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Do men and women need different skincare products?

We’ve all seen the His and Hers lines of skin products available in retail stores. But are they really necessary, or are they just another marketing gimmick? Let’s break down the differences between men’s and women’s skin, and find out if the sexes need to use different skincare products.

The effect of hormones on our skin

man applying skincare products

All the major differences between male and female skin come down to our hormone levels. Men usually have more testosterone than women, and women have more estrogen than men. However we all have a balance of both of these hormones in us, as well as other sex hormones. These hormones all affect our skin in different ways. How much or little of them you have, or how sensitive your cells are to each hormone, changes how your skin responds. That’s why some men can grow fuller beards than others, for example.

Because hormone levels affect our skin in different ways — and because our hormones can fluctuate based on our age, genetics, menstruation and more — it’s important to focus on your skin’s particular needs. There is no one size fits all solution for male or female skin. We’re all far too unique and individual for that!

In general, however, male and female sex hormones cause different changes in our skin. Male hormones like testosterone cause more hair growth. This leads to larger hair follicles. Hair follicles are attached to sebaceous glands, which produce skin oil (sebum). Because men produce more skin oil, they are also more prone to acne in adulthood. Shaving can make this worse by causing ingrown hairs and folliculitis, where hair follicles become inflamed.

Testosterone is a type of androgen, which is the collective name for male sex hormones. Collagen has androgen receptors, so testosterone actually boosts collagen production. More testosterone means more collagen, and men’s skin tends to be firmer, thicker, and more elastic as a result. Studies on the role of androgen receptors in collagen content of the skin in mice found that androgen receptors were responsible for around half of all the collagen in male skin, and only around a quarter in female skin. This is true humans too — men’s skin is about 20-25% thicker than women’s. That’s why men tend to show visible signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, much slower than women.

That doesn’t mean estrogen doesn’t have its own positive effect on skin. Post-menopause, estrogen levels decline sharply. In a study on estrogen and aging skin, researchers found a link between low estrogen and skin structure. Keratinocytes, fibroblasts, and sebaceous glands all decreased production. This leads to less keratin, collagen, and skin oils, contributing to visible signs of aging.

Differences between male and female skin

woman applying skincare products

Now we know that men’s skin tends to be oilier, thicker, and has more collagen. The extra oil produced by male hormones is actually beneficial to our skin, at least up to a point. While too much oil can cause clogged pores and acne outbreaks, it also helps keep skin hydrated by strengthening the natural moisture barrier. Because female hormones don’t boost oil production, women tend to have drier skin. And unfortunately, dry skin is more likely to show fine lines and wrinkles while hydrated skin has a more toned, youthful appearance.

Shaving also has an impact on our skin. A survey found the average man shaves 20,000 times in his life. That can be hard on skin — around a third of men suffer from frequent razor burn and consider their skin sensitive. However it isn’t all bad news. Regular shaving has the same effect as exfoliating, so many men are following a skincare routine whether they realize it or not. This could be beneficial because skin oils slow the shedding process (desquamation). More layers of dead cells means more clogged pores and pimple outbreaks, so regular exfoliation is extra important for oily skin.

As well as hormones, pH affects your skin. Skin is acidic, usually between 4.7 and 5.75. Studies suggest that our natural skin pH is below 5. However pH levels increase when skin comes into contact with neutral or base substances such as water and many skincare products. Yet having acidic skin is good for us, and we should try to keep it in balance as much as possible. Mild acidity helps support our skin’s functions, and protects against harmful bacteria.

Men’s skin is naturally more acidic than women’s, and that strengthens their skin’s acid mantle. This means men have more hydrated skin, a slower rate of moisture loss, and better microcirculation. Microcirculation is the flow of blood to the skin, which delivers nutrients and removes waste. However lower pH does contribute to increased sebum production.

Because women often have a weaker acid mantle, using skincare products with ceramides and fatty acids can strengthen their moisture barrier and add hydration. 

Despite these differences, men and women’s skin are more similar than you might think. All skin has the same basic needs — hydration, a healthy acid mantle, and protection from UV light and free radicals. Whether you’re male or female, you should use sunscreen and moisturizer at minimum. This provides important moisture and protects your skin from harmful UV rays. Men might prefer different scents from their products than those marketed at women, but the underlying science is still the same.

What does that mean for skincare?

man with skincare product

Always treat your skin according to its condition first. Men can have dry skin, and women can have oily skin, and they should use the right products for those conditions. If your skin is dry, use a rich, oil or gel-based moisturizer. If your skin is oily, use products with retinol and salicylic acid to help break down old skin cells and reduce inflammation. Retinol can be drying, but oil-prone skin is more hydrated and therefore more resilient to this ingredient.

Getting the pH of your products right is also important to protecting your skin barrier. Regular soap is a base, with a pH of 9-10, which is far too high for your skin. Many soaps and washes are now advertised as “pH neutral,” but what you really want is a product that’s acidic, like your skin. The closer the product pH to your natural pH, the better it will work, because your skin doesn’t have to repair the acid mantle after every application. That’s why all Qyral products are individually pH balanced to your skin’s needs.

In conclusion

Are there differences between men’s and women’s skin? Yes — to an extent. In general terms men have oilier skin that is more prone to acne, but show signs of aging slower. Their skin can also handle products with higher concentrations of active ingredients. Women’s skin is usually drier and thinner, wrinkles faster, and is less acidic. Women need skincare products that hydrate skin and nourish the protective acid mantle.

However your gender isn’t the whole story. Your skin is as unique as you are, and its condition is determined by your genetics, lifestyle, and individual balance of hormones. All skin needs hydration, UV protection, and support at a cellular level to look its best. The most effective products for your skin will be based on your particular needs, not whether the bottle is pink or blue. Ultimately, your age, lifestyle, and genetics are much more important than your gender to your skin’s condition and health.

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