Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/23/2022
Caring about your skin isn’t shallow and it definitely isn’t unmanly. We get it -- you’re tough -- but that doesn’t mean your face should look and feel like you live outdoors and exfoliate with 50-grit sandpaper.
It’s largely assumed that men prefer the minimalist approach to skin care -- a bar of soap in your morning shower and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t always best.
As a matter of fact, by keeping things simple, you could be doing your skin a serious disservice by promoting dry skin and acne breakouts, all while doing literally nothing to stop the early signs of aging from developing.
The good news is that putting together an effective skin care routine isn’t particularly difficult, nor does it cost very much. Like a healthy diet, the most important part (as well as the most difficult) is actually sticking with it over the long term.
Below, we’ve talked about how you can build a men’s skin care routine to keep your skin looking and feeling its best at any age, all without spending a fortune or wasting hours of your day using complicated skin care products.
To keep things nice and simple, we’ve broken the basic skin care process down into five distinct steps, from working out your skin type to cleansing, getting rid of acne, promoting hydration and protecting your skin from UV damage.
Taking care of your skin can seem complicated, especially as a beginner. Thanks to the efforts of skin care marketers, it can seem like you need a seemingly endless collection of products to do simple things like get rid of acne or keep your skin hydrated.
Luckily, caring for your skin is actually pretty simple once you’re familiar with the basics of how your skin functions. In fact, effective skin care can be broken down into five simple steps:
Identify your skin type. Do you have dry skin, oily skin, sensitive skin or skin that has a combination of different features? Your skin type will determine which products will work the best for you, as well as which to avoid.
Choose a skin cleanser. Cleansers wash away dirt, as well as excess sebum (a natural oil produced by your sebaceous glands) and dead skin cells. A good quality cleanser will reduce your risk of developing acne.
Add specific skin care treatments. Most people have specific skin care concerns, like acne breakouts or wrinkles. A good quality serum or prescription skin care treatment can solve these issues and improve your skin’s texture and appearance.
Moisturize your skin. Moisturizer helps to keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Even a simple moisturizer can improve your skin’s appearance and prevent it from becoming dry and desiccated.
Protect your skin from UV radiation. One of the biggest sources of premature aging is exposure to the sun. The final step in any skin care routine is using a good, SPF 30 sunscreen to shield your skin from damage and slow down the aging process.
Simple, right? We’ve explained this process in more detail below and explained what you should know about each step to build an effective skin care routine.
Very few skin products are one-size-fits-all. Your skin is unique, and the products you choose to keep it looking and feeling its best need to cater to its unique needs and characteristics. Finding the right skin care products begins with knowing your skin’s specific type and needs.
Most people’s skin fits into one of five distinct categories:
Dry skin. This type of skin is dry, flaky, rough and prone to itching. If you have dry skin, you may notice that your skin becomes overly brittle and flaky when it’s exposed to skin care products that remove moisture. Check out our other article to learn what dry vs dehydrated skin is.
Oily skin. This type of skin is shiny and greasy, with natural oil called sebum that might come off on your fingers when you touch your face. If you have oily skin, you might feel you’re overly prone to acne breakouts.
Sensitive skin. This type of skin stings and burns easily, especially when it’s exposed to certain skin care products. If you have sensitive skin, you might instinctively avoid facial cleansers and other products for fear of burning your skin.
Combination skin. This type of skin feels dry, rough and flaky in some areas, yet oily in others. Taking care of combination skin can be frustrating, as it might feel like there’s no product that’s designed to specifically address your needs.
Normal skin. This type of skin is clear and usually free of acne, not overly dry and at the same time, not overly oily. If you have normal skin, you might feel as if you can use just about any skin care product and still get good results.
Your skin type might change as you get older -- for example, it’s common for the skin to become drier as people age. Your skin’s specific needs might even change from one season to the next, especially if you live in an area with a climate that varies throughout the year.
