A solid skin-care routine is the cornerstone of good grooming. Well-cared-for skin means you’ll experience less frequent breakouts, you’ll show less irritation and redness, and you’ll stave off visible signs of aging. Start taking this stuff seriously, and it will make you more handsome almost immediately—and ensure you age more gracefully for the rest of your life. More important than all that, though, is the satisfaction that comes from a daily ritual of taking care of yourself. It just feels good.
But it can be hard to know where to start. The skincare rabbit hole is deep: you start with a thing of Cetaphil from CVS and next thing you know you’re ordering snail secretion filtrate, airmail from Korea. At this particular moment in time, when so much is in flux and so many of us are searching for new ways to fill our days, is in some ways the perfect time to pick up a new habit and make it work for you. But what you don’t need is yet another thing that makes you feel overwhelmed or down on yourself. A grooming routine should quite literally do the opposite. So before taking any of the advice I’m about to dispense, be realistic about what you’re willing to commit to when it comes to skincare.
This guide is intended to help you work out a five-step routine that will take five or ten minutes every morning and evening. It’s not that big of a deal once you get started, but if multiple steps and products sound like a little much, maybe start somewhere extremely simple—a drugstore face wash and an inexpensive hyaluronic acid serum, say—and see how that goes. (If you’re starting completely from scratch, it could go a long way!) On the other hand, if you’re feeling ready to commit to a true routine, let’s get started.
You’re Starting With the Man in the Mirror
There’s no single universal best skincare routine, because everyone’s skin is different. Instead, There are two important concepts when it comes to figuring out the right routine for you: Skin type and skin concern.
Skin type refers to your skin's neutral disposition—what it’s naturally like if you’re not doing anything at all. “The most common skin types are dry, normal, and oily,” explains my friend, the aesthetician Renée Rouleau. Dry skin, she explains, is found on someone with small pores, tight-feeling skin, who doesn’t get oily throughout the day. Normal skin doesn’t get oily, but generally doesn’t feel tight or uncomfortable. Oily is someone who gets large pores and can buildup oil throughout the day, most commonly around the nose and forehead. (There are absolutely more, but I’m keeping it simple here for a reason. If you’re really curious about diving in, you can take a quiz to better categorize you.)
Skin concerns are a little bit different: it’s what’s happening on your face that you’d specifically like to address. This refers to specific skin concerns, like signs of aging, acne, hyperpigmentation, or redness and irritation. Products are often formulated to address a specific concern.
You can certainly get fancier with it, but a complete skincare routine has just five basic steps:
4. Eye Cream
Until this becomes second-nature, write it down on a sticky note and place it on your bathroom mirror, or keep this list handy on your phone.
Step One: Cleanse
For all the discourse about men finally washing their damn hands because of the pandemic, allow me to add: Wash your damn face, too. “Cleansing is important, morning and night,” Rouleau says. “It removes toxins and oils, gets rid of bacteria from touching your face, and any debris, sunscreens, or topical products you’ve applied.” Beyond hygiene, cleansing allows any products you apply afterwards to be properly absorbed by the skin for maximum efficacy.
Washing your face is simple. Most products—including all of those listed here—just require you to wet your face with warm water, then place a nickel-sized amount of product to your fingertips. Rub your hands together a few times to activate the lather, then work your hands all over your face in circles everywhere above the collarbone for about 30 seconds. If you have a beard, spend another 15 seconds or so really working the product into the skin, using the pads of your fingers to rub more forcefully up and down against the grain of your hair.
After you’re done, splash all over with warm water and grab a towel to pat—not rub!—the skin until it’s just shy of dry. Slightly damp skin is ideal for your next step.
Guys with dry skin would be well advised to look for products that say “gentle” or “cream” on the label. The Dr. Jart Dermaclear Micro Foam is a great option. Those with oilier skin should look for gel formulas, like the Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser. Normal types could pretty much go in any direction—when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a classic, like Clinique For Men Face Wash. If you have acne-prone skin, you may want to take this one step further by using a formula with salicylic acid, which can treat blemishes as you wash, like Dermalogica’s Clearing Skin Wash.
Step Two: Tone
Toning is a step that’s often skipped, but skincare devotees tend to take it very seriously. If cleansing is cleaning your canvas, toning is sort of putting down primer before you paint. Toning is particularly helpful guys dealing with acne, ingrown hairs, or signs of aging.
