Whether you’re 25 or 65, you might be a little (or more than a little) concerned about getting older. So let’s start off with the really good news: You shouldn’t be afraid of aging! It’s a common adage that most men tend to “look better with age”—and while this is almost certainly a sexist double standard, it’s…also true! The way your face ages (wrinkles and all) can actually totally enhance whatever you’ve got going on.
Which means that you shouldn’t look at starting an “anti-aging” skincare routine as, well, anti-anything. Instead, look at it as a great method of self-preservation, and as a way to keep yourself in the best shape possible. (You go to the gym occasionally, right? Think of this as the gym, but for your face.) These aren’t magic potions designed to wipe wrinkles away, but they will help you get more mileage out of what you’ve got. And if you’re looking for more serious intervention, we’ll get to that part, too.
But before we get into the specifics and the products you need, let’s take a quick step backwards into the basics territory. Then, we’ll help you identify which of the products here you should consider adding to your daily routine.
1. Identifying the Signs of Aging
Most guys tend to notice similar symptoms of aging—the kind that motivate a serious investment in their skincare game. “Jowls, an angry crease between your eyebrows, wrinkles around your eyes called ‘crow’s feet,’ brown spots, enlarged pores, or increased oiliness” are all common complaints, says Dr. David Colbert, the founder and head physician of New York Dermatology Group. “Maybe your jawline isn’t quite as crisp, your neck isn’t as tight, those martinis are building a fat pad under your chin, or your eyes are sagging,” he says. The bottom line is: You may not look like you used to—or, you start to feel like you’re looking different.
While a multi-step skincare routine and many of the practices you’ll read about here should be in every guy’s arsenal since his 20’s, it’s never too late to start a good habit. And luckily, results can be easy enough to come by if you’re starting from scratch—you just need to do it right.
2. Your Neck Is Telling On You
Before we jump into what’s happening on your face, let’s start lower. Aging saves its swiftest and cruelest wrath for your neck.
“The neck is so important,” says celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. “You have to think of it as an extension of your face. But unlike your face, the skin on the neck and chest doesn’t quite have the bone structure to hold skin up, so everything kind of drops as you get older.”
One solution: just grow a beard! There’s a reason they’ve been referred to as “built-in makeup for men.” Think of it this way: a beard effectively camouflages half of your face, therefore veiling any imperfections you might have. And most beards will cover the vulnerable area under your chin, which starts to droop, sag, and wrinkle over time. Adding a coat of fur there is, frankly, a genius way to take five years off your face. (This is also partially why plenty of older folks love a good rotation of turtlenecks.)
But maybe you’re not a beard guy. That’s fine! Just remember that any product that you’re putting on your face—cleanser, moisturizer, serum, whatever—is also meant for your neck, and even the top of your chest. You start by applying to the face, and then you should work your way down. Sometimes this will mean you need a little more product, but mostly, it’s wise to focus on the face then travel down your neck with your hands, using the excess as you go.
3. For the Love of God, Ditch the Bar Soap
Confused about the difference between Irish Spring and a proper facial cleanser? Consider your laundry, Dr. Colbert says. “You wouldn’t wash your favorite cashmere sweater in Tide detergent, would you?” he asks. “Think of your skin as a fabric—it’ll age like cashmere or a pair of jeans. It gets beaten up, threads get thin, and you get holes in the knees. It’s a living fabric.” That means you’ve got to take care of it accordingly.
Which means a proper face cleanser is your first essential. Morning and night, start your routine by using a pea-sized drop of something like NYDG Colloidal Oatmeal Cleanser ($48) with warm water, and massage it into your face to work up a lather. Rinse off and pat dry—don’t rub, which can be damaging—with a clean towel. (If you’re acne-prone, try keeping a roll of paper towels in the bathroom and using those instead: Disposable paper towels won’t carry the same amount of bacteria as a cotton cloth that sits in place for a week or more, and is used on everything from your face to your hands.)
And then, once or twice a week (or whenever you feel like it), you should be doing a regular face scrub to give yourself a true, deep clean. Scrubs work harder to slough off dead skin cells and give you a fresher, more even complexion. You really can’t go wrong with the intensive Juice Beauty Resurfacing Micro-Exfoliant ($56), which packs a powerful punch that will leave you feeling brand-new. (It’s especially ideal when it comes to beard care if you suffer from ingrown hairs.)
