The Best Skin Care Routine for Men (Dermatologist's Guide)

The Best Skin Care Routine for Men (Dermatologist’s Guide)

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It can sometimes be difficult, for many reasons, to convince men of the importance of a good skincare routine.

Some men, who are low maintenance, believe it is okay to simply wash their face with shampoo, and that is all they need to do. That is not the case at all. Shampoo is not a multi-use product.

Other men feel it is too girly to use skin care products. For a long time, there was a bizarre stigma attached to men caring for their skin. Men felt it wasn’t manly to use creams because women use creams.

Good skincare is just as important for men’s skin as it is for women’s skin.

Many men dislike how certain products feel on their skin or how they smell, so they avoid all products.

It is important to select products based on your skin type and to listen to your skin and what it needs. The right type of product for the right skin type is essential to stick with your routine.

Finally, some men are overwhelmed by all the products available and do not even try.

I am going to help demystify and simplify a good skincare routine for men.

Is skin care products different for men than for women?

Because biologically men’s skin is different than women’s, their products are different. Men have higher levels of testosterone, leading to oilier and more acne-prone skin.

Since men shave daily, they need products geared towards soothing the skin and preventing ingrown hairs. Men tend to have thicker and tougher skin, so they can tolerate stronger products.

Because more men work and play outside, they have an elevated risk of skin cancers, including deadly melanoma, which makes their need for sun protection greater.

What is the best skin care routine for men?

What is the best skin care routine for men?

Essential steps: A basic skin care routine for men

There are 3 basic but essential steps that every men’s skin care routine should have, and they are very simple (1).

  1. Cleanser
  2. Moisturizer
  3. Sunscreen

Additional steps: An advanced skin care routine for men

As you become more familiar with caring for your skin, you can add some other steps to help with the various needs of your skin.

  1. Toner
  2. Exfoliator
  3. Eye cream
  4. Serum
  5. Night cream
  6. Retinol/retinoid
  7. Acne products

Step-by-step order: A complete skin care routine for men

Here comes the slightly tricky part. These products need to be used in a particular order and over a certain period of time to allow them to be absorbed.

Otherwise, if you don’t layer them properly, you are wasting your time and money.

Products usually get layered from lightest to thickest. Here is a possible advanced regimen.

Morning:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Serum
  4. Eye cream
  5. Moisturizer
  6. Day cream/sunscreen

Evening:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Acne treatment or retinoid/retinol or exfoliator
  4. Serum
  5. Eye cream
  6. Night cream/moisturizer

How do I know what my skin type is?

There are basically 4 different skin types.

1. Normal

Your skin is not oily or dry. It does not feel tight or irritated. It never gets red. It tolerates all products.

2. Oily

Your skin feels greasy and has a shine to it. You are prone to acne and large pores.

3. Dry/sensitive

Your skin is flaky or scaly. It is irritated, red, or tight feeling. It does not tolerate all products.

4. Combination

Your skin is dry on the cheeks and oily in the T zone (forehead, nose, and chin).

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What skin concerns can skincare products help me with?

The most common problems that men seek treatment for are acne, irritation/redness, and signs of aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines, and brown spots.

The signs of aging can be addressed with the use of retinoids/retinol, serums with vitamin C and antioxidants, and chemical exfoliators with glycolic acid.

There are many good acne products with salicylic acid (SA) or benzoyl peroxide (BP) that can help. Toners work well at controlling oil. Finally, redness and irritation require good moisturizers and proper cleansers.

Not only does good skincare help with problems you have now, but it can prevent problems that occur later in life. The earlier you start, the better your skin will be in the future. So, you are never too young for good skincare.

Why do I need a cleanser?

Why do I need a cleanser?

All men’s facial care must include cleansing their face twice a day, in the morning and before bed.

If you are sweating at the gym or getting dirty by working outside during the day, you need to cleanse more.

Morning cleansing removes the oil and bacteria that have appeared overnight. Evening cleansing removes the oil, bacteria, and dirt that has accumulated throughout the day.

Going to bed without cleansing can lead to acne breakouts.

Make sure you cleanse with lukewarm water and use a nonabrasive washcloth or clean fingers. Pat dry with a clean towel without rubbing your face.

You do not want to irritate your face by using harsh shampoos. If you irritate your skin, that can lead to overproduction of oil and subsequent acne. You need the right tool for the job.

