Skin is male or female. Although the layered structure is the same, the skins of the two sexes vary in chemical composition and in functioning. The ingredients in moisturizers, exfoliants and anti-wrinkle products have been gradually adapted to the different characteristics of male and female skin. Skin care is gendered.
Is the skin of men and women so different? Whoever posed this question targeted a new line of research in the cosmetics industry, which had to respond with innovative products to the growing demand from men concerned about the appearance of their skin and wanting to care for it and even pamper it as women have always done. Male compared to female skin is thicker, has more fatty acids and more collagen, produces more sebum and has a more acidic pH. Despite needing more moisturization, male skin stays firmer and more elastic for longer, whereas women’s skin is thinner, produces less oil and collagen and has a more basic pH. Women’s skin is thus more sensitive and shows the signs of ageing earlier.
These differences are due, in part, to the sex hormones, which bind to certain proteins when they arrive to the skin via the blood supply. This mechanism, which functions like a key in a lock, allow facial hair to grow in men but blocks it from growing in women. The sex hormones also make the sebaceous glands and sweat glands in men’s skin more active, which in turn makes their skin oilier and more humid.
Customized care for different skins
Most male cosmetics contain discrete or almost imperceptible fragrances, whereas women’s creams contain stronger fragrances, even though they often cause irritation. Daily shaving by men causes dryness, most especially in the chin area. The facial moisturizing creams for men that work best are those with glycerin or alpha hydroxy acids, which have a barrier effect that retains moisture. Men’s skin absorb such creams better because the numerous hair follicles function like pores and since the diameter of men’s follicles is greater than that of the pores of women’s skin, cosmetics penetrate better.
Cosmetics of the future
One of the challenges in designing new cosmetics that meet the different needs of male and female skins is skin pore size. Being able to change the size would make it possible to control the amount of sex hormones that bind to sebaceous gland receptors in the skin. This would help reduce excess oil production and acne and could also improve the absorption of cosmetic ingredients in less porous female skins.
Men also need cosmetic products with a higher alcohol content to prevent bacteria from colonizing small (or sometimes not so small) wounds resulting from shaving. Women’s skin, because it is thinner, benefits much more from creams containing antioxidants, such as vitamin E, that slow down the appearance of expression wrinkles.
Cleansing and care
Male skin requires as much care as female skin. Over time it accumulates dirt and dead cells and so should be cleaned or exfoliated. No matter whether you are a man or woman, you need to care for your skin and pamper it. Neglect accelerates the appearance of wrinkles, crow’s feet and lines around the mouth. And – attention, men! – check for the after-effects of shaving. If you shave daily your skin has to be hydrated. And if you spend a lot of time outdoors, you need to take care to prevent sun damage to the skin.
Sources: Journal of Dermatological Sciences
By Núria Estapé, science journalist