Redefining the Well-Groomed Man

Spa Treatments for Men

By Diane M. Marty

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2004.

As late as a decade ago, men’s skin care was considered an oxymoron. But today’s males are changing that philosophy. Gone are the days of grunge and grays. The image modern men want to cultivate involves sophistication, strength, and stamina.

“Skin care awareness is mostly a generational phenomenon,” says James Whittall, president of, a vendor of skin care, hair care, and shave and shower products for men. “It’s the younger guys who are getting into skin care. Our primary demographic consists of men aged 25 to 42, with the 18- to 25-year-old crowd making up our second largest customer group.”

Whittall attributes the change of attitude partially to the fact that younger guys have come of age with women in the workplace. “Young men assume more of the household and child-rearing duties,” he says. “If you can keep house, change a poopy diaper, and still think of yourself as a man, then giving yourself a facial once a week isn’t going to threaten your gender identity.”

Melinda Minton, spa consultant and health and beauty expert, says, “Men with healthy skin appear more together, more contemporary, and more urban.” Healthy male skin is hydrated, clarified, and even in tone with great circulation. Men learn quickly that a stylish appearance makes a huge difference in perceptions and gives them an edge in corporate America.

Andrea Lynn Cambio, M.D., a New York City dermatologist, believes men have been influenced by television shows — like “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” and “Extreme Makeovers,” both of which spotlight physical and lifestyle transformations — to embrace more evolved exteriors. About half of Cambio’s clients are male and searching for resolutions to acne, wrinkles, and dry skin. While masculine and feminine complaints sound similar, the remedies for guys are often different from feminine solutions. That’s because men’s skin has its own unique challenges.

“Men tend to have oily and thick skin, which leads to a multitude of problems,” says Philippe Dumont, founder and president of Nickel — the first man-only spa in France and the United States. “And men will wash their face repeatedly with harsh soaps, which either increases oil production or dries the skin, depending on the man’s skin type.”

In addition to the surplus of oil, Whittall singles out shaving as being responsible for the most stubborn and steady male skin problems. “Scrape a piece of sharpened steel across your face once a day, and tell me that doesn’t cause problems,” he says. Shaving removes the upper layers of skin, causing extreme dryness and irritation. The results? Ingrown hairs, razor bumps, blemish outbreaks, and increased oil production — all of which leave their marks on male skin.

Proper Product and Regimen

While most men are probably still purchasing skin care products from the shelves of grocery and drug stores, this pattern is rapidly changing, says Ray Raglin, founder and president of MaleFace Skincare, a manufacturer and retailer of premium skin and hair care products for men.

Day-to-day problems can be corrected with the right products at home, Dumont says. A simple regimen offers maximum benefits with a minimum of fuss.

The standard operating procedure for the daytime should be to cleanse, apply a sunblock, and then an oil-free moisturizer, Cambio says. At night, follow the same protocol, except forego the sunblock. If an additional topical cream is to be applied, use it after cleansing, but before sun protection and moisturizer. Topical creams include prescription-strength emulsions formulated specially for persistent skin problems, such as acne, eczema, and seborrhea.

Raglin’s routine consists of four basic products — a facial scrub to exfoliate, a vitamin-enriched shave cream, an oil-free moisturizer, and a daytime moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15.

“An eye contour cream with a great lifting effect will maintain and promote a more youthful appearance in the area that shows age first,” Dumont says.

“And a weekly practice of mud or clay masquing forestalls many skin problems by deep-cleaning and tightening pores,” Minton says.

No matter what combination you choose, all experts agree that any youth-promoting skin care regimen must include a sunblock to battle the effects of aging, as well as the more unhealthy solar properties.

Sun damage is cumulative, Cambio says. Therefore, a little sun over many years equals a lot of sun exposure. More important than wrinkling are the potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous skin conditions that can be the result of neglecting the SPF. Applying sunscreen is simply a healthy habit to have, period.

The most collateral skin damage men incur revolves around their reluctance to use sunscreen, says Denise Thompson, spokesperson for John Robert’s Studio Collection in Ohio, an Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa. Men just don’t like the “greasiness” of it. At John Roberts spas, technicians recommend lightweight, oil-free products for daily use.

“Sunblock with a great hydration component is the supreme skin ally,” Minton says. She recommends an SPF 15 for regular living and a 40 for weekend and intensive outdoor activities. Sun protection should be a component of daily skin care in the winter, on a regular workday, even on an unsunny day.

