The Best Men’s Skincare Routine

The Best Men’s Skincare Routine

Developing a skincare routine can be fun when you find chemistry and biology as fascinating as we do. We realize most people don’t

Are you in search of a basic men’s skincare routine that delivers real results? If so, this post is for you. If you want to learn about the science behind skincare, this post is also for you. 

The best men’s skincare routine should help you achieve certain skin goals, whether you’re interested in preserving the health of your skin or actively correcting issues like texture, wrinkles, or breakouts.

We’ll start with the basics, like how to identify your skin’s needs and what an example routine should look like — that might be enough information for some readers. Then, we dive into the different product categories, give suggestions for what you should look for in men’s skincare products, and help you problem-solve some of the common issues men run into with skincare. 

Understanding your skin needs as a man

Do guys even need special skincare routines or products? Well, yes and no. 

Because of the impact of male sex hormones, men tend to have oilier, thicker skin which often correlates with concerns about texture or breakouts. Plus, a lot of men despise the way certain creams or lotions feel on their skin. Aside from that, there’s still a ton of variation:

Know Your Skin Type 

Your skin type is based on how much oil your skin produces. To figure out your skin type, you’ll want to ask yourself these two questions: 

  • Does my skin get shiny and oily over the course of the day, or does it remain dry? 
  • How large are my pores, and what is my pore distribution? It’s common for those with oily skin to have larger pores, especially in the center of the face, while small or barely visible pores are generally a sign of dry skin.

Throughout this post, we assume that most men fall into the oily or combination skin categories. While it’s true for the majority, a ton of men actually have dry skin! Check out our guide to skincare for dry skin if that’s the case for you. 

Know Your Concerns 

Many guys develop an interest in skincare after experiencing specific concerns or challenges like breakouts, or undereye circles. It’s important to identify and address your skin concerns in order of how fundamentally disruptive they are to your skin:  

  • First, deal with issues like dehydration and signs of skin sensitivity such as flakiness, tightness, or redness. 
  • Then, prioritize treating concerns like pimples and breakouts that are actively uncomfortable. 
  • Finally, you can address visible concerns based on your personal preferences, or focus on preventing future damage to your skin.  

The reason to prioritize your concerns in this order is simple: You can’t effectively fade cosmetic concerns while still experiencing more acute skin problems. 

Example men's skincare routine

Your skincare routine can be as basic or as advanced as you want it to be. That said, we like quick efficiency here at Protocol, so here’s our recommended basic men’s skincare routine. 

In the morning: 

  • Cleanse if you’re feeling oily. Dampen your skin, massage a bit of cleanser all over, and then rinse thoroughly.
  • Optional treatment or moisturizer should be applied to still damp skin.
  • Apply sunscreen once other products sink in completely. Use at least ¼ teaspoon to cover your face, ears, and neck completely. 

At the end of the day:  

  • Cleanse by massaging cleanser over damp skin, and then rinse thoroughly.
  • Treat your skin’s specific concerns by gently patting on serums with active ingredients based on your skin’s needs. Consider waiting to maximize product absorption.
  • Moisturize by massaging the lotion of your choice into your skin.

Skincare products for man

The best skincare products for men will come together into an easy-to-follow routine, and they’ll keep your skin looking and feeling its best. 

Face wash for men

Cleansing your face occasionally will remove debris collected over the course of the day, excess oil, and harmful bacteria from the skin. Cleansing also preps your skin to absorb whatever products you’d like to apply next. 

Men often fall into one of two traps: 1) They don’t cleanse at all, which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts, or 2) They scrub with harsh products that leave the skin dehydrated, disrupt its pH, or totally strip it of oil and beneficial microbes. 

That’s why using a dedicated face wash is so important. Face washes should be formulated with a low pH to maintain the skin’s healthy acidity level and a gentle blend of surfactants that clean gently without disrupting the skin’s natural protective barrier.

If your skin is oily or acne-prone, it’s important to use a facial cleanser at least once a day, in the evening, but some men prefer to cleanse twice a day. More than that and you risk significantly irritating your skin. Men with dry or sensitive skin may not need to cleanse their face as often. 

We developed our Double AHA Cleanser with all of these needs in mind. The gentle formula cleanses the skin in a balanced way. It also contains lactic and glycolic acids, so it doubles as a gentle chemical exfoliant that encourages the surface layer of dead skin to shed on its own. The result is skin that’s clean but strong, and free from the flaky, pore-clogging buildup of dead skin. 

Moisturizer for men

Moisturizing is an underrated but important step. Many men prefer to skip it, perhaps because of fear of breaking out or a simple distaste for the texture. 

However, if you want your skin to be as resilient and healthy as possible, moisturizer is a must. 

Moisturizers prevent dehydration and help reinforce the skin’s barrier by adding a layer of protection. We discuss this in detail in our guide to essential moisturizing ingredients.  

Moisturized skin is better protected from inflammation. It sheds dead skin cells in a healthier way, which is important for preventing breakouts and addressing issues like texture and pigmentation. Moisturizers can also reverse skin discomfort like itchiness, tightness, or tenderness from being too dry. 

While any affordable, fragrance-free moisturizer from the drugstore will probably work to keep your skin fortified without causing breakouts, the issue is that many formulas are too greasy. 

