The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Skincare, According to Dermatologists

Men’s skincare has been growing in popularity in recent years—which couldn’t be more exciting, as skincare is for everyone. As more men refine their regimens, they’re often asking about topics including which products to use or combine, how to reduce signs of aging, and whether multipurpose products effectively do what they say. Putting together a skincare routine can seem daunting, which is understandable considering the wide array of products available today as well as the overwhelming marketing surrounding them. (According to Straits Research, the men’s skincare market was $12.8 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow rapidly to more than $19 million by 2031.)

We could all use a refresher from time to time on what’s really important to include in a skincare routine, and the good news is it doesn’t need to be overly complex in order to be effective. Ahead, check out our ultimate guide to making men’s skincare a snap, complete with tips from dermatologists and some of our favorite product picks.

Which Skincare Products Should Men Use?

While the men’s skincare industry is full of innovations that can be useful depending on your needs, our experts say only a few products are necessary for a simple yet effective routine: cleanser, serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen, as well as a retinoid if reducing signs of aging is one of your goals. Corey Hartman, MD, simplifies this even further into three staple products: “It’s the right mix of antioxidants, retinol, and sunscreen.”

The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Skincare

Start with a Mild Cleanser

Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, recommends starting your men’s skincare routine by washing your face with a mild cleanser. “I like to keep it simple,” he tells Byrdie. “Often, basic products like Cerave’s Foaming Face Wash ($6), or EltaMD’s Foaming Facial Cleanser ($33), are great options.”

Hartman also recommends daily cleansing, but says that cleansing once a day, rather than twice, might be better for men with certain skin types. “People with drier or normal skin (meaning not oily or combination) may find that washing their face in the morning isn’t necessary,” he says. “Leaving on the natural oils that accumulate on clean skin overnight may aid in skin feeling less dry.”  Regardless though, everyone should wash their face at night: “It’s essential to remove the dirt, oil, and impurities that have accumulated on the skin at the end of the day,” Hartman tells us.

Use an Antioxidant Serum

While antioxidants may make you initially think of supplements or foods, skincare products that contain these ingredients can improve the look and feel of your skin by protecting it from various environmental factors. “Antioxidants like vitamin C or niacinamide will help prevent free radicals from destroying collagen in your face, which leads to sagging,” Hartman tells us. You’ll commonly find these in their most potent forms in serums, while some moisturizing creams also contain antioxidants in lower concentrations. A moisturizer with antioxidants might be ideal if you’re trying to start small or want to simplify your routine for travel or a busy lifestyle.

Apply Moisturizer and Sunscreen

Both experts recommend using a moisturizer both morning and night, as well as applying sunscreen every morning to protect your skin from sun damage—regardless of your skin type or tone. “Daily sunscreen is essential,” Hartman tells us. “It’s a myth that if you have darker skin you don’t need sunscreen. Natural melanin only offers an extra SPF of 3-8—not enough to truly protect you from the sun.”

During the day, “use a moisturizer to add hydration to the skin, then finish with a sunscreen with minimum SPF 30,” Hartman says. You can even accomplish both in a single step: “CeraVe’s AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 ($20) is a nice option for someone with sensitive skin who needs a quick routine in the morning.”

Whether you use a combined moisturizer with SPF or opt for separate products is up to you, depending on how involved of a routine you’d prefer and which formulas work best for you. Hartman’s personal favorite SPF product to use is La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios XL ($39), while Bhanusali recommends mattifying sunscreens like Supergoop!’s Unseen Sunscreen ($38) and EltaMD’s UV Clear ($43).

Try a Retinol or Retinoid

If you’re looking to incorporate an active ingredient with maximum anti-aging efficacy among other benefits, a retinol or retinoid is the way to go. “Retinoids are the single most effective, research-backed component of a skincare regimen for preventing signs of aging,” Hartman explains. He says that retinoids, a synthetic form of topical vitamin A, “regulate cell turnover, promote effective exfoliation, prevent acne, even discoloration, control oil, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, unclog pores, and so much more.”

While similar to retinoids, “retinol is a less potent derivative of vitamin A,” Hartman says. “My opinion is that except for people with rosacea or overly sensitive skin, everyone should be using a retinol. The benefits are unparalleled, and it’s arguably the most important step that you can take for overall skin health and anti-aging after SPF.” By the way, sunscreen becomes even more important once you’ve integrated a retinol or retinoid: Hartman tells us that these ingredients make skin more sensitive to UV light.

The Definitive Step-by-Step Routine

While the above tips should give you an idea of which products to stock up on, the timing and order in which you apply them is equally as important. Ahead, our dermatologists break down exactly how to go about your men’s skincare routine for maximum efficacy.

Morning

  1. Cleanse your skin: Use a cleanser appropriate to your skin type and goals. For sensitive skin, look for a mild, unscented formula. Wet your face, apply and lather your cleanser, then rinse with lukewarm water: Byrdie did a deep dive on water temperature and found that this is best for both your skin and product efficacy. If you washed your face with a good cleanser the night before, you can skip this step unless you have oily or acne-prone skin or used a retinol or retinoid.
  2. Use an antioxidant serum: An antioxidant-rich serum will facilitate collagen production and protect against free radicals to calm your skin, promote a healthy glow, and preserve volume.
  3. Apply a moisturizer: Start by placing small dots of your moisturizer of choice on your face and neck, then gently tap and rub the excess in, paying attention to any areas that might need extra hydration or plumping (such as laugh lines and the forehead). I prefer unscented or lightly scented moisturizers, as they’re gentle on sensitive skin and also won’t conflict with your fragrance or cologne. If you’re not sure which moisturizer to use, go with an option that’s recommended for your skin type or try a few to decide which feels best on your skin. 
  4. Don’t forget sunscreen: Applying a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 year-round is an essential step for men (and everyone), regardless of skin tone. If your moisturizer contains at least SPF 30, you can skip this step.

Night

  1. Cleanse your skin: While some skin types can skip morning cleansing, washing your face in the evening is key to a healthy skin routine. Pollutants, free radicals, dirt, and oil collect on your skin throughout the day, so it’s important to remove them. An exfoliating cleanser is a great option for removing dead skin cells as well as preventing and minimizing shaving irritation, although you probably don’t need to exfoliate every day. Using an exfoliating cleanser at night also makes sense if you’re prone to redness, as the irritation will generally go away by morning.
  2. Apply a retinol or retinoid: This is part of my “aging with grace” protocol, and I highly recommend it if your dermatologist finds that using a retinoid or retinol is right for you. I use and swear by Arazlo (available by prescription only) after learning about it from another beauty editor, but your dermatologist will be able to tell you what seems best for your skin.
  3. Moisturize: Many great moisturizers are on the market today, and which to choose depends on your skin type and personal preference. At night, you won’t need or want to use one with SPF. Instead, look for ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to promote barrier health and hydration.

The Final Takeaway

Building an effective men’s skincare routine doesn’t have to be complicated and can become as effortless as other hygiene and self-care steps like brushing your teeth, shaving, and showering. With only a few products truly necessary, skincare can take less than three minutes total—yet it’s also possible to simplify it even further with multipurpose products. While which exact routine is best for you will depend on your skin type and needs (we recommend asking your dermatologist if you aren’t sure or want to incorporate actives), at the end of the day, skincare can be a stress-free yet transformative regimen once you have the steps down.

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