Fact: Your skin is the largest organ on your body, so why do so many men avoid spending an extra buck to take care of it? When soap-and-water guys decide to dive into the wonderful world of grooming and skincare, it can be intimidating. Sales associates at beauty stores will try to sell you anything, there are a million different brand options, and product ingredient lists can look like a foreign language to most men (yikes!). Even if you love to try out new grooming products, buying into fads of the moment can start to take a toll on your wallet.
To finally find out exactly what products are absolutely necessary when it comes to skincare for men, we called on three major grooming experts — Dr. Geoffrey Genesky (scientific director at Kiehl’s), Dr. Howard Sobel (sought-after New York-based dermatologist), and Kyle Bergman (senior merchant for BirchboxMan).
The one thing they all agreed on? SPF is essential to your skincare routine, and you need to look at your product labels for key ingredients that have an impact on your skin, like caffeine, vitamins A, C, and E, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid.
“I recommend the same protective and restorative skincare program that I recommend in women," Sobel says. "The earlier you start, the less skin damage — such as sunspots, loss of elasticity, fine lines, and wrinkles. I would start with products that contain retinol, vitamin C, antioxidants, moisturizers with glycolic acid, and, of course, the most important moisturizers with SPF of at least SPF 30 if you’re going to be in the sun."
Before time runs out and your only option is to go under the knife or turn yourself into a human pincushion of injectables, let’s have these grooming VIPs break down the skincare for men you need in your dopp kit to look your best.
Meet the Grooming Experts:
Dr. Geoffrey Genesky is the scientific director at Kiehl’s. An expert in skincare, his focuses include ingredient research and new product development. He holds a PhD in chemical engineering from Cornell University.
Dr. Howard Sobel received his degree in medicine from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and completed his residency in dermatology and dermatologic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. He's the director of Sobel Skin Aesthetic Dermatology Center and the first editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cosmetic Surgery and Aesthetic Dermatology. Sobel has also been listed as one of New York Magazine’s best doctors for 17 years in a row.
Kyle Bergman is the senior merchant of Men's Grooming & Lifestyle at BirchboxMan. He sources new and exciting men's brands to bring into the BirchboxMan family, and he has a major role in managing and fostering relationships with their exciting brand partners. He gets to see what's trending in the grooming space from testing out all of the products firsthand.
Step 1: Face Wash
Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foam Face Wash
It’s time to upgrade from a standard hand soap and use a face wash that'll gently remove dirt and impurities, without stripping your skin of natural oils. While there are some great skincare options out there for different skin types and needs, Genesky shared his favorite face wash and translated the scientific ingredients for the average joe.
"My skin can be slightly oily at times, and this formula has the perfect balance of cleansing agents to leave skin feeling clean but without stripping the skin barrier and over-cleansing, which can lead to water loss,” Genesky says.
Water loss? Is that a thing?
“First and foremost, water loss is bad for skin since dry skin can look dull, sallow, uneven, or even flaky in extreme cases,” Genesky says. "It'll also typically feel less soft and smooth, of course. But skin dryness can set off a chain reaction of sorts of negative effects on the skin. For example, processes such as skin cell turnover — the constant 'refreshing' of cells throughout the skin’s surface layers — partly depend on skin maintaining an appropriate water content. For healthy-looking skin overall, hydrating and preventing water loss is key."
While this might be the first time you've seen the ingredient calendula mentioned in a product before, it's actually been used as a skincare treatment in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines! It's no wonder this ingredient has stood the test of time as a powerful antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory that's super soothing.
Suffer from acne breakouts or have super oily skin? Check out these other great face washes for men!
Step 2: Eye Cream
Brickell’s Men’s Restoring Eye Cream for Men
Your under-eye skin is thin and fragile, which means an eye cream is a must-have for aging like a fine wine. While we’ve tested some of the best eye creams for men out there, we asked Sobel for his take on eye cream.
