You’ve probably seen (and tried) one of those Men’s All-in-One Ultra-Manly Face Wash, Shampoo, & Foot Cream For Men hybrids. Maybe you’ve even tried more traditional skincare lines geared toward men.
But what does the average man’s skin really need? There are so many misconceptions about skincare in general, and men’s skincare in particular.
In this post, we’ll provide our best skincare tips for men, aiming to arm you with real, science-based knowledge that accounts for your needs as a man or a masculine-presenting person.
Before we dive in: Throughout this post, we make some generalizations about men’s skin, but remember that skincare is never one-size-fits-all, and you should always prioritize your individual needs. The differences between men’s and women’s skin needs are largely related to hormones, so the advice throughout our article applies to transmasculine folks taking hormone replacement therapy as much as it applies to cis men.
Tip #1: Men don’t need different skincare
You don’t need gendered skincare products.
Industries love to market their products separately to men and women when it’s not needed. It’s a great way to sell to men who would otherwise feel weird about using skincare. The unfortunate consequence of this (aside from reinforcing harmful gender norms and stereotypes) is that men end up using skincare products that are subpar or not great for their skin.
There are certainly some differences between men’s and women’s skin. Men’s skin is usually oilier than women’s, due to larger and more active sebaceous glands. It also tends to be a little thicker.
In general, this means that most men might need to follow a skincare routine for oily or combination skin. Your skin might also be able to handle higher percentages or greater frequency of active skincare ingredients like retinoids or AHAs.
But this is only true in general, not on an individual basis. You shouldn’t use gendered, one-size-fits-all skincare just because you’re a man. While skincare lines for men generally are geared for oily skin (and are often overly drying), they usually don’t contain any “active” skincare ingredients, and even worse, they’re often not geared to address your unique individual needs.
Tip #2: Consider your personal needs
The reality is that an excellent skincare routine has less to do with your gender, and a lot more to do with your unique skin concerns.
That’s why one of our top men’s skincare tips is to urge you to examine your skin and consider what it needs.
Sure, men may generally have oilier skin, but what does that mean for you as an individual? If it means that you tend to look shiny, you can use a mattifying sunscreen in the morning.
If it means you’re acne-prone, you may want to introduce blemish-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, retinoids, or benzoyl peroxide (and if you’re very acne-prone, consider speaking to your doctor).
There are also plenty of guys out there with dry or sensitive skin that needs gentle, soothing care. Plus, you might have other concerns that aren’t directly tied to your skin type, such as wanting to address signs of aging or fade hyperpigmentation.
Tip #3: Never skip sunscreen
As all skintellectuals know well, your skincare routine means nothing if it doesn’t include sunscreen (assuming your skin gets any sun exposure during the daytime).
The sun is the primary factor behind skin degradation.
Cumulative sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, and it also causes wrinkles, sagging, and hyperpigmentation — cigarette smoke and excessive alcohol consumption are probably the only other external factors that come close to the damage that UVA and UVB rays can cause.
By adopting a daily sunscreen habit, you can minimize a significant amount of that damage, and keep your skin looking great for the years to come. Here’s what to look for in a great sunscreen:
- Adheres to your budget, so you won’t have any issues using it daily.
- Offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB.
- Feels good on your skin! Lightweight, silicone-based sunscreens are often great because they don’t feel as greasy on the skin. We’re big fans of Korean and Japanese sunscreens for this reason.
- That said, if your skin is dry, you might prefer a more moisturizing sunscreen, or even a moisturizer with SPF.
- You may want to avoid purely mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, as they may leave a white case or visible residue in your beard.
Tip #4: Harmonize your skincare and beard care or shaving routines
Combining your shaving and skincare routines can be a little confusing. It can also be difficult to use skincare when you have a lush, magnificent beard.
Soothing and renewing skincare products can often do a better job of fortifying your skin after you’ve shaved, and they can also prevent ingrown hairs. They’re especially ideal when compared to traditional aftershaves, which are often formulated with alcohol or fragrances, based on very dated principles.