4. Please Meet “Serum”
Odds are, you already have a moisturizer in regular rotation. That’s a great start, but when it comes to fighting things like lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and more, you’re going to need something a bit more active. In other words: it’s time to buy a serum.
“A serum is usually a combination of active ingredients that typically have a higher percentage [concentration] than you’d find in a moisturizer,” Rouleau says. “That’s because the formula is made with a liposome delivery system that allows for a smaller molecular structure, which helps those ingredients further penetrate the skin.”
If that was too AP Chemistry, think of it this way: moisturizer is like a multivitamin—you should be taking it every day, but it has blanket benefits that are all a bit less specific. A serum is sort of like an antibiotic—a targeted, effective treatment with a powerful composition. (And before you ask, yes: You absolutely need both. “Serums are always intended to be layered underneath a moisturizer,” Rouleau says.)
In the morning, after cleansing, the professionals recommend a good Vitamin C formula, like Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum ($80). Vitamin C is known as the main “brightening” ingredient of skincare, so it helps to combat dullness, uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation, and brown spots. It also will give you fairly instant results—you should start noticing a difference in just a couple of weeks. (And remember: Apply it to your neck, too!)
5. You’re Gonna Need Another Moisturizer
“The number one cause of premature aging is not genetics, it’s not smoking, it’s not overindulging in alcohol,” Rouleau says. “It’s UV light.”
That’s right: Everything they say about the sun is true—and applying SPF is, therefore, essential even when you’re not planning to be outdoors all day. “It’s important to recognize that UVA rays—the ones that cause wrinkles and discoloration—are equally strong from summer to winter, and they can penetrate through windows.” That means you’re gonna need protection for every scenario, whether you’re sitting in an office or in your car during your morning commute.
The tricky thing about sunscreens, though, is finding the right formula for you. Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30 ($54) is a great solution for most guys—it’s super sheer, so it never looks like you’re wearing it, plus it has other ingredients that help keep acne and redness at bay. Guys with darker skin tones may prefer a product like Glossier Invisible Shield ($25), which is totally transparent, so there’s no residue or white cast left behind. Unlike the Dermalogica formula, though, this one doesn’t quite dry matte, so be careful with the amount you use.
And of course, Dr. Colbert says, make sure you’re applying sunscreen not just on your face, but on your ears, neck, and the back of your neck. (And make sure you see a dermatologist once a year for an annual skin cancer check!)
If all of this seems a little too much, consider this statistic: Men are about twice as likely as women to develop skin cancer—which is at least partially due to the fact that they’re less likely to protect themselves with something like sunscreen. (That lack of prevention also means they’re likely not seeing a dermatologist.) If you’ve worn a condom before, you can handle daily sunscreen—trust.
Obviously, you don’t need sunscreen for bed, so use nighttime as an opportunity to follow up your serum with a great moisturizer. Facial oils are great for overnight hydration—especially for guys with beards or scruff, since they condition the hairs for a nice, even shine. Try Herbivore Orchid Facial Oil ($64). If you’re heading into your mid-to-late 30s and want a product that’s specifically targeted to long-term wrinkle fighting, you might want to incorporate retinol into your routine. “It’s a long-term play, but over the course of months, you’ll slowly start to see the results of a smoother texture,” says Rouleau. If you’re down for the long haul, try Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream ($98) instead of the oil.
And just in case, here’s a quick primer from Dr. Colbert on how to apply moisturizer the right way: “Put two or three pea-size drops in your palm, rub it between your hands thoroughly for five seconds, then rub all over the face—starting with the cheeks, then towards the eyes, your forehead, and then down to the neck and all around the neck.”
6. Oh Yeah—Moisturize Your Body, Too
While we’re talking about your face (and, yes, your neck), I’d be remiss to not mention that your body ages—and that skin sags, too. Your best bet is to make sure you lube up as soon as you’re out of the shower—hopefully that’ll keep your backside nice and firm for as long as humanly possible. Try Aesop Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm ($37), and get a good sponge to make sure you’re scrubbing thoroughly when you’re in the shower.
*More Affordable Alternatives? Try Shea Moisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Body Lotion ($8).