Understanding how your skin behaves in its natural state right now will help you choose the right products to keep it healthy and looking its best.
While it might feel like enough, using your bar soap or splashing some water on your face in the shower each morning isn’t enough to keep it clean.
Each day, your skin is exposed to dirt, dust and countless pollutants in the air. Every time you go to sleep, it rubs against your pillowcase and bed sheets. And every time you touch your face, it’s exposed to the many types of bacteria that build up on your hands and fingertips.
Not only is your face exposed to foreign substances that affect its cleanliness, but it also creates plenty of its own. Throughout the day, your sebaceous glands -- small glands located inside your hair follicles -- secrete a type of natural oil called sebum onto your skin.
Add dead skin cells into this increasingly crowded biological picture and one thing becomes very clear: your skin needs to be cleaned. Every day. Probably twice.
This is where a good quality cleanser comes into the equation. Cleansers work by removing the unwanted substances that can build up on your skin throughout the day, such as dirt, dead skin cells and sebum.
This helps to keep your skin clean and reduce your risk of dealing with acne breakouts, which can develop when these substances clog your pores.
Since skin can vary so much in oiliness, dryness and sensitivity, there’s no best facial cleanser for everyone. Instead, it’s best to choose a daily cleanser based on your skin type:
If you have dry or sensitive skin, choose a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that doesn’t contain any alcohol.
If you’re prone to acne breakouts, pick an exfoliating cleanser with acne-fighting active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
If you have oily skin, look for a cleanser that’s labeled “non-comedogenic,” “oil-free” or “won’t clog pores.”
If you have normal or combination skin, you might want to try several cleansers to see which one gives you the best results.
Using a cleanser is simple. During your morning shower, apply lukewarm water directly to your face, then gently apply cleanser using your fingertips. Rinse the cleanser off using warm water, then pat your face dry with a soft, clean towel.
You can repeat this process during your shower at night if you have oily skin or if you sweated during the daytime. We also have a skin care steps at night guide.
If you have acne on your back, shoulders or other parts of your body, it’s also worth adding an acne body wash to your skin care routine.
Almost everyone has a few specific skin issues that bother them, whether it’s dry skin, acne, fine lines or dark spots. Although a good quality cleanser can easily keep your skin clean throughout the day, most facial cleansers aren’t designed to address these concerns.
This is where topical retinoids, exfoliants and other more specific skin care treatments come into the picture.
If you’re one of the approximately 50 million Americans affected by some degree of acne, you may want to consider adding a specialized acne treatment, such as tretinoin, to your skin care routine.
Tretinoin is a topical retinoid that works by peeling away dead skin and preventing your pores from becoming clogged. It’s one of the most effective acne treatments available today, with a large range of studies showing it can treat everything from mild acne to severe breakouts.
As well as treating acne breakouts, tretinoin is also an FDA-approved treatment for rough skin, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, or sun spots.
Tretinoin is a prescription medication, meaning you’ll need to talk with a healthcare provider before you can purchase it. It’s one of several active ingredients in our Customize Acne Cream for Men, which is available following an online consultation with a healthcare provider.
Other popular ingredients for treating acne, wrinkles and other skin care issues include retinol, adapalene and exfoliating agents such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs).
You can find these active ingredients in many over-the-counter products, such as serums, spot treatments, night creams, eye creams and anti-aging creams.
For serious skin problems, such as cystic acne or skin rashes, it’s generally best to talk directly to a dermatologist. If necessary, they may prescribe medication to address your concerns and help you to keep your skin healthy.
Perhaps the most important step in any skin care routine is to moisturize and protect by using a good quality moisturizer.
Moisturizer works by trapping water inside your skin. This creates a barrier that stops your skin from losing water throughout the day. It also protects your skin from bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that can cause infections and skin damage.
In addition to protecting your skin, moisturizer can help to reduce irritation caused by skin care ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and topical retinoids.