Oily skin:

If you have oily skin, you want to choose a gel cleanser with SA or BP that is non-comedogenic (not acne producing), such as Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel Cleanser.

Dry skin:

If you have dry skin, you want to select a creamy cleanser to help add moisture to your skin while cleansing it, such as Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser.

Sensitive skin:

If you have sensitive skin, you want to avoid sulfates in your products, so pick a cleanser, such as the ZELEN Life Cleanser.

Normal skin:

If you have normal skin, you can use almost any facial cleanser, such as Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser.

Why do I need to use a moisturizer?

Moisturizer is important to use twice a day. It nourishes and protects your skin from our harsh environment. It will calm down dry, flaky skin and even plump it up, which makes the wrinkles less noticeable.

It is not just for men with dry skin. Normal and oily skin types need it too.

Oily skin:

If you have oily skin and you starve it of moisture, it will overproduce oil to compensate. This will lead to more acne.

If you have oily skin, you will want to select a gel or lotion moisturizer that is non-comedogenic so it will not clog your pores. Gel and lotion moisturizers tend to be less thick and feel less heavy on your skin, such as Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel Moisturizer.

Dry skin:

If you have dry skin, you want to choose one that is creamy to help hydrate your skin, such as Cetaphil Cream. You may even need to use it more than twice a day.

Normal skin:

If you have normal skin, you can use any type of moisturizer you prefer, such as Cetaphil Lotion. Gels and lotions are the lightest, while creams are heavier.

Why do I need sunscreen if I do not work outside?

Everyone needs to wear daily sunscreen (2).

Sunscreen protects your skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. These UV rays can lead not only to skin cancer but also to premature aging. Aging skin appears dull and wrinkled with brown spots.

The earlier in your life that you start sunscreen use, the longer it will take for your skin to look old. It is much easier to prevent damage than it is to fix it.

You need to apply sunscreen every morning before you leave the house. If it is a chemical sunscreen, such as avobenzone, you need to apply it 30 minutes before UV exposure for it to be protective.

Physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be applied right before you leave. You also need to apply sunscreen every 1-2 hours throughout the day if you are outside or driving in the car. The harmful UV rays go right through the glass.

Even on cloudy and rainy days, the UV rays will still cause damage to your skin. People get sunburned on cloudy days.

Oily/normal skin:

If you have oily skin or normal skin, you can select a gel sunscreen or one that dries quickly, such as La Roche Posay Melt In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60.

Dry/sensitive skin:

If you have dry or sensitive skin, you can use a mineral sunscreen without chemicals that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, such as La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50.

Who needs to use a toner?

Toner is great for normal and oily skin types.

Toners with SA remove oil to prevent acne breakouts and decrease the shiny look to your skin, such as La Roche Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner.

Also, it helps to deep clean your pores to remove dead skin cells and debris to prevent breakouts. Some toners with glycolic acid, such as Skinceuticals Conditioning Toner, even help with fine lines and wrinkles.

How often do I need to exfoliate?

How often do I need to exfoliate?

Exfoliation is used to remove dull, dead skin cells for a brighter complexion. This is great for acne patients because it removes dead skin cells and unclogs pores.

It also helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles. Care should be used with dry/sensitive skin types, as they may not tolerate using these products as often or at all.

Exfoliation should only be done 1-2 times a week. If you do it more often than that and over-exfoliate, it could lead to skin abrasions with subsequent infections and scarring.

There are 2 types of exfoliation products: chemical and physical.

Chemical exfoliators

Chemical ones consist of ingredients, like glycolic acid, that can be found in Avene Gentle Exfoliating Gel. These will chemically dissolve dead skin cells.

Physical exfoliators

Physical ones contain beads that physically remove the dead skin cells, such as Glypro Exfoliating Facial Cleanser from Skin Medica. Sometimes these can be too harsh for your skin, so novices should start out with chemical exfoliators.

What over the counter (OTC) products can I use for my acne?

There are many good and effective OTC acne products for mild-moderate cases (3).

If you have moderate to severe acne, you need to seek treatments from a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible to prevent permeant scarring and discoloration of the skin.

If you need one, you can check www.aad.org for one that is nearest you.

Benzoyl peroxide (BP)

This ingredient is in many cleansers and creams, such as Panoxyl Wash. BP works by removing dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and kills bacteria that lead to acne. It is available in a variety of strengths.

