Stroll down any drug store aisle or scroll through your Instagram feed and, chances are, you’ll be confronted by a grooming product you’ve never seen before from a brand you’ve never heard of for a purpose you’re not quite sure about.
Because the men’s grooming industry is big business (to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year), every brand from Gillette to Harry’s to Old Spice has developed and released an ever-expanding roster of products to help men primp and pamper themselves into oblivion.
And since we know you’re not made of money (neither are we), The Manual Grooming Awards 2019 is here to help you, the average American man, sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to your grooming regimen.
Take a look at our favorites below. Try a few out. We guarantee you’ll be impressed. And if you’re not, let us know.
Oh, and if you want each and every winning product, head over to our giveaway page for your chance to score all 18 winners without spending a dime.
The importance of a first impression is real and the first thing people notice is the face. Lab Series’ Day Rescue SPF 35 is the one moisturizer out of the many we tried that successfully included a broad-spectrum sunscreen without resulting in an overly greasy consistency. Our enthusiasm for this moisturizer is multifold. A little goes a long way; the scent is innocuous, even if it is a little sunscreen-y; the price is right; and it protects against premature aging, wrinkling, and sunburn. The only downside to using this as your everyday moisturizer? You won’t want to use it before heading to bed as it would be a waste of its sun-protecting abilities.
Best Eye Cream
Unlike a lot of men-focused eye creams and gels that contain alcohol to temporarily tighten the skin (by actually drying it out), Perricone M.D.’s Firming Eye Cream contains only fatty alcohols (which are good for the skin), along with other hydrating and skin-firming ingredients like hyaluronic acid (an ingredient that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water) and squalene. We liked Perricone’s eye cream best for its lack of fragrance, ability to reduce swelling of the under-eye area (thanks to a variety of inflammation-fighting peptides), its thick consistency (which makes it great to wear overnight), and its masculine, green glass packaging.
Best Face Wash
So many men think they either a) don’t need a face wash at all and can just use whatever they use on their body while in the shower or b) if they do use a face wash, they want it to have the chemical strength of paint stripper. For some reason, guys have this belief that if they don’t dry their face out entirely while washing, then it isn’t clean. And that’s just not true, which is why we chose CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser as the best face wash for men. Not only is the formula approved by the National Eczema Association (so you know it’s gotta be good), it’s also non-comedogenic (aka won’t clog pores) and super gentle on even the most sensitive of skin. For those with skin on the drier side, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and proprietary MVE Delivery Technology provide 24-hour controlled hydration. For many men, using CeraVe might mean you can go without a regular moisturizer throughout the day and that’s both a time and money saver.
Best Face Mask
Yeah, the name Bro Mask might not have the most welcoming of connotations, but we applaud its boldness. We also applaud the fact that it is an amazing face mask designed specifically for men and it beat out all its competition by a long shot. While other men’s grooming brands are still stuck in the charcoal mud mask rut, Bro Mask left the liquid behind and went straight to hydrogel. And hydrogel isn’t what you find in other sheet masks — those are mostly made of cotton. By making Bro Mask out of hydrogel, which can hold large amounts of liquid (like the collagen, vitamin B3, and peptide-infused serum in the mask itself), it is better able to bind to the skin, even when there is stubble or short facial hair present, and remains moist for longer, allowing better absorption of the serum. But it’s not just the engineering that makes Bro Mask our top pick, it’s the fact that, after one treatment and a good night’s sleep, it really does improve the appearance of a man’s skin. From reducing redness and puffiness to improving acne spots and dry patches, Bro Mask is the skincare power move you need employ to win the grooming game.
Best Acne Spot Treatment
Most acne spot treatments are filled with alcohol, acids, and botanicals to dry the spot, manage irritation, and reduce redness. Our favorite acne spot treatment, in the form of Mighty Patch, doesn’t contain any of those chemicals and doesn’t promise to reduce redness or irritation. This patch’s only claim is that it will suck the pimple-producing bacteria directly from its source. Technically termed a “hydrocolloid acne patch,” Mighty Patch must be used on a pimple that has pus or bacteria inside it. Sorry boys, this won’t work on one you’ve already popped (which you shouldn’t do anyway!). The hydrocolloid absorbs excess oil, pus, and other impurities, while the patch itself helps prevent picking and popping. Wear it overnight and we fully expect you’ll see an almost 100-percent reduction in your whitehead by morning.
