Perhaps you’re an outdoorsy kind of guy — spending lots of time in the sun, exposed to the elements. Or you’re the casual, more indoorsy type. Maybe you’re clean-shaven or sporting a full beard. No matter your style or lifestyle, taking care of your skin is important.
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“A lot of men have the common misconception that skin care needs to be really complicated, but it doesn’t have to be,” says dermatologist Jane Wu, MD. “You can have a simple regimen that’s easy to follow as part of your daily routine.”
Dr. Wu shares what kind of products are important for keeping your skin fresh and healthy, along with both a simple and more advanced routine for men who’re interested in leveling up.
Choosing the right skin care products
In people designated male at birth (DMAB), the dermis layer of their skin tends to be thicker and tougher than in people designated female at birth (DFAB). This causes deeper, furrowed wrinkles from repeated muscle movement. Testosterone can also make your skin more oily. But Dr. Wu says picking the right skincare products isn’t about gender as much as it’s about figuring out your skin type.
“You should really assess your personal skin type because that can really matter more than the differences between genders,” says Dr. Wu.
There are roughly four skin care types:
- Normal skin can tolerate a variety of different skin care products without any harsh results.
- Dry skin can be red and flaky in areas, especially when exposed to cold, winter elements. You may also have this type if you remove the natural oils from your skin by washing or scrubbing your body excessively. If you have this skin type, you’re more prone to getting eczema.
- Sensitive skin reacts to different products in a variety of ways. If you break out in a rash or experience itchiness, redness or burning when trying new skin care products, you might have this skin type.
- Oily skin causes your face to appear shiny or bright. You tend to breakout or have issues with acne more easily if you have this skin type.
You can also have a combination skin type, in which the center of your face may be oily, but other parts of your face, like your cheeks, can be dry.
On the most basic level, everything you do should cleanse your skin, moisturize it and add a protective layer in case of injury or irritation. At a glance, there are a ton of products on the market, and figuring out which ones to try (and which ones work) can be overwhelming. But when you start boiling it down to these three goals (cleanse, moisturize, protect), finding the right ingredients can make this process easier. Here are some ingredients you should consider when looking for cleansers and moisturizers, and a few you should avoid.
The original cleanser is your good old bar of soap. But, Dr. Wu warns that many traditional soap products are so good at their job they actually strip your skin of all its natural oils when removing dirt, oil or makeup. Instead, look for a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser. If you have dry or sensitive skin, try using a cream-based cleanser, but if you have oily or a combination skin type, you’ll want to use a foaming cleanser.
Moisturizers keep water in the skin so it stays hydrated, plump and full. Hyaluronic acid is the ingredient that draws water in and keeps it there. But you also want to look for ceramide-enriched moisturizers.
“Ceramides are a component of your skin’s fat or lipid layer,” explains Dr. Wu. “So it helps to replenish your skin barrier.”
Salicylic acid and glycolic acid
These two ingredients are important for acne care. They both chemically exfoliate the top layer of your skin, but salicylic acid can actually penetrate deeper into oil glands.
Everything smells like something these days, but fragrances can be bothersome. They can cause contact allergies, which can result in red, itchy or scaly rashes on your face, head and neck. And even if it’s unscented, it’s not entirely safe.
“You want to look for something that says it’s fragrance-free,” says Dr. Wu. “In something that’s unscented, they can sometimes add a masking scent, so you don’t smell anything, but there’s actually a fragrance still in the product.”
If you experience a contact allergy from a fragrance, it’s usually a delayed reaction that can happen days if not weeks after you start using the product.
Avoid alcohol-based aftershaves
There’s nothing quite like that burn right after a good shave, and while that might feel refreshing at first, it’s actually hindering your ability to stay moisturized because it dries out your skin.
“Alcohol-based products are traditionally meant to act as an antiseptic and help prevent infection, but it can be very irritating to the skin. Using a moisturizer is more helpful than an alcohol-based aftershave for most people,” advises Dr. Wu.
Simple skin care routine for men
For the simplest routine, you want to stick to the basics: Cleanse, moisturize and protect.
Step 1: Cleanse two times a day
You’ll want to clean your skin twice a day, usually first thing in the morning and right before bed. If you tend to exercise in the morning or in the middle of the day, you should cleanse right after your workout.
Hot water can strip the oils from your skin, so use warm water with your cleanser, even if you do this step in the shower. Use your fingertips to massage the cleanser into your skin, then rinse off completely. When drying, don’t rub all the moisture off. You’ll want to pat dry instead.
Step 2: Moisturize twice a day
While your skin is still a little damp after cleansing, you lock that water in with a moisturizer. “The idea here is to replenish that lipid barrier your skin has by maintaining its moisture,” says Dr. Wu. “By restoring your skin barrier, you help defend yourself against chemicals and irritants in the environment.”
Step 3: Apply sunscreen once in the morning
It’s important to wear sunscreen every day because UV rays (even on cloudy days) have the ability to accelerate aging, pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Sunscreen also helps prevent skin cancer.
If you shave, there are some additional tricks
Shaving is one of the most common concerns for men. While you should avoid alcohol-based aftershaves, there are other things to consider, too.
- Your facial hair will be softer after a warm or hot shower, so cleanse first.
- Use a gentle, bland shaving cream or oil to prevent rashes or ingrown hairs.
- Shave in the direction of your hair growth to reduce irritation. If your skin is irritated or dry, using an electrical razor with safeguards can help.
- When you’re done shaving, apply a gentle moisturizer to your skin. If you have dry skin, an oil-based product can be used as well.
- If you typically get ingrown hairs, use an exfoliant (like a gentle face scrub) on your skin a couple times a week to remove dead skin cells.
For more advanced routines
“Oftentimes, less is more, but you can make your routine as sophisticated as you’d like,” notes Dr. Wu. If you’re looking for a more advanced routine, adding in the following steps can take your skin care game to the next level.
Add an antioxidant serum in the morning
“For something more advanced, you’ll want to add a product to prevent damage and repair cells,” says Dr. Wu. Adding an antioxidant serum like vitamin C can help protect your skin from free radicals — substances in the environment and in your body that can cause harm to your cells through normal processes like breathing and aging.
“You should put this on after you cleanse but before you moisturize in the morning,” says Dr. Wu.
Add retinol to your routine at night
“Retinol is one of the key players in anti-aging that helps with fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage and hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Wu. Retinol helps chemically exfoliate the top layer of your skin and helps build collagen, which gives your skin that pleasurable, plump feeling. Since retinol makes you more sensitive to the sun, you should avoid doing this in the morning.
When should you start your skin care routine?
Everyone’s built a little differently, but it’s never too early to start a skin care regimen. Some people can show signs of wrinkles and aging as early as their 20s, and Dr. Wu suggests everyone should be proactive in terms of sun protection from childhood.
When should you see your doctor?
Dr. Wu suggests doing self-checks in the mirror or with a partner three to four times every year, as well as having your skin checked during routine physicals with your family doctor. If you spot signs of new or changing lesions, especially moles or growths that change in size, shape or color, you should see your trusted healthcare provider. If you have skin concerns that aren’t improved with your skin care regimen, like acne, rosacea or eczema, you should seek help from a board-certified dermatologist.