04(02): Establishing a basic skincare routine – my experience as a novice

Skincare routines are not limited to use by women

It isn’t challenging to appreciate the sheer number of beauty, skincare, and facial products that are marketed primarily towards the female demographic in society. It’s everywhere: physical advertisements at bus stops, MRTs, shopping malls; advertisements along the side of the page as you surf the web. Beyond advertisements, the depiction of the ‘ideal’ attractive woman in various forms of the mass media: movies, animated short films, games, popular profiles on various social media platforms, only help to further cement the notion of the sheer emphasis that society generally places on female beauty. This emphasis is surely felt to at least some extent by all women, but particularly so for impressionable adolescent females, who at that age are also especially concerned with how they are perceived by their peers.

In view of this, just visit any typical mall in Singapore (or any other country for the matter of fact). Various components of make-up (e.g. lipstick, mascara, blush), skincare, and beauty products abound. From the perspective of many of these for-profit corporations, there is a lot of profit to be made in exploiting women’s general desire to look, or at least feel, as physically attractive as possible. This is not surprising because men are generally attracted to the physical beauty of women. Being physically attractive as a woman can generally be considered to be an asset. Attractive women are generally more desirable, not just from the direct perspective of engaging them as sexual or romantic partners, but also in a myriad of arenas: in the workplace, or any other conceivable situation with some level of social interaction between men and women. To simply put it, it is advantageous to be an attractive woman. I’m sure my female readers can appreciate this truth even more than me.

While women generally also desire their potential partners to be physically attractive, it is generally not as highly prioritised as that of the male perspective of women. Women generally assess romantic or sexual partners more holistically. Things associated with a man’s ability to provide for and protect her (physically and financially) and any potential children are considered equally (if not even more) prized by women: wealth, income, and physical fitness. Men and women ultimately prioritise different attributes in the opposite sex when looking for a romantic or sexual partner. At least based on this brief discussion on the differences between men and women, it should thus come as no surprise that an overwhelming proportion of beauty and skincare products target the female demographic primarily.

Conventionally, men do not wear makeup, but they can still certainly benefit from having a separate skincare routine that is independent of makeup. With a proper skincare routine, one can develop a smooth (or at least smoother) complexion, and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, undesirable clinical features and complications of acne, and more.

As such, it is my wish to outline my journey of how I started my skincare routine recently so as to particularly encourage you (particularly if you are male) to consider starting a routine or resume a routine (if you had begun one previously but failed to be consistent with it).

How I decided to establish a skincare routine recently

On one of the last few days of last year – 29 December 2021, I had a productive and meaningful chat with a friend regarding skincare. This conversation with her occurred after I had gone for a run with her on that Wednesday morning. We started talking about skincare when she made a remark about the mild facial acne I had.

You should have been there in person – to see how she was left mouth agape when she learnt that I did not even use facial cleanser or any skincare product. She was the polar opposite of me at that point in terms of her commitment to skincare. She used multiple products. In addition to the products she ultimately convinced me to use, she also used serum, eye cream and face oil (see the image below for reference [1])!

She is diligent and consistent with her skincare routine and has been doing it for years. So, it came as no surprise that her complexion is great. In fact, she told me how her peers in secondary school (she came from an all-girls’ secondary school) would comment on how great her complexion was. Unfortunately, she did develop some mild peribinocular freckles after going to Australia to study briefly. According to her at least, it’s irreversible. ☹️

What I appreciated about the dialogue I had with her was that she was sincere about explaining to me what a basic routine consisted of and how I could get started despite being a complete beginner. She was patient, encouraging, and explained to me the rationale of certain components of the skincare routine and how I could use them properly.

In the end, it took a girl around my age 1.5 hours to convince me to establish a routine. She accomplished what my parents had attempted to do for about the past 11 years (well, since my first onset of acne, at least).

I suspect that I was more inclined to adhere to my friend’s advice for the following reasons:

  1. My friend was gentle, knowledgeable, and specific in her advice. She actually knew how to use a product properly, and how to use each component of the skincare routine in conjunction with the other components. It was way beyond merely buying “alcohol-free toner” and asking someone to “just use it”. She had years of experience in using this stuff. She was also quite enthusiastic about skincare. She had watched many videos and read many articles on it. It was great just talking to someone who had so much zeal for anything skincare-related; some of that contagious zeal must have ignited my internal spark for skincare! As for my parents, while I’m not sure about their level of knowledge of skincare, what I can say is that over the years, I’ve just been told to “use” skincare products which were already in the house. Boo…
  2. Perhaps I am just more willing to listen to people around the same age as me. I wonder if this has anything to do with how a part of rebellious teenage Nicholas still resides within me, that I intentionally go against the well-intentioned advice of my parents. “Nicholas, go do XYZ” would be met with thoughts of “Why do I need to do XYZ? How does XYZ work; and exactly do I benefit from doing XYZ?”
  3. When a person of the opposite sex (particularly a person who is also one’s peer) gives advice pertaining to things which affects one’s physical attractiveness, one is generally inclined to take it seriously. Such advice has significant weight. What are the factors which women consider when assessing the physical attractiveness of a potential male partner? The following factors, in no particular order of ranking, are what I can think of at the moment: 1) height; 2) presence of facial acne and abnormal facial skin changes (or lack thereof); 3) habitus; 4) dress sense; 5) haircut; 6) general facial appearance. It goes without saying that men without facial acne or any other abnormal facial skin finding would be perceived as being more physically attractive than men with those skin findings.

