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What’s Behind Dry, Acne-Prone Skin in Men — and How To Deal With It

Dr. Robin Schaffran explains why more men are dealing with acne and dullness in adulthood, and the easy steps that can help.

man washing his face

Q: So many products for adult acne are focused on women. I’m a guy in my 30s and my acne keeps getting worse. What’s going to work for me?

Dr. Schaffran: I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the number of men seeking skincare help in the last few years, and two concerns are the most common: breakouts and dull skin.

Similar to women, fluctuating hormone levels are to blame for a lot of the acne men experience in adulthood. Testosterone levels generally start to decline after age 35, which, in theory, should help with acne. But, in an attempt to help with issues like lower energy and libido, more men are now supplementing testosterone (through patches, gels, injections or implants), which can cause a surge of spots the likes of which you haven’t seen since high school. In general, men tend to have oilier skin, and larger pores. So new bouts of acne tend to be deeper and more intense, which also increases the risk of scarring.

(Pro tip: A common myth is that shaving causes acne, but in fact, the pustules that many men see after shaving are ingrown hairs or irritated hair follicles, not acne. If you shave regularly, shave in the direction of the hair follicle, using razors made for more sensitive skin, and apply a moisturizer afterwards.)

Men tend to have oilier skin, and larger pores. So new bouts of acne tend to be deeper and more intense, which also increases the risk of scarring.

Dullness, sometimes described as “weathering” or “more rugged” skin in men, is largely the result of going without a moisturizer or SPF for a number of years.

Here’s the good news: Both issues can be addressed with some pretty simple steps.

If you’ve never had a skincare routine before, start with incorporating a gentle cleanser in the morning, followed by a moisturizer —and don’t forget the SPF. Look for non-greasy products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. On the whole, lotions, gels and serums tend to be less greasy than creams or ointments. Niacinamide can help minimize the appearance of scarring. Ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in a cleanser may be overly drying, but use a little trial and error to see what your skin can tolerate. When you find a product combination you like, follow the same routine at night as well.

If you have a routine that’s all of a sudden not working anymore (possibly because of hormone changes, or a new environment, or plain old aging), you may need to switch up the products you’re using. If acne is the issue, try something that’s specifically formulated for acne-prone skin. Remember that skin gets more sensitive with age, so try to stay away from irritating ingredients. Instead, look for formulations that include hyaluronic acid, or squalene, which can improve hydration while keeping acne under control.

If your skin is drying out, remember to add a good oil-free moisturizer to your routine. And if that fails, it may be time to see a dermatologist for an assessment. Trust me, you’re not the only one dealing with this, even if it feels that way.

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