The best grooming lesson I’ve learned came from my high school math teacher. It does sound odd and it’s even odder if you had actually met the man: his grooming routine consisted of a hair trim every six months and a daily shave that left his skin looking like the Arizona desert.
Yet, this unlikely source of grooming advice taught me this: great results come through great practice. Mr. Koznoyevski taught us to make problem solving a deliberate habit. He encouraged us to set aside several hours a day to develop specific math skills. This approach was supposed to make us math geniuses - a hot commodity sought after by NASA.
Well, I didn’t become a math genius, no fault to Mr. Koznoeyvski, but I did learn this: looking great is a result of turning the best grooming practices into a habit. You can’t get great skin, beard and hair with a quick fix. Unlike fashion, you can’t just throw something on your face and make it look radiant and healthy. Great results in skin care and grooming require a long-term commitment to a sound grooming routine, which you must follow every day and night (even on nights when you are pissed drunk).
So, what does a great grooming routine look like? What are the men’s grooming essentials you need to look flawless? It depends on your personal skin and grooming needs. If you have an acne-prone skin, your morning routine may be quite different than that of someone who has a steel mask for a face.
I want to share with you my morning grooming routine, which has given me great results. If you are guy with normal skin type, chances are that the same routine and grooming products would work well for you too.
My morning routine doesn’t include just the bare men’s grooming essentials. I use products I can do without but I enjoy using. In the list that follows, I’ve marked up the grooming products every man needs. The rest are nice to have, depending on your budget.
For each step of my morning grooming routine, I also mention the product I use. You don’t have to use that one. Pick any one that works for you. If you are not sure how to go about it, drop me a line in the comments and we can find the best one for you together.
Now, let’s get to it: here’s what I do every morning while brewing my coffee.
Step 1: Hit the Shower
This is the part I hate doing but am immensely thankful for. Getting my body wet, while half-asleep is as annoying as Netflix buffering in the middle of a movie. Yet, the fresh feeling after I step out is worth the annoyance.
Showering in the morning is a smart thing to do for another reason than just being clean. The hot water and steam softens your bristles and makes your skin more supple. Hot showers are the best way to prep your face for the blade.
I use shampoo on my hair maybe two to three times a week. Doing it more often strips the natural oils from my hair and dries it out. On the days I don’t use shampoo, I put only a hydrating conditioner, which I use even on my shampoo days.
I recently started using ACURE’s Ultra-Hydrating Conditioner (Amazon), which gives my hair good moisture and even some volume.
Maybe I should be pickier when it comes to shampoo but the only two things I look out for is no sulfates and phthalates. I try to go as natural as I can, while still getting something that gets the job done.
Never Skip the Face (Essential)
I had this “debate” with a friend of mine who wanted to convince me washing your face in the shower is pointless. He argued there is no need to use a cleanser, since all the soapy water from your hair is running down your face.
I disagree. I do wash my face in the shower and I do use a cleanser. Getting a proper face wash to remove the residue oils from the night is key to having a great skin. A good cleanser will not dry out your skin and will remove dirt and excess oil without stripping the essential sebum and oils of your skin.
Origins Checks and Balances Frothy Face Wash (Amazon) is one my favourites. It’s gentle on the skin, lathers up nicely and doesn’t dry out my face. Just like most Origins products, Checks and Balances is made without parabens, sulfates and phthalates, which is always a nice bonus.
Even though I love it, Checks and Balances is not in my lineup right now. I’m currently going through a tube of L’Oreal Men Expert Hydra Energetic Icy Cleansing Gel (Amazon). I got it as a gift for Christmas and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
I tend to avoid drug store products mostly because they tend to be heavy on the chemicals. The Hydra Energetic Icy Cleansing Gel is no exception. It does have sodium laureth sulfate but it does work pretty well. I like the smell and the lather is rich and consistent. I don’t get an icy feel as advertised on the tube but I don’t particularly care.
The Icy Cleansing Gel is a good choice if you want to go cheap and don’t mind controversial additives.
What about Face Soaps?
I don’t use them. They tend to be messy and for some reason, no matter how many times they’ve milled them and what essential oils they’ve infused them with, face soaps always dry out my face.
Step 2: Moisturize All Over
This is a critical step many of my friends skip. My roommate in college used Lever 2000 and never moisturized. As a result, his skin had the feel of a lizard. At least that’s what one of his few girlfriends told me.
As you know, not only the skin on your face wrinkles. Even the most moisturizing body wash takes away some of the natural oils of your skin. A good body lotion will help you replenish the moisture and keep your skin younger. The lotion I use is Everyone Lotion - Coconut & Lemon scent.
