This article series is now available as a professionally formatted, distraction free paperback or ebook to read offline at your leisure.
I know. I know. You’re probably thinking, “Does Brett think all young men are a bunch of uncouth ignoramuses who need an article reminding them to practice basic hygiene?” No. No, I don’t. But from my own personal experience and observing the lives of young men heading out on their own for the first time, I do know that keeping up with regular hygiene practices falls to the wayside for many young gents. With the stress of school and work, along with the lack of structure they once had at home, it’s easy to let yourself go.
This post is just a friendly reminder to keep up those regular grooming habits you hopefully formed in your youth. If you haven’t developed these habits yet, now is a good time to start. You’ll feel more alert, have more confidence, and won’t repel the ladies. As an added bonus, maintaining good bodily hygiene can help you become a man of character like Benjamin Franklin: cleanliness was one of his 13 virtues. Let me be clear. I’m in no way suggesting you become overly fastidious about your personal grooming and hygiene.
That sort of preening isn’t attractive in a man, and you probably have better things to be doing than standing in the mirror worrying about blemishes. All I’m encouraging is keeping up with the basic stuff you learned in elementary school health class that will keep you smelling fresh and looking presentable.
Brush and floss every day, morning and night. This was the first habit that I let slip when I went away from home the first time. Between waking up late for class and staying up late into the evening playing video games, my morning and evening dental care became pretty irregular. But I paid for my negligence by having to get two cavities filled at the end of the semester. What a preventable waste of money. Invest three minutes of your day, morning and night, into proper dental hygiene. Brush twice a day, floss once. Even if you’re dog tired and ready to go to bed, make the effort to get it done. Include a tongue scraping in your routine, too. That really helps in decreasing bad breath. Taking care of your oral hygiene is a habit that will save you money in the long run and increase the chances for that kiss at the end of a date.
Shower regularly. You’ll have that occasional string of days when you’re so busy that you don’t have time to shower. But don’t let your shower-less-ness go on for more than three days. If you get a job in a restaurant, it’s important to shower after every shift, unless of course you’re dating someone who enjoys nuzzling a man who smells like refried beans.
I’ve had several young folks ask me if there’s some sort of special “manly” soap or shampoo they should use. Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap is a favorite of mine. You can find it at most health food stores. You can use it on both your skin and hair, it’s supposed to help with everything from psoriasis to dandruff, and it leaves you smelling like a basement in Vermont…in the best possible way. But really, your soap choice doesn’t matter, even though there’s a bunch of new marketing and “men’s-only” soaps and shampoos telling you otherwise. Get the giant econo pack of Irish Spring and you’re good to go. If you have very sensitive or acne-prone skin, get a special facial soap for those needs.
Go easy on the cologne. Body sprays are heavily marketed to young men as a foolproof way to attract the ladies, leading some guys to go overboard with enveloping themselves in a cloud of it before going out. Instead, apply just a couple of dabs or sprays of cologne to areas like your neck or the insides of your wrists if you want to wear a fragrance. For a young man on a budget, colognes need not be any more expensive than body sprays — there are many drugstore varieties that only cost a few bucks and have very appealing and masculine scents.
Make friends with Gold Bond Powder. Nothing keeps away the swamp crotch and stinky feet like Gold Bond Powder. If you live in hot, humid climates, Gold Bond is a must. Just sprinkle some on your junk and in your shoes. You’ll stay cool and dry all day long.
Keep your nails trimmed. Unless you’re a flamenco guitarist or going for a Guinness World Record, keep your fingernails trimmed. Don’t chew them; gnawed up nails are not attractive and give some people the heebie-jeebies. Get a simple nail clipper and give your nails a quick trim once a week before you hop into the shower. Follow the natural curve of your finger as you cut, leaving the thin, white, unattached crescent of the nail about as wide as a dime. Just enough to still scratch your head. It’s important to keep your toenails trimmed, too, especially since flips-flops are incredibly popular footwear for young men. You don’t want to look like a sloth, and scrape your woman’s legs with your claws when you’re canoodling. But don’t go overboard with the toenail trimming. Excessive trimming can lead to ingrown toenails. Cut straight across the nail and leave them a little a long. Toenails that are cut too short are prone to burrowing back into your flesh. Whether you’re trimming your fingernails or toenails, be sure to clean up afterwards — don’t leave your trimmings on the floor or countertop. If you’ve got dirt under your nails, scoop it out with the nail file that is probably attached to your clippers. And if you get a hangnail, carefully clip it off, rather than pulling at it and making it bleed.
