What makes skincare gender neutral?

When hormonal acne is about more than male vs. female

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Oct 25, 2019 · 5 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Despite what gender-based marketing might have you think, the medical differences between the skin of someone born male vs. female are only one factor that contributes to our individual skin health. Skincare issues for any gender can be perplexing, especially where hormonal acne is concerned. Gender identity can be complicated, but that doesn’t mean our skincare routines have to be.

What is gender neutral skincare?

Gender neutrality means being inclusive of everyone, no matter their gender identity or expression. To be gender neutral means to avoid traditional markers that might signal being more masculine or feminine. To give an example, parents who want a gender-neutral baby shower might avoid exclusively pink or blue decorations and use yellow ones instead.

When it comes to skincare, marketing, packaging, and fragrances can gender products as either for men or women. Ironically, though, there is no medical reason that a product marketed toward men can’t be used by women — and vice versa.

While we’re on the topic of medical science, I should point out that there are some broad general differences between men and women’s skin when it comes to the practice of dermatology:

  • Men’s skin is generally thicker than women’s

  • Men also tend to be oilier, producing more sebum and sweat

  • A higher number of females are afflicted with acne compared to males — there’s no specific reason why, but it probably has to do with the complexity of hormones, cosmetic use, and diet.

That said, any skincare product can be unisex — just put it in neutral packaging and it should technically work for either sex. What matters is identifying what your unique skin needs to be happy, and that is gender-blind.

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Hormonal acne causes

Hormonal acne results when certain androgen hormones (such as testosterone) tell the sebaceous glands to ramp up oil production. These hormones are present naturally in everyone, including women. In fact, hormonal acne is often linked with menstrual cycles, due to the fluctuations of androgen and estrogen levels.

Similarly, trans men undergoing hormone replacement therapy may experience an increase in acne breakouts, despite a decrease in menstruation, which is just one example of the complex role our gender identities and presentations can play in our skin’s health.

Even when hormones play a big part in our breakouts, so do other factors like bacteria, clogged pores, and inflammation, so treatments that don’t target hormones are often still a necessary part of treating hormonal acne. That said, some birth control pills and an anti-androgen pill called spironolactone can help with the hormonal aspect of acne. You should see your in-person medical provider if you’re interested in trying this. And don’t forget that diet plays a role in all of this, too!

The pink tax in skincare

The pink tax describes an economic phenomenon where gendered products tend to be more expensive when they’re marketed towards women. It’s called the pink tax because, often times, the item’s color is the only real difference between a “men’s” and “women’s” product. The blue tax is also a thing, by the way — gendered products marketed towards men are more expensive 18% of the time. For an even closer look at gender discrimination in the personal care industry, an earlier post I wrote on the pink tax analyzes more of the stats.

Dollar bill taped to a pink surface

When it comes to skincare, how you express your gender can play a (totally subjective) role in your skin concerns. For example, if you, like me, love full-coverage makeup, thoroughly removing pore-clogging products (or, even better, avoiding them entirely) can influence the condition of your skin. Even with the differences in men vs. women’s skin I mentioned before (i.e., skin thickness and oiliness), there’s no medical reason that a given skincare product can’t be used by either gender — a product marketed towards women with oily skin may also work for men with oily skin.

Curology and the trans community

Curology is proudly trans inclusive — our providers are experienced in caring for transgender people, including those undergoing hormone therapy. If you’re currently transitioning or considering transitioning, Curology’s in-house practitioners can help you with the power of telemedicine. And — good news! — a recent study found that acne in trans patients responds the same to treatment as acne in cisgendered patients, which means that prescription acne treatments like Curology can help!

That said, another study found that severe acne in trans men undergoing testosterone therapy (T therapy) can be treatment resistant, meaning you might need more than topical treatment to help fight your breakouts. If that sounds familiar, you’re still more than welcome to try Curology, but our providers may recommend that you find an in-person dermatologist instead for a more intensive approach. Isotretinoin (a.k.a. Accutane) can clear severe and treatment-resistant acne when other treatments fail, but cannot currently be prescribed via telemedicine. I’ll let you know if that changes in the future!

Inclusive and accessible skincare

Acne doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, but a skincare product that can grow and change as you do can help. Curology is proud to be changing the face of skincare with our custom approach to treatment. Get access to medical-grade skincare with a customized cream formulated with active ingredients meant to target skin woes such as acne and signs of aging.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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And if you’re acne-prone, you can sign up for the Curology set for a complete non-comedogenic and fragrance-free skin routine (just add SPF). Sign up for a free trial and pay just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling on your first shipment today.

• • •

Editorial Review: We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.

Product Links: Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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