Beyond its functional effects, moisturizer also has cosmetic benefits. By increasing your skin’s moisture content, it adds volume to your skin and makes fine lines and deeper wrinkles lighter and less obvious.
In fact, moisturizer is so good at minimizing the signs of aging that it’s a common ingredient in many high-end anti-aging creams, lotions and masks.
If you have oily skin, or if you’re prone to acne breakouts, you’ll want to pick a moisturizer that won’t clog your pores. Our non-greasy Everyday Moisturizer for Men is designed specifically to keep your skin hydrated and smooth, without adding any unwanted oiliness.
To get the best results from moisturizer, apply it right after you wash your face, preferably when there’s still a little bit of cool water on your skin. This helps to trap in moisture and project your skin’s barrier function.
If you’re prone to dry skin, keep a small tube of moisturizer with you throughout the day so that you can top up whenever your skin starts to feel dry, itchy or irritated.
It’s normal for your skin to visibly age as you grow older, resulting in sagging, fine lines, wrinkles and other imperfections. Part of this process is intrinsic, meaning it’s simply part of the inevitable physiological process of getting older.
However, a large percentage of the aging process is the result of photoaging -- skin aging that’s caused by exposure to sunlight and UV radiation.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, photoaging is responsible for 90 percent of the visible changes that occur in your skin as you grow older.
When the UV radiation in sunlight comes into direct contact with your skin, it can cause damage to your skin’s DNA. In response to this damage, your skin cells produce melanin to provide extra protection from continued sun exposure.
The damage caused by UV can affect the collagen and elastin in your skin, causing it to wrinkle and become leathery over time.
Because of the huge damage that continued sun exposure can do to your skin, it’s important to keep yourself protected from UV radiation.
No matter what type of skin you have, sunscreen is a must whenever you spend time outdoors, especially on bright days. For optimal protection, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30+ sunscreen that provides water resistance.
Like with moisturizer, it helps to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Try keeping a sunscreen stick inside your bag to use as needed during summer. It’s also okay to apply sunscreen as part of your morning skin care routine.
Like most aspects of good health, healthy skin starts from the inside. You can prevent problems like premature aging and acne by taking care of your general health -- something that’s equally as important as any anti-aging cream..
Use the following tips in combination with a good skin care routine to keep your skin looking and feeling its best:
If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking can do serious damage to your skin by reducing its elasticity and making issues such as nasolabial folds (the lines that run from your nose to your mouth) more obvious. If you smoke, try your hardest to kick the habit.
Keep yourself properly hydrated. Dehydration can cause your skin to become dry and irritated. Keep yourself properly hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water and other low-calorie beverages.
Protect your skin from the sun. In addition to using sunscreen, you can keep your skin protected by wearing a hat and sunglasses whenever it’s sunny outside. On bright days, try to spend time in the shade to limit your total UV exposure.
Limit your exposure to stress. Stress is associated with several skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Try to avoid events, people and situations that cause you to feel overly anxious or stressed out.
Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Your skin is your largest organ, and when you’re feeling healthy, your skin will generally show it. Try to eat a balanced diet that’s rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, all while limiting your intake of junk food.
As confusing as skin care can seem as a beginner, it really isn’t that tough. By recognizing your skin type, cleansing often, treating specific issues with proven treatments and using moisturizer and sunscreen to stay protected, you can maintain healthy, great-looking skin all year.
The key, like with many other things in life, is consistency. Once you’ve found the products and medications that work for you, stick with them.
Finally, be smart about where you spend your money. It’d be great if there was one magic elixir that would instantly address all of your skin concerns. However, there’s no replacement for the right habits, meaning “miracle” products are usually best avoided.
Interested in getting started with skin care? Our men’s skin care range covers everything from the basics to acne and anti-aging, with science-based treatments available to prevent pimples, wrinkles and other common skin problems.
You can also find out more about the specifics of men’s skin care in our guides to the best acne treatments and anti-aging ingredients for men.