I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to skincare. Maybe relative to the average college-aged straight male I’m not, but I grew up with two sisters and a mom who always taught me a lot about self-care and hygiene.
Once I hit puberty and the first signs of acne started to show, I was urgently rushed to a dermatologist and taught how to “properly” wash my face.
Like a lot of pubescent kids, my first introduction to skincare was in the form of CeraVe, Cetaphil, or Neutrogena washes that I could buy at any pharmacy. I learned to wash my face before bed (I rarely did) and to use “moisturizer” at night (I just used the lotion I had under my sink).
In recent years I’ve become more acquainted with products and am proud to say that I actually do wash my face once a day and have learned what sunscreen and facial moisturizer are. Life is good. I feel fancy and fresh every night smelling like a cucumber and pretending like I run a spa in my bathroom.
The truth is that I have no idea what any of these products are or what they’re actually for. If you asked me what my skin type was, I’d probably say: “sometimes clean”. Apparently there are things called toners, chemical peels, and an assortment of different products that I had no idea existed.
I guess I did learn the basics from my family, but in recent years, the male grooming industry has exploded and far exceeds my level of knowledge. With that being said, I’m definitely not alone. If you’re here wondering what the fuck these products are and whether or not you need them, I spent an obnoxious amount of time deciphering the body of knowledge to tell you what’s useful to know. Let’s get into it.
See a list of skincare ingredients and what they do here.
How Does Skin Work
Skin is an organ. It’s actually the largest organ you have. It’s made up of different layers that all have different functions.
The outermost layer is the epidermis, which is waterproof and where our skin tone is created. Think about it like the rain jacket you permanently wear and have no choice of what color you get.
Beneath that is the dermis, that’s where sweat glands, hair follicles, and connective tissue exists. This is a mid-layer that holds it all together.
The next layer is the subcutaneous tissue (or hypodermis). This is made of fat and connective tissue. This is what keeps your skin from sliding off of you and exposing everything you hide subcutaneously (not really sure if this is a word). Usually that’s just muscle or organs or something, I’m not really sure how it all works. But let’s focus.
As you have probably heard over and over, how your skin looks and feels has a lot to do with lifestyle factors. What you eat, how you sleep, and your general lifestyle play a lot into how healthy your skin looks and feels. Just like smoking cigarettes is bad for your lungs, certain practices aren’t so good for your skin. For example, I’d say that rubbing a piece of pizza across your face won’t do wonders for your skin.
There’s a lot to say about the relationship between lifestyle and skin care, so we’ll save it for another time.
Different Skin Types
Everybody’s skin is unique and its characteristics are a result of different factors playing out in the body. When shopping for products, knowing your skin type can help you determine what products suit you the best so you’re using them to their fullest potential.
The skin types below are generally agreed upon and many products that you buy will be designed for particular types of skin.
According to Kiehls, these are descriptions for the different types of skin:
Refers to skin that has excess oil, most commonly throughout the t-zone of the face (forehead, nose, and chin.) Oily skin tends to look shiny, feel greasy, and is often prone to blemishes and breakouts.
Is well-balanced – not too dry or too oily. Those with normal skin are not typically prone to breakouts or flakiness and tend to have a balanced t-zone. Be aware, just because it’s called “normal” doesn’t mean it’s actually the most common.
Has areas that are both dry and oily. For example, skin is typically shiny on the forehead, nose and chin, while appearing dry or normal on the cheeks.
Is generally rough, scaly, flaky, itchy or irritated with an overall dehydrated look and feel.
Varies widely from person to person but is often characterized by visible redness and dryness. Sensitive skin may not always show visible signs you may simply experience feelings of discomfort.
Comogenic Vs. Non-comedogenic
This isn’t two different types of skin, but it’s super important to note. Non-comedogenic products are products that will not clog your pores when you use them.
Looking to see if a product is non-comedogenic is pretty important before you buy it because if you buy something that’ll clog your pores, that could cause breakouts and not do the job you thought it would.
Finding a non-comonogenic label on your products should be a focus, just do a quick scan of the bottle and it should be listed there.
Subscribe to the newsletter
How to Judge Your Skin Type
There are two ways to determine your skin type:
The Bare-Face Method:
To do this you just have to wash your face with a cleanser and wait 25-30 minutes. Then, observe your skin. Does it look shiny and feel oily, or does it feel tight and look flakey? If it’s the latter, then you probably have dry-skin and if it’s the former you probably have oily skin. If it’s a combination, then you guessed it, you probably would be labeled as a combination skin.
Blotting Sheet Method:
This can be done by using a blotting sheet (a piece of paper made specifically for blotting your skin – you can buy it at pharmacies or beauty stores). Then, by observing the sheet you can determine your skin type. A sheet that shows no signs of residue or oil would be dry and a sheet that’s more oily would be oily (surprise). Again, somewhere in between (whatever that means) would be a combination skin.
