Most men battle with acne at some point in their lives. For men, it can be even worse than for women, since generally makeup is still a taboo and shaving can introduce even more opportunity for irritation. In this guide, we’re going to discuss how you can start working towards clear skin, and as a bonus, the majority of the recommended skin care routine is applicable for normal skin too.
Acne is never fun to deal with. It can be unsightly, embarrassing and even cause discomfort or scarring. The condition gives normal skin Propionibacterium acnes bacteria a place to flourish and grow. The bacteria is generally dormant, but in the right environment activates and causes inflammation that turns into a pimple on the surface of the skin. Since the bacteria has to be given a place to thrive, then activate and finally cause inflammation, it stands to reason that the best way to prevent it is by not giving it a chance to grow in the first place. However, that’s easier said than done and so for those who do suffer from it, the best course of action is to deal with the problem, then cure it, then maintain it.
What Causes Acne?
Acne is triggered when the hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells and oil from the skin and appear as blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or greasy skin. The condition often occurs when hormone levels change, so it is common in the puberty years, but it can also appear at almost any other stage in life. It can be exacerbated by genetics (which is thought to play a role in up to 80% of cases) and lifestyle choices. Interestingly, the role of diet and cigarette smoking is unclear and neither cleanliness nor sunlight appear to be involved, according to The British Journal of Dermatology.
In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the steps you need to follow to get clear skin.
First Steps to Managing Acne
Determining if you have acne is usually unnecessary — you are probably keenly aware of it if you have it! That being said, before you embark on a treatment plan, it’s wise to visit your dermatologist. Like most medical conditions, it’s best to get a professional opinion and see if you have a specific type of acne that requires a specific treatment.
For most men, acne is a condition that can be treated easily with topical products that are available over the counter. Other treatment options include lifestyle changes, procedures, and medications. Eating fewer simple carbohydrates like sugar may help, but the main factors worth considering are the topical products you use and the ingredients they contain. Often, products that claim to be good for you contain ingredients in the formula that increases your risk of acne, inflame it, or outright cause it.
Start and Maintain a Skincare Routine
Starting and maintaining a skin care routine is probably the best simple, long-term practice that you can enact to level out your skin. To make this effective, you need to do four things daily:
- Cleanse AM and PM
- Moisturize AM and PM
- Exfoliate and treat, as tolerated
- Repeat consistently, 2x daily
This routine is beneficial for EVERYONE because it is a baseline upon which each man can individualize their routine to their needs. Cleansing removes surface dirt and grime, moisturizing restores moisture, and treatments can address issues such as sun exposure, aging, acne, redness, sensitivity, or all of them. Consistently repeating this routine will produce the best results over the long term.
In an interview with Bryan Barron from BeautyPedia, a leading review website and skin care manufacturer, Barron reminds us that one of the biggest things men need to remember is that, unlike women, we shave our faces regularly. The shaving process removes the top layer of the skin, which is essentially an exfoliation process for half of the face. That alone can cause some fairly significant abrasions that directly affect our skin’s health, and needs to be carefully calculated into a skincare routine.
Even if you happen to be one of the few who is blessed with clear and healthy skin, most men will deal with skin ailments at least a few times throughout their lives. In addition, some men may find they have healthy skin as they grow older, yet because they neglected to protect it from UV rays or other elements, they develop skin issues later in life. Regardless of how healthy your skin is now, or your age, it’s a good plan to cleanse daily, moisturize, and treat your skin.
The Benefits of a Regular Routine
It’s a myth that people with acne-prone skin are simply “unclean.” In fact, using harsh cleansers and over-cleansing can exacerbate acne conditions. Acne-prone skin is simply more prone to clogged pores, which requires a different approach than that for men who have normal skin.
Cleansing is beneficial because it helps to remove excess oil, dirt, grime and germs that can build up on the surface of the skin and in the pores. Consistently cleansing will reduce the amount of pore-clogging material in your pores. Though cleansing alone is usually not enough to keep acne-prone skin from clogging, it’s a necessary first step. Therefore, for most men, a twice a day cleansing regimen is best.
