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Sun Care: Man's Best Friend

By: Jennifer Linder, MD
Posted: January 30, 2009, from the February 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Men today, particularly older men, are developing and even dying from melanoma at increasingly alarming rates. Some contributing factors are cultural, while others are physiological. Caring for skin, hair and nails with specialty products has traditionally been viewed as a female endeavor and therefore not appealing to men. Unfortunately, this means men traditionally have not used sunscreen, let alone other advantageous skin care products.

The lines between what practices are stereotypically considered male and female are beginning to blur as people live longer and men feel the need to preserve their youthful appearance to survive in an increasingly competitive career landscape. Overcoming these stereotypes is more pertinent than ever, not only to keep skin healthy and looking good, but more importantly to keep male clients from suffering and often dying from this preventable form of cancer.

Skin care professionals need to work toward making the idea of men caring for their skin more common and acceptable. Truly understanding the important differences in the physiology of men’s skin, men’s typical purchasing psychology and the significant statistics on the increasing numbers of melanoma cases in men can help make this paradigm shift a reality.

Physiological differences

To help male clients, it is important to understand the differences in the skin between men and women. Hormones play a significant role. In males, androgens are the dominant hormones and continually increase throughout puberty before leveling off in the early 20s. Higher levels of the androgen testosterone are responsible for increased hair growth and sebum production, and androgen hormones also drive acne, as they increase the size of sebaceous glands and the amount of oil secreted. The enzyme 5 alpha-reductase works within the follicles to convert testosterone to 5-dehydrotestosterone (DHT). Androgen receptors at the base of hair follicles are highly susceptible to DHT, and with increased DHT come higher rates of acne.

In addition to more oil production and the growth of facial hair, men have thicker skin than women. These characteristics serve men well as they work to mask the visible signs of aging. In 2007, the Canadian Academy of Pathology published findings in the journal Laboratory Investigation demonstrating that androgens play an important role in the production of collagen and other matrix proteins. This fact helps to explain the much slower rates of wound-healing in elderly men who have far lower testosterone levels than their younger counterparts.