Most of us are fairly paranoid about our looks, and for good reason: we all make quick judgments about other people based on the way they look—and we all know they're doing the same to us. So how do we deal with this situation and cobble together some self-esteem? Well, let's start by putting our best face forward—or at least an acne- and wrinkle-free one.

There are two basic ways to build a respectable visage: just like everything else in the free world, you can either do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. Taking the matter into your own hands can be overwhelming because of the enormous array of beauty products on the market — for an adult male, it might be easier to start learning Conversational !Kung than to decipher the difference between an alpha hydroxy exfoliant and an occlusive moisturizer.

The second option — having someone else handle the problem — is a good way to find a salve for years of untreated dermal abuse, and to see first-hand what beauticians do and have a chance to ask them for tips. But remember: whether you decide to give yourself a make-over or to pay for one at a salon, you're going to need to know some basic skin-care tips for daily maintenance. Most experts agree that a standard three-step regimen is all you need to keep your face in good shape. Of course, if you have more serious skin conditions, we can give you some great places to start looking for more involved solutions.


If this step is a surprise to you, you are really going to need help with your skin. If you don't want your face to look like crap, then clean it! Do we really need to say more than that?

Well, actually, we do. Simply knowing that you need to wash your face everyday is not going to cut it – you still have to learn what to do all that cleaning with. Basically you will need a soap of some sort. But don't just start scrubbing that Irish Spring onto your cheeks or you'll end up looking like a leper: regular soap can really dry out your skin, leaving it desiccated and flaky. Once upon a time, soap was simply the product of a process that involved boiling up dead animals and tossing an alkali into the mix. We've moved beyond the tribal cow-boil to the stage where regular body soap now is usually a synthetic detergent composed of fatty acids derived principally from coconuts — so applying it to your face will have the same affect as a ride in a Hawaiian clothes dryer. Instead what you'll need is a soap formulated to interact favorably with the chemistry of your particular type of skin.

All soaps work on filth by acting like a pair of handcuffs: one loop snags the bad guy — oil — and makes it soluble; the other hangs on to the good guy — water — and gets that grease the hell out of there. This little cops ‘n robbers scenario plays out a little differently for different skin types.

If you have Dry Skin, you'll need to pump a little moisture into your face with your soap. Look for brands of soap that contain either glycerine or a type of silicone, such as cyclomethicone or dimethicone. These bad boys actually add moisture to your skin, which is key unless you want to feel like someone is suffocating you with cling film.

If you have Oily Skin, you're going to want to dry up some of that grease with your soap. Oil is the evil glue that sticks all that filth to your face. In turn, that filth clogs up your pores and starts the volcanic acne eruptions we've all enjoyed at one point or another. Quell the geological upheavals by using a soap that contains salicylic acid.

If you have Sensitive Skin, you're going to need something a little milder than the typical ingredients. Believe it or not, the leading contender here is something called propylene glycol — which, when not gently easing you into a life of ivory cheeks, pulls double duty as the prime ingredient in antifreeze and the stuff they use to de-ice planes.

If you have Normal Skin, count your blessings you lucky bastard. Then hunt for soaps that use lanolin, a handy extract from the oil glands of sheep. Hey, why else do you think those Welshman and New Zealanders look so hale? What did you think they were doing with those sheep?

So you're almost certainly wondering where the hell to get all this stuff (and we're only one-third of the way into our skin care routine). Of course any decent pharmacy or cosmetics counter will carry products with these ingredients, and if you know what you're looking for on the box, you'll be in great shape. But an easier way to find your new toys may be online. Check out The Skin Store to purchase products on the net. But once you fall into that ocean of goodies, you'll probably need some help wading through them to pick the best ones. For that, check out the Prevention site for the best skin care products of 1998.

Another early question you may have is what exactly "daily" means — should you be doing this regimen once a day, twice, or more? We're going to say that it means once a day, preferably in the morning, at a minimum. Many women, and Cure fans, may want to go through it twice: once to start the day by looking their best, and then again at night to remove any make-up before going to bed. Experts will tell you that this is a highly individualized choice. It's quite possible to harm your skin by over-treating it; scrubbing, exfoliating, and kneading yourself constantly is more likely to make you look like a well-used saddle than a fresh nymph. So try running through this workout with different frequency and judge for yourself the best results. We think you'll find that at least once a day will be a good place to start.