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The truth about men vs. women’s skin

This is a common question.

Based on my reading, the subject of men vs. women’s skin also seems to be quite a contentious one.

I think that’s because there are so many variables to a person’s skin that it’s hard to conclusively say that men’s skin is like ‘X’ and women’s skin is like ‘Y’.

For example, the condition of a surfer’s skin will inevitably be different to the skin of an office-based worker who sits in an air-conditioned environment all day long. Skin health is shaped not only by genes, but also by lifestyle choices such as diet, skincare regime, smoking and environment.

You also need to work quite hard to see any differences. At low magnification, it is impossible to distinguish between a man and a woman’s skin.

But differences do exist. At higher magnification some structural features allow dermatologists to separate the sexes.

Beyond the forensic scrutiny of a microscope, a trio of German scientists from the University of Hamburg carried out a really well put together experiment in 2013 on 300 men and women. It consisted of a series of patch tests and skin measures. It’s the best piece of work I’ve seen that demonstrates the key differences between men and women’s skin.

What is the role of human skin?

Before understanding the major differences, it seems sensible to put into context the role of human skin.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and has three critical functions: protection, regulation and sensation.

The primary function of the skin is to act as a barrier, providing protection from:

  • Mechanical impact and pressure
  • Variations in temperature
  • Micro-organisms
  • Radiation
  • Chemicals.

It’s quite a big deal!

And although this is a sweeping statement, I don’t think we (as men) really treat it with the respect it deserves.

I’ll come back to this later.

Men vs. women’s skin

For now, let’s look at the differences between men vs. women’s skin.

  1. Men’s skin is around 25% thicker than women’s (1-2mm) making it less sensitive and able to handle stronger ingredients
  2. Regardless of age, men have higher skin collagen density than women. Collagen is a protein that supports the skins shape and tension. Because collagen content is directly related to the signs of skin ageing, it has been said that a woman’s skin is about 15 years older than a man’s of the same age. However, men are less sensible in the sun than women. Sun damage adds years to a man’s skin and can negate this ‘natural’ upside
  3. Men have higher measures of sebum, an oily substance that waterproofs and lubricates the skin. This makes men more acne prone and means they don’t need to use heavy cream-based products.
  4. Until the age of 40, men have better hydrated skin than women and their sweat rate is higher. However, after 40, men’s skin progressively dehydrates.
  5. The pH value on the skin’s surface is lower (more acidic) in men than it is in women. The skin’s acidity is one way our body fights infection and environmental stresses. Human skin has a thin, protective layer on its surface, called the acid mantle. This acid mantle is made up of sebum mixed with lactic and amino acids from sweat. Given men have higher measures of sebum and a higher sweat rate, this is likely to be what causes higher acidity on the skin’s surface. 

What’s the point of all of this?

Going back to the very first point, it’s hard to apply broad brush statements when it comes to men vs. women’s skin.

We all have individualities to our skin, that only we can best understand having lived in our skin since birth, whether that’s oiliness, dryness, acne, tightness, sensitivity, redness and so on. And so, every man’s skin is as unique as his fingerprint.

That said, we shouldn’t get carried away.

Despite a few differences between men and women, skin is skin.

A man doesn’t need some magic ingredient that a woman does, and vice versa.

The skin does need to be looked after though. If you don’t believe me, go back to the list at the top explaining what the skin does.

Our recommendation

Like a diet, you’re only going to stick to something you like and which works for you.

So, try to find products that match your skins’ needs. Don’t be afraid to use women’s products. More often than not, they have higher quality ingredients and they aren’t loaded with fragrance, which is often an irritant.

If I could wave a wand and get all men to use one product at the start of every day, it would be a moisturiser with SPF.

Cosmetically speaking, the sun’s UV rays are the greatest threat to the structure of your skin and the visible signs of ageing.

They also cause skin cancer.

Not enough people appreciate that these rays are present all year round. Even in winter. They also pass through cloud cover and glass, so you’re not necessarily safe when sitting inside by a window or on an aeroplane.

For little extra effort, a teaspoon of moisturiser slapped on the face every morning before you walk out of the front door could make a huge difference to your skin health and your looks. 

Men might be from Mars and women might be from Venus. But skin is skin. And it really needs to be looked after. Your very own daily moisturiser with SPF would be a fantastic place to start.

Go on. Break the taboo.

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