If you shave or keep your beard short, the best approach is to cleanse your entire face before shaving. Then apply your serums or moisturizer to the non-bearded parts of your face in order to seal in moisture. Then, shave as you normally would, and finally, apply your skincare to the freshly shaved areas.
As for beard care, it’s all about focusing on the skin under your beard! Lightly foaming cleansers are perfect because they’ll clean the skin below your beard thoroughly, but they’ll also rinse out easily. Afterwards, use lightweight serums or lotions to nourish the skin under your beard, while using richer beard oils on the ends of your beard.
Tip #5: Cosmetic elegance matters
It may not sound like the most masculine term, but cosmetic elegance is actually a really important part of men's skincare. One of the most frequent issues men face with skincare products is that they feel greasy or unpleasant.
Lightweight, matte-feeling products will feel best on your skin, which will also help you stick to a consistent routine.
That's why all Protocol serums are designed to sink into the skin rapidly. Our latest release, Water Lock, combines a velvety, dry-feeling texture with powerful moisture-binding ability, making for a face cream every guy can enjoy using.
This approach is part of why Protocol was featured in the 2022 GQ Grooming Awards. Protocol products are intentionally light and quick to disappear into the skin, which makes for a much more pleasant sensory experience.
Tip #6: Opt for fragrance-free
Scent is the only factor that usually distinguishes men’s skincare products from unisex ones. Men’s products are often loaded with fragrances that give a woodsy or spicey scent. Unfortunately, that makes for products that can lead to allergies following frequent use.
The best bet, especially for guys with sensitive skin, is to choose fragrance-free products. It’s much better for your skin, and if you do wear a cologne, your skincare won’t clash with it.
Tip #7: Consider retinoids
We touched on the importance of identifying your skin concerns when developing a skincare routine. One ingredient that you’ll probably benefit from introducing is a type of retinoid, a category of ingredients related to vitamin A like retinol, retinaldehyde, or retinoic acid.
Retinoids are famous for their ability to encourage new skin cell proliferation deep within the skin — this effect speeds up skin renewal, which clears away surface concerns like blemishes, texture, and dark spots very quickly, while also actively fading deeper wrinkles or scars.
More importantly, there's a ton of science proving these effects, which isn't true for most other hyped-up skincare ingredients. This makes it well worth the investment for anyone looking for radical improvements.
For those with sensitive skin, niacinamide plays a similar function, helping to address sensitivity while also fading wrinkles, dark spots, and breakouts. It's not as potent as retinol, but it's a gentler do-it-all option that works for most users - you can find it in our Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide Hydration Cream.
Tip #8: Clever exfoliation is a must
Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the very surface of the skin. It leaves the skin smoother, removes surface imperfections over time, and improves the penetration of topical skincare. For men, it's especially beneficial because it prevents the formation of bumps or ingrown hairs in areas where you have facial hair.
However, many men's brands sell physical scrubs that can scratch the skin without removing dead skin evenly. There's a greater risk of irritation with scrubs, as opposed to with chemical exfoliants that encourage the natural, healthy shedding of dead skin cells.
To keep your routine streamlined, this is where a two-in-one can come in handy! Our Alpha Hydroxy Acid Cleanser contains two forms of AHA, to eliminate only the dead cells that are ready to come off. The gentle formula doesn't dry out the skin, but it does help clear away impurities and bacteria.
Choose individualized skincare over gendered skincare
Men don’t need special skincare products, but they do need a routine that’s specialized to their skin’s needs as individuals. This is what most of our skincare tips for men come down to.
While we can make some generalizations about men's skin, they're not universally true. Men are likelier to have oily or thick skin, but there is still a good chunk of the male population with dry or sensitive skin.
More importantly, men’s skincare brands are rarely made with these specific predispositions in mind. Instead, what usually separates men’s skincare products from unisex ones is added fragrance and a “one-size-fits-all” approach with fewer unique treatments or skin-renewing active ingredients.
Instead, it's much better to choose products that align with your skin's unique needs from brands that focus on science — perhaps like our own humble Protocol.
If you’re still at the beginning of your journey to building your perfect skincare routine, check out our guide to identifying your skin type, and our thorough explanation of the basic skincare routine steps. You can also reach out to us directly if you’d like individualized advice!