IT WAS JUST another cocktail party at a Central hotel, with the usual well-dressed, perfectly groomed crowd - and we're not just talking about the women. Sporting designer suits, expensive ties and handmade shoes, the men seemed to have taken as much care of their appearance as the women. Or had they? A quick straw-poll revealed that most were still using soap and water to clean their faces - the beauty experts' biggest no-no. And, given the remarkable growth of the male skin-care sector, these men are decidedly behind the times. New lines are continuously being launched to appeal to men. Japanese cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido launched a men's skincare brand in May, and sales are already double initial projections, says company spokesman Wataru Takekoshi. Market analyst Datamonitor predicts that the European and US male personal-care market could rise to US$37.6 billion in 2008 from US$31.5 billion in 2003. 'Ten years ago, a lot of men would use skincare products from ladies' lines,' says Clifton Kwan, cosmetics concierge at Lane Crawford. 'Now, there's a need to have special products for men with technology that targets men's skin. 'And it's not just cleansing and moisturising. More men today are using facial scrubs, masks and body-care items to take care of their skin'. Lauren Bramley, a general practitioner with a special interest in dermatology, says a lot more men now consult her about skin problems. 'Men tend to have slightly oilier skin than women because of their testosterone levels,' Bramley says. 'Under the age of 50, they're producing more sebum [chiefly fat, keratin and cellular material], and our humid climate makes them more prone to acne and break-outs. Pollution plays a role, too. Men tend not to use protective products on their face, so they're more prone to sun and free radical damage - basically, to ageing.' Some of the more common problems men face in Hong Kong include solar keratosis (pre-cancerous flaky dry bumps on the face that don't heal), fungal problems, rosacea (flushing and redness of the face), acne and pigmentation. Problems such as rosacea and acne can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but there are plenty of products available that can help, Bramley says. She's an advocate of topical vitamin C. 'It acts as a very potent antioxidant, which significantly improves photo-protection and reduces the risk of skin cancer,' she says. 'It has potent anti-ageing properties, which improve the appearance of existing sun damage: wrinkles, large pores, pigmentation and solar keratosis. Research shows that topical vitamin C promotes the synthesis of collagen, which is crucial to healthy, younger looking skin.' The good thing for men is that vitamin C builds up in the skin. So, even if they're putting it on their face only twice a week, it has a cumulative effect, so the sun protection will be up to eight times more effective. But Bramley says sunscreen is still necessary if you into direct sunlight. 'We're all susceptible to ageing skin,' she says. 'Women age faster, but everyone needs to look after their skin. Men want to keep it fairly simple. Products that have a high-dose combination of antioxidants, used once to twice daily, usually after shaving, are the way to go. Do everything to prevent accumulative sun damage.' Bramley and Kwan agree that men should use oil-controlling products that correct the skin's tendency to break out. This is all the more important because shaving removes the protective film from the skin, which can cause razor burn and red rashes. SamPar, which went on sale at Lane Crawford in August, has been developed specifically to target environmental damage. Kwan recommends the Nocturnal Lifting Mask for stressed-out skin. 'If you've had a long day at work, or just come out of a smoky, polluted environment, it helps your skin recover,' he says. The range also includes the Prodigal Pen, which should be applied to pimple-prone and problematic skin four or five times a day. Kwan also recommends Polaar, a brand that uses plants from the polar region and contains unusual active ingredients such as Icelandic lichen and polar wild berries, which are said to be highly beneficial for male skin. Other popular brands include Jack Black, Aramis Lab Series and Aesop. Major skincare brands such as Lancome and Shiseido also now have men's lines. Kwan says that men's skin is thicker and harder to penetrate, and recommends using a serum on the skin. 'Serum is really important because the moisturiser works on the surface level, whereas the serum goes down into the inner part of the skin,' he says. 'Some people might think moisturiser is good on its own, but it's not. 'It's important to protect the skin. Aside from moisturiser, always wear sunblock because the UV light in Hong Kong is strong. Aftershave is important because it calms and protects the skin.' Kwan says a lot of men skip eye cream - even though a good eye cream can prevent the bags that result from stress, working long hours and lack of sleep. But don't use soap. Experts agree that it strips down the skin, and fails to stop ageing. Bramley has a tip for partners who want their men to wear skincare products. 'I starting putting products on my husband when he was asleep. When he started to see results, I told him what I was doing. If you've got a husband who's a bit lazy, even three times a week will make a difference.'