If we can learn nothing more from a walk down the personal care aisles at the pharmacy, we'd learn that men and women need different skin-care products. Or do they? The market for grooming products designed with men specifically in mind, everything from moisturizers to razors, was valued at nearly $20 billion (worldwide) in 2009 and is expected to rise to $28 billion within five years. If you consider that not all men rely on male-targeted beauty products and may stray into unisex and female-targeted products, the market is estimated to hit nearly $85 billion total value by 2014 [source: Packaged Facts]. Is there really a need for skin-care products based on gender, and specifically something as universal as moisturizer? To find out, we'll first need to understand a little bit about our skin.
Our skin is made up of three layers. The deepest of the layers is called the subcutis (or the subcutaneous fat layer), and this layer helps insulate us against temperature changes and protect against injuries. The middle layer is called the dermis, and it's within this layer of skin that you'll find nerves, blood vessels, sweat glands and hair follicles. The outermost layer of skin is called the epidermis, which gives us our skin tone and provides a protective, waterproof layer. The outermost layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. It's the stratum corneum that benefits from the various lotions and potions we apply to help control and prevent dry skin.
While the anatomy of the skin is the same from person to person, there are some suspected gender differences in the physiology of our skin. From pH levels to hormones, let's find out if those differences mean you should keep his and hers moisturizers on hand.
Our skin's outermost layer has something called an acid mantle, which is made up of the secretions from our sweat glands (the eccrine glands) and our oil-producing glands (sebaceous glands). Researchers have found differences when it comes to the functionality of this skin barrier in men versus women. What does that mean? Men's skin is more acidic than women's skin when rated on the pH scale. The pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is, from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). Water, for example, ranks 7 on the pH scale -- a neutral. Skin pH ranges from roughly 4 to about 7, with the estimated natural skin pH about 4.7 [source: Lambers]. Women's skin averages about 5.6 (± 0.4) compared to the 4.3 (± 0.4) of men's skin [source: Kunin]. Healthy skin has a healthy acid mantle able to control moisture loss and block potentially dangerous microorganisms from penetrating. The healthiest skin also has a pH of just below 5, so daily moisturizing with a pH-balanced product is important in helping prevent moisture loss, increase skin hydration and help keep that barrier healthy.
Not only is a woman's skin slightly more acidic than a man's, it also -- sorry, ladies -- ages faster. In a study published in the journal Optics Letters, researchers have found that women's skin ages more quickly than men's, and this happens not only at the surface, but also within the dermis, the middle layer of skin. Levels of collagen and elastin present in the dermis shrink as we age -- no matter which gender you are, your body just naturally produces less as you age -- but for women the losses begin earlier. Skin begins to thin, become drier and lose its elasticity, and that equals wrinkled, sagging skin. Aging skin is also susceptible to the environment, from humidity to bacterial infections, and can benefit from moisturizers that contain anti-aging and anti-wrinkle ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids and ingredients derived from vitamin A.
Another consideration when talking about skin differences is our hormones. Men and women have different levels of hormones circulating throughout their bodies, and those androgens and estrogens affect many bodily functions -- from reproduction to how much hair we have (and where that hair grows) -- and even the physiology of our skin. Researchers have found that our differing hormone levels, specifically the naturally higher levels of androgens in men's bodies, can cause male skin to be oilier than female skin.
Oily skin should be moisturized just like dry skin, but the difference here isn't necessarily between male- and female-designed moisturizers, but rather between the ingredients found in products designed for oily versus dry skin. People with oily skin should look for moisturizers that are oil-free and noncomedogenic, which means they won't clog pores. Moisturizers that contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide may also be useful.
As men age, their testosterone levels drop and their skin tends to become drier. Dry skin sufferers should look for products with hydrating, emollient ingredients to help seal water below the skin's natural moisture barrier and attract moisture to the skin. Products that contain petrolatum (petroleum-based ingredients), lanolin, glycerin, shea butter and fatty oils, such as olive or avocado, are all beneficial to dry skin.
And what about one of the most noticeable differences: the way moisturizers made for men versus women smell. If you're choosing your moisturizer based on whether or not you want to smell like lavender, stop. Dermatologists often recommend skipping fragrances altogether because they can cause allergic reactions in sensitive skin.
Dermatologists also recommend combining your daily moisturizer with a sunscreen -- no matter your gender. Men, take note: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it's not the sun-worshipping bronze goddesses who have the highest rates of melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. If you're male and over the age of 50, you have the highest risk for developing the condition (although that doesn't mean the sun-worshippers are off the hook) [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Use a sunscreen-spiked, daily moisturizer (at least SPF 15) to help prevent wrinkles and age spots while reducing your risk of developing skin cancer.
Whether you're male or female, it's important to moisturize daily with a pH-balanced, fragrance-free lotion suited for your age and skin type to keep your skin healthy, as well as looking and feeling great.
Want to learn more about skin care? Check out the next page for lots more information.
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