There's nothing "girly" about having sensitive skin. Both men's and women's skins are the first line of defense against harsh weather, strong sun and countless environmental irritants, leaving even the toughest of tough guys susceptible to outbreaks of flaky, red, itchy, even painful skin. Dermatologists report that 50 percent of their patients complain of sensitive skin -- and that more and more of them are men [sources: AAD and WebMD]. In fact, a 2001 study of adults in the United Kingdom showed that as many as 40 percent of men have the condition [source: Berardesca et al].
In the past, there were almost no skin care products designed specifically for men with sensitive skin, but that's changing. Brand-name skin care companies like Nivea, Neutrogena and AHAVA all have men's product lines -- face washes, shaving balms and moisturizers -- marketed to customers with sensitive skin.
But what does it mean, exactly, to have sensitive skin? The closest thing to a formal definition is skin that irritates easily and reacts strongly to products that most people tolerate just fine [source: Kam]. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has found that most people who identify themselves as having sensitive skin suffer from one or more underlying conditions:
- Acne -- Oily skin with high levels of certain bacteria
- Rosacea -- Ruddy complexion frequently marked by broken blood vessels and pimples
- Stinging -- A burning or "pins and needles" reaction to certain common ingredients (often acids) in skin care products and cosmetics
- Contact dermatitis -- Irritation or allergic reaction triggered by any number of natural or chemical ingredients such as fragrances, preservatives, detergents, oils and extracts [source: AAD].
Before you rush out to buy a moisturizer labeled for men with sensitive skin, it's important to see a dermatologist to figure out exactly what sensitive skin condition you have. Why? Because products designed for sensitive skin don't treat all skin conditions equally. Moisturizers are technically cosmetics, not drugs, and aren't tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they hit the shelves. Likewise, the FDA doesn't require manufacturers to submit any scientific proof that their products are hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested or non-irritating [source: Lewis].
To find the best moisturizer for your sensitive skin condition, you need to look beyond the marketing language and read the actual ingredients. On the next page, we'll discuss the major types of sensitive skin moisturizers for men and target the ingredients that could cause more harm than good.
Types of Moisturizers for Men with Sensitive Skin
As a general rule, the best type of moisturizer for men with sensitive skin is the one with the fewest ingredients [source: WebMD]. But even within that category, some moisturizers work better than others on certain kinds of sensitive skin.
Acne sufferers should avoid oils at all cost. This includes plant-derived fats and oils like shea butter, coconut oil or olive oil. There are several moisturizers, designed for both men and women, that tout themselves as "oil-free". Don't be tricked into buying something that's "not oily" or "not greasy." Read the ingredient list to make sure that the manufacturer didn't simply cover up the oils with other chemicals. Some of the most common oils in moisturizers are petroleum jelly (petrolatum), dimethicone, mineral oil and lanolin.
The symptoms of rosacea -- flushed cheeks and splotchy red complexion -- can be alleviated by ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties. If you don't have any allergies or sensitivities to any natural oils and extracts, look for moisturizers with chamomile, green tea, licorice extract and even caffeine [source: AAD]. Ingredients to avoid include vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids (AHA).
Stinging or burning skin is most sensitive to acids like lactic acid, benzoic acid, glycolic acid, AHA and vitamin C [source: AAD]. Luckily, it's uncommon for a moisturizer to include acids, so you should be fine with most products.
Contact dermatitis is most commonly triggered by two sets of ingredients: fragrances and preservatives [source: AAD]. There are literally thousands of different artificial fragrances that are used in cosmetic products, often in multiple combinations. Look for products labeled as "fragrance-free," not "odor-free." Odor-free could simply mean that the natural smell of the ingredients has been neutralized by other fragrances. Preservatives are essential for increasing a product's shelf life, but are a potent irritant for some users. If you can't find a product that's "preservative-free," choose one that only uses methylparaben or butylparaben as preservatives [source: WebMD].
And just because a product is labeled as "natural," "organic" or "botanical" doesn't mean that you won't have a negative reaction to the ingredients. Remember, poison ivy is natural, too.
To browse ingredient lists before you hit the stores, consult the hugely informative Household Products Database maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Then take a look at the links on the next page for lots more information on skin care.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Sensitive Skin" (Accessed Jan. 2, 2011)http://www.aad.org/media/press/_doc/SensitiveSkinFactSheet.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmeceutical Facts and Your Skin" (Accessed Jan. 2, 2011)http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/general_cosmeceutical.html
- Berardesca, Enzo et al. "Sensitive Skin Syndrome." Informa Health Care, 2006 http://books.google.com/books?id=6j5OJBoNhNAC&pg=PA77&lpg=PA77& dq=percentage+of+population+sensitive+skin&source=bl&ots=v3yyirYNcr&sig=QGX2fHZwAdbybxcxDXBVwynp9zY&hl=en&ei=Pw2c SqXFBtag8QaJzMXBBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9 #v=onepage&q=&f=false
- Lewis, Carol. "Clearing Up Cosmetic Confusion." FDA Consumer. May-June 1998 (Accessed Jan. 3, 2011)http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/health/cosmetic-confusion/398_cosm.html
- Kam, Katherine. "Sensitive Skin Solutions." WebMD. (Accessed Jan. 2, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/anti-aging-skin-care-10/sensitive-skin?page=1
- WebMD. "20 Common Questions About Sensitive Skin" (Accessed Jan. 2, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sensitive-skin-20-questions