Having a dry scalp isn’t just embarrassing because of its partner in crime, dandruff; it’s downright bad for your hair. A dry scalp means a dry hair follicle, and a dry hair follicle is more likely to shed its hair than a moist one. Sachajuan’s Scalp Conditioner secured the top spot as the best conditioner in this year’s Grooming Awards because it is a beast at taming dry scalps and dry hair. Climbazole, piroctone olamine, and salicylic acid act as chemical exfoliants to destroy the outer layer of dry skin — flakes and all — while rosemary oil, methold, ginger extract, and oat oil soothe irritation and redness. The bottle also looks damned handsome in your shower, so much so that you might have to look out for thieving roommates or even girlfriends.
When looking for the best shampoo for men, we specifically set out to find something that wasn’t going to dry out our hair. Why? Because we know many men will do the least possible in the name of efficiency (and also maybe laziness … ) and that often means skipping the conditioner, which is a terrible idea since you’re missing out on a key factor in rehydrating your hair. So, with all that in mind, we found Blackwood’s Hydroblast shampoo. This product was the only one we tested that both cleaned our hair and left it soft and moisturized, meaning no frizz, flyaways, or shedding — even when we tested without the application of conditioner afterward. In short, if you prefer to only use shampoo, at least make it this one.
Any good pomade is going to provide a natural-looking hold that isn’t stiff or crunchy such as what you’d get with a gel, and also isn’t as soft and pliable as you get when using a clay. We also prefer a medium-shine instead of something super glossy. We’re no Valentino. Triumph & Disaster, hailing from way down south in New Zealand, and its Ponsonby Pomade meet all the marks when it comes to being a great pomade with the added benefit of being water-based, so it washes out extremely easily and cleanly. Its medium hold and medium shine are perfect for anything from a styling a fade with a hard part to a pompadour.
Best Hair Clay
For anyone looking for a product that will set your hair in place, but not look stiff or static, while also providing a matte finish, hair clay is the answer. It’s a versatile and easy-to-use grooming must that can be employed to add height or volume to almost any medium-length or longer hairstyle. Aveda Men’s Pure-Formance Grooming Clay won our vote for best hair clay because of its effectiveness (good hold without being too “hard”), matte finish, and great smell with hints of lavender and spearmint. It also washes out easily, making shower time that much faster.
If you’re a regular reader of The Manual, then you already know that we are not proponents of the multi-blade razor for a variety of reasons, the main one being that it doesn’t work for men of color or men with tightly curled facial hair. Rather than making a clean cut through the hair, the blades will often pull and rip. Bevel’s safety razor was specifically designed for use by men of color, but we find it to be just as good for all men. The razor features a nice amount of weight, providing plenty of control where needed, such as the delicate areas of the neck and under the nose, and the design makes for an easy swap-out of old blades. Speaking of replacement blades, a safety razor works best with a fresh blade every time, but no matter, the blades are cheap — much cheaper than the replacement heads for those multi-bladed monsters.
Best Shaving Cream
A good tub of thick shaving cream is just what the barber ordered. Or at least what he would order if he could offer prescriptions like a doctor. Take our advice and soften your next shave with the Art of Shaving’s Sandalwood shaving cream. The light scent combined with its super thickness, super conditioning, and super slick consistency provides for a remarkably close shave without the negative side effects of alcohol-laden foam creams. When using a brush, it lathers up luxuriously and lifts hairs away from the follicle. You will rarely get an ingrown hair when using this cream combined with the best razor above.
Best Beard Oil
Out of all the products we tested, the beard offerings were the hardest. Many, many of the beard oils we tried were each as good as the other, and to a certain extent, almost indistinguishable from each other, too. When it came down to making the final call, only scent and ingredients divided the best from the “almost best.” Keihl’s Nourishing Beard Grooming Oil is 99.8 percent naturally derived, so there were no arguments there. The scent — a combination of cedarwood, sandalwood, and eucalyptus — was warm enough and masculine enough to win us over. The final aspect that sealed the deal for us was the fact that, about a half hour after application, all the oil is visibly absorbed, leaving your face moisturized and matte rather than greasy and shiny.
