You probably need that new product, right? The ‘age-correcting’ 24-hour serum with SPF 15 (paraben free, of course) that just launched. You’ll find it on the shelf between the toners and BB creams. While you ponder your purchase, why not check out the fragrance counter and compare the top notes of the summer’s hottest new scents? Bergamot is in, FYI. And if you’re wondering what the hell that is, it’s just grooming speak for ‘fancy lemon’.

Leave a bitter taste in your mouth? You’re not alone. Many a product peddler has profited from man’s collective desire to scrub up a little better, and they’ve invariably done so using either aspirational bluster or terms so ‘sciencey’ that they cease to have any meaning. Frequently, we approach the unguents counter with a dollop of trepidation; less frequently do we walk away with what we actually wanted.

Indeed, so perplexing is grooming terminology now that we need a specialist thesaurus like oily skin needs a water-based toner. Or at least, we think that’s what oily skin needs. You see, compared with the beauty industry, grooming is still a rather nascent sector. And, as it stands, we’re neither as fair nor as au fait as the other sex.

Which is why we’ve created this field manual, to cut through the confusing marketing speak used to push products. Let plain English prevail, so that you can make every purchase with confidence and ensure that what you’re getting is exactly what your skin, hair and body need. If the age-correcting serum still finds its way into your basket, at least you’ll know what it does instead of lathering it on your elbows and waiting for handsome to happen.

Here are the products and terms that confuse us chaps most, with the definitions you need to make informed decisions from now on. Pore over this, and you’ll be able to talk the toner talk before you walk the wallet walk.

1. Serum

Oddly taking its name from the liquid within blood plasma, cosmetic serums, like their biological namesake, are designed to transport important compounds. Whereas in your body serum carries immune cells, in a bottle on the Boots counter, it delivers anti-ageing benefits to your face.

The promise is that this transportation method enables deeper skin penetration for a much more effective moisturising than your bog-standard cream. And it’s a promise on which it delivers: serums are popular with dermatologists and beauty experts alike.

Plainly Speaking: Your moisturiser looks upon this slicker counterpart with envious eyes.

  • About Face Billy JealousyAbout Face Billy Jealousy
  • Lab Series Max Overnight Renewal Serum 30mlLab Series Max Overnight Renewal Serum 30ml
  • Ren Vita Mineral Omega 3 Optimum Skin Serum Oil 30mlRen Vita Mineral Omega 3 Optimum Skin Serum Oil 30ml
  • Anti-wrinkle Glycolic Peptide Serum Anthony LogisticsAnti-wrinkle Glycolic Peptide Serum Anthony Logistics
  • Botanics Mens Anti Ageing Serum 30mlBotanics Mens Anti Ageing Serum 30ml
  • Lab Series Power Brightening Face Serum 50mlLab Series Power Brightening Face Serum 50ml

2. Toner

It would be remiss of us not to first mention that a lot of men don’t need a toner. If you’re blessed with a comparatively even complexion (lucky sod), then a regular face wash will do just fine.

For the rest of us, toners are there to reduce blemishes and blotches, improving the overall ‘tone’ of your face.

Usually applied at some stage between showering and moisturising, or indeed serum application, these products are effective for men who wear a hangover on their face or simply desire a cleaner countenance.

Plainly Speaking: Fancy face wash that evens out your skin tone. If you need it, that is.

  • Simple Kind To Skin Soothing Facial Toner 200mlSimple Kind To Skin Soothing Facial Toner 200ml
  • Nivea Daily Essentials Refreshing Toner 200mlNivea Daily Essentials Refreshing Toner 200ml
  • Herbal Mint Toner Baxter Of CaliforniaHerbal Mint Toner Baxter Of California
  • Murad Blemish Control Clarifying Toner 180mlMurad Blemish Control Clarifying Toner 180ml
  • Men-U Matt Skin Refresh Gel 100mlMen-U Matt Skin Refresh Gel 100ml
  • Anthony Logistics For Men Astringent Oil Control Toner PadsAnthony Logistics For Men Astringent Oil Control Toner Pads

3. BB Cream

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Channel 5’s dwindling reality show had launched a cosmetic range, but BB in this instance stands for blemish balm.

After girls went wild for what was effectively a complexion-clearing cheat code, brands immediately saw pound signs and released BB creams for men, too.

BB cream works as a moisturiser that leaves behind a subtle, make-up-like foundation, with brands dubbing it an all-in-one solution. We call it something best left to days when you’ve been burning the midnight oil and a paper bag seems like too extreme a cosmetic solution.

Plainly Speaking: Call it what you want – it’s make-up for men from where we’re standing.

