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Every so often my wife will do something that makes me stop and think, Wait a second…I should probably do that. Some of this is a matter or personality difference, but a lot of it is because she’s a woman, and she was taught certain lessons that I wasn’t. Most of those lessons have to do with being intentional about grooming and self-care (there are more, but we only have so much time here). And it’s not just my wife: It’s your sister, your mom, your roommate, your best friend at work. They know stuff.
Somewhere around puberty, boys start to become, well…gross. Suddenly a shower every other day doesn’t cut it, the strange almost-whiskers on our faces look unkempt and scraggly, and we just stink. Then somewhere around college (hopefully), all the unspoken rules start to come together, and we learn that society actually has expectations about how you present yourself to the world.
It’s not our fault that we’re a little rank – our culture has perpetuated the stereotype that boys and men are rough around the edges, don’t know how to take care of ourselves, and that we’re all ok with it. Women, on the other hand, learn these lessons early, and they learn them from other women. They ask questions; they’re cognizant, and it shows. Below are eight grooming and self-care lessons that we need to intentionally teach boys and young men to give them a leg up in a society with high expectations.
If you’re like me, your hands take a beating. Just today I was changing my oil; the wrench slipped, and my pinky slammed into my sway bar (I may have swore…can’t remember). And we don’t even need to talk about the grime that got under my nails (and I was wearing work gloves).
I think it’s because women’s nail care has become so elaborate – gel, dip, powder, clear coat, nail art, social security number – that men assume nail care is a women’s game. The truth is that having nice looking hands speaks volumes about the degree to which you care about your presentation and hygiene.
- When you’re in the shower, run your nail brush along your bar of soap, or put a dollop of liquid soap in the bristles. Work up a little lather in the palm of your hand, then start scrubbing. Dirt, sand, grease, and assorted debris under your nails will dull your clippers and harbor bacteria. First we clean, then we clip.
- When you get out of the shower, your nails are nice and soft, which is the perfect time for clipping (If you don’t have time for a shower, do a one-minute wash with hot water, and use the nail brush over the sink with some antibacterial hand soap). The best way to clip is to make three cuts: Once across the top, then two cuts to nip the corners. The same goes for your toes (But you need to use different instruments for your toes. Your feet are more likely to have bacteria and fungus, and you don’t want those in your hands).
In terms of length, here’re the rules: If you look at the palms of your fingers, and you can see your nails over top, they’re too long. If you clip to the point you can’t see any white on top, and you expose the skin where your nail is attached (which hurts like hell), they’re too short. Don’t worry about jagged edges – that’s what the file is for.
- Time to file. Now repeat after me: One direction only. Resist the urge to run the file back and forth. Yeah, it’s faster, but it’s also how you can rip or crack your nails. Smooth out the edges, rinse your hands, and you’re all set.
If you have the extra cash and don’t want to bother with your own upkeep, then go get a manicure (really, it’s a nice experience).
Body Hair Maintenance
Since my wife and I have been together, it’s occurred to me that I never see stray hairs on her face or body. She’s assured me this is not an accident. I consider myself lucky because I’m not a super hairy guy. That being said, I’m reaching the age where hair is starting to show up in places where it’s not invited. Just to be clear, I’m not being critical of hairy men. If you have a chest sweater, more power to you. Just keep it clean and trimmed. A few spots to keep in check…
Ears – Pluck any visible hairs.
Nose – Keep the hair trimmed with beard scissors.
Back of your neck – Get your S.O. to keep your neck trimmed and clean with a pair of clippers or your razor. My wife does clean ups my neck every other week.
Back – I don’t have a hairy back, but I still get hairs on my back and shoulders. Nope. Pluck em’.
Downtown – Use a body groomer designed for the job to keep things neat, just like a beard.
Armpits – No, I don’t shave my armpits, but I do trim my armpit hair. The more hair you hair in your pits, the more moisture will gather. Moisture = bacteria and bacteria = smell. Keep it trimmed, and your deodorant will start lasting longer.
Your Skin Needs Cared For
When my wife and I first started dating, I noticed she used eye cream. I asked her why: “You’re too young to have wrinkles around your eyes.” I said this with a great deal of charm. Her response was simple: “Right, but the way you avoid wrinkles later is by preventing them now.” Interesting.
Guys don’t usually know where to start with skin care, so luckily there are a few companies taking the guesswork out of it for us. We like Geologie, a company founded by two guys who recognized that skin care fads don’t cut it. We need the basics: exfoliation, moisturization, regeneration. The secret ingredient? Retinol. This form of vitamin A specializes in helping your skin cells regenerate quickly.
This means less acne, fewer blackheads, fewer wrinkles, and decreased sun spots. Here’s the thing – retinol isn’t new; it’s been around since the 70s, guys just haven’t been paying much attention to it.
With Geologie, you get a personalized skin care regimen delivered right to your door. Go to the website, take the quiz, and they’ll tell you which products you need based on your skin type. No guessing, no shopping, they got you.
→ Want to try Geologie for free? Geologie is giving away free products everyday until Dec. 24th on Instagram. To enter their Give-man giveaway, check them out @geologie and follow their posts and stories for entry rules and restrictions.
