The Australian guide to men’s skincare

Skincare has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Here's everything you need to know about how to navigate a confusing topic.

Written by
Team Pilot
Medically reviewed by
Dr Matthew Vickers
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
The Australian guide to men’s skincare
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Let’s start with a simple statement of fact: great skincare is hardly at the top of every bloke’s daily regimen.

A daily skincare routine designed to promote healthy, glowing skin is hardly positioned in the realm of “guy stuff," which is dumb because medical science has advanced us to a point where we really can make our skin healthier.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a medicine cabinet overflowing with little bottles of oil and jars of ointment to maintain a good skincare regime.

In fact, good skincare in this day and age looks more like a couple of really great products, applied once daily. Let us explain.

What's your skin type?

Everybody’s skin is different, and depending who you ask, there are between 3 and 5,037 different skin types.

The truth is that, like many things concerning your body, it’s a sliding scale.

The different “types” are just good indicators of where you might lie. To keep things simple, we'll break it down to 4:

  • Normal skin is not too oily and not too dry. With this skin type, you don't experience any severe sensitivity, your pores are barely visible, and you have a well-balanced, radiant complexion.
  • Oily skin produces excess oil (or sebum), which might mean you're prone to blemishes, bigger pores, a shiny complexion, blackheads, and pimples.
  • Combination skin means you're dry in some areas and oily in others (usually around the nose, chin, and forehead aka your “T-zone”) with some blackheads, slightly shiny skin, and bigger, more open pores.
  • Dry skin produces less sebum than other skin and might crack, peel, or become itchy quite easily, especially when it's cold out. If you have dry skin, you may have more visible lines and red patches, and your skin may feel tight and rough and look dull. It’s important to note that sometimes dry skin can be seasonal  — and we call this “occasionally dry”.

As mentioned earlier, very few people slot neatly into one category, and many experience different skin types throughout the 4 seasons.

This is why great skincare involves talking to a doctor, so they can hook you up with a treatment that is customised for your face. But we'll get to that soon.

What causes skin damage?

Ageing is inevitable, and time does more damage than any external factor ever could.

However, there are multiple reasons skin ages, from excessive sun exposure to smoking, pollution, stress, diet, exercise, weather, gravity — even too much smiling. Luckily, some of these are under your control, which means there are things you can do slow down the ageing process.

Why do we look older?

If you’ve ever wondered why your skin looks less plump than it did when you were younger, it’s due to your skin losing elasticity over time. Thinner lips, sunken cheeks, and a ‘double chin’ can be signs of sagging skin, and are all pretty common skin concerns.

To get a bit into the technical side of it, our skin produces fewer collagen fibres as we age, and the elastin that holds these fibres together begins to weaken.

We also lose muscle mass and some skin thickness, and our skin can become dehydrated [1]. These changes cause the skin to wrinkle over time.

Again, this is caused by our bodies producing fewer collagen fibres as we age, and the weakening of the elastin that holds them together [1].

Sun is also a major factor: the “weather-beaten” look of someone who spends a lot of time working outdoors is an example of sagging skin caused by sun damage [2][3].

The prevalence of skin cancer in Australia

Living in Australia means being exposed to a lot of sun, and you don’t need to be a dermatologist to know that sun and skin aren’t the best of friends.

While the classic image of the bronzed Aussie tanning his sculpted body on the sands of Bondi is one from which we’ll probably never truly depart as a nation, the least you can do for your skin in the meantime is protect it with sunscreen.

Truth is, in the same way that you can’t un-fry an egg, once your skin is cooked, it’s very hard to rejuvenate it even slightly.

Now here’s a really sobering statistic: 2 out of 3 Aussies are diagnosed with skin cancer before their 70th birthday.

Let’s just repeat that.

2 in 3. 66%. Australians. Before 70th birthday. Cancer.

These numbers are shocking, and the other stats (courtesy of The Cancer Council) aren’t much happier. Take a look:

  • Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia.
  • The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.
  • GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer.
  • The incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, 2-3 times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.

So, in the immortal words of Mary Schmich, wear sunscreen.

