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Life changes after applying your first moisturizer. I know this all too well. For my 28th birthday, my girlfriend made a point to redecorate my bathroom, which included new towels, new bath mats, and an honest-to-god skincare regimen. I have been a proud, disgusting man for most of my life, and navigating the silken seas of dermatology seemed fundamentally against my nature. That is until I expunged my pores for the first time in my life, and was forced to admit exactly what I've been missing.
Yes, male skincare. What was once a fringe curiosity is now a rapidly growing sector of the self-care industry, as more men realize how tremendously good it feels to have open and clean pores. A number of startups have raced to cash in on men taking care of themselves—Hims, Bulldog, and War Paint market themselves as male-focused wellness brands—and that can muddy the water for any newbie. Skincare is an infamously charlatan business; there is a lot of snake oil and miracle tonics crowding the periphery, but luckily James Welsh is here to cut through the artifice. Welsh has over 350,000 subscribers on his skincare-focused YouTube channel, and he put together a six step skincare buying guide for any amateur looking to get in on the action without getting ripped off. Here are his recommendations from start to finish.
The first and most obvious thing that should be on your list is a cleanser. Scientifically, a cleanser is any product that removes dead skin, oil, dirt, and make-up from your face. For most skincare adherents, this is their inaugural step every morning, and Welsh makes it clear that people often conflate cleansers with body washes or a bar of soap.
"Bars of soap are quite old-fashioned. They contain sulfates, which does refuse grease but very harshly. You're still going to find that in soap, body wash, because our bodies can take it," he explains. "Body washes are perfect for your body, because the skin on our body is a lot thicker."
But for your face Welsh recommends treating yourself with something much lighter and gentler, "One that isn't going to strip your skin of the moisture it actually needs," he says. In particular he recommends Krave's Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser, which, as the name implies, is concocted with matcha, hemp oil, and vitamin B for an extremely delicate application experience that's about a billion times more soothing than whatever else you've been putting your poor face through.
Next up is a good toner, which will keep your skin fresh and shrink your pores. Welsh admits that a lot of people say toners are ancillary to the skincare process, but he swears by them personally. He thinks that toners are a lot easier to use than people make them out to be. "People think they're heavy in alcohol, and that they can sting a little bit, but toners have come a long way and can do a lot," he says.
Ideally, a toner should set up the rest of your skincare routine, and bolster the effects of every other product you're using. Welsh recommends COSRX - Galactomyces Alcohol-Free Toner. "It literally feels like water, it pretty much is, and it keeps the skin hydrated," he says.
Welsh says you ought to throw a toner on your face as soon as you leave the shower. He makes it clear that no matter what the cosmetology industry might want you to believe, men and women have very similar skin—the primary difference being men tend to get a little more oily throughout the day. That's where toner comes in. "It benefits us guys with thicker skin," explains Welsh.
Speaking of our thicker skin, men have the opportunity to get a little more rough during the exfoliation process. For the uninitiated, the exfoliator is the bread and butter of any skincare routine. It carves out the dead cells on the surface of your face, so that your new healthy skin can shine through.
Obviously, a process like that can be pretty brutal if you're not careful. But thankfully, in 2019, nobody needs to scour their face with, like, a hunk of gravel to get rid of dead skin. Instead, Welsh recommends an exfoliating cream with both Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA,) and Beta Hydroxy Acid, (BHA.) AHA works on the surface of the skin, while BHA seeps deeper, and does the grim work of cleaning out our subdermal cavities.
"Because us guys have tougher skin, we really need both, especially the BHA, to prevent breakouts and blackheads," says Welsh. "I think two to three times a week. Everyone can benefit from it."
Welsh prefers AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner, which packs a hefty punch without being too disruptive to your biology. As the saying goes, nobody is too manly to exfoliate.
Serums tend to be more specialized than everything else in a skincare regimen. They target a specific ailment—be it acne, wrinkles, or whatever else that ails you. "There's a serum out there for everyone," says Welsh.
His current favorite is The Ordinary’s Nicainamide 10% Zinc 1%, which is brewed to decongest your skin and make blemishes less visible. Welsh likes it because it's more generalized than other serums, and is positioned at a great price point—around $6 a bottle—which is considerably less than the rest of the market.
However, if you want to pick up something that's more suited to your own individual skin concerns, Welsh says there's a number of dermatologists on YouTube who offer reviews of different serums. Those dermatologists do a good job of explaining what exactly the ingredients on each bottle are supposed to do, which will let you shop around more efficiently at Walgreens or your local pharmacy. So acquaint yourself with that Niacinamide!
Alright, now you've hit the home stretch. It's time for the most pleasurable part of the skincare gauntlet. Moisturizing is like giving your face a tiny bath. Your perception on the entire cosmetics industry will be permanently changed the first time you do it. A good moisturizing cream keeps your skin quenched and durable in the face of dirt, sunlight, or pathogens. It feels like wearing an invisible, handsome shield.
As Welsh explains, there are two primary categories for moisturizers—"really creamy moisturizers, and very light gel-type moisturizers"—which tend to target different things. The cream is more attuned for those with dry skin, while the gel helps people who get a little oily. For beginners, Welsh recommends CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion (also available in an AM/PM bundle—the AM containing sunscreen), which, full disclosure, is totally the same thing I use. It fits most skin types reasonably well, and from there you can fine tune your moisturizing diet that addresses your particular dermatologic needs more precisely.
Last but certainly not least, the sunscreen! I am an ignorant man, and was roundly astonished to learn that the skincare intelligentsia recommend applying sunscreen every day. "None of this is worth it if you're not using a sunscreen. It does everything that every product claims to do," says Welsh. From skin texture, to anti-aging properties, to overall health, sunscreen is the alpha and omega, and should never be reserved strictly for beach days.
Welsh recommends Krave's The Beet Shield, which is made with real beet extract. It has all the bona fides; SPF 50+, and PA++++, which is the best sun protection that you'll find in North America. But despite that, the texture of the fluid is still supremely light, so won't leave a white residue all over your skin like a 10-year-old at his first summer camp trip to the pool.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.