I have taken notice of the “for men” sections of skincare and cosmetic aisles. They are usually significantly smaller than the general selection, filled with lots of blue and grey colored packaging, and woody scents. I was curious if there are any differences in the products, what kind of skincare men should be using, and where shaving comes into play. I go over all of these topics and more in this post.
Male vs Female Skin
To understand male skincare, you should know that there are several hormonal, physiological, and anatomic differences between male and female skin.
- In general, men have more sebum production than women. This can lead to stretching of the sebaceous glands (AKA larger pores). Increased oil production can be attributed to higher androgens (male hormones).
- Men have thicker dermal skin (around 20% thicker) than women. Men also have a higher collagen production.
- Men’s skin tends to age more gradually than women’s, losing collagen consistently throughout their life, whereas after entering menopause aging can seem expedited in many women.
- Men tend to have less transepidermal water loss than women. Transepidermal water loss is the rate that water leaves the skin and evaporates. Although this is a natural process, it can be a big cause of dry or dehydrated skin and can also have a negative impact on the integrity of the skin barrier.
- Men tend to have deeper wrinkles while women struggle more with fine lines.
Generally, men don’t have elaborate skincare routines so the “all-in-one” approach makes sense to a lot of people. Marketing for men’s products is geared towards getting as much use out of one product as possible. I mean, if it’s good enough for your hair, might as well use it on your face too right? In theory that’s great, and if it works for you I say stick to it unless either your skin barrier feels compromised or your dermatologist tells you otherwise.
A potential problem with using all-in-one products, specifically soap, is that they usually contain harsh surfactants, a fancy word for harsher than normal soaps. This might not be a huge problem for someone with truly oily skin but can actually exacerbate issues in people with dryer or sensitive skin types. Another issue with these types of products is that they denote that it’s unnecessary to use other products which can lead to specific skin concerns (sensitivity, razor burn, acne, etc) not getting the attention or treatment needed to make a positive difference in skin health. For example, a 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body wash might get your hair clean and have your armpits smelling like cedarwood, but it’s not going to treat dehydrated skin or acne. So while there’s no great harm for people with healthy skin taking the all-in-one route, for someone with skin issues or sensitivity to certain ingredients, these products can potentially do much more harm than good.
This is the biggest difference between male and female skincare routines and product needs.
Shaving is a form of manual/physical exfoliation, meaning it removes the top layer of dead skin cells. While exfoliation is an awesome benefit of shaving, like any form of exfoliation, it leaves the skin more vulnerable so it’s important to keep your skin hydrated and use sunscreen.
The most common problems men run into with shaving are razor burn, ingrown hairs, and folliculitis. These conditions can be uncomfortable and persistent if left untreated.
Some tips I learned from my research on face shaving:
- Change your blade every 3-6 weeks or when you notice dulling; dull blades create more friction which can cause or worsen irritation.
- Rinse the blade well after every use to avoid bacterial growth.
- Using a salicylic face wash before shaving can help if you struggle with ingrown hairs or razor burn.
- Be gentle; don’t apply a lot of pressure to the blade when shaving
- Pat your face dry instead of rubbing with a towel.
- Apply a basic moisturizer or moisturizing sunscreen after shaving to minimize transepidermal water loss and prevent irritation.
- If you have ultra-sensitive skin you can skip the wet shave all together and use an electric razor instead. This will help avoid razor burn, but will not get as close of a shave. You can also alternate between traditional shaving and electric trimmer. (Note: Someone I spoke to about this actually said that using an electric shaver caused more skin irritation than the traditional way, so this is something you might have to figure out through trial and error.)
Since shaving is a form of exfoliation, it can be tricky to know if it’s enough to use as your only exfoliation step. For most people, shaving is done mostly around the lower face and neck so you’re missing some crucial real estate like the nose and forehead, which can be some of the oiliest and most congested areas of one’s face.
There are two types of exfoliation in skincare: manual and chemical. Manual exfoliation works only on the top layer of dead skin and is what you get from gritty scrubs or even wiping your face with a towel. Chemical exfoliation is AHAs and BHA (glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, etc.) which can get much deeper, unclog pores, treat acne, improve hyperpigmentation, and provide hydration. Chemical exfoliation might seem like the harsher way to go, but manual is actually much more abrasive and better for use on the body.
