How to Choose the Right Face Wash for Men

Walk down any aisle at your local drugstore, and you are met with countless options for face washes. However, many men struggle to make the proper selection that will give them the best results.

While it is easy to go with the cheapest option and see how it turns out, a smart approach to skincare involves considering specific factors. Specifically, you should think about the following:

  1. Your skin type
  2. What the product is designed to address
  3. Active ingredients within the product

To a lesser extent, other factors including brand reputation, product consistency, price point (which may score higher or lower for some folks), and gender marketing might also influence your choice.

We’ll explain how each of these factors contributes to making an informed decision.

Knowing Your Skin Type

If you are reading this guide, you likely know what your skin type is. However, if you are uncertain, here’s a helpful guide that we put together that outlines six ways to quickly determine your skin type. The reason why it’s important to know if you have oily, dry, normal, combination, or sensitive skin is that each type of skin has unique needs and requires different care.

What to Look For Based on Your Skin Type

Once you have determined your skin type, you can now look for a face wash that is suitable for it:

  1. Oily Skin: To control oil production from the sebaceous glands, look for a face wash that contains salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients control oil, fight acne and prevent pores from clogging.
  2. Dry Skin: Adding moisture to the skin is the main goal for men with dry skin. Look for a face wash that is creamy, oil-based, or has a lotion-like consistency. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or aloe vera are excellent for hydrating and retaining moisture in the skin.
  3. Normal Skin: Men with normal skin have the most flexibility when it comes to choosing a face wash. They can essentially use any general-use cleanser that isn’t specially formulated for specific skin types.
  4. Combination Skin: This skin type can be a little tricky because it’s a mix of oily and dry areas. So, the best approach is to opt for a face wash specifically designed for combination skin. Look for a product that balances the skin without over-drying or over-moisturizing. In a pinch, a general-use cleanser will often suffice.
  5. Sensitive Skin: For men with sensitive skin, the key is avoiding face washes packed with harsh chemicals or strong fragrances. Sites like the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database can offer great insight into products that contain potential irritants for sensitive skin.

By using a product that is geared towards your specific skin type, you will not only improve the health and appearance of your skin but also possibly prevent a host of skin issues such as excessive oiliness, dryness, breakouts, and irritation.

This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t share your partners skincare products – unless of course, you have nearly identical skin types and concerns.

If you go rogue and decide to use a face wash not suitable for your skin type, you risk destabilizing the natural balance of your skin, potentially leading to issues like acne, redness, inflammation, or unnaturally tight skin. Even if these issues don’t emerge immediately, prolonged use of inappropriate products can gradually damage your skin and make it more susceptible to aging, blemishes, and other skin problems.

Product Purpose

Different face washes have varying purposes ranging from general cleaning to treating specific conditions. For example, there are anti-acne face washes, wrinkle reduction formulas, brightening cleansers, exfoliating scrubs, and many others.

You’ll, of course, want to choose a product that aligns with your skincare goals.

In the event that you have multiple goals for your skincare regimen, you may want to consider choosing multiple face wash products. You don’t have to limit yourself to a single product. Since you should be washing your face twice daily, you could always use one cleanser for morning use that addresses one issue (for instance, a brightening cleanser) and a different one for the evening that targets another need (such as an anti-aging formula).

Of course, always be mindful of any potential interactions between the products. Ensure you are not doubling up on certain active ingredients as this could potentially cause skin irritation or other undesired reactions. If you’re uncertain about product interactions, consult with a skincare professional or dermatologist who can guide you better.

Key Ingredients and What They Do

illustration of natural skincare ingredients

The right ingredients can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of your face wash. However, many will leave you with more questions than answers. For example, when did caffeine in a face wash become a thing?

Here are some ingredients and their benefits:

  1. Salicylic Acid – This is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps fight acne and is suitable for oily and acne-prone skin.
  2. Hyaluronic Acid – This is a powerful hydrator that draws moisture to the skin’s surface. It’s great for dry skin or for any skin in need of a moisture boost. It is also commonly cited as a key ingredient in anti-aging products due to its ability to retain moisture.
  3. Aloe Vera – It’s soothing and anti-inflammatory, making it good for sensitive skin.
  4. Retinol – A derivative of Vitamin A, Retinol helps reduce signs of aging.
  5. Vitamin C – This antioxidant boosts collagen production and helps brighten your skin.
  6. Glycolic Acid – This alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is an excellent exfoliant that breaks down dead skin cells and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and other signs of aging.
  7. Caffeine – Caffeine isn’t just for your morning coffee. As an ingredient in skincare products, caffeine can help tighten skin and reduce under-eye puffiness.
  8. Charcoal – A detoxifying ingredient, charcoal acts like a magnet to absorb dirt and oil from the skin’s surface, making it excellent for deep-cleaning and detoxifying routines.
  9. Green Tea – This antioxidant-rich ingredient is known for its soothing properties and potential to delay skin aging. It’s great for protecting your skin from environmental damage.
  10. Niacinamide – Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide can help reduce inflammation, brighten your complexion, and regulate oil production, making it beneficial for both acne-prone and dry skin types.