Susan and Brad from San Francisco started EO, the maker of the lotion, with a commitment to help their customers “Love Life and Live Clean”. Most of their products are non-GMO and chemicals free. The Everyone Lotion is made with organic essential oils and notably lacks these usual suspects:
- Parabens and polysorbates;
- Gluten, and
- GMO ingredients.
What I like the best about Everyone Lotion is that it keeps my skin moist and soft throughout the day. It absorbs quickly and the scent is subtle enough not to interfere with your fragrance.
I also love the lotion’s price. For about $15 I get a big 1 liter (32oz) bottle that lasts me over 3 months.
What about Body Oils?
When I was in Seville a couple of years ago, my AirBnB host had left me a complimentary body oil. At first I was skeptical about using it but after giving it a try, I realized it was a good moisturizer.
I still prefer using a regular lotion but if a body oil is something you are interested in, try apricot or almond oil. They are not that runny and have amazing skin care properties. To avoid greased up shirts, give the oil some time to absorb before putting on your clothes.
Step 3: Clearing the Scruff
Shaving is my favourite part of my morning grooming routine. The ritual of working up a nice lather and slathering it on your face is what makes my morning great (other than the occasional morning sex).
I won’t get too much into the weeds of my shaving routine. The short story, however is this: I keep it basic with this grooming essentials kit.
Shaving Cream (Essential)
I’m currently using Cyril R. Salter French Vetiver. Cyril R. Salter is a little known British company that manufactures and sells grooming products to “the trade”. I assume “the trade” in their materials means barbershops and salons.
Three things make Cyril’s R. Salter’s shaving creams stand out:
- They smell great - their rose and citrus versions are superb and the French vetiver is decadent;
- They lather up quickly with a thick luxurious foam;
- They are relatively cheap. Take the Truefitt & Hill prices and cut them in half.
If you value a good shave, give Cyril R. Salter a try. They don’t disappoint.
Double Edge Safety Razor (Essential)
Edwin Jagger DE89L (Amazon) is my weapon of choice on most mornings. It is not too aggressive, which is a good thing when you are using it half asleep. All Edwin Jagger razors are beautifully designed but I prefer the DE89L because of its grip and hefty weight.
Merkur 34C (Amazon) is another staple in my collection even though I find it a little too light and toy-like.
If you need help picking the best razor for yourself check out The 5 Best Safety Razors for Beginners.
I have a medium-to-thick beard growth and I go with the sharpest blades on the market. These are none other than Feather (Amazon). I’ve tried most other brands on the market but I keep coming back to Feather.
Step 4: Nourish the Skin
The following grooming products have one objective in mind: to make your skin look great.
The face essence is something not many men know about. After gaining huge popularity in Asia, facial essences have made their way to Europe and North America.
The facial essence is usually a thin liquid containing extracts from different plants or animal sources. One of the most popular essences, SK II, contains large quantities of pitera. It is a bi-product of yeast fermentation. The story goes that the hands of the workers at a sake factory were very soft and upon closer examination the guys from SK discovered that the culprit of the soft hands is the pitera acid.
Other facial essences have different ingredients but all of them are meant to serve one purpose: to bind to the products you put on your skin (e.g. serum, face moisturizer) and drive them inside it. That’s the theory at least.
I’ve used different brands of facial essences and each one claimed to have special properties. Besides SK II, I’ve tried Boscia Cool Blue Hydration Essence and Kiehl’s Active Iris Extract. All three were good and all three were different.
I found Boscia Cool Blue Hydration to be the most moisturizing essence, while the Kiehl’s Active Iris Extract did a decent job and came at the best price. A 200ml bottle sells for about $35. If you think that’s a lot check out SK II selling at a whopping $205 for the same size.
If these prices make you pause, you’re not the only one. I might get lynched for saying this but essences are by no means a necessity. They are cool to have but if I were to spend big bucks on something, that would be the serum.
Several years ago I ran into a seasoned skin care professional who gave me this advice: if you are on a budget and you have to choose where to spend your money, go for the serum. It is the true heavy lifter in your grooming routine.
Serums are thin, fast absorbing substances packed with antioxidants, amino acids, plant extracts and powder from unicorn horns (at least that’s what the skin care companies want you to believe).
Because they absorb so quickly and pack so many superpowers, using a serum is the most effective way to see results. I began to believe this truth once I started using Kiehl’s Powerful Strength Line Reducing Concentrate. Packing 10.5% vitamin C, this serum started getting me compliments on the second week of wearing. My skin had become noticeably brighter and more radiant.
I’m currently using Caudelie’s Vinoperfect Radiance Serum. Its magical powers reduce the visibility of dark spots and blemishes, while boosting your skin’s radiance.
