Testosterone, the male hormone, dictates that, at puberty, along with a deep voice and big muscles, men develop thicker skin (20 to 30 per cent thicker than women's), facial hair - and usually rather more spots than the girls, because more hair follicles means more sebum. The anti-aging upside is that, over a man's lifetime, the extra sebum provides an inbuilt moisturizer, while facial hair acts as a support structure, helping to prevent wrinkles. Men also have more collagen and elastin fibers and a tighter network of fatty tissue in the subcutaneous layer. (So basically they have an unfair advantage.)
Along with the facial fuzz comes problems, however: in a poll by the American Academy of Dermatology, 97 per cent of men shaved and 78 per cent of those reported skin problems as a result. The main ones were razor burn, ingrowing hairs, razor bumps, irritation and rashes.
Razor burn - characterized by rough, chapped patches, nicked skin and increased sensitivity - is caused by using a blunt razor or poor technique and usually disappears within a few days.
Ingrowing hairs can develop if the hair is cut too short, below the skin surface, or they may just never make it out of the skin. (This is most likely with curly hair, so men of African descent suffer the most.) Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) form because the body treats an ingrown hair as an infection, causing swelling.
If the hair follicles become infected with Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium which lives in the nose and gets into the follicles during shaving, it can lead to painful, itchy, red, pus-filled pimples - folliculitis, or 'barber's rash'. Mild cases respond to warm compresses of diluted witch hazel or white vinegar but, if the infection doesn't go away, do consult a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotic cream.
Long term, the main treatment is to shave correctly, as explained below.
TLC for men's skin
Here's the mantra for men: wash, shave, moisturize. It really is that simple.
The best products for guys are a facial wash/cleanser, exfoliator, shaving cream and moisturizer.
For dry skins, choose a cream-based, non-foaming cleanser. Apply it all over skin before you put water on it, then remove with a muslin cloth or face flannel, soaked in hot water then squeezed out.
Oilier skins - ones that don't feel dry or taut after washing - can cope with a facial wash. Or even try a mild face and body wash, which you can use top to toe in the shower. But choose a gentle product that does not contain sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate (SLS or SLES), synthetic foaming detergents which can irritate and/or dry the skin.
Shaving exfoliates the beard area every day, but an exfoliant is useful around the nose and on the forehead. Use once or twice a week on the whole face; it will also unclog pores and discourage ingrowing hairs. Men's scrubs tend to be grittier than female versions to deal with tougher, thicker skin. Useful ingredients to look for include ground olive stones and pumice particles.
Watch out for shaving foams containing SLS or SLES, as they are so drying. I advise applying a non-foaming cream or gel in a thin layer, so you can see where the blade goes. My husband often steals my cleansing cream to shave with if his skin is feeling especially dry, and this is a good tip for those with sensitive skins.
As an aftershave moisturizer, a matt, lightweight lotion suits most men's skins more than a richer cream. Look for formulas that include anti-inflammatory botanicals, such as selfheal, aloe vera and calendula; the antioxidants vitamin E and beta-carotene help calm irritated skin, and GLA, an essential fatty acid, help improve moisture retention. Adding a few drops of antibacterial colloidal silver tincture to an after-shaving moisturizer can really help calm and purify the skin - keeping breakouts at bay too.
A couple of simple gizmos can make all the difference to overall grooming: I suggest a pair of slant-ended tweezers to pluck out stray, wiry brow hairs or nose hairs (take a deep breath and pluck on the out breath). Nasal hair trimmers are good and useful for hairy inner ears too: hold a hand mirror sideways to your bathroom mirror to check these.
Most chaps don't need much for their bodies, just a gentle body wash that can be used once or twice a day all over, without causing irritation. If chafing is a problem anywhere, for instance the tops of thighs, shake on some unscented talcum powder (fragrance can be a skin irritant) or rice or corn starch powders. You can also dust this between the toes to help prevent fungal infections and keep feet smelling sweet.
Acne tends to affect boys and men even more than girls. The linchpin is keeping your skin clean, eating well (low-sugar diet) and drinking plenty of water. The Ayurvedic herbal supplement Tejaswini contains twelve reputedly blood-purifying herbs used by Ayurvedic practitioners specifically to treat acne, pimples and cysts. It may be beneficial to take a product containing organic sulphur (MSM) plus essential fatty acids (especially omega-3 fish oils) to help keep skin healthy.
However good your diet (and most men I know eat plenty, but not necessarily that well), international research over at least two decades shows that virtually everyone is deficient in one or more key nutrients, which are important for general health. So it makes sense to take a good multi-nutrient supplement. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends All Natural Perfectly Balance, which contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, green foods and liver detoxifiers in a 'food state' for maximum absorption and utilization by the body. I am also impressed by New Chapter Organics Every Man mufti-formula, which I buy for my teenage son. My husband gets their Every Man II version for the over forties, with added Saw Palmetto, the herb linked to a healthy prostate, which may even help to prevent hair loss too.
Iron is as important for men as it is for women, but the concerns here are different (because men don't lose iron by having periods). During the early years (4-21), it is virtually impossible for men to accumulate an iron overload, as all the iron in the body is employed to produce red blood cells. In fact, boys may actually become iron deficient during growth spurts, ending up tired and sometimes suffering from concentration problems. Taking an appropriate multivitamin/ mineral supplement which contains iron should prevent this (eg, Junior-Vit by Health Aid). Alternatively, try a gentle preparation such as Spatone (which contains easily absorbed iron from a Welsh spa); take it in fruit juice, as the vitamin C content helps the body to absorb the iron. Once boys are fully grown men, they store iron and any excess can put a burden on the liver; it's also potentially linked with degenerative diseases of aging, such as dementia, and possible mutation of cells, so iron is never advisable for cancer patients. Because iron has always been associated with strength and energy, men have tended to take more than they need. As a result, many iron supplements now carry cautions on the label.
How to shave perfectly
* Feel the direction in which your beard grows. This is the direction you should shave in.
* I recommend using a double- or triple-blade razor with a swivel head. To ensure it has a sharp edge, and minimize razor burn, change the blade every two weeks or so.
* For a quick shave, moisten your beard area by splashing your face with several handfuls of the hottest water you can stand comfortably.
* If you have a few extra minutes, soak a toweling flannel in very warm/hot water, wring it out and lay over your face for half a minute, pressing into all the contours. This can expand the hairs by over 30 per cent, making them easier to cut.
* Rub a small amount of shaving cream over your beard.
* Start shaving! Work in the direction your hair grows, using light slow strokes.
* Use your other hand to gently pull and stretch the skin, so you create a flat surface for your razor blade.
* While you're shaving, regularly rinse and tap the razor gently on the basin to remove hair and cream build-up.
* Smooth your hands over your face to check for any stray hairs; re-shave any missed areas.
* Splash your face several times with cold water to rinse and refresh the skin. Pat with a clean soft towel, leaving your skin slightly damp. Don't rub - it could cause irritation.
* Apply a moisturizer to soothe your face and lock in moisture to keep skin smooth.
Invest in a magnifying mirror for your bathroom, either free-standing or a high-tech, wall-mounted version with a built-in light. It lets you see precisely where you are shaving and minimizes the risk of nicks. For an occasional supertreat, have a professional wet shave at a traditional barbers.