Understanding Male Skin Care Needs: The Challenge of an Evolving Market


Not all skin is the same and this is one of the primary challenges to formulating a successful global cosmetic product. Perhaps the biggest difference is between the skin of men and women.1 Male skin care products cannot be formulated to meet the same criteria as female products; they cannot be identical and simply housed in different packages.

The male skin care market is rapidly evolving to meet the unique needs of men, which is worthy of further consideration. The challenge of meeting male skin care market demands is that products must focus on three key attributes of male skin: increased skin thickness, the influence of testosterone and hair growth issues. These differences are obvious to the human eye but worthy of scientific discussion.

Increased Skin Thickness

Male skin is thicker than female skin, in part due to the presence of terminal hair follicles over much of the body. This difference is most pronounced on the face where women have only vellus hairs that are fine and colorless, while men have fully developed terminal hairs that are coarse and pigmented, taking up space within the skin. The presence of male facial hair is partially responsible for the more favorable appearance of mature men over mature women.2 As UV radiation activates collagenase to destroy dermal collagen, the male beard allows the skin to resist wrinkling. Thus, photo-aged males do not exhibit the pronounced redundant facial skin seen in photo-aged females.

What does the thicker male skin mean for the skin care market? It means that photo-aging does not appear as early in men as it does in women. And while women are eager at a younger age to purchase skin care products, men are more resistant3 because the rugged, coarse look is valued as a sign of masculinity and maturity. 

Thicker male skin is also less responsive to the beneficial effects of moisturization, especially on the hair-bearing upper cheeks. Moisturizing creams simply do not have early appeal to men due to their perceived lack of need and poor immediate efficacy. 

The male beard also gives the skin a coarse texture, hiding surface cosmetic irregularities such as scarring, pigment inconsistencies and broken capillaries. If the beard-containing skin of the male face is stretched, many of these problems become apparent. Thus, women are more proactive in addressing problems than men, who do not see skin changes as easily or as early in life.4 

Some of the inherent resistance to aging in male skin is due to its ability to diffuse UV radiation, especially in the UVA range. UVA radiation is the wavelength responsible for photodamage that penetrates more deeply into women’s skin, thus speeding the photo-aging of women more rapidly than men. This phenomenon is magnified by the media’s preference for younger leading women paired with older leading men.

This difference in skin thickness also affects the decreased frequency of adverse product reactions experienced by men. Women experience adverse reactions more commonly than men. The thinner skin may allow irritants and allergens to penetrate deeper in female skin; however, the increased incidence could also be due to greater product use.5 

Women overall use more skin care products and cosmetics than men, which magnifies the chances of contacting an irritant or an allergen. Women are also more likely to undergo procedures that destroy the skin barrier such as facial peels, microdermabrasion and spa treatments. This may account for the appeal of products marketed to the “sensitive skin” of women, which likely does not resonate with the male consumer.

Influence of Testosterone

The changes previously discussed, such as increased skin thickness and facial hair growth, are in part due to the influence of testosterone—perhaps the most important consideration in the male skin care market. Testosterone secretion rises at puberty in males, with constant production throughout life. Testosterone causes the production of facial and body sebum, which sets the stage for the growth of P. acnes and the onset of acne.6 For this reason, acne is typically more severe and longer-lasting in males than in females, with a predilection for the face, chest and back.7, 8 Since testosterone is present throughout life in men, sebum production also remains high.9 This sebum production provides skin moisturization, making the need for face and body creams for men different than women. While men do indeed develop dry body skin at about the age of 60 and beyond due to reduced body sebum production, dry skin is an overall greater concern for women. Male skin’s need for emolliency is perhaps greater than the need for moisturization during middle age, unless a skin disease is present. However, sebum production generally remains high on the male face, encouraging the development of creams that can modulate sebum where locally applied.10 Many of these creams are anti-androgens and target testosterone receptors in the skin.11 

Testosterone not only triggers the onset of abundant sebum production, but also increases the secretion of scented sweat, known as apocrine sweat, on the eyelids, breasts, scalp, buttocks and in the armpits. Both sebum and apocrine sweat create different skin cleansing needs.12 Odor must be controlled but product formulators must also consider the interaction of sebum and sweat with skin care products. It is for this reason that fragrance should be carefully considered in male skin care products.