“Reach for a product that includes ingredients like vitamin K and caffeine to combat dark and puffy under-eyes that make you look tired," he says. "Also, retinol to reduce wrinkles and boost collagen production. Be cautious of retinol during the day. Although it delivers amazing results, it causes the skin to increase sensitivity."
While retinol can be dangerous for the daytime and for any guy with sensitive skin, our top eye cream for men is perfect to dab on in the morning with killer ingredients (and it's a favorite for Bergman, too!).
Brickell’s restoring eye cream will do wonders for fine lines, dark circles, and puffiness, all while using 70% organic ingredients. Plus, the results are immediate, according to users. While this eye cream checks almost all of our anti-aging boxes (with ingredients like caffeine, vitamin A, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid), it has Matrixyl 3000 instead of retinol, which is a blend of protein peptides that boosts collagen production and is said to reduce wrinkles in two months by 45%!
Keep your under-eye areas looking on point with these other top eye creams for men!
Step 3: Moisturizer
Eir NYC Surf Mud SPF 30
When it comes to picking out a moisturizer, you want one that’s super hydrating and will protect your skin from free radicals, which can damage skin cells. If you need a beginner-friendly moisturizer, Kyle Bergman recommends the Eir NYC Surf Mud SPF 30, which features a unique ingredient you might not associate with skincare products for men.
“Eir NYC Surf Mud SPF 30 is truly a great and moisturizing SPF balm due to one of its ingredients, cocoa, which contains flavonoids (compounds that have antioxidant effects)," Bergman says. "Cocoa has numerous health benefits and can be used to protect the skin from free radicals, and it's ultra hydrating. Cocoa butter is actually a very popular ingredient and used in all sorts of beauty and grooming products.”
Studies have also shown cocoa is a stellar antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, when combined with tea tree oil (another main ingredient in this moisturizer), it’s perfect for treating sunburned and sensitive skin. While cocoa butter is a comedogenic oil that can cause breakouts in some people, tea tree oil is great for combating acne. Plus, with zinc oxide (which gives this cream a natural SPF and is known to heal wounds, infections, and acne), you have a perfect combo for smoother skin.
Step 4: Sunscreen
DDF Weightless Defense Oil-Free Hydrator with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF45
Speaking of sunscreen, all three experts stressed the importance of protecting your skin from the sun — and we’re not just talking about during the summer months. Basically, this is a must-have in any man's skincare routine.
"In addition to protecting against sunburn, it’s the number-one thing that we can do to protect against the visible signs of aging. I use it every day, even on cloudy days, since UVA rays (the type typically associated with the type of skin damage that leads to visible aging, like lines, wrinkles, sagging, etc.) can penetrate through clouds," Genesky says.
So how does a guy know what to look for?
“Look for sunscreens that have ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to absorb rays and reflect them off the skin, as well as octocrylene (a moisturizing chemical sunscreen) and octisalate (an organic sunscreen that absorbs UVB rays) to maintain longevity of the product on the user," Sobel says. "Be mindful of the level of protection the sunscreen offers; UVA and/or UBV to prevent sun spots, premature aging, loss of skin elasticity, and burns."
Remember that it's important to reapply every couple of hours to make sure that smooth skin is protected, or you'll be toast. SPF 15 works when you're barely making it out in the summer sun, but SPF 30 is a must for days outdoors. When it comes to the best sunscreen for men, go for one that’s water-resistant, because guys tend to sweat more. Thankfully, Sobel has a recommendation for a lightweight moisturizer (from a brand he founded back in '91) that’ll keep your skin hydrated and protected for up to 8 hours.
“I would recommend DDF Weightless Defense Oil-Free Hydrator with SPF 45, which is a non-greasy and oil-free formula containing vitamins A, B-5, C, and E, along with grape-seed extract, to combat free radicals and give you a more youthful look while delivering moisture and protecting you from the sun’s rays," he says. "I’d also recommend Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution with SPF 50. The anti-pollution complex preserves skin’s radiance and protects from environmental toxins.”