Anyway, after that conversation with my friend, which happened to also conclude our meeting that morning, I ran home (literally) to shower before joining my parents for lunch. Immediately after my shower, I enquired about the skincare products that my friend had convinced me to start using.

My parents were so delighted when they heard me asking about the skincare products. You could see the glee and exuberance written all over my mother’s face, in particular. For all these years, they had attempted to convince me to use these products regularly but to no avail. Their constant advice would be resisted by equally persistent reluctance. However, 29 December 2021 was the day when all that would change.

Enthusiastically, my mother handed me the products I could use!

There had always been an abundance of such products in the house. It’s just that I would never use it. In the following section, I will talk about my current established routine.

My daily skincare routine within the broader contexts of my morning and evening routines

I currently use the following components: facial cleanser, toner, moisturiser, sunblock, and topical benzoyl peroxide.

Every morning, I awaken at the sound of my alarm on my iPhone. After stopping the alarm, I do 60 push-ups and proceed to brush my teeth with my electronic toothbrush that has been programmed to run for exactly two minutes at the simple push of a button. Then, I grab the towel from the yard, hang it along the top edge of the full-length glass pane in the bathroom, step into the shower, and begin rinsing myself. During the rinse, I would use the facial cleanser (see image below). I would pump a small amount of cleanser onto the ventral surface of my left ring finger, and apply it to my face.

Then, I would dry myself with the towel, drying all regions of the body except the face. I would go to my bedroom, and get changed into my attire for the day. I would then head to the kitchen, where I would partially fill a hemispherical bowl with muesli and fresh white full-cream milk. I then partake of the food with just a spoon in my left hand (NB: in order to train ambidexterity, I do this, just as I hold my toothbrush with my left hand).

My right hand would be on my iPhone or my iPad. In either case, I would likely be reading email or doing my daily Anki review flashcards on my iPhone or iPad. By the end of it all (the breakfast and work), my face would usually be sufficiently dry. As such, I would begin applying the alcohol-free toner.

After application of the toner, I then apply the moisturiser. The moisturiser is quite a unique component of my routine in that I will always strive to apply it twice a day regardless of the number of times I have showered on that day. One of the things that my friend kept emphasising to me was that moisturiser use is so important, and that I should strive to apply it twice a day, rain or shine.

As for the other products, I just use them at least once (if I only happen to shower once that day), though I still generally use them all twice (except topical benzoyl peroxide) daily.

The last thing I apply (after the moisturiser) is sunblock, though I would wait for some time to elapse after applying the moisturiser before applying the sunblock, if possible, in order to let the moisturiser be effectively absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin.

NB: Did you know what sunscreen and sunblock are two technically distinct terms that mean entirely different things? I only learnt there was a difference when I was reading some articles while working on this blog post. I’ll probably discuss the difference and its implications in a future blog post, but in essence, the product as shown in the image above is sunblock because one of its active ingredients is titanium dioxide, which is an active ingredient that is commonly found in sunblock.

Sunblock is also known as physical or mineral sunscreen. This is different from chemical sunscreen.

The distinction between sunblock and chemical sunscreen is important because sunblock should be applied after moisturiser while chemical sunscreen should be applied before moisturiser use. As such, sunblock is the last thing I apply in my post-shower skincare ritual.

The last component that I use which is not part of my immediate post-shower skincare ritual is the topical benzoyl peroxide. For that, I apply it just once a day – before my nocturnal slumber. I exercise care and caution such that I only apply it to the specific regions which are adversely affected by facial acne. This has two benefits. Firstly, it allows me to conserve the acne cream, and allows us to use the product for as long as possible. Secondly, it minimises the side effects associated with the topical application of benzoyl peroxide, which is known for inducing localised skin irritation, skin reddening, and increased photosensitivity. Fortunately, I have not been afflicted with any significant adverse effect thus far, and I expect things to remain this way.

Topical benzoyl peroxide comes in a number of concentrations. The above contains 5% benzoyl peroxide. The lowest and highest concentration of benzoyl peroxide I have seen are 2.5% and 10% respectively.

Although it has only been about three weeks since I started, I am already seeing some improvement, much to my surprise. Hopefully, there is room for even more improvement the longer I adhere to the skincare routine.

Conclusion

I think my skincare routine, at least for a male, is pretty decent the way it is. I doubt I will be including even more products to make my skincare routine more elaborate but if I ever do in the future, it’s going to be yet another investment of time and money required.

If you’ve gotten to this point, dear reader, then I urge you yet again to consider assessing the state of your facial complexion and your current skincare habits (or lack thereof). For most people, there will be some area for improvement. Work on it. Talk to people who are more experienced for advice.

There is a famous Chinese proverb which goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now”.

What are you waiting for? Get started!


Disclaimer

I am not sponsored by any of the companies whose products I have featured in this blog post. I am still a beginner, when it comes to anything skin-related. This is also a learning journey for me. Always do your due diligence and cross-check what I have published.

The information in this blog post is general and informational in nature. For your specific health concerns, you are advised to talk to a qualified healthcare provider who can address your personal concerns.

References

[1] https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a25372431/what-order-to-apply-skincare-products/

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