I have recently been asked whether skin care should be the same for both men and women, and the answer is both yes – and no! Pre-pubescent skin can be treated in the same way regardless of gender, but once we go through puberty specific hormones come into play, which will result in changes to the skin, and how it ages, and that will affect the products used accordingly.
Most of the advice which we see in the media is aimed at women, who for many reasons, are the ones most likely to seek professional advice or purchase products to address their concerns. Whether this is because women are happier to discuss their worries about their skin, but that somehow people think that its not cool for men to do the same, is up for debate, but there is a noticeable increase in the number of men looking for product advice and treatments, so today I am going to look at how male skin is affected by hormones, how it ages, and how to care for your skin on a day to day basis.
Before we start, the good news is that you guys are less likely to suffer from deep lines and wrinkles, and thinning of skin, as you age. Whilst your skin may get drier, it is unlikely to be as dry as your female counterparts, as you retain more of the collagen and elastin which keeps your face appearing fuller, and your higher levels of sebum production through your life helps to keep your skin more lubricated. The bad news is that you are also less likely than women to use sunscreens, and the incidences of skin cancer on your face, neck and head are therefore much higher. So if you don’t read any further, at least please make a note to get some sunscreen, and to use it every day, and don’t forget to apply to your scalp if it is exposed.
At puberty the male hormones, like their female counterparts, begin to surge, and produce testosterone. This hormone results in the increase in sebum production. Sebum is a thick sticky substance produced by the sebaceous glands in order to lubricate and protect the skin. During puberty testosterone surges result in an over production of sebum, which then blocks the follicles . Subsequently a particular bacteria called P.acnes, which should normally live happily on the skins surface, makes its way from the surface of the skin down into the follicle, causing inflammation, and resulting in the formation of spots and sometimes acne. Whilst overall women are more likely to suffer from acne than men, males are likely to have the more serious outbreaks. These can be extremely distressing and may cause a lack of confidence at a time when young men are navigating their way through adolescence and young adulthood, and telling them to “stop worrying about it” is never helpful. Early intervention is always preferable to waiting to see if it gets outgrown!
Interestingly acne is believed by some people to be more prevalent in those who work in places such as bars, fast food restaurants and garages, due to the increased levels of moisture, grease and oil in the immediate atmosphere, and whilst I know of no scientific proof of that, I have noticed with my older male clients that this is often a recurring theme.
So, what to do about it? Firstly, NEVER squeeze your spots, as it spreads the infection under the surface of the skin, causing more infections. Secondly, any seriously painful cystic or inflamed acne should always be addressed by your GP. However there are things you should- and should not- do to help your skin. Firstly, nuking your skin with harsh cleansers to strip away the dreaded oils, only results in the skin producing even more oils. So as long as you are not allergic to Aspirin, perhaps try a face wash containing Salicylic acid. The amount of Salicylic acid in an over the counter cleanser will not damage your skin, and it helps to dissolve the sebum and detritus adhering to it, weakening and reducing the acne causing bacteria, whilst working down into the follicle. Unlike the harsher cleansers this will not cause redness and irritation, thus further damaging the skins protective layer. These washes should be used morning and night, and may also be used on the back and shoulders, where many men also have acne. Using a clean pillowcase every night and a clean T-shirt or shirt daily also make cross contamination less likely. Putting clean skin onto a bacteria covered fabric is never a good idea!
Another issue which mainly affects men (although women too can suffer) is shaving rash, or Pseudo folliculitis. This is usually where after a blade cuts through the surface of a hair, but the remaining part of the hair pops back under the epidermis (the top layer of the skin), trapping the hair in the follicle below the skins surface, where it becomes irritated and inflamed, resulting in infection, and in turn causing a red lump to appear on, or under, your skin. It can also be caused by waxing, where she skin has regrown over an empty hair follicle trapping the new hair growing up from underneath. Minor cases can initially be addressed by cleansing with a face wash or toner containing Salicylic acid, (again, as long as you are not allergic to aspirin), but if severe, or painful, it should be treated by your GP, who may advise you to stop shaving for 6 weeks or so and prescribe medication where necessary.
Unlike sunscreen, moisturisers are not always essential for men, but if your skin feels dry and tight, perhaps due to working or playing sport outside in all weathers, or if working inside in a dry environment, then a lightweight moisturiser or post shave serum, can relieve the tight feeling- (and as a bonus you can get one with a sunscreen to protect yourself from skin cancer!) Skin can also become dry whilst taking some prescribed medications and/or medical treatments, in which case appropriate skin care products can be recommended by your healthcare professional, or skin specialist.
If your skin suffers from sun damage, (think dehydrated, deep lines, and pigmentation), then there are a number of products on the market to address this, but look for ones which are “non comedogenic”, (this means that they won’t block your pores, causing comedones, otherwise known as blackheads or whiteheads!) You should be looking for a product which contains Hyaluronic acid, to hold moisture into your skin, rather than adding oil to it. Products containing Vitamin A in order to stimulate cell renewal are very fashionable at the moment, but it is even more essential that you use a sunscreen if you use products containing vitamin A, in order to combat the increased risk of UV damage – even when you can’t see the sun, the UV is still there!!.
If your skins appearance or condition concerns or affects you, then a specialist Skincare professional should be able to give you free advice and signpost you to appropriate products, whether the off the counter or more “professional use advised” ones if appropriate. If they can’t help, they will refer you to your GP. So don’t suffer in silence!
As always, if you have any questions regarding skincare for men, please feel free to contact me on 07494 850582