You may want to start out using it a couple of times a week to see how your skin reacts to it. You can increase the frequency of use every couple of weeks until you build up to twice a day.

You can increase the strength slowly as well until your acne is under control. Be careful because BP can bleach skin, clothing, towels, and linens.

Salicylic acid (SA)

This ingredient is also used in many cleansers and creams, such as Neutrogena Acne Wash or Oxy Acne Pads. SA works similarly to BP. It removes dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and helps combat redness and inflammation associated with acne. It also comes in different strengths and can be started slowly as well.

Retinoids/retinol

The only OTC retinoid available is adapalene (Differin), and it comes in cream or gel form.

Retinoids work by removing dead skin cells, unclogging pores, fading discoloration, and smoothing some acne scars.

There are many different retinol cream products available OTC. Retinols are not as strong as retinoids, but you will still see some good effects and are a good alternative if you cannot tolerate retinoids.

Retinoids can cause some dryness and flaking. You should start out using it twice a week for 2 weeks, and if it is well-tolerated, you can increase it to 3 times a week for 2 weeks.

If it is still tolerated, then use it every night. Make sure you wait 30-60 minutes after washing your face before applying it.

Most importantly, you must always use sunscreen when using retinoids/retinol because these products will remove your protective barrier to the sun’s harmful rays making you more susceptible to sun damage.

If you get dryness, you can use a moisturizer before or after applying retinoids/retinol.

Whatever product you use, you must be patient and consistent. Acne products can take 4-8 weeks to start to see good effects. Once you get acne under control, be consistent using the products so you can keep it under control.

Why do I need an eye cream?

The eyelid area has the thinnest, most delicate skin and needs special attention, as well as a special product.

The eyelid area needs extra moisture, so the products tend to be thicker, and therefore are not appropriate for other areas of your face. The moisturizer you use on your face is not as concentrated as an eye cream.

Also, eye creams target the specific needs of the eye area, such as dark circles, bags, and puffiness.

Dark circles:

Eye creams that contain vitamin C, hydroquinone, or kojic acid help diminish dark circles around the eyes, such as Revitalift Triple Power Eye Cream by L’Oreal.

Bags and puffiness:

If you have puffiness or bags around the eyes, select a cooling eye gel with caffeine to help constrict the blood vessels, such as Pigmentclar Eye Cream by La Roche Posay.

Eye wrinkles:

If you have wrinkles around the eyes, cream that contains retinoids/retinol work best at delivering anti-aging effects, such as Redermic Retinol Eye Cream by La Roche Posay.

Oily skin:

If you have oily skin, eye creams with hyaluronic acid will deliver moisture without being too greasy to thick, such as Skin Medica Illuminating Eye Cream.

It is also important not to rub too vigorously and irritate the delicate skin of the eyelid area when applying your eye cream. A gentle tapping movement with your finger to distribute the product is enough to deliver the eye cream ingredients into that area.

Do I have to use a serum?

Do I have to use a serum?

Serums play an important role in men’s face care routine. They allow concentrated delivery of potent ingredients quickly and easily.

It usually only takes a couple of drops to cover your face. These serums target specific problems you have and do not depend on your skin type.

One of the best serums is one that delivers antioxidants to your skin, such as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Phloretin. Everyone can benefit from this serum.

Free radicals come from the UV rays of the sun and lead to aging and skin cancers. Anti-oxidants scavenge up free radicals and get rid of them before they can cause damage to your skin.

Some serums contain retinol, which helps with anti-aging by reducing fine lines and wrinkles, such as Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum by La Roche Posay.

As with any retinol products, you have to start using it infrequently and build up to using it every night because it can be drying.

Sunscreen use is a must.

Vitamin C serums help brighten the skin and reduce dark spots, Such as CE Ferulic by Skinceuticals. Some people find it drying, so start out using it slowly and build up to regular use.

People with acne find a salicylic acid serum helpful in combating pimples, such as 10% Pure Vitamin C serum by La Roche Posay. Once again, this product can cause irritation, so build up to regular use slowly and see what your skin will tolerate.

Finally, serums that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid can help with dryness, such as B5 Gel by Skinceuticals. Hyaluronic acid serums will not make you greasy but will deliver moisture. It is an amazing ingredient that absorbs large quantities of water and keeps it in the area where you applied it.

Does everyone need to use retinoids/retinol?

