Men interested in improving skincare may need help to start the discussion

June 1, 2011

Addressing male skincare in an office visit may require the dermatologist to make the first move. Men can be hesitant to discuss their concerns, and yet they still comprise a growing segment of patients who want to take good care of their skin, according to Ranella Hirsch, M.D., F.A.A.D.

Key Points

"It is a competitive world, and our experience increasingly has been that men – like women – want to look their very best," says Dr. Hirsch, who is in private practice in Cambridge, Mass. "One of the biggest misconceptions we hear is the assumption that men are not interested in skincare. This is just the opposite in our practice, where the percentage of male patients continues to rise."

Some of the basics of skincare treatments apply equally to men as they do to women.

Men, and the population at large, might be surprised to discover how often Dr. Hirsch and other dermatologists discuss skincare with their male patients. But initiating that conversation isn't always easy for the male patient.

"We let men know that we talk about (skincare) all the time with other men," she says. "Often, colleagues are surprised when we share how often the male patient gratefully jumps in to continue and expand the dialogue."

Getting the ball rolling

To get the conversation started and make the patient more comfortable, Dr. Hirsch says she recommends including a question about sunscreen use and anti-aging concerns during consultations. Male patients appreciate an explanation of the "why" behind a recommended skincare regimen, she says, and such explanations increase compliance.

Dr. Hirsch says she also finds that, in general, male patients tend to prefer simple, effective and "to-the-point" skincare regimens more often than female patients.

"This approach is one that men truly appreciate," she says. "Often the best choices are products that multitask, like a daily moisturizer that includes broad-spectrum sun protection."

Male patients have given Dr. Hirsch feedback indicating they are less likely to use sunscreen lotion because it is difficult to apply completely and easily. "Something as simple as switching them to spray products goes a long way to improve patient compliance," she says.

Keep it simple

When counseling men about their daily skincare regimen for the face, Dr. Hirsch suggests a simple morning and evening routine.

In the morning, men should use a noncomedogenic daily cleanser, followed by a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen.

In the evening, they should use the cleanser again, followed by a moisturizer with an appropriate active ingredient.

"It is the active ingredient (in moisturizers) that evolves as men mature. Peptides are a great starting point for younger men. As they age, alpha-hydroxy acids and vitamin A derivatives are mainstays," she says. "Often they are surprised when we tell them that there are many great products at the drugstore; no need to break the bank."

For total body skincare cleansing, Dr. Hirsch says she continues with the theme of simplicity. A gentle soap or cleanser followed by a moisturizer-sunscreen combination is sufficient.

If the male patient is prone to breakouts on the back or chest, she suggests a cleanser that contains the active ingredient salicylic acid for use in the shower.

Other concerns

For those who want to take skincare a step further, Dr. Hirsch says a particular area of concern for many men right now is controlling facial oiliness or shine.

Lotions and sunscreens with mattifying ingredients help control shine and oil buildup to give the skin a matte finish.

"These products are widely available at many price points and are received enthusiastically by men, who really have not had great solutions prior," she says.

One obvious area of skincare in which women don't face the same daily challenges as men is facial shaving and controlling beard growth. Counseling male patients on proper shaving techniques and optimizing post-shave skincare can spare them from ingrown hairs, razor burn and other skin damage.

Dr. Hirsch says she advises her male patients to first lubricate the face with warm water. Shaving after a warm shower is ideal because the beard has the chance to soften.

For sensitive skin, she says to avoid shaving foams and gels that contain menthol, which can be drying to the skin.

"Shave in short strokes in the direction of hair growth to reduce the appearance of ingrown hairs. When complete, splash the face with cool water and apply a moisturizing aftershave" that does not have alcohol as one of its top ingredients because this can sting. "Skin can benefit from appropriate post-shave care with soothing agents," Dr. Hirsch says.

Disclosures: Dr. Hirsch is the senior medical adviser to Vichy Laboratories, a division of L'Oréal Paris. She also is a scientific board adviser to Unilever and Clarisonic and a principal of several laser technology and new media startups.