Lookin’ Good: A Man's Guide

What to look for in male grooming products, from skin and hair care to shaving and razor burn.

From the WebMD Archives

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.

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.

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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.

Men’s shampoo and hair-styling products

Despite the proliferation of men’s shampoos and conditioners, there is little difference between the sexes when it comes to hair. Shampoos are designed to remove oil and dirt from hair, regardless of your gender. “Most of these products distinguish themselves with a manly-looking bottle and a manly-smelling fragrance,” Glaser says. “My husband has his own shampoo and conditioner, for instance, but mostly because he doesn’t want to use a girly-smelling pink shampoo and pink soap.”

Conditioners contain ingredients that coat individual hairs so they look thicker and don’t tangle as easily, making hair easier to comb or brush, Glaser says. Some conditioners contain emollients that are absorbed into the scalp, which can help prevent drying and flaking. The best choice of shampoo and conditioner depends on the type of hair. A few rules of thumb can help:

  • Dry or thin hair: Use a creamy shampoo, which will clean and restore moisture to hair. Using a conditioner is especially important if your hair is dry or thin.
  • Oily hair: Use a clear shampoo, the best choice for washing out excess oil. You may not even need a conditioner unless you wear your hair long. Then a conditioner can help keep it from tangling.
  • Coarse or kinky hair: Use a creamy shampoo. The curlier your hair, the drier it is likely to be. So a shampoo that also restores moisture and oils is the best choice.
  • Dry, flaky scalp: Try a “medicated” dandruff shampoo. A wide variety are available over the counter. Because different products contain different active ingredients, experiment .until you find one that works. Excessive dandruff may be a sign of eczema or psoriasis. So if standard dandruff shampoos are not enough to stop the flurry, talk to your doctor.

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Once a man is out of the shower, he has a choice of dozens of hair styling products. American Crew, a leading maker of men’s hair care products, offers several hair styling creams, gels, and sprays, including classic pomades. According to David Cannell, PhD, senior vice president of R&D at Redken NYC, gels typically contain polymers that coat individual hairs. The more polymers, the firmer the hold. Gels are water-based, so they also can be diluted simply by applying them to wet hair, softening their effect. Hair waxes, which have been around for years, clump strands of hair together so they stay in place. Pomade, another perennial men’s hair product now making a comeback, is traditionally made of oils such as castor oil or petrolatum. Creams and pastes are hybrids - mixtures of gel, oil, or wax designed to combine their qualities.

With all the new men’s hair styling products, the advice of the old Bryllcream jingle - “a little dab’ll do ya” - still holds true. “Too many guys end up looking like a Ken doll,” says Eric Roos, founder of Nancy Boy, which manufactures a range of men’s grooming products.

Men’s shaving products

Shaving is the area where men typically have the most problems, especially guys with heavy facial hair. Not surprisingly, a number of blogs have sprung up devoted entirely to conversations about various men’s shaving products. One of the most popular, www.shaveblog.com, offers lively reviews of new and old men’s shaving products.

The biggest complaint is razor burn. Glaser’s advice: “If you have problem with razor burn, take the time to wash your face with warm water. Warming smoothes the skin and makes the blade less likely to scrape.”

Experiment with different shaving creams and lotions to find one that works best for you. The same advice goes for razors. Some men like razors with multiple blades. Others find that those extra blades just offer more chances to scrape and irritate the skin. Glaser’s male patients generally like razors with glide strips. Schick Quattro, for example, has a glide strip with aloe that is positioned just in front of the blade.

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As for aftershave lotions, they’re usually designed to close up pores. Lotions that contain alcohol can sting and further irritate razor-burned skin, however. So shop around for an aftershave that soothes instead of burns.

Even more irritating than razor burn are razor bumps, which are caused by ingrown facial hair, according to Glaser. The curlier or kinkier your hair, the more likely you are to be troubled by razor bumps. Her advice: Avoid shaving too close. An electric razor, for example, leaves slightly longer facial hair behind, which is less likely to grow into the skin. Better yet, use a beard trimmer, which can be adjusted to leave even more hair behind ― for the classic Don Johnson look.

Lately, some men troubled by razor burn and bumps have turned to a more permanent solution: laser hair removal. Lasers work by generating light energy that is absorbed by the dark pigment in hair and converted into heat, which damages hair follicles, explains David Colbert, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. Men have typically turned to lasers to remove simian patches on the back. But increasingly, Colbert and other dermatologists are using improved laser removal technologies to remove facial hair on men, especially on the throat, where it makes shaving a real pain in the neck. Some dermatologists are even using lasers to create neatly edged beard lines.

Despite the boom in men’s grooming products and services, however, the ideal of masculine beauty today is still the unstudied look -- natural, easy-going, even a little bit touseled. So go ahead and spend as much time as you want primping in front of the mirror. Just don’t end up looking as if you did.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Jonathan L Gelfand, MD on July 01, 2007

Sources

SOURCES: Denise Spanek, founder of Visage Studio, Burlingame, CA. Dee Anna Glaser, MD, dermatology department, St. Louis University. American Crew. David Cannell, PhD, senior vice president of R&D, Redken NYC. David Colbert, MD, dermatologist in private practice, New York, NY. Dreher F, Maibach H, Protective Effects of Topical Antioxidants in Humans, Curr Probl Dermatol, 2001; vol 29: pp 157-164.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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