The Layman’s Guide to Skincare

The good, the bad and the pure BS

By The Editors

All That Jargon in the Men’s Skincare Aisle, Decoded
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23 March 2016

They say that at 40, you have the face you deserve. What they don’t tell you is that you also have the face you deserve at 50. And 55. And 60. Etc.

So no matter your age, it’s a good time to start investing in your future faces.

The best ways to do that have nothing to do with the products in your bathroom. Eat more veggies. Less dairy. Exercise. Drink a lot of water. Mind the booze.

But the right products can help. Just beware: the skincare industry, like most, is for-profit. There are things you need, and things you don’t.

To help you save face, we’re here with a matter-of-fact glossary on the ins and outs of its sometimes daunting lingo — what you need and why, so as to not lose face value.

CLEANSER
Cleans skin. Removes dirt. Formulated especially for the face.

Do you need it? Yes. Soap is not cleanser.

How often? Twice daily.

What kind? For oily types: (1) Clinique Oil Control. For dry types: (2) Jack Black Aloe & Sage. For sensitive types: (3) Schaf Hydrating. Not sure which one you are? Figure it out here.

MOISTURIZER
Does exactly what it says it will.

Do you need it? Yes.

How often? Twice daily.

What kind? For oily: (4) DTRT Dear Matt. For combination: (5) Malin + Goetz Vitamin E. For dry: (6) Vitamine & Sea. For sensitive: (7) Jack Black Dry Erase.

EXFOLIANT
Scrubs dead outer skin cells from face. Doing so will help other products (like moisturizers) work better. Also feels pretty damn good and can help prevent ingrown hairs.

Do you need it? Unless you’re sensitive, it’s a good idea.

How often? One-to-three times a week.

What kind? Try (8) Triumph & Disaster Suicide Scrub or (9) RA Buffed Granular Scrub

TONER
Use after cleansing. Removes leftover gunk. Balances the skin’s pH to make it act the way you want it to — not the way it wants to.

Do you need it? It’s not the worst idea.

How often? Once a day. Twice is better, but something is better than nothing.

What kind? Try (10) Suki Clarifying Toner for oily, (11) RA Rezone Toner for combination, (12) Ursa Major Face Tonic for dry and (13) Kiehl’s Calendula for sensitive.

SERUM
Like vitamins for the face.

Do you need it? Do you need vitamins?

How often? One-to-two-times a day. Morning if you’re only applying once.

What kind? (14) RA Complex VI, (15) SkinCeuticals C + E or (16) Youth to the People Serum will do the trick.

SPF
C’mon now. You don’t want to be old and spotty and potentially cancerous.

Do you need it? 100%

How often? Any time you plan on being outside.

What kind? UVA = the sun’s rays that age you. UVB = the sun’s rays that burn you. Meaning: you can age even when it’s cloudy. Some moisturizers have SPF, but the latter is meant to sit on top of the dermis, and can prevent proper penetration of the former. Try this: Dollar Shave’s Daily.

PEEL
A more intense exfoliator. Good for getting rid of wrinkles. Done in a doctor’s office or spa — the good ones, anyway.

Do you need it? It’ll do wonders, unless you’re going for that whole furrowed-brow-and-crow’s-feet professorial thing.

How often? Twice a year is a good place to start, depending on your age and skin type.

What kind? Don’t know the difference between Alpha-Hydraulic and Beta-hydrochloric acid? Doesn’t matter, a professional is doing this and they do.

ENZYME
A peel is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. An enzyme is more like a little Pac-man for your face: a chemical reaction that munches only dead skin.

How often? Once a month to once a week as needed for cleaning up shop.

Do you need it? Perhaps. Good for people with acne or too sensitive for peels.

What kind? Try RA Cherry Jubilee.

MASK
Something you put on your face for 20 minutes to make it look better. Think of it like a face smoothie.

Do you need it? Treat yo’self.

How often? Once a week.

What kind? For oily: (17) Anthony Clay Mask. For combination: (18) Plant Matcha. For sensitive: (19) Epicurean Green Tea & Seaweed. For dry: (20) RA Milk Mask.

RETIN A
Prescription topical vitamin A for keeping wrinkles at bay. Over-the-counter products are usually a waste of your time.

Do you need it? Only if you want to look young longer.

How often? Most docs recommend between once a day and once a week.

What kind? Ask a dermatologist.

And some other good words to know, especially when you’re scanning the fine print on all the above:

Organic: Non-synthetic skincare. Buyer beware: regulation is not standardized.

Essential Oils: What makes skincare smell good, though not by synthetic means. Also has its own curative properties. Do not use pure essential oils on the skin. Just don’t.

Hyaluronic Acid: Naturally occurring fluid in the skin. Holds more moisture than what it weighs — like an ant. Topically, helps do the same.

Hydroquinone: Used to “bleach out” hyperpigmentation, aka those little dark spots you get from aging.

Hypoallergenic: (Allegedly) won’t make you break out or inflame the skin. Good for sensitive types.

Humectant: Seals the face to prevent loss of moisture.

Active ingredient: A product’s MVP.

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