Like any other subculture, online skin care communities have their own tropes and stereotypes. There’s the compulsively anxious sunscreen addict so afraid of UV that she’s installed blackout curtains and never leaves the house before nightfall. There’s the hapless newbie who thinks scouring her face with lemon juice and ground up apricot pits is the key to perfect skin. And then there’s the dude who washes his face with dish soap and doesn’t understand what moisturizer does.
But that’s been changing. Market research conducted over the past several years indicates that men are developing more of an interest in skin care—interest that could be worth $166 billion by 2023, according to one forecast. That interest is reflected in a larger variety of skin care products specifically marketed to men. You can see them all the way from the drugstore level up to salon and luxury brands.
I’ve been wanting to write about skin care for men for a while, so I fired up Google Forms, created a short survey for men who follow my Instagram account, and asked them to tell me what men’s skin care myths they’d like to see dismantled.
Market research indicates that men are developing more of an interest in skin care—interest that could be worth $166 billion by 2023.
Myth: Men Need Products That Are “For Men”
You know those shelves of men’s skin care at the drugstore—those “angry sounding products in weird colors,” as one respondent described it? The ones with “garish labels like PREPPY PINE or STRONG CEDAR or MANLY MINT,” as another respondent said? The ones that shout, in large and high-contrast lettering, that they are for MEN?
It’s all marketing. The biggest differences between MEN’S SKIN CARE and skin care that’s marketed with gender-neutral or a more overtly feminine branding is the packaging and the fragrance used. While hormonal differences make men’s skin thicker and oilier on average than women’s skin, the difference isn’t significant enough to warrant entirely different skin care formulations. Skin is skin.
The excessively, stereotypically masculine branding of many men’s skin care products seems to be a way to reassure the straight male consumer that taking care of his face beyond washing and shaving does not make him less masculine. Men’s faces don’t need reassurance, though. Men’s faces need the same things women’s faces need: cleansing, perhaps some moisturizer, and definitely sunscreen.
So if you’re looking for products to effectively address your skin concerns, look at ingredients, not packaging. All the MANLY MINT in the world won’t calm shaving-induced irritation or minimize your breakouts if manly mint isn’t what works for your skin.
Myth: Men Need Harsher Products Than Women
“I know men tend to have more resilient and oily skin than women, but men still have skin types; men can have sensitive dry skin too,” one of my survey respondents wrote. That’s a point many men’s skin care manufacturers seem to overlook. When “men’s skin care” does differ in formulation from products not marketed at men, it tends to be harsher and more astringent. Alcohol seems to appear more often and higher in the ingredients lists in men’s skin care, and oil control is a common selling point.
That, along with the strong fragrances associated with men’s skin care products, spells trouble specifically for men with sensitive and/or dry skin. Overly harsh cleansers and a lack of moisture are just as damaging for men’s skin as they are for women, leading to increased risk of breakouts and irritation as well as a generally dull and more aged appearance.
Harsh cleansers and a lack of moisture are just as damaging for men’s skin as they are for women, leading to increased risk of breakouts and irritation.
There’s no need to go all in with a 10-step Korean beauty routine if that’s not what you’re into. Nor is there any need to aspire to the glistening, Photoshopped complexion perfection of a K-pop boy band member if that’s not what you’re into. Cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen are a perfectly good routine for simply keeping skin healthy and looking its best. Even for that more attainable goal, however, a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen appropriate to your skin’s needs are crucial, and it’s more likely you’ll find those in the not-specifically-for-men section of the store than you will on the much more limited specifically-for-men shelves.
So How Do You Start Figuring Out What You Need?
My advice to men trying to find their way in the increasingly vast and bewildering world of skin care is the exact same advice I’d give to women: Do your research.
Start by figuring out what your skin type is. There are plenty of guides online to help you. I like this short and simple one from Michelle Wong at Lab Muffin, which explains the differences between oily and dry skin as well as the differences between dry and dehydrated skin.
Once you know what skin type you have, you’ll have an easier time finding products with ingredients and consistencies that suit you. Oily skin does better with very light and water-based products, like gel moisturizers. Dry skin needs richer consistencies with more fats and oils. Dehydrated skin needs more hydration, generally in the form of hydrating toners and serums under a moisturizer to seal them in.
After you figure out your skin type, take some time to articulate exactly what you want your skin care to do for you. If you’re just looking to keep it healthy, comfortable, and protected from cancer-causing UV radiation, all you need to do is find an appropriate face wash, moisturizer, and sunscreen. If you have other goals, like clearing acne or reducing visible skin aging, spend more time looking into the ingredients whose effectiveness is supported by research.
There are a number of excellent, science-based skincare influencers whose content will be enormously helpful. Along with Lab Muffin, I like to recommend Dr. Davin Lim, an Australia-based dermatologist who provides straight-to-the-point information on both topical ingredients and clinical treatments. Cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko often discusses the latest research in accessible terms and provides insights into marketing and industry trends as well to help put products into context.
After you figure out your skin type, take some time to articulate what you want your skin care to do for you.
Once you’ve identified a few key ingredients that sound like they’ll work for you, you can start narrowing down your product options.
And take your time. Substantial improvements to skin don’t happen overnight—that’s yet another marketing myth that needs to die. Everyone’s skin is different, and all of us undergo a process of trial and error as we work towards the most ideal routine for our particular skin and goals. But your skin will improve incrementally as you go, and the more you learn, the better off you’ll be, whether you stick to the basics or go all in with serums and sheet masks too.