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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Why a skincare regime for men is vital in the UAE

The harsh weather conditions we deal with daily don’t need to age us prematurely

Like detailing a car's paint, removing surface contaminants from our skin is essential if we are to look our best. Getty Images
Like detailing a car's paint, removing surface contaminants from our skin is essential if we are to look our best. Getty Images

Free radicals, retinol deficiency, hydrating masks, body scrubs and polishes, exfoliating this, rejuvenating that – the daily topics of conversation between my ex-wife and her ­mother used to cause my eyes to glaze over, with mild depression setting in. They’d spend hours deliberating over tiny pots of very expensive goo that promised to turn back the visible signs of ageing – understandable, because they used to run a cosmetics retail business, but terminally dull nonetheless for a man more interested in petrol than amino peptides.

What damage has been caused?

And here I am, many years later, wondering whether my complete aversion to skincare – apart from the application of sun protection factor (SPF) when I remember – has done me any harm. I’m a bloke, after all, and skincare routines really don’t feature highly in the daily comings and goings of the average man. It wasn’t always the case, though.

When I was in my early- to mid-teens, I was mildly obsessed with keeping my oily skin free from spots that might prevent girls from wanting to know me, and I took to Clearasil like a duck to water, before going hardcore when a friend told me the best thing to deep-clean my pores was surgical spirit applied with cotton wool. It’s enough to make a dermatologist shudder.

Every now and then I’ll hear or read something that jolts me. When a close friend was told by his doctor that he had melanoma and needed to have malignant patches of skin removed from his face, he admitted that he should have done something to protect himself over the years from the sun’s harmful rays. And when I look in the mirror and see my own face becoming more haggard by the day, I wonder if I’d joined the former Mrs Hackett in her daily “cleansing rituals”, would I now be a picture of youthful exuberance rather than a pasty-faced cautionary tale? And, more to the point, is it too late for me to do anything about the largest organ I possess (my skin)?

Having spent most of my adult life in the wilds of north Wales in the United Kingdom, where the sun normally shines just a couple of days a year and the air is mercifully free from pollution, I never felt there was much of a need for skincare routines. But here in the Middle East, things are very different. Dr Vimi Ponnamparambath, a specialist ­dermatologist at Al Warqa Aster Clinic in Dubai, says that along with the increasing number of spas and salons in the city, more and more men are beginning to take ­better care of their skin, without being stigmatised.

“Skincare is different for men and women,” she says, “and it is not advisable for men to use the same products that their wives or partners use because everybody’s skin type differs. Men, for instance, do not age as quickly as women. But on a daily basis, men are exposed to many damaging pollutants, as well as the sun and harsh weather conditions in this region.”

How does the UAE's environment affect skin?

Stifling heat outside, frigid air conditioning inside, humidity and dust, airborne pollutants – is it any wonder men in the UAE suffer from a variety of skin complaints? And don’t think that if you spend most of your life cooped up in your car that you’re immune, either. “UVA rays,” cautions Dr Khashayar Ghiassi, a specialist dermatologist at Medcare hospital, “can get through the glass of your car – I cannot overstate how important it is for men in this country to apply sunscreen, and the higher the SPF the better.”

He says that there’s a great deal of misinformation out there regarding vitamin D deficiency, too. “We don’t need all that much sunshine to keep our levels high enough. Exposing our body to sunlight for a few minutes a day is sufficient – the rest of the time we should be covering up. If you don’t think the sun is bad for your skin, compare the looks of a 40-year-old lady from Sweden with one from southern Spain.”

As for the minimum when it comes to a man’s daily routines, he points out that showering more than once every day can do its own particular damage. “It can really dry out the skin and cause eczema. Sure, if you’re always working out at the gym then you need to shower or bathe more often, but then it’s important to apply a moisturiser.”

Sorry, a what? There was a time, not that long ago, when the last thing a man would enquire about was moisturising, but today it’s an accepted part of being a bloke. “But you don’t need any of this fancy, expensive stuff,” adds Ghiassi. “Nivea works brilliantly.”

Most men pay more attention to the paintwork on their cars than they do their own skin, but there are similarities between even those two seemingly unrelated items. When a car’s paint is properly detailed, it involves removing surface contaminants that might have been building up for many years, and it may well include the microscopic “skimming” of the surface to produce a flawless finish that’s better than when it left the factory. And we men sometimes need to do something similar to our skin.

What can be done to help?

Bianca Estelle is a Harley Street-trained skin specialist and founder of Bea Skin Care. She says that, to combat environmental damage, cleansing is vital and just one of the many things often overlooked by men. “Here in the UAE,” she advises, “men’s skin is subjected to air that is highly polluted, which can cause a build-up of dirt over the course of the day. Using a [good-quality] cleanser twice a day will remove all traces of dirt, sebum, and keep skin fresh and shine-free.”

Are “natural” products best when it comes to cleaning and maintaining our skin? “Not always,” she says. “The term ‘natural’ is used very loosely in the cosmetic industry, and to this day, there isn’t a clear and true definition of the term. For example, both lavender and glycolic acid could be termed as natural as they are sourced from nature – in this case, plants. Yet, use of lavender can still cause allergic reactions in many people.”

To recap, then, it’s advisable to protect ourselves from the sun, and to cleanse (or exfoliate) and moisturise daily. There’s more to it, though, than locking yourself in the bathroom morning and night. What we eat and drink, and how we sleep also play pivotal roles in the condition of our skin. “Diet and sleep massively affect the skin,” says Dr Maurizio Viel, a plastic surgeon at the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery, Gulf.

“People often forget that the skin is the body’s largest organ. Sleep is the body’s way of repairing itself, and men’s diets also provide the body with the ingredients to repair itself. If these are not in balance for a prolonged period, ageing will show on our skin. Stress is also one of the biggest factors that affects ageing, and in today’s world, men do need to fight back with their lifestyle by making more effort to take care of themselves.”

Estelle also adds that eating “­unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods rich in important minerals such as selenium and zinc, and vitamins such as vitamin D and C will help promote a better complexion and also leave you feeling energised. The importance of hydration cannot be overlooked and I would advise to drink two to three litres of water everyday. This will not only help brain function, maintain energy levels, regulate body temperature and aid in digestion, but also hydrate skin cells.”

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Read more:

A guide to skin care in the air: how to alleviate the damage caused by flying

Bacteria for your beauty regime: 'live' skincare comes to the UAE

Sunscreen care: shedding some light on sun protection

Adult acne: what causes it and how it can be treated

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