Skin on the body needs attention, too. The best bath or shower routine demands gentle cleansing and an application of moisturizer to damp skin, Cambio says. For both body and face, twice-a-week exfoliation encourages bright, clear skin. Most body scrubs would be too harsh for the face. So, purchase a separate scrub for the face to forestall any acceleration of skin problems.

“Apply the scrub in the bath or shower as you would a shower gel,” Minton says. “Then, work the formula over your entire body with circular motions, avoiding the eye area. Some facial scrubs are also masks. Typically, you would apply them and allow the steam to help the product penetrate before following directions for removal on the package.”

Because today’s male is so active, his products need to travel with him to remote locations. Whittall endorses stocking gym lockers with shower gel and golf bags with sunscreen. Office drawer supplies should include a toner or astringent and cotton balls for mid-afternoon skirmishes with oil buildup.

“If a man will change only a single strategy at a time, I advise him to begin his skin care conversion by washing his face every day with a non-soap, pH-balanced cleanser,” Dumont says.

“In general, men should trade up to better products, perhaps beginning with a glycerin-based cleansing gel,” Whittall says. “They will see a marked improvement in skin tone and texture within three weeks or less.”

“Usually, the first product purchased by a man starting a skin care regimen is a premium shave cream from a department store or over the Internet,” Raglin says. As their skin improves, men usually add other products — such as face scrubs and moisturizers — to their arsenals.

By deploying specific ingredients for precise trouble zones, targeted skin care victories are possible. One of the biggest facial challenges for men is “baggy” eyes, Raglin says. An eye gel with green tea extract — a soothing antioxidant — reduces puffiness in minutes. A high quality face scrub is probably the most important weapon against acne, oiliness, and dead skin. Razor burn surrenders to shave creams with high concentrations of aloe vera, glycerin, and vitamins E and B-5. Acetylsalicylic acid reduces inflammation.

“There are plenty of really good products to help with post-shaving issues,” Whittall says. His company supplies balms and gels with topical anesthetics to ease irritation. “We have an exceptional aftershave gel, formulated by a dermatologist, with lidocaine and salicylic acid in it. The lidocaine numbs razor irritation and the salicylic acid treats post-shave blemishes.”

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid heal razor bumps, Cambio says. Even men with flawless skin notice an improvement in texture and a decrease in oiliness with these ingredients. And, always shave in the direction of the hair, Cambio says.

One solution for ingrown hairs is to leave a high quality shaving cream on the face longer than usual to soften beards, Minton says. Hydrating is also a safeguard for this annoying obstacle to healthy male skin.

Fruit acids, or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), provide solutions for a wide spectrum of male skin care concerns, Dumont says. Oily skin and ingrown hairs, brown marks, dry spots, and even acne are contained by this ingredient. And, by exposing new cells, skin is rejuvenated. The most popular AHA used for facial treatments is glycolic acid, but lactic and citric acids are effective, too.

Glycolic and retinoic acids are also effective weapons against wrinkles, Cambio says. These substances eliminate fine lines, reduce skin discoloration, and fuel a fresh glow. They also decrease blackheads, moisturize the skin, bleach age marks, and stimulate collagen production in the dermis. Sugar cane is the source for glycolic acid. Retinol is derived from vitamin A.

You’ll find these ingredients in washes, creams, and lotions. The list of ingredients would name either “glycolic acid” or “retinol,” Cambio says. There are also some prescription strengths available that are much more effective than over-the-counter products.

“Men forget to nourish and hydrate,” Minton says. “Their skin takes the beating when they’re on a mountain or by the ocean. And they show premature aging because of their active lifestyles. To combat dryness, always use an oil-free moisturizer with great hydration ingredients after washing. And bring on the hyaluronic acid, liposomes, aloe vera, sugar-derived substances, vitamin C ester, and other natural emollients, like bee pollen, shea butter, and macadamia nut oil.”

Topical antioxidant products safeguard and restore skin. “Grapeseed extracts — as well as green or white tea extracts — have proven to be effective assets for men’s skin,” Whittall says. Grapeseed extract is a potent antioxidant that contains a unique bioflavonoid complex. Preliminary evidence suggests this element protects and strengthens collagen and elastin, thus helping to improve the elasticity of skin, he adds.

Shunning the Saboteurs

As critical as what elements to incorporate in a skin care routine are the ingredients to avoid. Because male skin tends to be more oily and thick than that of their female comrades, raiding their girlfriend’s or wife’s products — which often contain heavy lubricants — would be a mistake for men, Cambio says.