At Protocol, we recently developed Water Lock — it’s a moisturizer that delivers a maximum level of hydration using a mesh of silky water-sealing molecules. It spreads over the skin easily and seals in moisture completely, but without leaving a sheen or feeling greasy. 

Sunscreen for men

Even if you decide not to use anything else, sunscreen is essential, especially if you spend any time under the sun. The sun’s rays are responsible for some of the worst stuff that can happen to your skin: Sunburn, of course, but also skin cancer. On the looks front, cumulative sun exposure causes hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and loss of firmness. 

So yeah, sunscreen is important. In the morning, slapping on some sunscreen can easily be your only step. You’ll want sunscreens that feel very light and fluid, and don’t leave a noticeable residue on your skin — for that, we love Korean and Japanese sunscreens. 

Treatment serums for men

While fundamental skin concerns like dehydration can be addressed with cleansing, moisturizing, and using sunscreen, specific skin concerns often require targeted treatment. 

Serums are skincare products with a light and fluid texture, so they’re more effective at penetrating the top layers of the skin. This makes them the ideal delivery vehicle for most “actives” which are the skincare ingredients powerful enough to address the most common skin concerns. 

There’s a dirty little secret with a lot of skincare actives, though — a lot of them are not as effective as brands will lead you to believe. And considering how expensive skincare serums can be, it makes for a lot of skincare products that we don’t buy or use at Protocol. 

The most evidence-based ingredients in skincare are classified as topical drugs, like salicylic acid or retinoic acid. These types of ingredients are usually prescribed for conditions like acne.   

As for ingredients available in normal skincare, we’ve only identified a handful of options with convincing evidence for noticeable results. The short list includes vitamin A, vitamin C, niacinamide, and a few exfoliating acids. But if you only had to pick one active treatment for your basic men’s skincare routine, you’d want to go with vitamin A. 

There are a few types of ingredients related to vitamin A in skincare, normally referred to as retinoids. They improve the underlying reproduction and differentiation process of skin cells. 

This makes for an ingredient that can soften wrinkles, increase skin firmness, fade discoloration, and reduce breakouts. In other words, it addresses almost all of the major skin concerns that most people face! 

In skincare, vitamin A usually comes as retinol, but we prefer its more active form retinaldehyde, which you can find in our Enzyme-Active Retinol Serum. Also known as retinal, it’s approximately 20 times more powerful than retinol. 

It’s the ultimate skin-renewing ingredient, formulated to be as bioavailable to the skin as possible, and bottled in a unique process that keeps it potent and fresh. If you want a simple skincare routine with transformative results, you’d have a hard time finding a serum more worthy of inclusion. 

Combining skincare and shaving

So now you know the hows and whys of building your skincare routine… But how do you combine all of this with your daily shaving routine? 

First, you may want to reconsider your “classic” shaving staples. Traditional wet shaving teaches some important elements, like the importance of using an emollient shaving aid, using a sharp blade, and shaving with the grain. 

That said, some of the advice is dated and not based on modern science. Shaving can be quite irritating to the skin, so it doesn’t make sense to use alkaline shaving soaps or stinging, alcohol-laden aftershaves as part of the process. 

Instead, your shaving cream should be gentle on the skin, while the best “aftershave” is just a good moisturizer. 

So with that said, here’s how to combine your skincare with shaving: 

  • Wash your face first, as you normally would.  
  • Apply your leave-on skincare products over the areas you won’t shave, like the forehead, nose, eyes, and cheeks. 
  • Apply a generous amount of your shaving aid. We recommend looking for moisturizing, fragrance-free shaving creams, but hair conditioner works in a pinch.  
  • Shave your hair with the grain. 
  • When you’re done shaving, rinse your face to remove all traces of the shaving cream. 
  • With your skin still damp, apply the rest of your skincare over the shaved area. 

Doing skincare with a beard

One of the most annoying aspects of doing skincare with a beard is having to deal with product clumping and showing up in your facial hair. 

It’s important to choose skincare products that don’t have ingredients that can pill or visibly collect in the beard. Mineral sunscreens are common culprits since they often contain white pigments, which is why it’s better to opt for cosmetically elegant chemical formulas. 

You’ll also want to avoid using products like toner or micellar water that must be applied with a cotton pad. In some cases, toners or essences can be splashed on by hand, instead. 

If you use beard care products, they’re quite easy to combine with skincare. You’ll want to treat the skin of your beard just as you treat the skin over the rest of your face. That means using your facial cleanser like beard shampoo and applying serums and moisturizers deep under your growth. If your beard is on the shorter side, you’ll also want to apply sunscreen beneath it before heading outside. 

Once you finish caring for the skin beneath your facial hair, you can then apply beard oils or styling butters to the mids and ends, to condition and style your beard. 

Basic routine, not-so-basic results 

Physiologically, men don’t need majorly different skincare, but that’s not to say that gender doesn’t matter. 

With thicker, oilier skin, men often benefit from using exfoliating or skin-renewing products on a regular basis. Even those with dry or sensitive skin generally prefer products with light, undetectable textures.

It’s with this knowledge in mind that we’ve put together this guide — advice based on real skincare science, that keeps things simple while still prioritizing results. For more of that approach, make sure to stay tuned to our blog. 

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Is your retinol not yellow?

That's the first...yellow flag that your retinol may not be formulated properly. Real retinol––like it's cousin beta carotene that makes carrots bright orange––should be bright yellow.