The key ingredient, viniferine, is extracted from the sap of vine stalks. Caudelie claims viniferine is 62 times more effective than vitamin C at brightening one’s skin and reducing the visibility of dark spots.
Scientific research aside, the Vinoperfect Radiance serum has given me good results and it’s worth to try.
Another great serum you should try is REN Radiance Perfection Serum. All REN products stand out as being chemical-free and effective at the same time. I used the Radiance Perfection Serum for over a year and my skin was noticeably more radiant and vibrant than before. It had a slight orange scent to it; it felt as if I were putting freshly squeezed orange juice on my face.
Unilever and P&G, among others, seem to believe that when it comes grooming, men strive for skincare minimalism. There has been an influx of products with multiple functionality: 2-in-1 body wash, triple action moisturizer, and a body lotion that doubles up as a face cream, aftershave and a deodorant.
I get the draw towards skincare efficiency - you buy one thing that does the work of five other products. Sounds nice but the reality is different. Most products are good at doing only one thing, so use them to do just that one thing.
It’s tempting to use your moisturizer as your aftershave but then you won’t get all the benefits a real aftershave will give you.
Your aftershave has a very special mission: to soothe your freshly shaven skin and help it heal. Therefore, good aftershaves contain ingredients that soothe and heal.
The purpose of your face moisturizer is to retain moisture inside your skin and keep it hydrated. Most moisturizers don’t have the special healing ingredients aftershaves have.
My preference has always been for aftershave lotions instead of alcohol-based splashes. I find the alcohol in the splashes dries out my skin. They also tend to smell too strong, which often interferes with my cologne.
On the cheap end, I go for Nivea’s Sensitive Skin After Shave Balm. It costs under $10 and does a great job.
If you are too fancy for the drugstore stuff, try the aftershave milks of Antica Barbieria Colla. Made in Milan, Italy, these aftershaves will give you a feel of what grooming used to be like at the turn of the 20th century. The quality of Antica’s milks is very high and the price is too. A 100ml bottle of aftershave will take you back about $100.
Face Moisturizer (Essential)
If there is one thing I’d always get, even on the tightest budget, it’s a face moisturizer. We don’t have to go fancy here but your moisturizer has to be decent enough to keep your skin moisturized and hydrated throughout the day.
The biggest contributor to wrinkles is skin dryness. A good moisturizer will keep your skin hydrated and will serve as a protective barrier between your skin and the harmful elements of the environment.
If you don’t want to look 40 on your 25th birthday, moisturize. You’ll get this sound advice from your local drugstore clerk and grooming experts like Tom Ford. Don’t think about it, don’t debate it, just do it. Moisturizing is like going to the gym - you have to do it everyday to see the results.
Generally speaking, moisturizers fall into two categories: light and heavy. Which kind you use depends on your skin type and the season. I tend to use heavier moisturizers in the winter and lighter ones in the summer. The cold winter weather dries out my skin and I need the extra oils and weight to keep my face hydrated.
In the summer, I tend to go for lighter creams, which won’t make my face super oily in the heat.
Finding the best moisturizer requires trial and error. Go to Kiehl’s or Sephora and ask the professionals there for help. They will usually analyze your skin type and recommend something that may work for you.
Instead of buying a full tub, I usually start with a sample. Both, Sephora and Kiehl’s are great at giving generous samples, so don’t be shy and ask.
Even though each moisturizer comes with its own laundry list of bragging rights, I’ll point out two features that often come up:
- Matte finish.
Surprisingly, some of the best moisturizers come without SPF. Many natural creams won’t have it because SPF is technically a chemical. Some natural skincare products brag that their moisturizers contain resveratrol or shea butter, which contain natural SPF.
Don’t fall for that. Shea butter indeed has naturally-occurring SPF-like ingredients but their factor is 6. In today’s environment SPF of 6 is virtually worth nothing. It’s like eating fries for the potassium in the potatoes - not a smart move.
If you want some serious sun protection you have two options: go with a face moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30; buy an SPF sunscreen (factor 40+) and put it on top of your moisturizer.
ORIGINS A Perfect World Age-Defense Moisturizer with White Team (SPF 40) is a good choice if you prefer heavier creams.
Kiehl’s Facial Fuel SPF 15 is a lighter alternative, which works well in the summer.
Even though I’ve used both - ORIGINS and Kiehl’s - my preference is for more natural brands (ORIGINS is pretty natural itself) without SPF added to it.