Moisturizing after cleansing may seem counterintuitive for men with oily skin. Since cleaning your skin can remove the skin’s natural oils, a moisturizing routine will help add back in needed moisture or the skin can overcompensate with the production of even more oil. Although it is important for the areas affected by shaving routines, it is something that should be applied all over the face and neck, and not just a focused area. This is also the perfect opportunity to add a daily SPF to your routine, such as the Ultra Sheer Sunscreen SPF 50+ from Replenix, which BeautyPedia gives a whopping five out of five stars.
“Treating” the skin for acne-prone men is two-fold: the first step is to exfoliate, which will help clean out the remaining buildup in the pores that causes acne, and the second step is to layer on a product that will prevent the growth of acne-causing bacteria. These steps should be added slowly into your routine and increased as your personal tolerance and shaving schedule allows, since some products aren’t recommended immediately following a shave. Some men can exfoliate and treat daily, and some can only do it once or twice a week.
How to Choose Skin Care Products
One you’ve decided to embark on a daily skincare routine, the next step is to choose the products that you will use. Given that there are thousands of products on the market and millions of reviews, it can be a serious drag on your time and wallet to look for products that meet your specific needs.
Aside from reviews, the product packaging is the main tool you have to assess the value of a product. Unfortunately, most product packaging is just about marketing, and the claims made by the companies often have little to no validation or oversight. Thankfully, there is one way to evaluate a product that isn’t just marketing fluff: read the ingredients list. The great thing is, once you know what is good and what isn’t, you can very quickly evaluate if a product might work for you. You will also note that inexpensive and expensive companies alike use similar ingredients, so you may even be able to save some money in the process.
Active Ingredients in Skincare Products
Here are some common ingredients to look for in skincare products and their function:
Salicylic Acid or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)
This is a chemical exfoliant that is a derivative of aspirin. It has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help unclog pores. Salicylic acid is also recommended for razor burn and ingrown hair sufferers for the same reason. Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) works similarly to BHA but is less aggressive.
Retinoids refer to the family of powerful anti-aging molecules derived from vitamin A. Retinol is the most common marketing name of the compound, but it can also be listed as retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, or tazarotene on labels. As an antioxidant, it “tells” old or damaged cells to act like normal cells and is noted to have anti-acne benefits for some users, in addition to powerful anti-aging properties. Retinol can be difficult to tolerate, so it is best to build up use slowly. Available over the counter in lower concentrations and by prescription in higher concentrations, it’s best to use this product at night because it can cause the skin to become more sensitive to the sun.
Benzoyl Peroxide is the classic anti-acne ingredient that works to reduce the acne-causing bacteria on the skin. It is often found in high concentrations in products — typically 5-10%— that can irritate some people, so, as with retinol, watch out for redness or flaky skin reactions that indicate it’s too strong.
Sulfur famously smells of rotting eggs, which doesn’t make it a pleasant skincare ingredient. However, it is known for it’s acne-fighting inflammation-reducing and exfoliating properties, so it’s often found in soaps and masks in which the smell is minimized.
Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Skin Care Products
- Do read expert reviews AND customer reviews before making a purchase for a more balanced view of the product. BeautyPedia offers both perspectives, which often reveal that some popular products aren’t effective from a chemical standpoint while others are standouts.
- Do speak with your dermatologist before trying new products.
- Do try new products slowly to check for any adverse reactions. Start with once every three days and work your way up to daily applications; this is especially true for retinoids.
- Do read product directions carefully. Many products should be used in specific ways and not with other products that make react negatively to its formula. Many skincare products should also not be used immediately after shaving.
- Do allow 6-8 weeks for a product to show efficacy.
- Don’t use products that contain alcohol or fragrances. Alcohol is often used in toners, but it is a known irritant that is likely to make your skin worse.