Unless you have extended-wear contacts, take your contacts out every night. Sleeping with your contacts in several nights in a row makes you susceptible to corneal ulcers. I know a guy who got ’em because he never took his contacts out. Even with extended-wear contacts, my optometrist told me it’s still not a good idea to wear them to sleep in for more than a few nights in a row.
Shave regularly/keep facial hair groomed. College is a time when many young men start experimenting with facial hair. Nothing wrong with that at all. But whether you go with a full-on beard or a distinguished mustache, commit to it and keep it groomed. Don’t be one of those guys who grows a patchy neckbeard every two weeks because he’s too lazy to shave. Two days of scruff can be attractive. Two weeks of ungroomed, patchy neckbeard growth looks gross. If you’re going to go neckbeard, do it right. When it comes to shaving, if you’ve grown up using a cartridge razor, now’s a good time to experiment with using a safety razor and making shaving more of an enjoyable ritual in your life.
Keep your hair trimmed. Just as in facial hair, college is a time where guys both experiment with growing their hair out and get kind of lazy with taking care of it. Letting your hair get a little shaggy is a normal part of the college experience. But don’t let it get totally out of hand; it’s time for a trim when it becomes a distraction to you. I didn’t get my hair cut at all my first semester, and my hair, which is naturally quite thick and ample, became a giant, unattractive bowl that made me feel nappy and disheveled. When your hair is getting in your eyes and stuff, it’s time for a haircut. What, what’s that you say? Some young men purposefully grow out Bieber-esque bangs that they swing from side to side and push out of their eyes every few minutes? Why would a man want to mess with his hair that much? What’s that you say? I sound like an old man? Yes, yes I do. By the way, just as now is a good time to try shaving with a safety razor, if you’ve only gotten your haircut at Supercuts growing up, now’s a good time to start taking part in the manly ritual of visiting a local barbershop. Get some friends together and go try it. Here’s a guide on how to pick a good barber.
Treat your acne. Having acne can make you feel really self-conscious and sap your self-confidence. But in this day and age, it’s easily treatable in the vast majority of cases, and there’s absolutely no need to suffer through it. If you’ve got a mild case, wash your face morning and night with a face wash made for acne-prone skin and spot treat pimples with a benzoyl peroxide cream when they pop up. If that dries out your skin, use a face wash for acne-prone skin once a day, and a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil once a day. If you get more than an occasional pimple, you might be tempted to try something like Proactiv, but there are much cheaper alternatives out there. Proactiv basically consists of a face wash and topical treatment in which the active ingredient is benzoyl peroxide. But you can buy generic benzoyl peroxide face washes and creams separately at the drugstore for a fraction of the cost. Try that first. Keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide can bleach your clothes and pillowcase, so wash the cream off your fingers after you apply it, and don’t put it on during the day, as it can sweat into the collar of your colored shirt. Use a white pillow case at home, and remember this when you visit someone! It can also help to get a short haircut that keeps the hair off your face and skin (see, not just an old man thing– there are truly practical reasons for keeping it short!) and to wash your pillowcase regularly. If your acne doesn’t clear up, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor, as they can prescribe antibiotics and topical treatments that can clear up your face entirely. Finally, if you’ve got bacne, here’s a post about how to deal with it.
Wash your hands. A 2005 survey at ballparks indicated that 37 percent of men didn’t wash their hands after using the restroom. Gross. If you want to stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season, wash your hands regularly. I always disregarded this injunction too, until one semester in college I came down with a flu that left me with it coming out of both ends, and stuck shivering and feverish in bed for several days; I couldn’t do anything fun, or workout, or study, even though I really needed to. It sucked big time and wasted a week of my life. After that experience, I became better at hand-washing. On a related note…get a flu shot every year. If you’re a student, your school might offer them for free at the student health center, otherwise you can get them for $25 at Walgreens. It’s one of the best investments you can make…you can’t put a price on a whole week of your life.