  • Lab Series Bb Tinted Moisturiser 50ml Spf35Lab Series Bb Tinted Moisturiser 50ml Spf35
  • Dr. Brandt Signature Bb Cream With Flexitone 30gDr. Brandt Signature Bb Cream With Flexitone 30g
  • Clinique Age Defense Bb Cream Spf30Clinique Age Defense Bb Cream Spf30
  • Nivea Daily Essentials Bb Cream 5 In 1 Beautifying Moisturiser Light 50mlNivea Daily Essentials Bb Cream 5 In 1 Beautifying Moisturiser Light 50ml
  • Garnier Skin Perfector Daily All-in-one B.b. Blemish Balm Cream Medium 50mlGarnier Skin Perfector Daily All-in-one B.b. Blemish Balm Cream Medium 50ml
  • Kiehls Actively Correcting & Beautifying Bb Cream Spf 50Kiehls Actively Correcting & Beautifying Bb Cream Spf 50

4. Age-Correction

While ‘age-correction’ might ring like a mission to bin off the elderly, it is in fact the industry’s rather insensitive way of reminding you that ageing is now a mortal sin and we must all aim to stay as close to pre-teen as possible.

If that floats your boat, then you may want to consider an age-correcting/anti-ageing product, many of which deliver collagen to your face, thereby increasing elasticity in your skin and offering a facade that belies your years on this earth.

Proceed with caution, though: using an age-erasing product too early can slow your body’s natural production of collagen. Best deployed when time’s winged chariot is really clipping at your heels.

Plainly Speaking: Defy time. Or at least look as handsome as you did two weeks ago.

  • Elemis Men Time Defence Wrinkle Delay MoisturiserElemis Men Time Defence Wrinkle Delay Moisturiser
  • Lab Series Max Ls Power V Lifting Cream 50mlLab Series Max Ls Power V Lifting Cream 50ml
  • Clarins Clarinsmen Line Control Cream For Dry Skin 50mlClarins Clarinsmen Line Control Cream For Dry Skin 50ml
  • Loreal Men Expert Vita Lift 5 Complete Anti-ageing Moisturiser 50mlLoreal Men Expert Vita Lift 5 Complete Anti-ageing Moisturiser 50ml
  • Polaar – Intensive Anti-aging Care 50mlPolaar - Intensive Anti-aging Care 50ml
  • Elemis Pro-collagen Marine CreamElemis Pro-collagen Marine Cream

5. SPF Moisturisers

Like all real men, you’ve been methodically neglecting this stuff because, y’know, who cares? Well it turns out, you should. Men are far more likely to fall foul of skin cancer than women, in no small part due to the fact that we tend to sidestep the SPF.

But you’ve heard of it before, so why is it in this list? Because in moisturisers it’s utterly confusing. The ratings are often too low to have a notable effect, plus an SPF 15 lip balm doesn’t give you carte blanche to sizzle topless on whatever part of the Costas you hit this summer.

Useful as a stealthy top-up, useless as your only line of defence.

Plainly Speaking: Unless you cover yourself in the moisturiser, yes, you still need that Piz Buin.

  • Lab Series Daily Moisture Defence Lotion Spf 15 100mlLab Series Daily Moisture Defence Lotion Spf 15 100ml
  • Murad Anti-aging Moisturiser Spf 20 Pa++Murad Anti-aging Moisturiser Spf 20 Pa++
  • Clinique M Protect Spf 21Clinique M Protect Spf 21
  • Anthony Logistics For Men Oil Free Facial Lotion Spf 30Anthony Logistics For Men Oil Free Facial Lotion Spf 30
  • Jack Black Double Duty Face Moisturiser 97mlJack Black Double Duty Face Moisturiser 97ml
  • Dove Men+care Moisturiser Hydrate+ 50mlDove Men+care Moisturiser Hydrate+ 50ml

6. Top Note

While it might sound like part of a musical score, this is in fact a way of describing the composition of a fragrance. And while you might at first find this little piece of olfactory vernacular smelling of little more than eau de toilet, it can be useful when making your next bottle purchase.

The top note is what you’ll get in the store: it’s the combination of smells – usually citrus – that hit you first on spraying but that dissipate over time. Next is the heart note: deeper scents that also eventually give way.

What you’re left with is a combination of the heart and the lingering base notes. While you should never use these terms in good company, you can put them to use by spraying on a sample and continuing shopping for forty minutes before coming back. The smell left on your wrist is effectively the smell you’re buying.

Plainly Speaking: A fragrance manufacturer’s way of saying, “What smells are in ‘ere”.

Fragrance Top Notes

7. Dry Down

No, we’re not about to tell you there’s a lofty name for post-shower towelling technique. Dry down is in fact a term that’s used to describe the gradual diminishing of fragrance notes outlined above.

We’ve included it in case you don’t heed our aforementioned advice, find yourself at a party discussing the olfactory delights of the latest Tom Ford scent, and feel the need to whip out terminology to impress the other guests.

In which case you, sir, are now part of the grooming jargon problem. Time to get new friends.

Plainly Speaking: What happens to your fragrance over time; y’know, the liquid dries…

Final Word

Arm yourself with this guide to grooming-ese, and you’ll not only emerge from the marketing minefield unscathed, but a little more handsome to boot.

Are there any other products that leave you perplexed to the bottom layer of your dermis?

Let us know in the comments below.