- Don’t buy a product simply because it’s labeled for acne. You still need to read the ingredients to see if it contains enough active ingredients and no irritating ingredients (ex: alcohol-based acne toners)
- Don’t take a product’s claims at face value. Question everything and read the ingredient list!
- Don’t take the opinion of an expert that is affiliated with a product as gospel. Many celebrity experts and doctors are sponsored by products or own their own brands. Third party expert reviews with no affiliation to the product are the best. In the case of BeautyPedia, which produces Paula’s Choice, make sure to read the consumer reviews as well for balance.
- Don’t buy products in jars or clear containers if you can avoid them. Some very good products come in these formats, but the exposure to light and air can cause many active compounds to break down.
- Don’t assume products never expire. Most skin care products do have a shelf life and can become stale or even risky to use after the expiration date. If no expiration date is listed, assume it is good for six months and discard it if you notice any property changes such as discoloration, texture or smell.
- Don’t bother with supplements. They rarely offer any substantive proof of effectiveness.
Lifestyle Tips To Manage Acne
Aside from your skincare routine, there are other lifestyle elements that will affect acne.
- Acne-prone skin is simply more susceptible to the bacteria that already lives on the skin, so limiting its impact is important. Clean any surface that touches your face regularly, such as phones or headphones, and try not to touch your face with your hands.
- Barron from BeautyPedia notes that your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it needs nutrition. He explains that you can often see remarkable results by changing your diet. Cutting out a meat and potato-rich diet is a good start, as is drinking a lot of water.
- Barron also emphasized that sunscreen with a high SPF is an integral part of ensuring healthy skin.
The Importance of Trial and Error
Now you know what routine you’d like to use, the criteria for shopping for products, and some key lifestyle tips, there is one last thing to bear in mind. Everyone’s skin, diet, genetics, and needs are different, so a regimen that works for one person will rarely produce the same results in another. In addition, there are so many different product formulas on the market to try. For this reason, it is important for any acne sufferer to approach their acne with patience and persistence, mostly in the form of trial and error. Keep trying new products (one at a time) and persist until you find something that works for you!
Top Recommended Products
|Top Recommended Products||Price||Skin type|
|Ultra Facial Cleanser By Kiehl'S||$$||all skin types|
|Acne.org 8 oz. Cleanser||$||sensitive skin|
|Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10||$||all skin types|
|First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wash||$$||all skin types|
|Paula's Choice PC4MEN Nighttime Repair Men's Moisturizer||$$||all skin types|
|Paula's Choice PC4MEN Soothe + Smooth Aftershave Treatment and Exfoliant||$$||all skin types|
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is a fragrance-free, water-soluble cleanser for all skin types. It ticks all the boxes for acne sufferers!
Acne.org offers an ultra-gentle pH balanced cleanser that won’t irritate sensitive skin.
PC4Men Soothe & Smooth
This fragrance-free formula features 2% salicylic acid to help exfoliate skin, reduce clogged pores, and address wrinkles. In addition, this formula is a perfect aftershave for men prone to breakouts, irritation, razor burn and acne. The PC4Men Soothe & Smooth is a great multi-tasker for men who want straightforward treatments.
Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, Maximum Strength
Persa-Gel 10, Maximum Strength is a potent, fragrance-free topical disinfectant for blemishes. It contains 10% benzoyl peroxide, the maximum amount approved for over-the-counter sales. Although this amount can be drying and potentially irritating, this is an option for stubborn cases of acne as described by BeautyPedia’s experts.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Body Wash
It was given a five-star rating by BeautyPedia experts because not only is it a mild yet effective formula but also because it’s fragrance-free. There are very few body washes that are truly fragrance-free which makes it a great option for men with sensitive skin.
Paula’s Choice for Men Nighttime Repair
This is a moisturizer that uses retinol, which is ideal for preventing and eliminating acne but also has properties to help smooth out and fight dry skin.
Healthy and clear skin can be achieved, but it means having to do a little research before buying products and being persistent with the process. What products do you use? Do you know what ingredients they have?