Top image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo
We all have skin, I assume. But why are women seemingly more invested in its well-being than men?
Me, I’m a sunscreen whore. It’s a personal mission to try the latest sunscreens all the TikTokers are raving about—nothing brings me joy like trading recommendations with other women (Korean brand Beauty of Joseon is overrated, and I will die on that hill).
The men in my life? Not so much.
My father would return from golfing trips with his polo shirt neckline burned onto his chest. My elder brother, a videographer, is too cool to bring the protective arm covers I bought him for his outdoor shoots. And my boyfriend only whips out sunscreen on his rare trips to the beach.
But even now, they—and a huge portion of Singapore’s male population—wouldn’t bother spending a few extra minutes protecting themselves before heading out into the current hellscape weather.
It’s Always Sunny in Singapore
Their nonchalance towards sun protection should be concerning. We’re just shy of the equator, where the ultraviolet intensity is higher. And we’re in the throes of a heatwave that turns most of us into sweaty messes the minute we step outside.
Our island is at its hottest in years—an unfortunate combination of warming from El Nino, drier weather during the inter-monsoon period, the urban heat island effect. And, of course, climate change.
Temperatures hovered around 36°C last weekend and hit 37°C in Ang Mo Kio on May 14th. The last time it was this hot was 40 years ago.
Reapplying sun protection is the basic thing to do if you’re sweating it off. But it seems like a good chunk of men in Singapore don’t even wear it in the first place.
Here are the facts. Anyone over the age of six months should be applying sunscreen daily to protect from skin damage, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Babies under six months aren’t immune to the sun, of course, so they should be staying out of direct sunlight or using sun-protective clothing.
And to address a couple of common misconceptions, you should still be wearing sunscreen on cloudy days. Even if you naturally have darker skin, no sunburn doesn’t mean no skin damage.
Why Men Don’t Wear Sunscreen
An informal poll by RICE found that 56 percent of women wear sunscreen every day, while only 22 percent of men do the same. A worrying 47 percent of men confessed to raw dogging it and skipping sunscreen entirely.
It’s 2023, and it’s reasonable to assume that a good number of men have progressed past the notion that skincare is only for women. But misconceptions and gaps in knowledge remain rife.
Fewer men are aware of basic skincare facts such as “there is no such thing as a healthy tan”, a 2016 American Academy of Dermatology survey reported.
After speaking to a local beauty content creator, who goes by Z, I’m convinced that most Singaporean men do know skin care is important. They just don’t know all that much about it.
“The reason why men don’t use (sunscreen) is that they don’t know how to use it, or they don’t know what to use,” says Z. Many men don’t keep up with the latest sunscreen development technology and still think that its sticky, gooey and greasy, he adds.
Then there’s the fact that the bulk of skincare and beauty content creators out there are women, says the 39-year-old. Men might think the recommendations and regimens are “strictly for women”.
“They don’t realise that actually there is no difference. Skin is skin.”
In fact, a few men in the RICE office only started their sunscreen journey after serious interventions from their friends or partners.
Our editor-in-chief Ilyas says he used to skip the sunscreen as it made his skin “sticky and shit”. But a bad brush with sunburn after an outdoor heavy metal festival in Jakarta made him see the light.
“After she saw the crazy tan lines when I got back home, the missus nagged at me for not wearing sunscreen and got me some aloe spray and proper sunscreen. I never want to feel that sunny sting ever again.”
Our creative director, Toke, says he now applies sunscreen after a former colleague scolded him for being lazy: “He said that my skin seemed dull—and I want to look pretty.”
It does seem as if local men do have some inkling of the importance of skincare. Why, then, do they need that push from the people around them to get started?
Keeping Skincare Simple
With skincare social media constantly pushing new treatments, products and tips—10-step routines, retinol, and facial massagers, to name a few—maybe a majority of men just need some no-nonsense advice.
But, understandably, it can be tough to weed through the overwhelming beauty and skincare content out there.
Z admits he’s guilty of feeding into the trend of maximalist skincare routines. In one video, he expands on his personal routine, which includes exfoliants like salicylic acid and a facial roller for depuffing.
“I know in some ways I am not doing any service to dispel the stereotype that skincare should be easy.”
“I think the current trend of skincare routines, skincare regimens and the multi-step skincare processes, I think, does not do men—or anyone for that matter—any service in making skincare routines approachable and something that anyone can reach for.”
All you need for a basic skincare routine is cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen, says Singaporean GP doctor and content creator Dr Samuel.
For all the Singaporean men out there who want to get started in the skincare game, I’d say don’t be afraid of dipping your toes into Skincare TikTok—or just seek the guidance of your girl pals.
Tan lines aren’t a pretty sight. Neither is skin cancer.