This is probably the simplest and most popular product on the list. Cleanser is a product used to remove dead skin, oil, dirt, and any other contaminants from your face. It’s the product we all buy when we’re told we need to use “face wash”.
The thing about cleanser, though, is that what cleanser you use is important based on what type of skin you have, what condition your skin is in, and a number of other factors. Because cleanser is the most straightforward product, it comes in many different varieties and specifications that are worth researching on their own.
We’d suggest taking time to try cleansers and research them online to really figure out what YOUR skin needs and what will be most beneficial to you.
There’s tons of resources out there to provide you with guidance on choosing the right product for you, so we’d suggest taking advantage of what the internet has to offer and investing time to figure out what you want. And watchout, because before long we’ll pull through with resources to help you navigate the beautiful world of facial cleansers.
Exfoliators are more focused than cleansers. They are meant to remove dead skin cells and do not necessarily have to come out of a bottle. Apparently, there are brushes specifically designed to exfoliate your skin. An “exfoliating brush” or that stuff that feels like sandpaper lotion would be categorized as a Physical Exfoliant. On the other hand, face pads with salicylic acid would be called a Chemical Exfoliant. The difference being that physical exfoliants physically remove the dead skin cells and chemical exfoliants break them down…chemically.
Note: My sister said I have to mention that physical exfoliants aren’t the best because they can irritate your skin (looking at you St. Ives Apricot scrub) but they have their place.
You may be wondering “why would I spend my time getting rid of my dead skin cells, they never hurt anyone?”. Well, the reason you could benefit from exfoliating is because removing the dead skin cells leaves you looking more radiant and youthful than ever before. The second reason to exfoliate is because the process opens pores and allows them to clean out to reduce inflammation and acne. The last reason that exfoliating can really benefit any guy that shaves his face is because it can help reduce ingrown hairs by keeping the skin free of dead cells so as to not clog pores or follicles. Based on our research, exfoliating should be done BEFORE and AFTER shaving.
Also, keep it to 1x-2x per week, and expect some mild redness that should fade quickly depending on your skin’s sensitivity. I.e. don’t do it before a date unless you want to look like a tomato for the first half.
If you haven’t done one of these, it’s a game changer. Face masks come in all different shapes and sizes. You can find them in sheet form or in a jar to help moisturize, dry, and even brighten the skin. These are also fun to do. Call it social skin care. Imagine this, you and 3 of your best friends get together and just mask it up. Could be a wild way to spend your Tuesday night.
In all seriousness, these are a great way to practice a little self-care that isn’t really anything but fun.
This is a product usually used after cleanser to help restore the Ph balance of the skin. That can help reduce breakouts and keep your skin healthy.
These are popular to use after cleansing. They penetrate deep into the skin to hydrate and help fight damage to the skin. Be sure to use a moisturizer afterwards, or they can actually make your skin drier.
Pretty straightforward. Helps keep the skin from drying out and minimizes long-term damage as a result. Make sure you buy a moisturizer that is good for your skin type. Like all of these products, it’s easy to buy the first thing with good reviews, but you have to invest a little time into finding what’s right for you. If that’s frustrating (it was for me), just remind yourself of how unique and different you are. That might ease the pain.
This is pretty essential, but tough to stick to. I hate sunscreen and am horrible at wearing it. But, it’s crucial to protect your skin. Also, you can buy moisturizers that have SPF and kill two birds with one stone.
Just make sure you buy a moisturizer that is good for your skin type and try and find it with SPF. Don’t make the mistake of using any old sunscreen expecting it to be the perfect fit. That can clog your pores and be counterproductive.
What They Mean For You
Choosing what products are right for you and what ingredients you should use can be done in a few ways.
One way is to go to a dermatologist and get professional advice for what’s best. This is by far the most effective way to do this, but it comes at a cost (financially and with your time). If you’re not able to see a professional for whatever reasons, then don’t fret.
Another way (my preferred method) is to test some stuff and let your body tell you what’s working.
I love doing research and learning about different topics by kind of going down a rabbit hole of what the internet can provide. If you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s exactly what I did for this article and to educate myself some more on skin care products. This guide is meant to be helpful and personalized for the college-aged guy, but you shouldn’t stop here. There’s more information than you’ll ever be able to sift through and just cracking into it can be terrifying.
With that in mind, I’d suggest going into research with specific questions in mind, this’ll make it less overwhelming when you start looking. Try and use the information I provided above as a starting point and explore topics that interest you based on what we’ve shared.
After researching, start testing. Buy some products that interest you and that are affordable, then try them out to see how they affect you. Be consistent and attentive to see how they work. Know what you’re looking for and then check for results. For example, my only concern when it comes to my own skin is: “is it keeping my face feeling clean and fresh?”. If I use a product for a while and the answer is yes, then I’m happy.
Note: I hope that it goes without saying that any products you use should be safe to use and healthy for you (and the planet). Don’t go about testing stuff that doesn’t have a good track record.