“In general, guys should avoid shave creams or gels that use numbing agents like benzocaine,” Whittall says. “These substances close pores, which makes stubble harder to shave, leading to more post-shave irritation. Also, shun post-shave products with alcohol, which I consider to be a blight upon man.”

One of the stealthiest saboteurs in men’s skin care products for causing flare-ups is sodium laurel sulfate, Raglin says. Many mass-market products, such as shaving cream, incorporate this ingredient, because it is cheap to buy in bulk, and foams well. However, it is a proven skin irritant.

“Many men buy shaving creams with menthol, because it has a cooling effect,” Raglin says. “However, research suggests this ingredient also is a noteworthy opponent to healthy skin. I would also recommend eliminating washing the face with bar soap due to its alkaline nature and drying properties.”

Most scrubs made specifically for men damage their skin, because the treatments are too thick and abrasive, Dumont says.

“Scrubs should have rounded, even-acting exfoliating grains,” Minton says. Outstanding scrubs can be found at any spa, department store, or health food vendor. Just in the last year, companies have introduced many lines created just for men.

Minton names fillers and harsh preservatives as the enemies. “All of the paraben family are hugely overused. These ingredients can irritate the skin, worsen rosacea, and trigger acne breakouts.”

Whittall advises men to abandon drugstore deodorant soaps with their unhealthy anti-germicidals, fillers, and fragrances.

Maintaining a Polished Persona

For enduring, entrenched foes, call up the professional corps. “When purchasing products, the majority of men’s complaints focus on oiliness or shaving irritations,” Thompson says. “But that changes once they enter the quiet private room of the esthetician. In fact, male concerns — lines, aging, and loss of tone — sound curiously like female ones. Massages are the most common spa treatment booked by guys.” And men are probably the most reluctant to try facials. However, most men who try them schedule a return engagement. “One of our estheticians convinced a couple of professional athletes to try facials, and once they started coming in for them regularly, other men joined their forces.

“Men with substantial skin damage should enlist spa services, such as regular facials and microdermabrasion,” Thompson says.

The heavy artillery for injured skin includes chemical or enzymatic peels, microdermabrasion, and laser skin rejuvenations, Minton says. These processes moderately wound the underlying collagen and elastin base of the skin, which encourages the skin’s renewal, tightens pores, minimizes wrinkles, and eliminates hyperpigmentation.

Selecting the best products and learning proper application are good reasons to enlist some expert guidance, too. “As with women, each man’s skin profile is unique,” Thompson says. “Many times, guys are unable to decipher their skin type or use too much of the product, then brand it too heavy or greasy.”

Blocked pores and blackheads are best tackled in expert settings by estheticians and dermatologists. Don’t try to handle these stubborn adversaries at home, Dumont warns. Self-done extractions cause scars. Also, rough areas and oily skin on the back can be best treated by body scrubs and back facials in a spa.

If Minton had the power to order one type of spa treatment for men on a regular basis, she would pick foot treatments. Sandals, beach time, and sports cause collateral damage, she says. Some guys have such severe calluses that their feet crack and bleed. Guys electing to receive regular pedicures will conquer unsightly foot problems quickly.

Stimulate great skin from the inside out with a vigorous campaign in favor of a healthy lifestyle. “Drink lots of water,” Thompson says. “Many men assume they have dry skin when they’re actually dehydrated.” Whittall advocates modifying diets to include foods rich in nucleic acids, such as sardines, salmon, tuna, shellfish, lentils, and beans. Fruits and vegetables with powerful antioxidants — grapes, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, red onions, spinach — as well as whole grain breakfast cereals and green tea, can protect against and, in some cases, repair damage to skin.

Food supplements — particularly with vitamins A, C, and E, and the mineral selenium, in combination with coenzymes and the minerals zinc, copper, and manganese — are known to increase the skin’s ability to repair, renew, and revitalize itself, Whittall notes.

Of course, always consult with a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor before you make any changes to your menu or start a new vitamin and supplement regimen.

In the future, because the benefits of being well-groomed neutralize any potential drawbacks, more and more men will assume polished personas. Luckily, companies are responding to the growing demand from the male troops. Many new lines of natural skin products can be secured via salons, spas, the Internet, and department or health food stores. Look for treatments labeled for men only and with neutral or “manly” scents, like licorice.

As Cambio says, basic skin care should be a lifelong habit. And, with good maintenance, skin can look five, 10, even 15 years younger. What man would march away from that?