Men’s Skincare: How to Treat Your Face

Nail down your daily routine with the essential products.

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 09, 2012
5 min read

Some say women are the more sensitive than men, and it’s definitely true when it comes to your face.

Dee Anna Glaser, MD, professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University, says, “Men’s facial skin is typically thicker than women’s and less likely to be sensitive to ingredients in facial cleansers and moisturizers.” Skincare is also usually a simpler routine since men typically don’t wear makeup.

But shaving is another story. For men with heavy beards or curly or kinky hair, irritation and razor bumps can be a big problem. With proper face care, though, those hazards can be made a thing of the past and a clean, smooth face can become a welcome daily occurrence.

Most men prefer bars to liquid cleansers. That’s fine as long as you have normal or oily skin. But bar soap tends to dry skin out more than liquid cleansers. “If your skin feels tight or a little itchy after you wash your face, try switching to a liquid cleanser,” Glaser says.

  • If you insist on bar soap, look for moisturizing soaps with emollients such as glycerin. Many are made with vitamin E oil, olive oil, or jojoba oil.

You may experience problems with acne if you have very oily skin. Acne is caused by excess oil production that clogs pores, causing inflammation.

Look for soaps or liquid cleansers that contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzyl peroxide. All three of these exfoliating agents remove the upper layers of dead skin and allow for deeper cleaning of pores. They also have antibacterial properties.

Some soaps are laced with moisturizer, and for some men they work just fine. But the surest way to moisten your skin after washing it is to apply a moisturizer.

  • For dry skin, choose a cream, which is the thickest formulation.
  • For normal skin, reach for a lotion, which is lighter and less oily.
  • For oily skin, choose a skin toner or gel.

If you have problems with acne, moisturizers that contain glycolic acid or salicylic acid will help remove dead skin and keep your pores from clogging, dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD, says.

Lots of facial moisturizers promise to keep your face young, but not all of them deliver.

“A lot of products these days tout the fact that they contain antioxidants,” Glaser says. “Theoretically, they should help. Sunlight and pollution cause oxidative damage to skin. But so far, we don’t have any scientific evidence one way or the other that says antioxidants at the level contained in skin products really help.”

Prescription-strength products with retinol (Retin-A) do smooth out fine lines and wrinkles and even reverse signs of aging at the cellular level. But the lower levels of retinol found in over-the-counter products may not be high enough to do much good.

“You’ll get far more protection over time by making sure you use a face moisturizer with sunscreen in it every day,” Glaser says.

Anywhere your hair is thin also needs to be protected against sun damage. That includes bald spots and receding hairlines. The best bet is applying sunscreen. Choose a spray-on sunscreen if you don’t like the idea of putting lotion on your head. Some hair sprays, gels, and mousses now come with SPF protection. An even safer option? Wear a hat when you’re out in the sun.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an everyday moisturizer with SPF-30.

Most men find a comfortable way to shave and stick with it. If you’re still suffering nicks, cuts, razor burn, or razor bumps, it’s time for a change.

If your face gets irritated from shaving, try a shaving cream with aloe. Try lathering up with a little extra water and leave it on your face for a minute before you shave to soften beard hairs.

Pre-shaving oil is another solution. Applied several minutes before shaving, the oil helps moisturize skin and soften beard hairs.

  • For razor bumps, which are caused by ingrown hairs, look for a shaving cream that contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid, exfoliating agents that unplug pores. Look for hypoallergenic products without fragrance to avoid further irritating your skin.

More important than shaving oils or creams is the razor you use. Electric razors are less likely to irritate than blades. But if you prefer a blade, choose a single or double-bladed razor. Skip those multi-blade brands that promise the closest possible shave.

“If you have trouble with razor burn and razor bumps, you don’t want a very close shave. It’s better to leave a little growth in order to avoid ingrown hairs,” Glaser says.

Shave in the direction that hairs grow, not against the grain, which can cause more irritation. Some razors come with a built-in moisturizing strip, and many men swear by them. The best bet is to use an aftershave lotion to soothe facial skin and then apply a moisturizer.

  • Look for moisturizers with glycolic acid or salicylic acid.

If over-the-counter solutions don’t work, talk to your doctor about laser beard hair reduction, which can be targeted at troublesome areas.

Aftershave lotions and toners contain astringents that tighten the skin, narrowing the pores and creating a firmer skin barrier. Witch hazel is an inexpensive solution that can be used to take the puffiness out of lower eyelids after a night of carousing or a red-eye flight.

Los Angeles-based cosmetologist Marvin Westmore, who works with many actors and actresses, swears by it. “We keep cotton swabs soaked in witch hazel in the refrigerator to use when performers come in looking beat up from the night before,” Westmore says.

  • Avoid toners and astringents that contain alcohol, which causes dryness.

Many stylists recommend using a fine-tooth comb to straighten mustache hairs before trimming. Try a mustache wax if your mustache grows unruly. Waxes clump the hairs together and make them easier to comb into shape.

Use hair conditioner to manage a beard. If you’re going for a well-manicured look, use a small amount of styling gel.

Show Sources


Dee Anna Glaser, MD, professor of dermatology, Saint Louis University.

Carolyn Jacob, MD, Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology.

Vic A. Narurkar, MD, Bay Area Laser Institute.

Marvin Westmore, Westmore Academy of Cosmetic Arts.

The American Academy of Dermatology.

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