What are the best skincare ingredients for men?

There are many skincare ingredients to choose from, each with its own set of benefits. Choosing the best ones for you will depend on your individual skincare goals.

However, 2 ingredients in particular may be worth adding to your routine:

  • Retinoids, which are a form of vitamin A that increases the rate of skin cell turnover.
  • Niacinamide, which is often used to combat ageing signs, as well as minimise acne and skin damage.

Let's do a deep dive into both of these ingredients.

What are retinoids?

Retinoids are an effective treatment for acne, photo ageing (that’s ageing caused by too much sun), and irregular pigmentation.

How do retinoids work?

Being the awesome and versatile little compounds that they are, retinoids work in several ways, with some of the key benefits being:

Growth of new skin cells

While they help new ones thrive, they also increase the rate at which older skin cells are shed.

Retinoids work to reduce the production of sebum, as well as reduce keratinization (that’s the production of excess skin cells) [4]. Both of these things lead to the formation of blackheads.

For anti-ageing, the increased cell production and turnover help to improve fine wrinkling, reduce irregular pigmentation, and smooth out any roughness.

Collagen production

Collagen is the protein that contributes to our skin's strength and elasticity. As our body's collagen production reduces with age it causes our skin to sag — a key sign of ageing. Increased collagen helps to plump the skin and increases epidermal thickness [4].

Anti-inflammatory properties

For inflamed acne (papules and pustules) retinoids help by reducing redness and swelling [4].

How do retinoids compare with other treatments?

The most widely recommended retinoids are only available from a practitioner. The strength and potency of these preparations distinguish them from any over-the-counter products, which are typically weaker.

The most commonly recommended retinoid is often referred to as a “silver bullet” by many doctors, because of its raft of benefits.

It comes from the same family as retinol, and both are derivatives of vitamin A. This retinoid can be distinguished from plain old retinol, which is a less potent chemical and can be purchased over-the-counter as it is classified as a cosmetic product.

What strength retinoids should I use?

Everybody's skin is different — some are just more sensitive than others. It’s important that you use the strength of retinoids that is best for your skin, and your doctor can help you choose.

Retinoids are available in a variety of strengths: 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1% by weight concentration.

While these seem like minuscule amounts, these retinoids are quite potent. It's best to start on a lower strength and increase it if your skin tolerates the concentration, which is a process called titration.

How long before I start to see results?

The key to getting the best results while using retinoids is to use small amounts consistently. You only need a pea-sized amount to be spread across the face.

For anti-ageing, clinical trials suggest that patients will ordinarily experience the following improvements within the first 3-6 months [5]:

  • An improvement in fine wrinkles
  • A reduction in pigmentation
  • More uniform skin texture.

If you’re not experiencing any changes after 6-8 weeks, your doctor might recommend a change to a topical combination, or to try a higher strength.

For acne, patients should see a reduction in the number of blackheads, or inflammation of pimples, within the first 12 weeks.

How do I apply it?

Wash your face with a mild cleanser, rinse, and pat dry with a clean towel. Wait until your skin is completely dry (usually 20–30 minutes) before applying the cream.

Some other important things to remember are:

  • Only use retinoids in the evening
  • Wash your hands after each application
  • Do not apply to the eyes, lips or any irritated areas (like sunburnt or broken skin), or in the nostrils
  • Be careful applying to “crease areas," like the nasal creases.

The skin is very photosensitive when using retinoid creams, so it is vital that patients using this preparation wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen, preferably SPF30 or 50+ containing a physical barrier.

It’s also probably not a bad idea to pull out your favourite daggy cap (or Akubra) while using it. We’ve always been told to slip, slop, and slap, but this is of even more importance when your skin is extra sensitive due to this treatment.

How to transition onto a retinoid cream

A good way to start your treatment is by using retinoids every third night, and seeing how your skin reacts. If your skin...

  • Is tolerating the treatment, you can increase the frequency of application to every second night
  • Continues to tolerate the product, you can increase the frequency to every night
  • Becomes irritated — whether that is redness, peeling or stinging — apply it less often and take a break for a few days.