How often exfoliation should be done is up to the individual. For sensitive skin, it can be as little as once a week (at most). For someone with more tolerant skin a leave on exfoliant can be used up to 3-4 days a week. If you use a salicylic acid wash all over your face before shaving then you’re already getting mild exfoliation (plus what you get from shaving), so keep that in mind when deciding how often to use other exfoliating products; for a lot of people just using a salicylic face wash is enough.
If you feel your skin can take the extra exfoliation, fair enough, but pay attention to how your skin is feeling. Signs that point towards over-exfoliation (AKA damaged skin barrier) include tightness, redness, burning, stinging, etc.
The best thing to do when your skin becomes sensitized is to use a basic cleanser and moisturizer, cut back on or stop exfoliating for several weeks to allow your skin time to heal, then gradually introduce active ingredients back into your routine to make sure you don’t react again. Of course, if you experiencing any unusual or persistent skin irritation see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
What To Avoid
- A potential problem with men’s skincare is the same as what is actually appealing about it; products marketed for men tend to contain high amounts of fragrance which can lead to irritation or allergic dermatitis. Of course, not everyone is sensitive to fragrance, but layering several scented products on can become an issue. This is especially true for products meant to be used after shaving since your skin has been freshly exfoliated.
- Just because you have thicker skin that can, in theory, take more abrasion and stronger ingredients, doesn’t mean you should purposefully be rough with your skin. Try not to use harsh scrubs that are uncomfortably abrasive, pat dry after cleansing or showering instead of rubbing, and don’t over-exfoliate.
What To Look For
Ingredients like niacinamide and salicylic acid are both great options for oil control and are also anti-inflammatory which prevent and calm irritation from shaving.
Is there a reason to avoid female marketed products?
There are no imperative reasons to only use skincare for men or to avoid products marketed toward women. Right now the biggest differences in skincare are aesthetics, scent, and user convenience (i.e., all-in-one products for men or multi-product sets for women). For the majority of skincare, whether it comes in gold sparkly packaging or a stark blue tube, the formulas are essentially the same. The only time you should truly avoid or seek certain types of products/ingredients is if they do/don’t work for you or your physician or dermatologist suggests it. There is, however, a large market of shaving products that are specifically meant to be used by men and for dense facial hair, as well as the contours of the face and neck, although these products can be useful for females as well.
- Salicylic Acid Cleanser
mildly exfoliating and anti-inflammatory, both of which will help with razor burn and ingrown hairs. Can be used every day if well tolerated.
- Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser *
- The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser
- Cerave Renewing SA Cleanser
Generally, men aren’t very diligent with sunscreen. Texture and stickiness/tackiness of products could be the reason. This is a hugely important topic because, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, men are at higher risk for developing melanoma and are twice as likely to die from melanoma, at any age. You can read more about the importance of sun protection in my All About Sunscreen post.
*If your sunscreen isn’t moisturizing enough, use the same moisturizer from your nighttime routine before applying sunscreen.
*If you’re shaving at night, skip the SPF and go straight in with a basic moisturizer.
Nighttime or No Shaving Routine
(If you are struggling with acne I have an All About Acne that goes over different ance fighting ingredients/products in more depth)
Massage onto damp skin for 20-60 seconds, then rinse clean or gently remove with a washcloth. If you have a lot of sunscreen on you can use your cleanser twice to make sure everything is removed. Pat dry with a clean towel or washcloth.
- Dr. Sam’s Flawless Cleanser
- La Roche Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Face Wash
- La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser
Using a moisturizer at night will help protect and strengthen your skin barrier as well as prevent transepidermal water loss that happens after cleansing. It’s ok if your skin still a little damp when applying a moisturizer.
- Dr. Sam’s Flawless Moisturizer Light
- Paula’s Choice Clear Oil-Free Moisturizer*
- The Ordinary NMF + HA*
- La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer
Exfoliation (optional): Apply before moisturizer.
- Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid *
- Paula’s Choice The UnScrub
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toner *
- The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum *
Oil Control (optional): Apply before moisturizer.
What are skincare misconceptions that you see being perpetuated?
- Dr. Daniel Sugai “Dermatologist’s Shaving 101”
- Dr. Daniel Sugai “Skincare for Men”
- Dr. Dray Gillette Fusion Razor Review + Shaving Tips
Rahrovan S, Fanian F, Mehryan P, Humbert P, Firooz A. Male versus female skin: What dermatologists and cosmeticians should know. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(3):122-130. Published 2018 Jun 22. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.03.002
*DISCLAIMER: This post is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment.
*This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links marked “*”.