In addition to the usual SPF coverage you see on packages, you might be curious about what exactly sets "broad spectrum" coverage apart? Genesky shares this helpful explanation:
“In the U.S., the FDA mandates that any product making this claim has been tested to prove that it protects against a wide range of UV rays — those that can cause sunburn, but also those that can lead to premature aging," he says.
Step 5: Lip Balm
Olivina Men Lip Balm
Another area of thin skin on your face is your lips. Keep those bad boys kissable with a hydrating lip moisturizer that’ll keep them from getting chapped and cracked (seriously, the worst!).
“This certified organic lip balm is great for two very hydrating and nourishing ingredients — cocoa butter and olive oil," Bergman says. "Olive oil contains both vitamins A and E, which are great for repairing sun damage while simultaneously holding your skin’s natural moisture. From a personal standpoint, I truly love this lip balm! It comes in three really cool flavors such as Bourbon Vanilla, Juniper Mint, and Ginger Citrus.”
Bergman has been a fan of the brand for the same reason most guys would be — Olivina Men keeps their ingredients simple for just what men need in their skincare routine. Plus, any brand with boozy scents is already a total winner!
Want Some Skincare Extra Credit? Get a Face Serum
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate Serum
Serums? Yes, guys! Serums will absorb deeply into your skin after washing your face to deliver a high concentration of key ingredients for youthful-looking, hydrated skin. Genesky used Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate while recently preparing for his wedding day, along with the Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution for a one-two punch of vitamin C. The high potency of vitamin C (12.5%) in the Powerful- Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate with added hyaluronic acid gets our top pick as a serum that'll brighten your skin, improve skin texture, and reduce lines and wrinkles to give you a healthy glow.
You might see hyaluronic acid and vitamin C as recommended ingredients in some of the best skincare products for men, and Genesky knows exactly why these all-stars are always a smart skin choice.
“Hyaluronic acid is already present in our skin as one of skin’s natural hydrators," he says. "It has the ability to absorb a lot of water, which has two effects in our skin. First, it helps to anchor moisture in the surface layers. This is important since dryness there can lead to skin looking dull, sallow, uneven, or even flaky in extreme cases. Hyaluronic acid is also naturally present at deeper layers of our skin (in the dermis). There, it helps to reinforce skin’s mechanical properties since it's one of the constituents that fills the spaces between the structuring proteins like collagen. Think of it this way — the structuring proteins like collagen build skin’s structure, and compounds like hyaluronic acid absorb water and 'plump' around them to further reinforce skin.”
“We use different classes of vitamin C at Kiehl’s, depending on the skincare target. has activated C (3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid), which is a specialist class of the ingredient for clarity, skin tone evenness, and minimization of dark spots. Our formula's fast-absorbing, lightweight, watery texture makes it an easy addition to any guy’s skincare routine.”
Wait ... different classes of vitamin C?
“Pure vitamin C will appear on an ingredient label as ‘ascorbic acid’ or ‘l-ascorbic acid’,” Genesky says. "There's a lot of research on its multiple benefits for skin. However, pure vitamin C is difficult to formulate with, since it's prone to oxidation and therefore can quickly degrade in a bad formula or package. Any product with pure vitamin C should have an opaque or tinted package to prevent degradation by light.”
Because vitamin C can be hard to work with, other types of the ingredient may be used in products instead. Genesky says they may have a slight difference that can make them easier to stabilize, which can sometimes lead to different skincare effects. For instance, he says 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is a specialist for boosting skin clarity, and vitamin CG will appear on product labels as "ascorbyl glucoside."
Getting a concentrated dose of ingredients like vitamin C as a stellar antioxidant and collagen booster can really bring you the results you want in your skincare routine, making it worth the slightly higher price tag.
There you have it, guys — the ingredients and products worth searching for to make your mug look its best! While it can be tough to throw down the extra cash with these new men's skincare additions, it’s a small price to pay for a major confidence boost thanks to healthy-looking skin for years to come. Remember: It’s the same you, only better.
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