While this is but a small list of ingredients, visit INCIDecoder for a comprehensive database of skincare ingredients and their benefits.

What About Face Washes Marketed for All Skin Types?

This one is tricky as the goal of the company is to sell to as many men as possible, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach is commonly taken. While these products can be a safe choice for the average user, they may not cater to the unique skincare needs of men with specific skin types. This is where online reviews can be helpful.

For example, when looking at the popular Clinique For Men Face Wash, one reviewer noted the following:

clinique review

Yet, the marketing of the product doesn’t say it is suitable only for younger folks; rather, it is marketed as a ‘universal face wash’.

When possible, we recommend going specific for your skin condition.

Product Consistency

illustration of foamy looking bubbles

Face washes come in various forms, including foams, gels, creams, oils, and bars. These are not just aesthetic choices; each type serves a different purpose and is suitable for different skin types.

  1. Foams: Foam cleansers are lightweight and well-suited for oily or acne-prone skin. As a general rule, foams do a great job of breaking down the residues of the day. However, they can be stripped, which means they could potentially over-dry your skin, especially if they are not pH-balanced.
  2. Gels: Gel cleansers are a bit heavier than foam cleansers but also work well for oily and combination skin types. They are known for their deep cleansing ability, making them a good choice for removing makeup and excess oil.
  3. Creams: Cream cleansers have thicker, creamier textures and are ideal for dry or sensitive skin types. They provide a gentle cleanse while simultaneously nourishing and hydrating the skin.
  4. Oils: Oil cleansers are a popular choice for their ability to remove makeup and other oil-based impurities without stripping the skin of its natural oils. They are especially useful for those with dry or mature skin as they provide a deep cleanse while also adding moisture and hydration back into the skin.
  5. Bars: Bar cleansers, significantly improved from the harsh soap bars of the past, can be a sustainable and easy-to-use choice. They are travel-friendly and come in various formulations suitable for different skin types.

Does Gender Matter?

Within the past decade, the number of men’s grooming products has grown exponentially. In fact, this report by Grand View Research said that the men’s skincare industry is expected to grow at a “compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2% from 2020 to 2027.”

With growth comes an increasing number of specialized products. Despite the shared anatomy, men’s skin is different from women’s in several ways. It tends to be thicker, oilier, and more prone to damage from daily shaving.

But that isn’t to say that women’s products won’t work for men – far from it. At the formulation level, the main difference between men’s and women’s skincare products often comes down to the fragrance used, packaging, how they’re marketed, and slight variations in the formula concentration.

As such, many women’s face washes can work equally well for men and vice versa. However, beware that women’s products may cost considerably higher (i.e., the pink tax), so don’t think that they will perform better just because they’re more expensive.

Instead, approach it as a wider selection of face washes that you can consider even if they aren’t marketed directly to you.

Brand Reputation

With new brands always trending in your feed on Instagram, TikTok, and whatever other social media platforms you frequent, it can be overwhelming to determine which companies are delivering solid products versus those that are just hype.

Before making a purchase, do your due diligence by researching the brand itself.

Avoid brands that make bogus claims regarding clear skin within unreasonable time frames or boast of “miracle” ingredients. Even simply searching for the company’s address and finding it to be a UPS box may be a red flag that the brand isn’t reputable or stable.

While the skincare industry has some regulations, there is ample gray area for companies and individuals to make misleading claims.

A brand’s history, mission, and consistency in delivering results also matter. Long-standing brands have typically had years to refine their formulations and understand their consumers, leading to a more effective and reliable product. Third-party associations like being a Certified B Corp, FSC Certified, etc. can show that the company cares about their reputation and impact.

Price Point

The price range for face washes can vary significantly, with some options available for as low as a couple of dollars and others as high as the $50s. Truth be told, you need not feel compelled to splurge on the priciest option with the assumption that it will work better. Some of the most well-respected and effective skincare products fall into the budget or mid-range categories.

Set aside what you are comfortable spending and find the face washes that fall within that range. Remember that the most important thing is the effectiveness of the product for your specific skin needs, rather than the price tag.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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