Every five minutes, it seems there’s another men’s skin product that professes to be better than the one that came out five minutes before, promising to solve a problem that has already been solved by several products that came before it (but with way cooler packaging, of course). And every twenty minutes, I get an email from a PR person wanting me to write about one of these revolutionary new products that’s going to change shaving and skincare as we know it. It’s a saturated market that can be confusing to even the most educated consumer.
I’ve probably spent the better part of two decades experimenting with products from Erno Lazlo, Creme de la Mer, Kiehl’s, Clarins, Chanel, Weleda, Neutrogena, Aveeno, Barbasol, Aveda, Anthony, Ursa Major, Bulldog, Molton Brown, Crabtree & Evelyn, Gillette, Noxzema, Ivory, Dove, St. Ive’s, Roc, The Body Shop, and many others… just to name a few. I’ve also tested some shaving gear from some of the boutique “bro” brands that are having a moment. For years, my medicine cabinet and bathroom shelves were overflowing with testers of this and samples of that. It was a mess.
Here is what I’ve learned about the skin game: there is a lot of good stuff for too much money, and there is a lot of bad stuff for too much money. There is also a lot of bad stuff for not too much money, but then there is the good stuff for not too much money.
At the age of 43, I’m wise enough to know that there’s no such thing as a cream that’s going to make me look 18. I’m also experienced enough to know that I’m not willing to invest in a bathroom shelf overgrown with ultimately superfluous products that enslave me to a multi-step daily process that includes an exfoliant, a face wash, a pre-shave oil, a shave brush, a toner, a moisturizer, an eye gel and an eye cream. I have a life to live.
What I’ve settled into is a lean regimen that is very economical in terms of both time and money. I use things with a simple, effective and ethical ingredient list, a mild, unobtrusive fragrance and a masculine, no-nonsense packaging aesthetic that looks smart in the bathroom.
For the wash – which I do morning in the shower and at night before bed – I use Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Liquid Soap. Not only does it give a good, honest clean with a little blast of cooling peppermint, but it has essential oils that keep the soap from drying out my skin. I have a small 4 oz. bottle ($4.25) by the sink, and a large 32 oz. bottle ($16.99) in the shower. In fact, since I keep my hair at such a short length that doesn’t require a special shampoo or conditioner, Dr. Bronner’s is literally the only bottle in my shower.
For the shave, I slough off my whiskers with the 4X blade from Dollar Shave Club ($6/month) and Harry’s Shave Cream ($8 – 3.4 oz.). In 2012, Dollar Shave Club blew the lid off the overpriced Gillette racket with the most hilarious product launch video in YouTube history, introducing an extremely affordable subscription system and, really, a better blade. I’ve been a happy and loyal subscriber since the beginning. A year later, one of the founders of Warby Parker launched Harry’s, another shaving company with very reasonably priced offerings, including handsome razor handles, great blades and a marvelous shaving cream. Dollar Shave Club sells a shave butter, too, but it’s the non-lathering variety, which I do not like. Harry’s Shave Cream is a real lathering cream with licorice, cucumber, marula and coconut oils, eucalyptus and peppermint. The combination of a good razor and a great shave cream makes shaving a pleasure.
For post-shave moisture, it’s all about the Bulldog. Bulldog Skincare for Men is based in the UK and makes a very straightforward and effective line of skincare for men with all natural ingredients. I use their Anti-Ageing Moisturiser ($17.99 – 3.3 oz.), which contains five essential oils, millet seed and oak apple tannins, leaving my mug soft and supple. I apply it in the morning after my shave, after a post-workout shower and at night after my wash before bed.
And speaking of the Bulldog, I also use their Original Face Scrub ($9.99 – 3.3 oz.) about once each week for a good scrub. It also contains essential oils, coconut shell, shea butter and pumice. Good stuff.
As I write this piece, it occurs to me that this is the first time I’ve taken a real inventory of what I use on my skin. There are only four containers of skin products in my bathroom: soap, shave cream, moisturizer, and the weekly scrub. There is my fragrance, but that doesn’t count. I have some SPF 15 under the sink, but that’s just a seasonal thing. No pre-shave oils, no eye gels, no toners, no bronzers, no special balms… none of it.
At the end of the day, the best way to take care of one’s skin over the long haul is to eat well, drink a lot of water, get enough exercise, get plenty of sleep, monitor sun exposure, don’t smoke and don’t drink like an idiot. All this other stuff is just topical and can only, at best, complement the inside job, i.e. food, water, sleep, etc. And the older I get, the simpler I need it. I’ve been doing this regimen with this kit for a while now, and it works very well.
And another added bonus to traveling light is all the extra shelf space in the bathroom. My medicine cabinet could practically double as a guest room.
An Honorable Mention…
I deviated from my usual regimen recently to try a new line of men’s skin care products a friend gave me called Ernest Supplies. What I like about them is that there are only three products in the line: a face wash, a shave cream and a moisturizer. Nice and simple. The entire line is all natural and made in the USA. The face wash and the moisturizer are wonderful, the shave cream is the non-lathering variety, which isn’t my thing.
The only drag is the packaging. Ernest Supplies’ products come in a foil packet, kind of like a Capri Sun juice drink, but with a screw cap on the top – one of which almost fell into my sink drain one day. As I see it, an effective men’s grooming product should be designed to be opened, dispensed and closed all in one gesture, in one hand and in a few seconds. The packaging is a little overthought and gimmicky. Other than that, I’d give them an A. Good product. If you’re in the market, look into them. www.ernestsupplies.com