What Advice Would A Grooming Expert In His Fifties Give To His Younger Self?
Illustration by Mr Tommy Parker
As someone who’s written about grooming for nearly 20 years I’ve learnt a lot about looking – and smelling – good. I’ve picked the brains of some of the world’s most eminent skin and haircare experts, and swapped maintenance tips with everyone from Mr Chris Pine to Mr David Gandy.
The most valuable lessons I’ve learnt about looking good, however, come from the mistakes I’ve made and wish I could go back and correct. So if I could jump into a Tardis tomorrow, here’s the advice I’d proffer to my younger self…
Leave the baking to the cooks
While my twentysomething self loved working on a tan to rival Mr Cristiano Ronaldo’s, my fiftysomething incarnation sorely regrets ever baking on a beach to achieve it. Not only is that sun to blame for many of the wrinkles that started to appear in my thirties, it’s most likely tripled my chances of getting skin cancer, too. Not a great return on my investment.
In hindsight, it’d have been Factor 50 all the way (I’d still have achieved a tan – just a slightly safer one). I’d also have worn sunglasses more often to avoid squint-induced crow’s feet and would have shaded my face with a decent cap whenever I was out in the sun. These are the three things I do religiously now that the horse has bolted.
Make an SPF moisturiser your BBF
Daily moisturisers featuring built-in, broad-spectrum sunscreens barely existed 25 years ago. If they had, I would have worn one religiously from my early teens onwards, because they’re probably the best insurance policy skin has against premature ageing. Designed to guard against both the sun’s burning UVB rays and the ageing UVA ones, which bombard it all year round, even in winter, they should be the centrepiece of any man’s grooming routine.
I wish I’d slathered an SPF moisturiser on my hands, too. Age spots on your face can be camouflaged with a concealer, but the ones on your hands are almost impossible to shift, even with age-spot correcting creams, and are a constant reminder of your actual age. Now I know why Mr Karl Lagerfeld loved those fingerless leather gloves.
Make the most of your hair while it lasts
Always fancied a pompadour? Never been blonde? Do it. Stray from the fade. Trust me, you’ll regret not experimenting with your hair when baldness has reduced your single styling option to the “Mr Jason Statham”.
And if you fancy a transplant (and techniques have improved so much that they’re barely more troublesome than a back wax these days), think about it when you first notice your thatch is thinning. As I know from first-hand experience, few things are more crushing than the words, “Why didn’t you come to see me earlier?”
Never pick a spot
Like everyone, I ignored the advice about fiddling with spots, too, and regret it every time I look in the mirror and catch sight of a pockmark left after a particularly vigorous picking session carried out in my twenties, when I definitely should have known better.
Instead, apply an anti-blemish treatment – just before bed if possible since they tend to work better while you’re sleeping – and leave well alone. A spot lasts for a few days; the scar it leaves if you pick it will haunt you forever.
Go easy on the EDP
Overdoing the eau de parfum isn’t just profligate; it’s plain bad manners. Fragrance, after all, is meant to pique people’s interest in you just enough so that they want to get closer and investigate. They definitely shouldn’t smell you before they see you. lt took a disparaging comment from a passenger on a plane and an enlightening chat with a perfumer for me to figure that one out.
To avoid etiquette issues, I now stick to a strict “two sprays rule” (sometimes just the one when I’m applying something particularly strong like Le Labo Patchouli 24). Bottom line? It’s quite possible for a man to smell too good.
Classics are always worth investing in
On the subject of fragrance, few people think about the future when they’re looking for a new scent, but here’s why I think they should.
A man’s relationship with fragrance is one of the most important relationships he’ll ever have. Seriously. Nothing will transport you back to a particular time in your life quite like the smell of a favourite fragrance. (I am instantly in my last year of college whenever I smell Dior’s Fahrenheit.)
That’s why it’s worth having one or two time-honoured classics from the likes of Creed, Penhaligon’s or Floris London (or a contemporary fragrance that’s over 10 years old) in your olfactory armoury. Current marketing strategies and an obsession with newness mean many fragrances are only around for a couple of years before being retired. They’ll be fair-weather friends who you’ll forget ever existed. An established classic, on the other hand, will be there for you for life no matter what.
Cut back on the sugar
I did lots of bad things to my skin when I was younger. I sunbathed and I smoked – two things guaranteed to leave it looking like leather. But what I didn’t know then, because it wasn’t really a thing, was just how bad sugar was for my skin, too.
I know now, through talking to dermatologists like Dr Nicholas Perricone, that the sweet stuff bonds with collagen – in a process known as glycation – weakening it and leaving skin prone to sagging and premature ageing. The lesson here? Homer Simpson is the only man on Earth who can eat doughnuts and never actually age.
Use what works for you
One of the questions I’ve been asked most over my career is whether men need to use skincare products specifically labelled “for men”. While it’s true that men’s skin is different to women’s (it’s thicker, oiler and ages differently because of increased collagen density), there are more similarities than differences. So, I’d certainly tell my younger self to be a little more gender blind when it comes to skincare, as what matters most isn’t whether a product is aimed at you but whether it actually works for you. If it does, use it, regardless of whether it comes in a pink bottle and smells of roses. Come to think of it, be bold and use it because it does.