The Essential Skincare Routine Every Man Should Follow

skin routine
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Think of the best men’s skincare regimen like making a sandwich, or a pizza, or following any recipe, really. There is a specific order that you need to follow in order for everything to work together to achieve the shared goal. Of course, your skincare routine won’t satisfy your hunger pangs, but it will nourish and hydrate your skin, which is the shared goal of all the products you use.

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There are two that are mandatory and the rest is optional, but extremely beneficial. Here’s everything you need to know about the best products to consider.

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Cleanser (Mandatory, Daily and Nightly)
First things first: Wash your face. You should not be applying anything to your face if it isn’t clean. That’s because there’s a thin layer of sweat, oil, and grime that has built up, and it will prevent the products you use from absorbing and from doing their jobs. Plus, cleansing unclogs the pores, and prevents them from clogging, so add another tally for doing it twice daily: when you wake up and before you hit your pillow. Do it after exercising, or after you get too sweaty or dirty during the day.

Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, it’s wise to use a product that touts itself as gentle, so that you don’t flush your face with abrasive cleansing agents multiple times a day. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for dry, irritated skin. Stick with gentle cleansers that also accommodate sensitive skin, like Aesop Cleansing Milk or Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser.

Exfoliant (Twice Weekly)
While a cleanser helps flush away dirt and grime, an exfoliant is an abrasive product that lifts dead skin cells away from the surface of the skin, preventing them from clogging pores. This process then allows the healthy, strong skin cells to put their best face forward. In this way, exfoliating can promote cellular turnover in the skin, helping to heal dark spots and blemishes faster. However, it should not be used on acne or active, healing wounds. Stick to a twice-weekly usage, as anything greater would only aggravate the healthy skin cells and cause redness or irritation. We recommend exfoliating at night so the skin can rebound fully overnight.

Two exfoliants we love are Brickell’s scrub, packed with pumice and jojoba beads, and Menaji’s face and body scrub, which is generously portioned to cover every inch.

Toner (Optional, As Needed)
If you have oily skin or if you use all of the products in this regimen, then you may need a natural toner before proceeding. A toner “resets” the skin’s natural pH levels and regulates oil production. These things are otherwise aggravated by excessive product use, or by one’s own genetics. Typically, toners are a simple splash that you can apply with a cotton ball. They absorb and dry quickly. Be certain to avoid anything with alcohol that dries the skin—that will do far more damage than good. You really can’t go wrong with witch hazel, like Thayer’s. Tea tree toners are also great at balancing and neutralizing the skin, like that from The Body Shop.

Serum (Optional)
If you want to kick your skincare regimen up a notch, the easiest way to do so is with a serum. It’s lightweight and seeps deep into the skin to help hydrate and nourish your skin. There are tons to choose from: Some promise radiant skin, while others help clear up dark spots, shrink pores, or firm fine lines. Others even exfoliate.

If this is your first foray into serums, however, then start with one that focuses on hydration. Pick a hyaluronic acid serum, since the ingredient soaks up moisture to keep skin firm. You can apply it morning and night—just a couple drops should do the trick. We recommend trying the hyaluronic acid serums from The Ordinary or OSEA.

Eye Cream (Optional)
Another optional product: eye cream, but we’re guessing more of us find it mandatory than not. That’s because eye cream can correct a host of problems, like under-eye baggage, dark circles, as well as fine lines and wrinkles. The skin around the eyes is thinner and more fragile than the rest of the face, and it’s a lot more sensitive, too. That’s why you find eye-dedicated products targeted alongside moisturizers. Many of them also contain peptides, which boost collagen and elastin production.

You can pick a caffeine- and hyaluronic-packed one for the daytime to help stimulate blood flow and boost moisture levels—for that, pick Supply’s eye cream. Or, for nighttime, you can pick something that prevents the onset of puffiness and dark circles, like Kiehl’s overnight eye cream.

Retinol (Optional, Nightly)
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that works wonders as an anti-ager. It helps shrink pores, reduce breakouts and wrinkles, and more. The only caveats: It can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, so it really should be applied for nighttime use; second, if you’re going to sign on to using retinol, you won’t see results for about three months, and you’ll need to use it indefinitely to keep said rewards. And if you experience any peeling or redness at first, it might just be that your skin is adjusting to the retinol, but most OTC products have low enough doses of retinol to do this.

