Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/26/2021
No man wants to age, but most men also don’t want to devote time and energy to an elaborate “skincare routine.”
The vials and jars that adorn women’s bathroom counters can seem like something out of mad scientist’s laboratory, and once you’ve heard the prices of each item, well, the prospect of healthy skin becomes a very expensive and tedious habit (not to mention, the lack of counter space).
For many men, the prospect of wrinkles and dry skin is really about a fear of being “not top dog anymore,” but the cost seems too extreme to bother fighting that battle. Younger men face the same challenges with acne.
But that’s the misconception — you don’t need a counter full of products, bottles, and jars to wage war against aging or acne. In fact, you only need a few.
The key is strategy: you need to understand the ingredients that actually help your cause (and your face).
For many people, wrinkles are mysterious. They aren’t there one day, and the next, boom — permanent creases in your once-smooth skin.
But wrinkles aren’t like money from the tooth fairy. They don’t show up overnight, your parents aren’t responsible, and they’re caused by several explainable factors.
Wrinkles and aging generally have to do with three important skin compounds: elastin, collagen, and keratin. They’re the holy trinity, when it comes to skin health.
Elastin makes skin resilient, collagen is responsible for keeping it firm and keratin is like a hardened shield that protects it from the elements. Damaging one or more of these elements will make your skin less healthy, which will make it look less youthful.
Extrinsic sources of aging include the elements — poor air quality, sunlight, diet or deficient nutrition and insufficient hydration or water intake. This is, simply, the stuff you can prevent. Oh, it also includes habits like smoking and sleeping face down.
These factors all have one thing in common: they create oxidative stress — the process where free radicals damage your skin’s ability to make new cells and proteins.
Free radicals are bad because they steal energy from your cells like significant others stealing french fries, except their french fries are your cells’ electrons. Lost electrons slow down processes like cell division and protein production, which means you make fewer new, healthy cells.
Intrinsic sources of aging do similar things by different methods. The older you get, the harder it becomes for your body to continue to perform those basic processes. It’s due to aging, and the decrease in efficiency that comes with it.
Facial scrubs can also play a part in fighting acne. But to fight your adult acne, you have to understand your enem… err... acne.
Acne is the result of a bacterial infection in your pores due to an imbalance in normal skin behaviors. Four factors impact acne breakouts on your face, back or wherever else you get it: your skin’s oil production, your skin’s process of getting rid of dead skin cells, inflammation and how certain bacteria are able to reproduce and thrive in your follicles.
Different severities create different forms of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, papules, cysts and others. Those blemishes occur when dead cells pile up and fail to leave your pores. Your sebaceous glands produce more oil (sebum) to help them slide out, but if things get bottle necked, bacteria can grow in the pore, live in the oil, feed on those dead cells, and cause inflammation and pimples.
Imbalances can come from a range of factors, including diet and hydration issues, or stress, or even external factors like the sun and weather.
Most often (in your teen years at least), the root problem is hormones. Hormones like androgens are chaotically active during your adolescence, and that can throw oil production and (and everything else, for that matter) totally out of balance.
Facial cleansers are important for a number of reasons. They remove built up dirt and dead cells, and help you get rid of allergens and other pollutants that may also cause irritation, inflammation and premature aging.
Miracle cures like essential oils may offer some hope, but they do not have a lot of science behind them.
Authors of a 2007 review published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal explained that over-the-counter products make dramatic claims, but those claims aren’t backed by much science, and in the best cases studies are limited.
There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical, but the authors of that same study did have some things to share. They specifically mentioned the importance of a few ingredients: vitamin C, alpha-hydroxy acids, moisturizers, collagen peptides, vitamin A and vitamin B.
These ingredients are important because of what they can do for your skin.
Vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids are extensively researched products with demonstrated capabilities to fight aging.
And studies of vitamin A and vitamin B derivatives have shown similar results. Moisturizers have demonstrated the ability to increase skin hydration and improve the look and feel of your skin, and pentapeptides have been linked to decreasing facial roughness and wrinkles.