Toner is typically applied by dousing a cotton pad and then rubbing it all over your face and neck, but some aestheticians say it can also be applied by putting a quarter-sized amount of product into one palm, placing your hands together, then pressing them onto the forehead, cheeks, and neck, blending it in with the fingertips where necessary.
For acne or ingrowns, you’ll want a toner with a high concentration of lactic or salicylic acid—ideally in combination with more soothing ingredients, like aloe. Try Renée Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Toner. For aging or dark spots, look for ingredients like AHA, BHA, or glycolic acid. An good standby for any guy is Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner.
$42.00, Renee Rouleau
Step Three: Serum
If you’re a skincare novice, there’s a good chance this is one product category that’s not already in your medicine cabinet. Which is a shame, because it might be the most important. “A serum is a product with a gel or light lotion consistency that contains a high concentration of performance ingredients,” Rouleau explains. “If you want to up your game, serums are the way to go.”
Serums usually come in a scientific-feeling dropper bottle—put a two to three drops from the pipette onto your fingertips, then rub your hands together, and apply in quick, swiping motions across you forehead, from the bridge of the nose outwards towards the cheeks, and then use whatever’s left to glide over the neck and jawline.
Pick a serum to address your chief skin concern rather than skin type. If you have multiple concerns, rotate them by applying one in the morning and one at night, or alternate each day.
If lines, sagging, and other signs of aging are your concern, Rouleau recommends using a retinol serum, which will help improve your skin’s texture. Try Dr. Dennis Gross’s Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum. Retinol can be particularly hard on sensitive skin, so be sure to start using it just at nighttime every other night and monitor your appearance in the morning for redness—discontinue use and try waiting another day before resuming if it’s irritating you. Retinol also increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. If you have a big day in the sun or vacation planned, take a break for one week ahead of time.
If dryness is your concern—or you just want something to instantly make you look healthier—try hyaluronic acid. “It delivers water into the skin to make you feel less tight,” Rouleau says. Try Skin Drink, one of her hero serums.
For guys dealing with hyperpigmentation or dullness, look for products that say “brightening” on the label. Typically, these will have a high dose of Vitamin C, a staple ingredient that fades away dark spots caused by the sun. Try Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum.
And finally, as mentioned before, acne-prone guys will want to stick to salicylic acid serum to fight breakouts and remove congestion from their pores, like Juice Beauty’s Blemish Clearing Serum. “It also fades post-breakout scarring or discoloration from ingrown hairs,” Rouleau says.
$45.00, Renee Rouleau
Step Four: Eye Cream
The skin underneath your eyes is the thinnest on your face aside from your lips, which means you need to be particularly gentle here. Luckily, eye creams are pretty straightforward in that they either tackle puffiness, dryness, or dark circles. Whatever the product is, the application is the same: Place one half-to-a-full pump of product onto the pad of your ring finger, then press your other ring finger against it to distribute the formula evenly. Tap the ring fingers along the outsides of the eyes and bring them inwards, continuing the tapping until the product is mostly absorbed. (We use the ring finger because it’s the weakest on the hand, thus reducing the likelihood of pulling or tugging at the area.)
Depuffing formulas are typically of a gel consistency, which refreshes and cools the area. Try Dior Hydra Life Sorbet Eye Gel. Anti-aging formulas, like Tatcha Melting Eye Cream are usually richer and creamier. Dark circles can fade modestly over time with consistent applications of a targeted Vitamin C product, like Kiehl’s Powerful Strength Dark Circle Eye Serum.
Step Five: Moisturizer
It’s one step, but you’ll want to pick up two different moisturizers for the morning and evening.
In the morning, you’ll want to slap on a lighter product with a minimum of SPF 30 before going outside. (Protecting ourselves from sun damage is not just a vanity about wrinkles or dark spots—it’s also our best line of defense against skin cancer.) Try a formula that’s weightless and sheer as your finishing touch, like Dermalogica Oil-Free Matte SPF30. For guys with darker skin, a clear product like Glossier Invisible Shield is a good bet.
For nighttime, finish your routine with a moisturizer that’s rich enough to soak into your skin without causing clogged pores or breakouts. Anyone with normal to dry skin types would enjoy the creamy texture of Eminence Organics Monoi Night Cream. Oily types would benefit from a gel cream formula like Shiseido Essential Energy.
Apply moisturizer by putting a nickel-sized amount of product to your fingertips, then rub in between your hands. Cover your face by swiping in quick motions across the forehead, down the cheeks, and along the neck until product is absorbed into the skin. That's it! You've got a skincare routine.
$68.00, Derm Store
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Originally Appeared on GQ