We’ve talked a lot about what goes into making someone attractive, from attitude, to a sense of style, to the little things you can do to make you look better. One of those key steps to better physical attractiveness is to embrace proper grooming and hygiene.
This, sadly, is where a lot of guys fall down. Most guys have absolutely no idea how to take care of their skin. In fact, many of us roll our eyes at the seemingly complicated and occult skin-care rituals that our mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives go through. All of those bottles, tubes and pots of strange-smelling liquids, unguents, powders and creams, all of which have to be applied just so in a very specific order at different times of day, make it seem more like alchemy than helping to even out their skin-tone and prevent blemishes.
Men don’t need all that crap. Soap and water, some shampoo, a little shaving cream and some aftershave if you’re feeling fancy and we’re all good, right? Right.
Except: their skin looks so much better than ours. It’s softer, more supple, clearer and brighter. Meanwhile we’re watching all those wrinkles, blotches, blackheads, and beard-rash pile up on our shiny, shiny faces.
As it turns out, most guys aren’t just going about their skin care routines wrong but they’re doing active damage to their skin, making things worse.
Taking care of your face is one of the most important ways of making yourself more attractive, so you want to master the basics of skin care.
Know Thy Skin
The first thing you need to do is understand just what you’re working with. Skin care products aren’t all the same, and different products are designed for entirely different types of skin. If you have dry skin, products intended for people with oily or greasy skin is going to dry you out more, leaving your face cracked, raw and scaly.
There are several different skin “types” and they have very specific signs.
Not too dry or oily. Barely visible pores, few blemishes or rough spots and no real sensitivities.
Enlarged pores and shiny, almost greasy skin that’s prone to blackheads, acne and inflamed cysts. Almost all of us had oily skin during puberty.
Rough and dull complexion, often red patches and blotches. Especially dry skin can be scaly and prone to cracking and peeling. Dry skin tends to be less elastic than normal skin and more prone to fine lines and wrinkles.
An especially annoying combination of normal, dry, and oily skin. You may have dry skin on your cheeks but prone to oily skin around your forehead, nose and chin (known as your T-zone).
Almost any type of skin can also be sensitive; different products can cause allergic reactions including redness, rashes, swelling, itching and dryness.
It’s worth noting: your skin type can change over the course of your life. You may have normal skin when you’re younger only to develop dry or combination skin as you get older. Similarly, you may develop sensitivities over time that you never had when you were younger. Keeping on top of what kind of skin you have is an important part of knowing what skin care products you need.
Use a Cleanser and Toner
So ready for some bad news? Soap, especially bar soap, is really bad for your skin. It’s incredibly harsh, dries your skin out and the scents and perfumes in most bar soaps can trigger allergic reactions. At the same time, you don’t want to rely on just water; your skin is covered in dirt, dried sweat, sebum and all of the nasty pollutants that come from modern living, and water isn’t going to get rid of that. You want a gentle, fragrance-free facial cleanser – one that works for all skin types – and use it on a daily basis. Some advocate using it just before bed, so you don’t grind all the crap on your face into your pillow and let it soak in over night. Others make using their cleanser as part of their morning routine. It’s up to you to decide which works better for you.
You also want to use a toner after your cleanser. It helps clean out the pores and cuts through excess oil and sebum, leaving you with clearer, more even skin. If you’re having regular acne problems, a toner with salicylic acid will go a long way towards healing current break-outs and preventing new ones.
Worth noting: while there are biological differences between male and female skin, 99% of the differences in cleansers marketed towards men and women is, frankly, bullshit. Your type of skin matters more than whether Gillette put it in a pink or blue bottle.
Sometimes you need to take an extra step to clean your face. After all, a lot of the dirt and grime is more than just skin deep; it clogs up under your skin and in your pores, mixing with sebum and oil to help give you blackheads and the nasty volcano-sized zits that like to crop up at the worst possible moments. When you mix all of that with the layers of dead skin that builds up on your face and dulls your complexion, you need more than just a cleanser and toner to keep your face clean. You need to take the extra step and exfoliate once or twice a week.
Think of it this way: when you’re going to paint a house or varnish a floor, the first thing you need to do is sand away the original layer of paint. Same thing applies to your face. A granular scrub strips away all of the dead skin and debris, clears out the pores and helps brighten and smooth out your skin.
Exfoliating is also a good step before applying moisturizer… or shaving for that matter; it helps open up the pores and softens up your scruff, helping you have a closer shave with far less razor-burn afterwards.
Most guys need to shave better.
Nine times out of ten, a man’s typical shaving routine is to wait until he’s about to run out the door, slather on some shaving cream and attack his stubble like Sherman marching through Atlanta – cutting everything down as quickly as possible and leaving a burning mess in his wake. As a result: you’re headed off to work, class or a hot date with a nice stinging rash all over your freshly shorn cheeks, often with dabs of toilet paper glued to your grill with blood from all the nicks and cuts you gave yourself in the process.
Now an obvious answer is to just give up shaving altogether and hope that Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy and Duck Dynasty make porno-stashes and long, luxuriant ZZ Top beards fashionable again.
The other answer is to shave smarter.
If you’ve spent any time on men’s fashion sites or reading magazines like GQ or Esquire, you may have noticed that vintage-style shaving kits are becoming all the rage amongst the extremely fashion-conscious. To hear some shaving evangelists1 tell it, the only way to get a proper shave is with a pre-shave oil made from angel’s tears followed by hand-mixed eucalyptus lather applied with a shaving brush made from only the finest bum-fluff of a virgin badger and using a vintage safety-razor passed down from father to son for generations.