I recently ordered Tenzing Sandalwood Face Moisturizer. It is a chemical-free medium-to-light face cream with a great citrus-woody scent. I ordered it for $20 from the company’s website and have been enjoying it so much I am thinking of ordering another bottle from their other scent - Sage Mint.
Alternatively, I use REN Vita-Mineral Daily Supplement Moisturising Cream. It is on the thick side but at the same time it doesn’t make my skin oily and doesn’t clog my pores. Just like Tenzing’s moisturizer, this one is chemical-free and mostly natural.
A Quick Note on Moisturizers with Matte Finish
Some moisturizers brag with their matte finish properties. These creams tend to have talcum powder, which absorbs oil and moisture and gives the matte finish look.
The upside of the matte finish moisturizers is that your face doesn’t look shiny. The downside is that they tend to be heavy and clog your pores. My experience with matte finish creams has always been a bad one. They either dry out my face too much or they peel off when I rub it with my finger.
Based on my personal experience, I would recommend them. If you are worried about being shiny, buy a pack of oil blotting sheets. They are cheap, easy to carry around and don’t clog your pores.
I used to treat eye cream as a nice-to-have part of my routine. As I get older, however, the first signs of aging are showing up, the importance of a good eye cream has shot up astronomically.
To save on money and skip and extra step, I used to put face cream in my under-eye area. I figured - moisture is moisture, I don’t need to spend another $50 on something my face cream can do. The truth is my face moisturizer cannot do the same thing my eye cream does.
The skin around the eyes is thinner and more sensitive than anywhere else on your face. Also, if you have dark circles or bags, you need a cream especially formulated to deal with these issues. Putting your face moisturizer there is like bulldozing over of those areas. You need something gentle, a cream with super powers that keep the crows’ feet away.
Finding a good eye cream is hard and expensive. Throughout the years I’ve tried hundreds of brands and only two have stood out for me: Algenist Complete Eye Renewal Balm and Clarins Extra Firming Eye Wrinkle Smoothing Cream.
The Algenist’s eye cream comes loaded with alguronic acid, vitamin C, caffeine, cucumber and green tea extracts. Alguronic acid is a mix of algae extracts (various types of polysaccharides), which are claimed to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It is not an acid that naturally occurs in the human body (like hyaluronic acid) and some experts argue it doesn’t get used by the skin.
Algenist was the first brand to use alguronic acid in a commercial product. Research has shown that alguronic acid improves the appearance of fine lines and generally improves the skin. My personal experience with the Algenist eye cream confirms these studies. A week after using the eye cream I noticed reduced puffiness, less pronounced fine lines and no dark circles.
The downside of the Algenist Complete Eye Renewal Balm is its price. Sephora sells it for US$68. The price is high but so is the length of time a jar will last you.
I apply the Algenist eye cream in the morning and at night before I go to bed. With this routine application, the 15ml jar lasts me about three months. The key to its longevity is that the cream is very thick and you need very little of it. Since it comes in a jar, there is no risk to squirt out too much by accident either.
Clarins Extra Firming Eye Wrinkle Smoothing Cream is a good alternative to Algenist. While the Algenist eye cream has anti-aging properties, the Clarins one works to reduce puffiness and dark circles. It is loaded with green coffee extract, organic oats sugars and horse chestnut. Coffee extract or caffeine are staples in many eye creams promising to fight dark circles. The logic is that caffeine stimulates the blood circulation in the under eye area, which reduces their appearance.
I don’t know if it’s the green coffee extract that makes the Clarins eye cream so effective but it has worked well for me. It has helped me fight off dark circles for good.
Step 5: Tame the Mane
The final touches of my grooming routine are dedicated to my beard and hair. If you don’t have a beard, you can skip this but otherwise, don’t neglect it.
My beard grooming routine is simple: I rub in a beard balm in it and am am done. If your beard is short-to-medium length this is all you need to do.
Guys with longer beards would need to do more work on their beard but essentially it involves some version of the following steps:
There is a proliferation of beard shampoos on the market. Using one is not a bad idea if you have a long beard. I wash my beard with the face wash I use for my face.
Maintaining a good looking beard and healthy skin under it requires regular moisture and nourishment. There is a wide assortment of products on the market to help you with this. Generally, the beard grooming products fall into three categories:
- Beard oils,
- Beard waxes, and
- Beard balms.
Which one you use depends on your beard length and texture. Beard oils are great for short and long beards. Their primary function is to nourish and moisturize.
Beard waxes, on the other hand, have a primary function to give shape to your beard. They are the weapon of choice for long beards and can be used in combination with a beard oil.
Beard balms are in between oils and waxes. They bring the hydration and nourishment of the oils and a little bit of the shaping qualities of the the waxes. Ultimately, however, most beard balms are too soft to address hardcore beards.