Retinoids/retinol are products that can help everyone, and most people can find one that their skin will tolerate, such as Differin Gel or Roc Retinol Cream.

It is one of the best ingredients you can use on your skin. It helps rebuild collagen and elastin, which helps with aging and wrinkles. It also helps get rid of dull, dead skin cells to make your skin look brighter.

Finally, it helps with acne, as we already discussed.

Our environment bombards our skin with pollution and UV rays from the sun every day. Retinoids/retinol help combat this and repair the damage that the environment has done to our collagen and elastin.

If it is not repaired, this damage leads to fine lines, wrinkles, and droopy skin. It is never too soon to start these products.

It is important to start using it slowly and build up to nightly use, as discussed in the acne section. If you use too much and too frequently in the beginning, you will peel a lot and not like the products.

Also, daily sunscreen use is absolutely necessary. If you get some mild peeling, you can use a moisturizer before or after retinoid/retinol use to help alleviate this.

Why do I need a special night cream if I already have a moisturizer?

Why do I need a special night cream if I already have a moisturizer?

Many men think it is redundant to have 2 different moisturizers, but each does something slightly different.

Your daily moisturizer is usually not as thick and probably is not able to deliver nutrients to your skin while you sleep.

Sleep time is the best time to repair not only your body but also your skin. Night creams are thicker to help moisturize your skin after a day of assault by the environment, such as Triple Lipid Restore by Skinceuticals or Dermal Repair Cream by Skin Medica.

Also, it helps nourish your skin by containing certain ingredients like peptides or growth factors to help rebuild your skin, such as TNS Essential Serum by Skin Medica.

These are necessary building blocks for skin health that you are not getting elsewhere in your regimen.

At what age do I need to start taking care of my skin?

Ideally, everyone should start taking care of their skin in their 20’s. However, you do not need to start using all the products listed above.

Cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen are required at every age. You may even have to use acne products for your entire life.

Antioxidant serums, retinoids/retinol, toners, and exfoliators can all be started in your 20’s. Most men do not need eye creams or night creams with peptides and growth factors until 30-40’s.

As you get older, you may need thicker moisturizing creams since skin gets drier as it ages. Also, as you get older, you may not need toners anymore if your skin gets drier.

Basically, you need to look at your skin and see what it needs. If you are getting brown spots, at whatever age, start to treat them. If you notice fine lines, treat them when they first appear.

Everybody ages at a different rate depending on their genetics and sun exposure. Everyone’s regimen is unique to them. One size does not fit all.

Finally, it is never too late to start caring for your skin. Good skin care will benefit you at any age.

Conclusion

Skincare for men is very important, just as it is for women.

For some reason, men were brainwashed into thinking because they have tough skin; they do not need to take care of it.

That is 100% wrong. Skin is skin.

Everyone needs to care for their skin. The old adage is true–an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The sooner you start taking care of your skin, the better. It is never too late.

Also, be patient with your skincare routine. Nothing works overnight. It takes months to see good results. Be consistent with the use of your products because it will pay off in the future. No one ever regretted taking care of their skin when they were younger.

I always recommend starting with a basic regimen of twice a day cleansing, twice a day moisturizing, and sunscreen during the day. Get comfortable with this before adding more products. Add a new product every 2-3 months as tolerated.

There is no right or wrong time frame. It is whatever works for you.

There is no one perfect and best skin care routine for men. Every person’s skin is different and needs a specialized, personalized regimen.

Look at your skin in the mirror and listen to what it says. It will show you and tell you what it needs. If you are having trouble, seek professional help from a board-certified dermatologist.

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References

  1. American Academy of Dermatology website (www.aad.org)
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation (www.skincancer.org)
  3. Zaenglein AL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016; 74: 945-73.

About The Author

Dr. Jennifer Trent MD FAAD
Dr. Jennifer Trent MD FAAD

Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Trent completed a 6 year combined BS-MD at the University of Miami with an undergraduate major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She completed her internship in Internal Medicine and her residency in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital. Dr. Trent is a world recognized dermatologist, who has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also co-authored a textbook on dermatologic diseases and therapy, which was published by McGraw-Hill Co, Inc. She has had the opportunity to present her clinical research several times at national medical meetings. Dr. Trent has been the recipient of several awards for research, teaching and clinical practice, including the prestigious Young Investigators award for research from the American Academy of Dermatology as well as the coveted Castle Connelly Top Doctor award.

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