Men typically prefer deodorant soaps and antibacterial products since bacteria degrade the apocrine sweat rapidly, creating a characteristic musty scent.13 This apocrine sweat, mixed with sebum rich in testosterone, creates a “locker room smell” that can ruin the most carefully balanced fragrance. These needs offer opportunities and challenges for scented products in the male skin care market.

Hair Growth Issues

While male body hair provides excellent sunscreen, better than anything packaged in a bottle, it also requires grooming. Shaving is the most common method used for body hair management, but some men have embraced laser hair removal. One of the problems with laser hair removal is that it changes the apparent skin color and texture. Loss of the hair in the follicular ostia eliminates brown tones, the most common color of male facial hair, leaving the skin appearing lighter. Loss of the hair also eliminates the coarse texture of the male facial skin and predisposes to wrinkling, as discussed earlier. It is unlikely that shaving will be abandoned by the entire male population for these reasons.

An alternative to frequent shaving has been the introduction of creams to irreversibly inhibit the enzyme ornithine decarboxylase, a key enzyme in the hair growth process. One currently marketed cream contains eflornithine.14 While these creams have been primarily studied in women for the treatment of hirsutism, they may also have a role in male grooming, possibly accompanied by the use of laser hair removal.15 Their success has been greater in women since the thinner facial skin allows for better eflornithine penetration and localized hair growth, either on the chin or upper lip, providing for targeted application. Yet, the addition of ornithine decarboxylase inhibitors to male after-shave products could possibly reduce the 5 o’ clock shadow requiring many men to shave twice daily. 

Shaving also produces some unexpected skin benefits. It is probably the most effective physical method of exfoliation, better than topical hydroxy acids, hand-held microdermabrasion devices or mechanical brushes. It efficiently removes desquamating corneocytes along with beard debris. Shaving also is an effective method of removing open comedones from the skin, providing acne treatment. However, improper shaving techniques result in razor burn, a form of folliculitis, and Pseudofolliculitis barbae. Razor burn results from the removal of the skin around where the hair exits, an opening known as the follicular ostia. Newer razors with spring-mounted blades and shaving gels that reduce friction can minimize the occurrence of razor burn.16 P. barbae is often seen in individuals with kinky facial hair where the sharp edge of the cut hair re-enters the skin, causing inflammation in the form of a papule or pustule.

While males have abundant beard growth as a result of testosterone, it is this same hormone that is responsible for loss of scalp hair.17 Hair follicles in the scalp are under hormonal control, possessing two receptors—type I and type II.18 It appears that hair growth around the periphery of the male scalp is less subject to the effects of testosterone than the hair on the top of the head, accounting for the observed patterns of male baldness, a condition known as androgenetic alopecia. Modulation of these receptors with antiandrogens can minimize further scalp hair loss.19 The first oral medication to minimize androgenetic alopecia was finasteride, a type II 5α-reductase inhibitor, which decreased both serum and scalp levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the most active form of testosterone.20, 21 A newer medication, dutasteride, which inhibits both type I and II 5α-reductase may be more effective.22 Twin studies have demonstrated a reduction in hair loss after one year of administration.23 

Other nonprescription sources are under investigation for their ability to increase male scalp hair growth. Botanical 5α-reductase inhibitors such as saw palmetto are being researched for their benefit in minimizing androgenetic alopecia. Saw palmetto has been touted for its ability to decrease prostate gland enlargement, a common male problem known as benign prostatic hypertrophy that results in difficulty urinating with age. The prostate gland appears to be under the same hormonal control as the scalp, as it is common to see both prostate problems and baldness in the same male population. The first nonprescription topical treatment for androgenetic alopecia, minoxidil, was originally developed as an oral medication for prostatic enlargement. It is a prostaglandin modulator that increases scalp hair growth both in men and women. This illustrates the inter-connectivity of the human body allowing medications to have multiple organ effects simultaneously.


Male skin care is similar but different from female skin care. The presence of the facial beard provides photoprotection and resistance to facial wrinkling but hair removal can be challenging. Shaving can improve skin texture and minimize acne, yet poor shaving techniques can cause razor burn. The unique male biofilm, composed of apocrine sweat and sebum, requires careful hygiene and formulation considerations. This is, in large part, due to the presence of testosterone, which promotes facial hair growth and sebum production while causing loss of scalp hair. New treatments for these conditions have focused on hormone modulation, either through synthetic chemicals or botanical extracts. Successful products must consider the anatomy and physiology of the skin over which they are intended to function. This creates a market with unique challenges and opportunities for male skin care.


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