And Not Just the Skin on Your Face
Remember that your skin is the largest organ in (or I guess on) your body, and your face isn’t the only part that needs attention. Regardless of your skin type, you should moisturize your body every day. This doesn’t need to be a time-consuming affair; a quick rub down of legs, arms, and torso is enough to keep your skin tight and healthy (and it’s going to keep it from itching so much in the winter time).
By the way, whatever part of your body is going to be exposed to the sun, make sure you use a moisturizer with an spf – 30 will suffice. While the skin on your face is the most sensitive, the sun isn’t helping any of your skin get any younger, and melanoma is no joke. Remember, take care of your skin now so you don’t look like a baked potato later.
Your Socks and Underwear Aren’t Meant to Last Forever
There’s this ubiquitous mindset amongst American men that you can wear underwear and socks until they’ve disintegrated. Yeah…you can…but should you? Let’s think logically: Your feet and your nether regions are two of the sweatiest parts of your body. And sock and underwear are, for the most part, cheap.
So what’s the threshold…fabric transparency. Look at the bottoms of your socks; can you see your heal or the ball of your foot through the fabric? Throw them away because the next step is holes, and holey socks are an abomination. The same goes for underwear; if you can see your skin through the fabric, it’s time for a new set of skivvies. Holes in underwear…do you find that sexy on the person you love? No…no one does.
Create a Livable Space
When my wife was growing up, her family was always hosting and entertaining, so creating a warm, welcoming environment is always on her mind. She likes to rearrange the furniture about every twenty minutes or so to maximize the cozy atmosphere in our house (ok, I’m exaggerating, it’s more like every half an hour). I love the aesthetic of our house, but there are two problems: I’m cheap, and interior design doesn’t come naturally to me.
The effect that the design and layout of our spaces has on our mood and mental health is well-documented. A clean, organized place that feels like home to you can set you up for mental stillness and productivity, reduce irritability and frustration, and of course, communicate a positive version of yourself to guests who visit.
We’ve talked about this before: There’s a myriad of ways to make your space livable. The key is to find the look you like and be willing to play around a bit to make it personal to you. Yes, this means you’ll have to invest a little money, and yes it might mean it’s time to ditch the futon. And if you’re cheap like me, swallow your pride and rehearse this line: “Another house plant? That’s a great idea, babe!”
→ Get started:
- The Intentional Apartment series on Primer
- A Guide to Interior Design Styles: How to Find Your Unique Home Decor Style
Thick, thin, receding hairline, grays – Don’t worry, you have options. You work with what you have to keep your locks healthy and looking smooth.
First things first: Stop shampooing everyday. Shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils in the process of cleaning, so unless your hair is legitimately dirty, three shampoos a week is more than enough. Simply rinse with water while you’re showering, going through the shampoo process but without shampoo. You can use conditioner everyday, but if your hair is especially fine, three times a week is better to avoid creating a greasy texture.
In terms of styling, it all comes down to length, texture, and the look you want. Check out our Primer guide to hair products. In short, pretty much any style you want is doable. The first step to getting the look you want is probably going to be getting a hair dryer. Don’t skimp, spend the hundred bucks or so for a quality dryer that won’t fry your hair and will give you the volume that you’re looking for.
Finally, if your hair is thinning or you notice it’s starting to fall out, don’t panic. This isn’t the end. There are great companies like Hims and Keeps who can develop a hair-loss plan for you to get your strands back where you want them. Be proactive; you’ll be ok.
Brush and floss twice daily. You’ve heard this since you were a kid. As an adult, you also know that there’s more to the story than that, especially after you have that Italian hoagie with onions for lunch. Brushing and flossing morning and night aren’t enough to fight that midday bad breath that can creep up. One method of fighting bad breath is to stay hydrated throughout the day, and chase your sips of coffee or tea with sips of straight water.
If you want to go full strength, get yourself a tongue scraper and a bottle of Therabreath. Yes, you brush your tongue, but a tongue scraper (opt for one that’s made of steel, which is easy to sanitize) will remove all of that buildup that your toothbrush alone isn’t catching. Follow it up with a swish of Therabreath Fresh Breath, and that morning coffee breath is gone for good. I’ve tried a dozen different mouthwashes over the years, and Therabreath is the only one that neutralizes bad breath (as opposed to just masking it), and keeps my mouth from drying out.
Your Towels and Sheets
When you sleep, you sweat. When the bacteria breaks down the acid in your sweat, it starts to stink. This is why after a week, your sheets start to stink. The same goes for your towels: moisture breeds bacteria, and bacteria leads to odor. As a rule, we change our sheets once a week and grab a fresh bath towel every third or fourth use (and I know some people who grab a new bath towel after each use). Washcloth? Two uses, then throw it in the wash.
By the way, when you wash your towels and sheets, don’t use fabric softener. I know they make your fabrics feel luxurious, but fabric softener is basically liquid wax which coats your fabrics, making them essentially waterproof. But you need your towels and sheets to absorb moisture, and you don’t need the waxy buildup to damage your washing machine (and it will eventually). And if you want some other great washing machine tips, check out McMullan Appliance on TikTok. This small shop has become famous for their informative and entertaining videos – I’m a follower for life.
What other grooming and self-care practices do guys need but aren't taught?
Keep the list going in the comments!