Best Beard Trimmer
Though we tested quite a few trimmers solely dedicated to trimming actual beards, we ended up using and enjoying a hybrid beard and body trimmer most often. What that meant to us was that we didn’t need a dedicated beard trimmer to keep our facial hair in shape and we could save a lot of money by going with a gadget that served double duty. The OneBlade Face + Body trimmer took our top spot because of its relatively low price, excellent blade engineering, multiple hair length options, ability to be used wet or dry, and dual-purpose nature. It does just as good a job on less public regions (for those that indulge) as it does on beards, which by itself is kind of awesome.
For some reason, the trend in aftershave balms has tended toward thick and highly viscous when it comes to consistency. Going against the grain (which you should not do when shaving), Nivea has kept its classic sensitive post-shave balm more liquid-like and thus it applies much more easily than the others we tested. We found the ease of application, fresh scent, and soothing ingredients, like witch hazel and chamomile, to be the ideal solution to calm angry post-shave skin. The fairly low price also scored this one enough points to place it just barely on the top spot.
We always like to recommend natural deodorants whenever possible not only because they’re better for your body (you’re not absorbing aluminum and other chemicals through your skin), but also because they save your clothes from sweat stains. Many men don’t realize your clothes get pit stains because of the chemical reaction of conventional deodorants with your body’s perspiration (as sealed in by the dryer). To keep your clothes fresh and your pits even fresher, try Oars + Alps Sensitive Natural Deodorant, specifically the Deep Sea Glacier scent. It smells amazing, adequately neutralizes odor (after your body has time to acclimate to it), goes on easy, lasts for at least a month or more, and best of all, can be bought at your local Target for the price of a household-name product.
Best Body Wash
No, Harry’s didn’t find itself winning best razor (remember what we said about not being huge fans of multi-bladed ones), but it did win best body wash. Why? A few very good reasons. One: It smells great. Two: It contains no parabens, sulfates, dyes, or other nasty chemicals. And three: It’s hydrating, extremely inexpensive, and comes in a huge bottle. Oh, and did we mention it smells great? When it came down to it, Harry’s blew every other body wash out of the water the basics that go into a great grooming product. Scent, price, and quantity — how can you say no to a triple-threat like that?
There are two main factors for consideration when looking for the best sunscreen. The first: It has to effectively block UVA and UVB rays in order to prevent a sunburn (which leads to premature aging, dark spots, wrinkles, and potentially cancer). The second: It has to be reef-safe so that coral reefs don’t continue to suffer from the bleaching events that many other sunscreens with non-mineral chemicals contribute to. Bare Republic’s Mineral SPF Spray (with our scent preference being Citrus Cooler) hits both of the main requirements for a great sunscreen and exceeds them by adding a dose of amazing scent. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide act as the main ingredients in this sunscreen, meaning it does require rubbing in after spray, but we think that makes it even better because it forces you to really know where you’ve applied it. What’s better, it goes on slightly white, which also helps to prevent missing a spot. Finally, it’s water resistant and only needs reapplication every 80 minutes.
Best Body Lotion
We should have known when we began doing our initial tests for the Grooming Awards that anything containing baobab oil was going to be declared the champion. It would have saved us time and a lot of extremely moisturized limbs and hands. However, all that testing did lead to one conclusion: H2L Premium Natural Hydrating Body Lotion should be your go-to body lotion for now and the foreseeable future. Absorbing quickly while conditioning deeply, Be the Architect’s H2L lotion leaves a light and enticing scent that you’ll quickly forget about until suddenly you get a whiff of it again and you realize why you loved this lotion so much in the first place. It also doesn’t seem to cause any irritation in any of the testers who tried the product, so we’re going to add “safe for sensitive skin” to the long list of attributes that went into making this body lotion our winner for 2019.
Written and produced by Chase McPeak
Copy editing by Jeremy Abrams
Photography by Dan Baker
Art direction by Genevieve Poblano