If we discount all the extra hair, does this mean our skin is really that different than his? Yep — the biggest dissimilarity in male and female skin is due to the action of the male sex hormones known collectively as androgens. The dominant hormone of this group is testosterone, which is primarily secreted by the testes and ovaries (ladies produce it, too!) Testosterone wields its effects by acting on androgen receptors found throughout the body and the skin appendages like hairs, glands and cells. It does this directly or by being converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a much more potent activator.
Some of the major differences? Although there is variability, adult males produce about 10 times as much testosterone as women, and a man’s skin is about 25% thicker than a woman’s. As I mentioned, androgens, (and, in particular testosterone), drive hair growth. These same androgens cause hair loss and stimulate the scalp hair follicles to shrink and eventually die off, resulting in a condition called androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. Lastly, facial hair in men is often thicker than scalp hair, and has a flatter shaped follicle, making it curlier.
Men typically have larger oil glands and the cells in the sebaceous (oil) glands have more positive receptors for androgens. So, men usually produce more sebum than women and therefore have oilier skin. For women, the female sex hormone, estrogen, makes our sebum thinner; as his is thicker, he can get more congestion (like blackheads and angry breakouts). This will be more prevalent during puberty due to the influx of testosterone, but as levels remain higher in men, it’s one of the reasons why men have long-lasting acne. Interestingly, mostly men tend to get a condition known as rhinophyma, which is found in extreme cases of rosacea and is indicated by a red, swollen, bulbous nose with enlarged sebaceous glands. This was once linked to excessive consumption of alcohol, but is truthfully only aggravated by drinking and is linked to androgens.
Men need to cleanse thoroughly twice a day and keep follicles clear. I suggest a dual-purpose, cleansing scrub to melt away debris and dead cells, and to lift up coarse hair pre-shave. Foaming cleansers or bars might be more appealing, but perfumed soaps can strip the skin and should never be used on the face or neck. They do more harm than good in the long run!
Men typically have more lactic acid in their sweat, which accounts for a lower pH (.05 lower) when compared to female sweat. Men usually sweat more than twice as much as women, and are also more prone to sweating, which is stimulated by an increase in body temperature. However, male skin appears to be better hydrated thanks to the excess of oil production. It’s also possible that the excessive sweating and production of lactic acid, a known natural humectant for the skin, is responsible for the level of tissue hydration.
Both men and women lose about one percent of their collagen per year after their 30th birthday. For women, however, this escalates significantly in the first five years after menopause, slowing down to a loss of two percent per year. Regardless of age, thanks to those androgens again, collagen and elastin don’t degrade as rapidly in male skin. Plus, testosterone specifically creates a denser network of fibers and thicker skin.
On the other hand, estrogen, while giving us supple, soft skin, also has the offensive effect of decreasing collagen synthesis. As collagen content is directly related to the signs of skin aging, it has been said a woman’s skin is about 15 years older than a man’s of the same age. However, men can generally be less sun-savvy than women, meaning they don’t use or reapply sunscreens, and could contribute to why the "15-year" skin age-difference is not so apparent. Despite their thicker skins, men are at a higher risk of getting skin cancer, due to more sun exposure and fewer visits with doctors. And, more than 8,600 American men will die this year from melanoma, and men over 50 are more than twice as likely as women to develop and die from skin cancer.
No matter your genetic makeup, it's important to care for your skin every day. Be sure you're using a peptide-packed moisturizer and a daily sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher — and embrace the skin you've got!
As Dermalogica's in-house skin care guru (oh, and their Director of Global Education), Annet King is an invaluable trove of beauty know-how. Luckily, she's letting us pick her brain on everything from hyperpigmentation to the best supplements for your visage. Prepare to get schooled.