I tend to like beard balms for two reasons: they don’t make my beard and skin as oily as the beard oils and they keep loose hairs in place.
In the last several months I’ve been using the Always Bearded Beard Cream. Always Bearded is a Canadian company from Barrie, Ontario. The guys who started it are passionate about beard grooming and make by themselves all their products in small batches.
The Always Bearded beard cream has a mousse-like texture. It absorbs quickly in the skin and doesn’t make my beard greasy.
The Always Bearded beard creams come in two varieties: eucalyptus + lime and bergamot + ylang-ylang. They both smell great and somewhat similar and either one would be a good choice.
I have thinning hair and most of my hair grooming routine is around addressing this problem. My main objective here is to add some volume and texture to my hair. My barber keeps my hair short and gives me a structured, messy look. The hair products I use help me achieve the illusion of more density.
Before the thought even pops up in your head I don’t do the comb-over or any of the weird shit that occasionally pops up on Facebook.
I don’t do Rogaine, nor do I use any special potions to make my hair growth thicker. I refuse to put more chemicals on my body and rubbing onion juice on my head (recommended by a friend) just doesn’t seem right.
I use two products to style my hair:
- Hair thickening spray;
- Matte finish hair clay.
My go-to thickening spray is Kevin Murphy’s Thick Again leave-in hair treatment (Amazon). It smells amazing of lavender and spices and it does some pretty amazing job at adding volume to my hair. The way this and other hair sprays work is by adding some grittiness to your hair. After applying it and letting it dry, my hair feels the same way after a day on the beach.
Once the treatment dries on my hair, I shape my hair style with a matte finish hair clay. Even though I switch up my styling products, I always keep coming back to Hanz de Fuko’s Claymation. Its ingredients are mostly natural and organic but more importantly it gives me a pliable textured matte look.
Claymation has virtually no smell and for my hair length a dime size or less is just the right amount. An added benefit Claymation brings is that it is easy to wash out at the end of the day. This is key, especially if you don’t use shampoo every day.
Another good product I use on and off is Lock Stock & Barrel (LS&B) 85 Karats Shaping Clay (Amazon). Its texture is more pliable than Claymation and its scent is stronger. 85 Karats works pretty much the same way as Claymation: it gives you a strong matte finish and strong hold. 85 Karats washes off easily and if it were not for the perfumey scent (I get tired of it), I would probably use it more regularly.
If you are looking for something a serious texture power and dry finish, look no further than the British Barbers' Society's Texturising Clay. It won't give you much hold - the tub says medium but I say weak - but the purpose here is to get texture. If you have a short, messy hairstyle, especially with a thin hair, you are not looking for hold. Texture is what you are after and the BBS's Texturising Clay gives you just this.
When you rub it in between your palms, this clay feels as if there is ash mixed in it. The colour is also blue-ashy. Reading the label, it turns out the Texturising Clay indeed has volcanic ash in it.
What I love about this clay is that it gives me volume and texture without making my hair sticky or rigid. I can run my fingers through my hair without getting goo all over it.
BBS's Texturising Clay washes off without any effort and doesn't leave any residue.
Kevin Murphy also has a couple of clay-like hair products but I would recommend them with some reservations.
If you go to a hair salon and ask for a hair product with matte finish, they will probably offer you Night Rider by Kevin Murphy. It has a wonderful citrus scent and a pliable, easy to spread texture.
The problem with Night Rider is two-fold: first, if you are after a truly matte finish, you have to make sure your hair is extremely dry. Otherwise, you’ll get a little bit of a shine finish.
The other problem is washing it out. It’s a pain in the ass. Even after a solid shower and shampooing my hair, I still didn’t know if the product is completely out.
Gritty Business is the other product by Kevin Murphy that will give you a solid matte finish. Unlike Night Rider the texture of Gritty Business is...well, gritty. It is more pliable but as you rub it in your palms you’ll notice small bumps. The product itself feels a bit like a mixture of wax and sand or powder.
Gritty Business smells soapy but this is not the big issue about this product. Just like with Night Rider, Gritty Business is extremely hard to wash. In total, I’ve probably spent hours over the sink or in the shower trying to wash it off.
Pomades, Gels and Creams
What about all the pomades, gels and styling creams out there? Some of them are great products, especially if you have medium to long hair with some solid thickness. All of these products have a shine finish, which, unfortunately for me, doesn’t work.
If you have thin hair, products with high shine will make your hair look flat and reveal any bald spots.
This is the morning grooming routine, which keeps me looking fresh and on point before I leave the house. What grooming ritual do you follow to get ready in the morning? Share in the comments below.