We get it – the skincare aisle is a strange, baffling maze, stuffed with arcane acronyms and what seems like a bazillion variations. Still, plain ol’ soap-and-water just doesn’t cut it for ideal skin health.
If you’re gunning for a clear complexion to match your spiffy suit and dress shoes, we’re here to decode the basics of men’s skincare with you.
In this no-BS guide, we talk you through the essentials of effective skincare, exactly what each product does, and how to use it.
Step 1: Cleanser
This one is non-negotiable. Facial cleansers sweep away the nasties that constantly build up on our skin – dirt, oil, germs, and other pollutants.
These impurities clog up your pores, leading to dull, greasy skin that’s prone to breakouts – not the most inspiring look.
Choosing your cleanser: It isn’t a case of the ‘more’ cleansing, the better. Our skin has a natural moisture barrier that keeps it hydrated while repelling irritants in the air.
Harsh, high-alkaline cleansers – similar to soap – will disrupt your skin’s ideal pH level of 5-6, stripping away this protective barrier.
Hence, the golden rule is low-pH; if you’ve got oily skin, a foaming cleanser like La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Foaming Purifying Gel will do the job.
Drier skin needs a non-foaming, cream or oil-based cleanser that won’t turn it into the Sahara, such as Neutrogena’s Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser.
How to use: Drier-skin folks can save the cleansing routine for once a day, while those with oily skin might want to do it in the morning and evening.
Start by wetting your face to get it moist, then gently rub the cleanser on with a circular motion.
Step 2: Toner
Sounds like fitness gear, looks like water – just what the heck is toner? These oft-overlooked liquids are the secret weapon in any effective skincare arsenal, a primer for other key steps.
A good toner gives your skin a quick hit of hydration, shrinks pores, and restores its natural pH balance after cleansing.
In this sense, it turns your skin into a ready canvas for your moisturizers and serums to work their magic.
Choosing your toner: You might need to drink alcohol, but your skin sure doesn’t. Alcohol-free is the watchword, and look out for alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) which help remove dead cells and improve blood flow.
If your skin is acne-prone, choose a toner with witch hazel, which has anti-inflammatory properties – Baxter of California’s Herbal Mint Toner is a cult favourite. For sensitive skin, try one with soothing botanicals like Klairs Supple Preparation Toner .
How to use: Right after cleansing, dampen a cotton pad with toner and swab it around your face. No need to rinse off – simply let dry before moving on to the moisturizer.
Step 3: Moisturiser
Whether your skin skews oily or dry, timeless is the maxim to live by: moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.
During the day, factors like pollutants and UV rays damage our skin’s moisture barrier. For some, this dries out our skin; for others, this provokes over-zealous oil production (and eventually, that dreaded shiny forehead).
Not only do moisturisers hydrate, they help our cells seal in that delish water for a firm, healthy glow.
Choosing your moisturiser: Oily skin plays well with light, water-based lotions and gels. No worries about feeling gunky with Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator Moisturiser, which soaks up excess oil and shrinks the size of your pores.
Meanwhile, dry skin types feed best on richer creams – First Aid Beauty’s intensely hydrating Ultra Repair Cream is an oasis for parched skin.
How to use: Hit up the moisturiser once or twice a day, ideally while your skin is slightly damp.
Massage it in gently with a circular, upward motion – sounds lame, but pulling your skin downward everyday is a fast track to wrinkles.
Step 4: Eye cream
The skin around your eyes is far thinner than on the rest of your face – that’s why it’s the first to get wrinkles, sagging, puffiness, and other fun ageing goodies.
A little anti-ageing care on this area goes a long way – plus it’s a quick fix for those all-nighter eyebags.
Choosing your eye cream: Creams with hyaluronic acid are great for hydrating skin and flattening wrinkles, while those with caffeine, green tea extract, or Vitamin K can help battle dark circles.
A popular all-round option is Brickell Men’s Restoring Eye Cream – this powerhouse boasts collagen-boosting Matrixyl 3000 and caffeine to improve blood circulation.
If your skin gets irritated easily, however, Burt’s Bees’ Sensitive Eye Cream is a gentle, clinically-tested formula featuring rice extracts and aloe to soothe inflammation.
How to use: After your moisturiser routine, apply a pea-sized dollop of eye balm under and around your eye. Pat in gently, all the way up to your upper cheekbone.
Step 5: SPF
Equator life is crazy sunny, so really, there’s zero excuse for forgetting the sunscreen.
UV rays are the nemesis of good skin, damaging the epidermis and inducing premature ageing, discoloration – even skin cancer.
Choosing your sunscreen: Invest in a sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 and above, and look out for the label ‘broad spectrum’ – that means it can shield you from both UVA and UVB rays.
For something lightweight, Cetaphil’s Oil Absorbing Moisturiser SPF 30 does double duty as sunscreen and moisturiser.
For the outdoorsy folks, EltaMD’s UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 ups the ante with water-resistant and antioxidant-infused protection.
How to use: Slap on liberally around 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
To exfoliate, or not to exfoliate – it’s a thorny question. Some men swear by it for clearing off dead skin cells and unclogging pores; others find it too harsh and abrasive for their skin.
It all comes down to your unique skin type – those with acne woes might find that exfoliation combats breakouts, while dry skin types will find it a cleansing overkill. Go forth and experiment to find out what works for you.
Choosing your exfoliator: Start out safe with chemical over mechanical exfoliation – that means a milder peel rather than a scrub.
A tried-and-true favourite comes from celeb derm Dr. Dennis Gross, whose Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is gentle and packed with antioxidants.
For a more budget option, there’s Caudalie’s Glycolic Peel Mask, featuring papaya enzymes to brighten skin.
How to use: Depending on your peel of choice, you might want to use it anywhere from once a month to daily. Use your exfoliator just after cleansing and before toning.
And the final step: try not to make too many friends jealous of that peachy skin.
This article was first published in City Nomads.