps several of them.

I find this ritual keeps my skin looking very smart, in the sense that most of the scars are completely covered by my pants. In fact, I am thinking seriously about starting an institute. This is assuming I can work out some kind of legal arrangement with the "Star Wars" people.