Boy Beauty: Is there a real difference between men's and women's skin?

By Esteban G Villanueva

Photo: Getty

In Vogue Scandinavia’s new series ‘Boy Beauty’, Esteban Villanueva – Vogue’s first and only male beauty editor worldwide – dives into the basics of skincare, makeup and self-care for men. Here, find tips, tricks and essentials to unlock the industry, get men into the game and make beauty an inclusive space for all

This one is for the boys…

When we think of ‘beauty’, the first thought is usually ‘femininity’. For many years, beauty as a subject was kept for the ladies of the house. Women were the sole target of every lipstick ad back in the ‘50s and the only customer in mind when new creams and serums launched. Today, the beauty industry is worth more than $530 billion dollars. From that amount, only $166 billion dollars are reflected in men's personal care products (note the label of personal care products, not beauty products).

Men representing a clear minority in the beauty industry (as personal care products include essentials like deodorants, shaving creams and toothpastes – something one would hope everyone uses), could be attributed to marketing, society, sexism, or all of the above. But thankfully, in the past decade, the beauty industry has seen immense advancement in terms of blurring the lines between genders. What is expected, targeted, and marketed towards each, both or anyone in between, is changing.

Esteban getting ready for the Venice Film Festival's red carpet in 2022.

While progress has been made, the one thing that really opens up for equality in beauty is education. Education means knowledge, new scenarios and possible realities. Personally, I didn’t have someone to properly educate me when I was growing up about beauty, specifically, about beauty for men. Yet I found my path amongst Vogue cut-outs and other excerpts from magazines, blogs and my own experiences. Now, to provide what I needed growing up, the ‘Boy Beauty’ series is born. Here, without pride or prejudice, we’ll cover the basics and answer the so-called ‘stupid questions’. From the most primordial principles of skincare and makeup to more ‘advanced techniques’ for those who wish to elevate their everyday game, this is a safe space to learn, ask and grow together. And while it’s for everyone, not just them ‘boys’, I keep the name as a reminder of what I many years ago searched for online: ‘boy beauty’.

Now, back to business.

Beauty always starts with skincare (well, actually with self-care and mental health — but that’s a topic for another day). Without a good skincare routine, no amount of makeup in the world will make us look, and most importantly, feel, good. Especially when we aren’t keen on wearing any makeup (at least not yet), skincare is the ultimate ally to better our skin. That being said, what does healthy skin look like?

Photo: Getty

Contrary to popular belief, healthy skin is not the one that is pore-less, texture-less, red-less and simultaneously matte yet also hydrated. Texture, pores, sebum and pigmentation are natural and are part of our skin, as healthy as it gets. A good lipid (or skin) barrier, a hydrated skin and a natural glow is what is healthy. But before diving into routines and steps, let’s answer a key question: is men’s skin different from women’s and does that affect skin care regimen and products?

To answer the question, we called on Maria Johansson, skin therapist and owner of House of Beauty, a specialised treatment centre in Stockholm. “Male skin is around 20% thicker than female skin. It contains more collagen and normally has a firmer look,” she explains. “Men often have oilier skin that in turn prevents wrinkles, so their ageing appears later than on women, but the change is faster on men once it starts.” When it comes to wrinkles, on men, once they appear, they are fully developed instead of showing slightly over time, like on women’s. This also means that, with ageing, men’s skin becomes more sensitive, contrary to their earlier years. “Also, shaving removes the top layer of skin cells and reveals immature skin that is particularly sensitive for external influence,” explains Johansson, “40 % of all men have problems due to shaving”.

Photo: Getty

It’s important to understand here that when we talk about men’s skin and women’s skin we’re referring to sex and not gender, as we’re looking at the biological aspects and components of the different layers of the dermis. This, at the same time, brings up the question, what happens when someone transitions? “The male hormone, androgens (mainly testosterone) affect the skin on men to be thicker. And also, more resistant with higher production of tallow,” explains Johansson, “The results can be enlarged pores and acne, for instance during their puberty. Testosterone is a key hormone during the man's life. Oestrogen also affects the body and skin in different ways. The most common effect is that women develop more underlying subcutaneous fat tissue. When transitioning, say from female to male, many experience softer skin from the new hormonal balance, but also that it’s skin that is more sensitised.”

Finally, onto the million dollar question, does sex affect how skincare products work? Not to a level where we can deem products ‘useless’ towards one sex or the other, but definitely affects how the skincare routine should be tailored or created. “With men’s skin being oilier, thicker and subject to shaving, lighter products could potentially benefit more than those who are heavier and greasier,” says Johansson.

And there you have it — while biologically it changes and some products might be more beneficial from an experience and usage standpoint, skincare is, in fact, genderless.