Skin Care: It's Not Just for Women

Experts explain how men's skin can stay healthier with help from a range of products and regimens.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 12, 2006
6 min read

For many men, "skin care" is something their wives or girlfriends do. Reaching for the shaving cream, they knock over bottles of moisturizers and creams and wonder if all those expensive potions and their exotic ingredients are even worth the plastic they're packaged in.

So it's not surprising that many men react to new male-oriented lines of skin care products by assuming they're mere marketing ploys aimed at separating self-absorbed men from their money.

Yet skin care isn't just for the growing ranks of urban "metrosexuals." Dermatologists from across the country tell WebMD that growing numbers of older men are seeking advice on how to stay looking younger for longer.

"No matter how well you dress, how nice your haircut is, and how healthy you are, if you have skin that is dull and freckly and blotchy you're not going to look your best," says Jeffrey Dover, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.

And proper skin care isn't just about looking young; it can also prevent deadly skin cancers. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are reported each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Nearly 8,000 of those cases are fatal.

Fortunately, there are simple skin care options available for men that require a minimal investment of time or money. In fact, men have an edge over women in the skin care game. Still, there are a few products that can help guys' skin look its best at any age.

If you've ever cursed the need to shave your face each day, consider the upside: all those hair follicles will help to keep your face wrinkle-free.

Men's facial hair acts as sort of support structure for the face, Rebecca Tung, MD, a dermatologic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, tells WebMD. Men also have more collagen and elastin fibers -- the connective tissue that gives skin its strength and elasticity -- and a tighter network of fatty tissue directly under the skin.

As a result, men's skin is on average 20% to 30% thicker than women's skin, Tung says. And thicker skin does a better job of resisting wrinkles.

Hair glands also produce oil, which means men's faces are naturally oilier than women's, notes Seth Yellin, MD, chief of facial plastic surgery at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. The oil traps moisture, which keeps skin hydrated and gives it a plumper and more youthful appearance.

Finally, shaving gives men an edge in skin care. "Shaving is a dramatic exfoliation of outer skin layers, which leads to a more youthful skin appearance," Yellin says.

Still, men's faces do age. Men are just as vulnerable to skin cancer. And more oily skin makes men more prone to skin problems such as acne and blackheads. But there are steps men can take to protect themselves.

Men want their skin care to be simple, says Tung. And for men who don't have the time or temperament for anything else, Tung has one piece of advice: Use sunscreen.

"A good skin regimen that includes a total sun protection program goes beyond maintaining a healthy, attractive appearance," Tung tells WebMD. "It could save your life, given that 90% of all deadly skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet light from the sun."

Sunlight generates high-energy particles called free radicals that attack skin cells, Yellin says. The attack destroys collagen and damages cellular DNA, which can lead to cancer.

Make sure your sunscreen provides full-spectrum protection -- that is, protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. The SPF rating in sunscreen measures protection against UVB, which causes sunburn and skin cancer. (Sunscreens should have an SPF rating of at least 15 for all skin types.)

But UVA radiation is more powerful, says Yellin. It penetrates glass and goes deeper into the skin. It also plays a part in sunburn and skin cancer as well as skin aging.

Men with lighter skin must protect their skin from the sun more aggressively than men with dark skin to avoid sun damage or skin cancer, says David Melamed, MD, medical director of West LA Medical & Skincare in Los Angeles.

If you haven't made sun protection part of your daily routine, here's some advice from the experts on how to make it easy:

  • Try a gel or a spray. Many men dislike the feel of lotions or creams and prefer gels or sprays for their ease of application, Tung says.
  • Don't forget your bald spot. Use a hat, or put on plenty of sunscreen.
  • Cover up. Think hats, long pants, or long-sleeved shirts. Tightly-knit fabrics afford more protection, and special sun-protective clothing is also available.
  • Consider buying a "tan in a can." Miss that bronze glow? The American Academy of Dermatology calls self-tanning lotions and sprays "a safe alternative to tanning." The active ingredient, known as DHA, produces a tan color that does not wash off. A sunless tan doesn't protect you from the sun, so you will still need a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15.
  • Avoid tanning beds. They're no safer than sunlight; most salons use bulbs in their tanning beds that emit a significant amount UVA and UVB radiation, says the American Academy of Dermatology.

After the universal recommendation of a daily coating of sunscreen, dermatologists say your skin care regimen should depend on your individual characteristics.

As you choose the products that are right for you, you may want to consider the newer male-oriented lines. The active ingredients in these products are typically the same for men as for women, says Dover. But the textures are less creamy, the scents are muskier, and the packaging is more masculine.

Here's the lowdown on a few of the most common products:

  • Cleansers. Soap and water is fine for most skin types, Yellin says, but men with oily skin may want to consider using an astringent. Tung recommends fragrance-free or dye-free products for men with sensitive skin.
  • Razors. The new razors with multiple blades are great for a close shave. And for many men they provide a welcome "microdermabrasion" that removes dead layers of skin, notes Suzan Obagi, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Care Center. But for African-American men and other men with very curly hair, the blades are more likely to cause painful razor bumps resulting from ingrown hairs. These men may prefer a single-blade or electric razor. They may also seek out more soothing shaving creams or gels.
  • Aftershave. For many men, alcohol-heavy aftershaves do little more than dry out the skin, Melamed says. Instead, consider an aftershave balm that includes a disinfectant and moisturizer to prevent blackheads or ingrown hair.
  • Retinoids. These help unplug and prevent clogged pores. The most famous of these are vitamin-A based retinoids such as Retin A or Renova. The prescription retinoids have been proven to prevent or reverse sun-induced skin aging, Dover says.
  • Antioxidants. Topical vitamin C is a popular antioxidant. Make sure you get vitamin C in a topical serum rather than a cream, as only serums are absorbed into the skin, Obagi says. Other antioxidants include vitamin E and green tea extract.

Feeling overwhelmed by the variety of products on offer? Dover suggests combination products, such as a sunscreen that includes moisturizers and antioxidants.

Need help designing the regimen that's right for you? You may want to consult a licensed aesthetician (they typically work in spas) or a dermatologist (who can also tell you about treatments such as laser hair removal or restoration). But stay away from the beauty counter at department stores, advises Melamed. Clerks at these counters have no formal training and tend to push expensive and ineffective treatments, he says.