And, in fairness… they’re not entirely wrong. All of the extra steps – a pre-shave oil to soften the stubble and open the pores, a lather applied by a brush instead of slapped on by hand, a safety razor with fresh blades instead of a dull disposable – actually does help result in a closer, smoother shave. It’s also pretty damn time consuming and getting everything together is a not-insignificant outlay of cash on top of things.
So if you want a closer and less irritating shave without spending an hour+ on it, you need to shave properly.
To start with, you want to wash and exfoliate before you shave; this will not only help get your skin ready for shaving but also help strip away the bacteria and dirt before you start scraping your skin. It also helps ensure that you’re not shaving on dry skin (even with a shaving cream or gel). Even better: shave in the shower to help save time. The steam will moisten your face and open your pores, while causing the hair to rise up making it easier to get a closer, smoother shave.
Also: shave with the grain, using short, level strokes. Yes, shaving against the grain feels like it gives you the smoothest possible shave. It also means that you’re cutting the hair down to below skin level, which means that you’re much more likely to get some nasty ingrown hairs as it all grows back in. After each stroke, rinse the blade in hot water to dislodge the hair and shaving cream, so you’re not redepositing everything on your freshly shorn skin.
After you’re done, rinse your face with cold water to help close the pores back up and refresh the skin. Follow it up with some aftershave. You don’t want something astringent – you’re already going to have dryer skin from shaving. You want something to help moisturize and soothe the irritations – look for an aftershave with aloe vera if you’re prone to razor burn.
Although if you have the chance, there’s no better shave than a straight-razor and hot towel. Many barbers offer them now, and it’s an amazing experience that will leave your face smoother than a baby’s ass.
This is an important one. Showering and washing your face (especially if you’re using soap and not a cleanser…) tends to dry your skin out. All the hot water opening your pores that makes shaving so much easier also allows the moisture content of your skin to escape. Go figure. This dries out your skin and leaves it thinner and less elastic. This gets exacerbated as you get older when your skin starts to lose collagen and elasticity, causing wrinkles to form. Replenishing your skin’s natural moisture with a moisturizing agent helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles as well as restore the skin’s elasticity. It’s also a great way to prevent razor-burn post-shaving.
Be sure to pick a moisturizer that’s for your skin type too; if you have oily or combination skin, you want something lighter than moisturizer for normal or dry skin. You should also look to find one that also offers sun protection, preferably an SPF 15 or 30. Why? Well…
The Sun Is Your Enemy
Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t do outdoors. My fine Celtic complexion guarantees that the Cursed Day Star attempts to destroy me with its hate. If I spend fifteen minutes outside, I’m guaranteed to be doing my best Zoidberg impression for the next two weeks.
On those rare times I do venture out beyond the protective insulation of walls, I wear sunscreen like it’s my job. And with good reason.
Tanning is bad for you.
That golden glow that we associate with health and good looks is the visible effect of skin damage. The UV-A and UV-B rays from sunlight don’t just destroy skin’s elastin, causing it to wrinkle and sag. It doesn’t appear early – after all, you’re in your 20s, you think you’re immortal and your good looks are going to last forever. But the more sun-exposure you have, the more likely that you’re going to end up with age spots, heavy wrinkles, jowels and a sagging jaw-line. Fun times.
You’re thinking about looking like this:
But you ultimately end up with this:
Now granted, the Tanning Mom has a serious psychological problem, but she does give a good example of what the sun does to your skin. She’s in her 40s and her face looks like an alligator-leather handbag.
Now if appealing to your vanity isn’t enough, it’s worth noting that sun exposure also literally damages your DNA. The ultraviolet radiation causes cellular damage at the DNA level, leading your body to produce enzymes to repair them. If you take more damage than your body can repair, then you start getting cellular mutations… which leads to skin cancer and melanoma.
(If you’re like me and have a history of cancer on both sides of the family, you take this shit seriously.)
Wearing sunscreen is a matter of a long-term investment. A little effort now pays off massively when you’re in your fifties and everyone is convinced you can’t be more than 35. If you really need to get a golden tan, look into some fake-bake options; self-tanner and spray-on tan are a better option than premature aging and potential death.
Going The Extra Mile
These are the basics of skin-care. If you want to go the extra mile , there are other options you may want to consider adding to your skin care regimen:
Not just for women’s retreats at day spas anymore! Think of it as an intense, deep cleaning treatment for your skin that takes less than 15 minutes. It clears out your clogged pores, removes dead skin and evens out your skintone while reducing oil and sebum that makes your skin unpleasantly shiny.
The skin around your eyes is especially thin; this is where guys first start showing signs of getting older. An eye cream helps prevent those fine lines that deepen into crows-feet and make you look older than you really are. A cream with caffeine in it also helps reduce puffiness and dark bags under your eyes – handy for hiding the aftermath of a long night or a weekend’s hangover.
Guys almost never think about their lips until it’s too late. Guess what: your mouth can get sunburned too. A lip balm with some SPF protection helps keep them from being dry, cracked and chapped – all of which is going to guarantee you’ll not be getting that good-night kiss you’re hoping for on your date tonight.
The soap that’s drying out your face isn’t really any better for your body. A body wash won’t stress your skin out the way soap can and using a brush or loofa also adds the benefits of an exfoliating scrub to your shower. If you have problems with acne breakouts on your body (more common than you’d think – especially on your back) look for one with salicylic acid to help keep things under control.
Skin care is important, but it’s not nearly as difficult – or unmasculine – as it seems. Picking the right products and knowing when and how to use them can make all the difference between break-outs and oily, saggy skin and putting your best face forward.
- yes that’s really a thing, shut up. [↩]