You’re probably looking at that list and wondering, “where’s my one-ingredient miracle cure?” Well, there may be a rainforest frog excretion that permanently stops aging and helps you pick the right stocks for your portfolio, but unless you and your machete want to head into the underbrush and start licking frogs yourself, we’ve got to wait for the scientific community to find them.
The same goes for acne treatments, which vary depending on the type of acne you have.
Milder acne might be treated with a cleansing routine and more water intake, but more serious versions might require tools and medications. It might start with removing your excess oil with blotting papers or astringents like witch hazel, or removing dead cells with masks or gentle, over-the-counter scrubs. A healthcare professional might treat more extreme cases with products like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Just be careful. Your skin’s natural oil plays an important health role by creating a barrier layer to keep debris and dirt away from your skin. Scrubbing that oil off may actually contribute to acne breakouts.
Chemical exfoliants are also a beneficial way to clean your skin without scrubbing yourself raw, and the best chemical exfoliant on the market is Vitamin A and derivative compounds like retinoids. They get rid of dead cells and boost your skin’s new growth, and over-the-counter and prescription options exist. Prescription retinoids like tretinoin might be a better serious acne problem option.
It’s been available since the ‘60s, research shows it can increase collagen synthesis — which will help with those wrinkles later on.
Side effects can include irritation and peeling, so people with sensitive skin types should mention that to a healthcare professional first.
Facial scrubs are many, and things like microbeads (which are pretty bad for the environment) may sound cool, but what your skin really needs is a combination of a few beneficial ingredients. Some of them include:
Water isn’t just the essence of wetness, it’s also the key to healthy skin. Moisturizers help prevent your skin from looking dry, tired and worn out, but there are many to choose from. While aloe vera is popular, you’ll see more benefits from hyaluronic acid, which can bind to over one thousand times its weight in water (and keep that water under your skin) so your skin stays moisturized.
Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in your body, but you can source it from organic sources, or just buy products with a topical version of it. It’s a great way to make all that moisture stick.
We mentioned retinoids earlier, but it’s important not to sleep on them. Synthetic vitamin A compounds work hard to strip dry skin and dead cells from your face, but they’re not all tough love. They also encourage the synthesis of collagen to make your face look full, firm and even.
You can learn more about prescription versions like tretinoin in our guide to exfoliating with tretinoin.
Vitamin C is a valuable tool in fighting fine lines and other signs of skin aging, because it’s an antioxidant. It acts like an electron snack station, letting those free radicals gorge while your cells are unmolested.
It’s great in a serum, like hims’ daily Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum, which can be applied in the morning.
Vitamin E is a general benefit for skin and other health concerns. It has anti-inflammatory properties essential to reducing irritation from those extrinsic irritants we mentioned. But it does double duty too, helping you maintain moisturized, smoother skin.
Maybe it’s a little outside the confines of what we normally consider “scrubs,” but alpha-hydroxy acid is a profoundly useful anti-aging component. Alpha-hydroxy acids are used in chemical peels, which remove the top layer of the epidermis similarly to retinoids, but in a more intense fashion. As a result, they can also address problems like hyperpigmentation, in addition to dry or dull skin issues.
Aging and acne can be difficult to manage, but the tools are out there. Whether you’re suffering from pimples or fine lines, the point of treatment is to help you feel confident in your own skin, and make that skin healthy.
Sudden breakouts or sudden signs of aging aren’t going to be solved by a jar of miracle liquid, though. If you’re seeing sudden issues, they may be signs of distress caused by other factors, and a healthcare professional is going to be able to help with that.
They’ll be able to diagnose weak-looking or dull skin, breakouts and other cosmetic problems that have come out of nowhere. They can also help to guide you through treating gradual aging concerns and chronic acne, which may have external causes beyond what we’ve discussed here.
In the meantime, check out these blogs if you’re looking to learn more about premature aging or sun damage. And our acne resources are here to help, too.
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