Note that it is normal to experience mild stinging, but this symptom should reduce as you continue to use the treatment and your skin gets used to it. If it persists or is severe, stop treatment and contact your doctor.

If you have sensitive skin, you can wash the treatment off after an hour or so [6].

Do retinoids have any side effects?

Many patients experience dryness, irritation, redness, or peeling if they use a concentration that is too strong for their face, or if they use it too frequently — what's often referred to as "tret face".

There are several ways you can manage this transition: you can apply a moisturiser first as a barrier, start by using it less frequently, or apply the retinoid cream for a short period each evening, washing it off the face after a few hours.

A doctor can support you as you introduce retinoids into your skincare routine, but a few handy ways to reduce irritation are:

  • Use the ‘sandwich technique' by applying a moisturiser 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after using the formula
  • Use a face cloth to gently scrub off any dead or peeling skin
  • Leave 3-4 days between applying the formula, allowing the skin to recover and slowly adapt to it
  • Avoid applying your treatment to the areas around the nose, eyes and mouth, as these are more prone to peeling
  • Wait until your skin is completely dry (usually 20–30 minutes) before applying the cream
  • Apply a thin layer, as using too much increases irritation and won’t make it work faster
  • Avoid using other acne medications on the skin, unless advised to by your doctor
  • Avoid waxing treated areas.

If you have acne-prone skin and are using retinoids to treat it, then you may go through a period of 'purging,' where you experience acne breakouts before your skin clears up.

This is a product of the acne surfacing as the skin cells are regenerated by the retinoids going to work, and is pretty normal.

What are the risks?

This type of skincare increases cell turnover, so your skin needs to be treated gently whilst using it.

That means you should stop using your usual exfoliating scrub, any acids or retinol, and also pause any invasive skin treatments such as microneedling, dermaplaning, or facial waxing while starting the cream.

You can reintroduce these into your routine once your skin tolerates the formula, and there is no dryness, redness, irritation or peeling.

Tell your therapist that you’re using a retinoid treatment in advance of invasive skin procedures like lasers, light treatment, and facial waxing. And if you are going to use any of these treatments, give your skin a 1-week buffer in between.

Every product has potential side effects. While these are rare, you should stop using retinoids immediately and get back in touch with your doctor if you experience:

  • Swelling, pain, redness, or weeping in the treated areas.
  • Darkening or lightening in tone of treated areas.
  • Severe burning, rash, itching, or hives on the skin.
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or other parts of the body.

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide has an excellent reputation within skincare, and for good reason.

While it’s often used to fight ageing signs, as it can increase skin brightness and elasticity while reducing wrinkles and fine lines, it also helps with many other skincare problems from acne to eczema and more — and it has even been suggested that it might prevent some skin cancers [8].

How does it work?

Exactly how niacinamide works its magic is something that scientists are still trying to figure out. One major theory is that it can stop — and even repair — damage done to the skin by free radicals.

What are free radicals?

TL;DR: Free radicals are bad for your skin.

Magazines and television ads warn us about the free radicals on our skin but don’t always say a lot about what they are, what causes them, or how skincare products and medications can fix them.

So here comes the science: free radicals are atoms or molecules that have an uneven number of electrons. Electrons normally like to exist in pairs, so when a free radical emerges, it will seek out other atoms and molecules to steal an electron from so it can even itself up.

Free radicals are sometimes created by the body as it goes through its normal metabolic processes, but they can also be generated in larger amounts by outside sources like cigarette smoke, pollution, chemicals, and the sun [9][10].

When we have an excess of free radicals our skin can experience oxidative stress.

Erm … oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress occurs when those free radicals start taking electrons from our healthy cells to restore their balance. This damages the cells, and exponentially speeds up the ageing process [11].

Think of it as a car with the headlights on. It might take a while, but that battery is going to get drained at some point.

It has been suggested that part of the reason why niacinamide is so effective at reducing the appearance of aged skin is that it’s an antioxidant — a chemical that can donate an extra electron to free radicals without becoming a free radical itself [12].

