By the end of winter, we’re likely to feel and see the effects cold and wind has had on our skin. Combined with the opposite extreme of indoor heating, skin is readily left dehydrated and chapped. Then before long, it’s time to start protecting the skin from the comparable effects of summer sun. Much like women have for years, many men now use lotions and creams to try and alleviate skin damage. The multi-billion-dollar men’s cosmeceutical industry continues to grow as more men turn to it, hoping to prevent, undo, or even reverse skin damage and aging altogether. Men’s skincare sales have already surpassed those of the industry staple, shaving products. Many of these products promise more than merely moisturizing. They may claim to boost oxygen microcirculation, promote collagen production, and turn back the skin's clock. In other words, these potions are supposed to transform dry, thinning, wrinkled skin into healthy, glowing, youthful skin. Who wouldn’t want that? But are “men’s” skincare products really necessary?
There are in fact some real differences between men’s and women’s skin. Men tend to have a thicker epidermis, larger pores, and produce more sebum than women. Men also grow more hair, and thus have more shaving-related issues, such as razor burn and ingrown hairs. Higher testosterone levels can effect collagen production, blood flow, and granular cells. Many men’s skincare lines take all this into account. However, while even the cheapest skin lotion or cream can moisturize skin and make it appear suppler and healthier, other claims are questionable.
There are very few published medical studies confirming that products work as advertised. While companies are not supposed to claim that their products alter the structure or function of the skin, or prevent again, neither does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require them to prove their products’ effectiveness. The FDA does however maintain a list of more than 80 cosmeceutical companies – including many of the biggest names - that it considers to be making false claims, and gives them warnings accordingly. But these warnings often do little more than provide marketers with new challenges for evading the targeted terminology by cleverly rewording the same claims. That leaves us with the verdict of dermatologists and scientists, most of whom say “phooey.”
Dr. Ben Goldacre, who writes about skin products in his book, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, says that “science-y-ness” is often used to try and sell a product in a way that is meaningless. Among the “sciency” ingredients currently vogue in skincare marketing are stem cells, yet the fact is that stem cells must be alive to function at all, and when added to skin products are long dead and useless. One well-known company claims that their $50-an-ounce cream contains the "10 most important anti-aging ingredients," but when asked to provide scientific evidence that their anti-aging ingredients work, the company responded with what amounted to expensively scripted, completely evasive jargon. As Marsha Gordon, MD, vice chairman of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, puts it, “if these creams could accomplish the same thing as a medical procedure, they would be drugs and not cosmetics.”
Still, there are some ingredients that may prove helpful to skin. For example, compounds called pentapeptides, which were developed in research on wound healing, have been tested and published to show that they are instrumental in inducing skin cells to produce more collagen. If there’s anything key to maintaining youthful skin, it’s collagen. When collagen levels are plentiful, it indeed maintains the skin’s firm, youthful appearance. As levels decline, wrinkles start to form. Some researchers believe that topically applying these pentapeptides might help the skin produce more collagen –like a collagen injection without the needle. A hormone called estradiol has been shown to stimulate collagen production in older people. The caveat is that it only works on skin that’s not exposed to the sun, which would be rather limiting for beach activities, and would mean wearing a big hat much of the time.
Other ingredients that can benefit the skin include antioxidants, which help stop free radicals form inhibiting collagen production, thus preventing new wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid soaks in moisture, plumping up skin tissue. Hydroxy acids exfoliate old skin so that new skin can come to the surface. Retinol, an over-the-counter version of Retin-A, is a vitamin-A compound that helps prevent the collagen breakdown, and can stimulate new collagen production.
There are also some more basic things most men can do fairly easily for their skin, starting with not smoking, and drinking only in moderation. Both affect our internal organs and in turn our biggest external organ, the skin. Sunscreen also can help prevent skin damage and related aging. And yes, by all means, moisturize, but be wary of moisturizers that make excessive claims. Try to avoid skin products with alcohol, artificial fragrances and parabens, all of which can dry or upset the skin. As it happens, there are some expensive men’s skincare products that meet all these requirements. Some go even further by being organic. But if you do some label reading, you are likely to find more economically priced ones that serve equally well. Of course, if you feel better using the expensive stuff, knock yourself out. Just remember that your skin doesn’t discriminate based on price. Oh, and don’t forget to get ample sleep and exercise, and avoid stress. Your skin will definitely thank you for it.