There are all kinds of retinol products out there, and you might see them under different terminology, like retinoids, Retin-A, tretinoin, and so forth. The latter is the common name for most dermatologist-prescribed versions of retinol. These are typically higher-strength products that have profound effects on the skin, though they may also render it more sensitive to sunlight. Just work with your doctor to find something that works well for you. Just note that the prescriptions are often deemed “cosmetic” by your insurance company, and they may not cover its use. (A typical tube can run $100 otherwise, which is why many people stick with lower-grade, OTC products which double as their overnight moisturizer.) If you choose the OTC route, we suggest Philip Thomas Roth’s retinol serum (which should yet be topped with an overnight cream) or Drunk Elephant’s nightly retinol cream.

SPF Moisturizer (Mandatory, Daily) or Overnight Moisturizer (Mandatory, Nightly):
Moisturizing is the final step in any and all skincare routines and just as important as cleansing your face. That’s because moisturizer both nourishes and protects the skin. A daytime moisturizer should be packed with SPF to also shield the skin from harmful UV rays. Look for broad-spectrum hydrators that block both UVA and UVB rays, and something with SPF 30 or more is preferred—Cardon’s SPF moisturizer checks all the right boxes.

Since you don’t need sun protection while you sleep, pick a dense overnight cream that will work double time to help cells regenerate and to give you the most nourished skin when you wake up. Some are also packed with retinol for a 2-in-1 boost (like Clark’s Botanicals’), while others work to detox and recover skin (such as Grown Alchemist’s).

Not every guy should follow the exact same regimen. Here are some additional tips from Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, on what to consider using in your routine if you have…

Oily Skin: Green notes that, while sebum production is good for the skin’s health, an overproduction of it (as seen in oily skin) can feel grimey and can clog the pores, leading to acne and blackheads. She recommends using a lightweight, lipid-free cleanser. (We love Elta MD’s foaming cleanser.)

“After cleansing, apply a toner to help open the pores,” she says. “Select a toner with alpha hydroxy, salicylic, or glycolic acid, since these ingredients facilitate cell turnover, control oil, and remove dead skin cells.” (Try REN’s clarifying toner.)

Green says that, in general, the best types of hydrators for nourishing and regulating oily skin include gel-based products and lightweight formulas. “These elements provide your skin with the nourishment it needs without clogging the pores.” (Lab Series’ hydrating gel is an excellent option with a matte finish.)

Sensitive Skin:
One ingredient Dr. Green encourages her sensitive-skin patients to seek is bakuchiol. “ Bakuchiol is a derivative of the Babchi plant which in studies have shown to have the same effects on the skin as retinols,” Green says. However, bakuchiol products won’t be irritating on skin like retinol ones. “Although this alternative works differently, the benefits are the same: It stimulates collagen, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, plus improves skin texture, acne, and hyperpigmentation.” (Give Ole Henriksen’s Retin-ALT bakuchiol serum a go.)

As for toners, moisturizers, and serums, Green says to avoid anything salicylic acid and other alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Instead, stick with witch hazel. “Witch hazel offers the same benefits as salicylic acid. It is a natural herbal extract with the ability to cleanse the pores, soothe the skin, thus preventing blackheads and acne.” (Again, Thayer’s witch hazel is a surefire bet.)

“When it comes to a moisturizer for sensitive skin, jojoba oil works great,” she says. “It is very similar to the skin’s natural sebum which makes it a great alternative for added moisture. It has the ability to provide moisture only in areas that need it while maintaining moisture levels in other areas.” (Pyunkang Yul’s oil is a winner here.)

Acne-Prone Skin:
“Select a skin-balancing skin cleanser to balance oil control while also cleansing the skin,” Dr. Green says. (Her own brand, MG Skin Labs, makes an excellent pore-minimizing, skin-toning cleanser.) “Cleansers like this should contain a combination of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid,” she says. “Salicylic acid works to gently exfoliate the skin, removing dead skin which can clog the pores. Benzoyl peroxide treats the acne-causing bacteria. The combination of these two is effective at treating acne.”

Next, you should add a step after cleansing: Apply a treatment product (and you should avoid exfoliating, while we’re at it). “This product should also contain salicylic acid or glycolic acid,” she says of daytime use. As for nighttime, consider retinol or tretinoin as outlined above in the general regimen, after serum application. “These ingredients work well on acne-prone skin to control breakouts.” (She often recommends Differin adapalene gel, an OTC acne-fighting gel with adapalene, which is a form of retinoid. “Adapalene works by killing bacteria that causes acne and also promotes cell growth allowing the skin to heal faster.”)

As for moisture: “Acne-prone skin needs a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C,” she says. Together they’ll help the skin rebound from acne and scarring, while also promoting maximum moisture and reducing future breakouts. (Vichy’s serum + moisturizer combo is a good duo for this.)

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