Niacinamide can boost the outermost, protective layer of our skin by:

  • Increasing the production of ceramides and lipids
  • Improving skin elasticity and reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Increasing collagen production
  • Decreasing blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, redness, and sallowness of the skin [13].

In essence, while it goes to work on the layers beneath the surface, it also props up the top layer, helping it to look better, sooner. It can also directly combat acne by reducing sebum production and retaining skin moisture while reducing oiliness [13][14][15].

No wonder it has such a good reputation.

Who can use niacinamide?

Niacinamide can be used by anyone with acne, ageing skin, dull, dry or oily skin. So, basically all of us.

Topical niacinamide has very few side effects and skin irritation after usage is rare, which means it’s an excellent choice for people who have sensitive skin. It’s also highly compatible with many other ingredients, and skincare products.

One study even showed that applying a moisturiser containing niacinamide before treating skin with topical retinoids reduced irritation (when compared with a moisturiser that did not contain niacinamide) [16].

What about side effects?

As with every skincare ingredient, negative reactions are possible — but in the case of niacinamide, very unlikely.

If you have particularly sensitive skin, you can try using niacinamide every other day and building up to daily usage. You can also try using a product with a lower concentration of niacinamide: some products have up to 10%, but 2-5% can also be effective.

How is niacinamide used?

Topical niacinamide should be used as part of a skincare regimen to get the best results, rather than just by itself.

The specific step-by-step will depend on the type of product you're using — whether it is an anti-ageing eye cream, serum or cleanser. There's even niacinamide body wash and lotion, so really, the best thing is to read the instructions in the back of each product.

But generally speaking, if you're using niacinamide on your face, you should start by washing your hands to make sure they’re clean, and apply a cleanser. Include a toner in your routine for extra points.

Hypo-allergenic, non-comedogenic, and oil-free products are best, as they will reduce the chance of a negative reaction with your skin and won’t add any oil to your face, helping to prevent clogged pores.

After you cleanse and tone, you can use the niacinamide. Pump a pea-sized amount onto the back of your hand and apply it to your entire face, not just where you notice acne or fine wrinkles. Just make sure you avoid the sensitive skin of your eyelids and lips.

Last, you’ll need to apply a moisturiser. If you have oilier skin, you can choose a lighter moisturiser like a gel or a serum, and if you have drier skin you can go for a cream or lotion moisturiser.

If it’s the beginning of the day, don’t forget to top all of this off with sunscreen that provides at least SPF30+ protection.

What results can I expect?

Niacinamide takes 8-12 weeks to really show an effect, but you might start to see changes in your skin within 1-2 weeks of beginning treatment.

Over time, you’ll notice:

  • A decrease in oil production which can help decrease acne
  • A decrease in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • An increase in skin brightness
  • Some pore shrinkage
  • A reduction in skin redness and sallowness.

The importance of consistent niacinamide use

Niacinamide can do a lot for the skin, but it needs to be used consistently and for an extended period to take effect. Once you start to see changes you can either continue using the same dosage or in a lower concentration.

Rest assured, you can use niacinamide indefinitely, as a key part of your skincare regime.

Finding what works

Skin is one of the most complicated and curious parts of our bodies. It’s the largest, most visible, and most easily forgotten about (until something goes wrong).

And because ageing is gradual, it can be easy to wake up one day looking older without having realised it’s even happened. There’s every chance that what works in a lab, or for your partner, won’t be the right thing for you.

This is why, while we can show you all the clinical trials and studies in the world, what ultimately makes a difference is getting a doctor to tailor a great skincare regime for you specifically.

With our men's acne treatment, we connect you with dermatologist-designed skincare solutions, without the wait or eye-watering bills. All you need to do is complete an online consult with an Aussie practitioner and we create a custom treatment, made to order. You also get ongoing care and the ability to adjust your treatment whenever you need.


  4. PMC2699641
  5. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2005.06.052
  8. DOI: 10.1111/ajd.12163
  9. DOI: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902
  10. DOI:  10.1155/2012/135206
  11. DOI: 10.3390/biom5020545
  13. PMC2921764
  14. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-4362.1995.tb04449.x
  15. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2004.02375.x
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