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Lookin’ Good: A Man's Guide

What to look for in male grooming products, from skin and hair care to shaving and razor burn.
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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the vainest one of all?

If you think women win the prize for vanity, think again. In a recent market research poll of Americans and Europeans, 73% of the men described spending time in front of the mirror as “important” or “very important.” Only 72% of women set the same value on mirror time.

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Marketers have taken note. Male grooming and beauty products now represent a $30 billion industry. Cosmetic companies that once marketed exclusively to women now have extensive and growing men’s grooming lines. Cruise the men’s section at the cosmetics aisle and you may be flummoxed by the array of choices - from skin moisturizers to shampoos and styling gels designed “just for men.”

Have men finally embraced their feminine sides? Well, maybe. But the truth is, the newest male grooming products go out of their way to strut their macho credentials. They bear tough, no-nonsense names like Brave Soldier Clear Skin Face & Body Lotion, Jack Black Line Smoother Face Moisturizer, and Matrix Men Clean Rush Daily Moisturizing Shampoo.

Most of us don’t go to the cosmetic aisle to get our macho egos stroked. We go because we want to look good at work or on the town. When it is your turn in front of the bathroom mirror, here is what the experts recommend.

Men’s skin care products

Are a man’s hair and skin really different enough from a woman’s to require male care products? Or to put it more practically: Do you need a men’s formula, or can you go on borrowing your wife’s or girlfriend’s product?

Although there are differences - a man’s skin tends to be thicker than a woman’s, for instance - most grooming products, whether they are for men or women, are pretty much alike, apart from packaging and the scents that are used. Soaps and other skin cleansers remove oil and dirt. Some cleansing products contain exfoliating ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids, which are designed to slough off dead skin and clean out pores. “That may be especially important for men, because their skin tends to have larger pores, which means they can accumulate more dirt and oil,” says cosmetologist Denise Spanek, founder of Visage Studio, in Burlingame, Calif. Other ways to remove dead skin cells and rejuvenate skin: Use a mildly abrasive cleansing pad or sponge, or simply vigorously towel dry your face after washing.

Once skin is clean, moisturizing creams and lotions add moisture back, which plumps up skin cells and smoothes out the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. (Another way to keep skin hydrated is simply to drink plenty of water.) Moisturizers may be particularly helpful for African-American men, who complain about their skin appearing ashen if it gets too dry. Dee Anna Glaser, MD, professor of dermatology and director of cosmetic and laser surgery at St. Louis University, favors moisturizers that contain alpha hydroxy acids as well as antioxidants.

But do men really need to moisturize? Yes, Glaser says, if they want to slow down aging: “We know that oxidation from free radicals can cause aging of cells. It makes sense that using a skin lotion with antioxidants may help prevent some of that damage.” Even more important is wearing a moisturizer with sunscreen added. “Most of the damage we associate with aging is really UV damage from too much sun exposure,” says Glaser. Her advice: Choose a moisturizer that contains SPF 15 sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection for everyday protection. If you are spending the afternoon in the sun at a ball game or the beach, choose SPF 30 or higher and don a hat for more serious protection.

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