Face Moisturizer for Men - Dermatologist Recomendations for What to Use and When

Posted by Dr. Beth Goldstein on

How Does A Moisturizer Work? 

What is a moisturizer? A moisturizer is a product that ideally helps the skin retain moisture. The top layers of our skin are like brick and mortar. When we don’t have the right combination of any one of these, our skin “wall” starts to fracture and leak water. The cycle begins if the water is getting out, it will keep getting out until the wall is repaired.    

Ingredients that function to moisturize the skin or fix the broken wall down into four main categories based on the way they work: 


    • Attract water from the dermis below and environment above 
    • Some of the ingredients  may be irritating if the skin is damaged 
    • Examples include: Urea, lactobionic acid,  lactic and glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, glycerol, sorbitol, ammonium lactate, honey 
    • Help maintain function , cell integrity  
    • Help skin appear soft, smooth and flexible 
    • Usually not irritating 
    • Examples include: Cholesterol, Fatty acids, ceramides, squalene, fatty alcohols (i.e. palm oil, coconut oil) 
    • Physically block water loss by forming a layer on top of the skin 
    • Usually thick; rarely cause allergies; certain formulations can cause acne and folliculitis 
    • Examples include: Beeswax, olive oil, palm oil or coconut oil, petrolatum, silicones, lanolin, zinc oxide 
    • Replenish essential protein building blocks of the skin  
    • Rarely allergies 
    • Examples Include: Collagen, elastin, keratin 

Most moisturizers include some combination of the above ingredient types. They work not only to increase the water content of the skin, but help with a smoother appearance by evening out the grooves of the skin. The effect is usually immediate from use of emollients and can last for several hours.  These products also may decrease inflammation giving a soothing effect on irritated skin.  These products also can reduce the sensation of itching which we know sometimes is harder to bear than pain. Moisturizers work to down regulate signals to our brain that are telling us to scratch that itch. Some ingredients such as medical grade honey and hyaluronic acid can improve wound healing

And most importantly many moisturizers can and should contain sun protection. 

There are often ingredients added to traditional moisturizing ingredients to also address anti-aging concerns.  First and foremost, the addition of sun protection, ideally using a mineral based sunscreen, alpha, beta and polyhydroxy acids such as lactobionic acid, Vitamin A derivatives, antioxidants, stem cell extracts just to name a few. 


Why does my Skin Dry Out

Many might argue that most men use a facial moisturizer to have smoother appearing skin. 

Our skin gets dried out from several sources including low humidity, cooler weather, urbanization, exposure to irritating products or treatments, pollution, frequent bathing, and aging. In addition, some people can also be predisposed to dry skin, such as those with atopic dermatitis or eczema. 

Do I need to moisturize?

Well, truthfully not everyone does need to wear a moisturizer and especially men. If your skin feels tight, irritated, itchy or raw, then you should. If your skin is oily, you really do not need to worry about using a heavy moisturizer on your skin. 

What  dermatologists recommend to everyone is to use sun protection every single day to reduce the risk of skin cancer by a whopping 40%. Yep, every single day.

Whats the Best Moisturizer for me?

There are thicker and thinner formulations of men’s moisturizers. The creams tend to have more emollients to trap water whereas the lotions have a higher water content and tend to evaporate more quickly from the skin. 

If you have regular or even more acne prone skin, you will want to use a lighter product and if you have dry, tight skin you will likely be happier with a product that has more oil than water such as a cream so it traps moisture more completely. 

However for most men who have higher sebum production, a lotion often works best. What men often think is “dry skin” is often seborrhea or dandruff. This type of dryness is actually from inflammation, not from skin dryness. There may be flaking skin in the scalp, ears, eyebrows, beard, chest regions as well as others. No amount of moisturizer will “fix” this type of flakiness. Reducing inflammation and often reducing the amount of yeast on the skin by using not only over the counter products but also prescription products will likely be much more successful than moisturizer alone. 

Men may have acne rosacea which is a type of acne where there is sometimes flushing or blushing, pimples, cysts and in rare cases, thickening of the skin.  If you have rosacea, you need to be  particularly cautious on the types of products you apply to your face. Patients with this condition have a temperamental skin barrier that is quite sensitive to irritation. Using very mild lotion cleansers (not soap) along with a daily mineral based sun protective lotion is a key component to avoiding flare ups of their underlying skin condition. 


Moisturizers can have many benefits for the user depending on their needs and goals. The types of moisturizers in terms of thickness or thinness, active ingredients, underlying skin conditions are weigh into the choice of which moisturizer to use. This dermatologist would be remiss if I did not say just one more time, any facial, day time moisturizer you're using should go ahead and have broad spectrum SPF 30 or greater. 

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