Dear modern society,
Men should be allowed to rub skin cream into their skin. Deal with it.
The message I’m writing really should not need any historical precedent. For one thing, we accept that men and women both have teeth, and not only is it permissible for both men and women to brush their teeth, this is encouraged. What a daring new development! People in other societies might have looked down on our teeth care as a purely cosmetic preoccupation, but we know that teeth are important to our overall bodily health and that as responsible human beings we should take good care of them. Why isn’t the story the same with skin care? Both men and women have skin, and skin is a very important organ, regardless of gender. If it is damaged, it can become a site of infection. Worst of all, sun-damaged skin can become cancerous. A freckle-sized melanoma just one millimetre deep can become malignant, causing slow and horrifying deaths for thousands in cancer wards.
Skin care isn’t a superficial concern. Neglecting your skin can kill you, especially if you spend a decent amount of your life in the sun, as many men do. And a lot of these males don’t bother with sunscreen or any other skin product with built-in SPF, like SPF-moisturiser. In fact, perhaps because of their higher sun exposure and less scrupulous skin care, skin cancer death rates are 70% higher in men than in women.
What’s more, men have a good reason to complain about the skin on their face. They shave it, every single day, with freaking razor blades. By the sounds of it, it’s darned uncomfortable. The skin on women’s faces doesn’t go through nearly as much roughing up. Health benefits aside, wouldn’t it be simply, well, nice to rub every inch of your face over with a soothing satin-blend of coconut butter, sheep sweat, and collagen? Have you never fantasised about stepping out of a hot shower and massaging a puree of cooled sweetness into your warm, slightly aching skin?
But alas, modern society, it is clear that you have fallen prey to baseless insecurities. Somehow putting lotion on one’s face when it feels dry is “effeminate”, as if only women’s skin acts like real skin. Wayward modern world, you are in dire need of an ancient grain of wisdom.
Real men wear moisturiser.
And they liked it, and probably enjoyed health benefits from it, too.
Sources: The Bible
I use the bible to show that modern society arbitrarily imposes gender boundaries on the use of skin-care products. The fact that these implications are particularly relevant for Christians does not ruin the message for everyone else. Historically, and biblically, whichever way you look at it, men incorporated skin care into their daily grooming. There is nothing inherently feminine about rubbing your skin with sweet-smelling lotion, and liking it as well. That is the point I’m getting at.
Let’s take a look at one of the Psalms.
He [God] makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.
King David is thanking God for the daily blessings he gives people to enjoy. Note that the “oil to make their faces shine” is juxtaposed between two daily consumable items, wine and bread. This suggests that oil was another one of those daily consumables. Furthermore, the pleasant effects of these products are described in similar terms; wine gladdens you in your heart, oil is good for your face, bread sustains you.
This implies that David, like many men in the hot, sunny Ancient Near East, rubbed oil on his face as part of his daily grooming routine. This much is confirmed when David put aside his normal habit of rubbing lotion on his face as he mourned for his dying child. Conversely, when he abruptly stopped mourning, the text explicitly said that he resumed his skin-care habit, and went back to rubbing oil on his face. Face lotion is both the stuff of kings and of ordinary life.
And it is clearly enjoyable. It is one of the simple, beautiful pleasures in life. Since God gives you these things to enjoy, you might as well enjoy them. That is the point that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes took great pains to get across:
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which he has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have laboured under the sun.
Face-oil is associated with happiness, bread and wine, clean clothes, and the simple pleasures. That is what moves Ecclesiastes to recommend the habit of rubbing oil in your face.
This good habit continues into the time of the New Testament. Jesus encouraged both men and women to keep using oil even when they were fasting. Deliberately putting face-oil aside was as a shallow, superficial action – men neglect their skin when they want everyone to notice how miserable they are during fasting. To combat this shallow pretence, Jesus urged:
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
If it is so appropriate to use face-oil while fasting, how much more appropriate would it be to use face-oil every day? That is clearly what people were doing for many centuries, if not for millennia, back in the day when men went out to work hard labour in the sun. Some Egyptians went as far as to wear cones of solidified oil on their heads like hats, so that as they melted in the heat of the day the oil would trickle into their hair and all over their faces, cooling and saturating them with a nice perfumed scent. That might not be the most practical thing now, considering how much of a mess it would make if you dripped oil on your carpet or into your keyboard. But the idea of men putting fragrant skin products on their faces is clearly ancient, and clearly not something new or inherently effeminate. And if you live in a hot climate like us here in Australia, you might as well use face lotions to alleviate dry skin just as the Ancient Near Easterns did too.
At this point, I should say that not all oil was used as an everyday facial cleanser. “Anointing oil”, as it is usually translated, had an important ritual use in the appointment of Jewish priests and kings. It could even symbolically purify holy objects, as it was used in the preparations of the tabernacle furniture. This is the oil that most Christians today are more conceptually familiar with, and this is what gets preached about: a holy oil which represents sacredness. It is quite amazing that Exodus preserved a detailed recipe for this anointing oil: “500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil.” After this recipe, the text asserted, “Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred.” It was clearly meant to be different from the oil of daily use. The anointing oil also had great poetic and prophetic significance, as a way of speaking about the divine appointment of a holy king, a holy priest, or anyone extremely special to God. The title “Christ” in both the Greek Old Testament translations and in the New Testament meant “the anointed one”. In the New Testament epistles, Christians in turn were said to have received their anointing from Christ himself. So it can be seen that the concept of “anointing oil” ranged all the way from denoting this holy ceremonial oil composed of spices and olive oil, to the inward consecration of a person by the grace of God.
It is because we have this beautiful image in our minds that we sometimes miss the mundane references to people rubbing oil on their faces.
It’s a good problem to have, but the fact remains: real men rubbed skin-care products on their faces, and loved the feeling, and it was probably good for their skin. Deal with it.
“But Carla,” you say. “Why did you bring this up? What actually put men and moisturiser on your mind that you had to write a rant about it?”
My answer is that I hope most of this comes across as light-hearted and fun, but there was something that did seriously bother me into writing this.
Years ago, at my old church, I once heard a female preacher ridicule young men for being effeminate. She blamed the mothers. She said that mothers teach them things they don’t need to know – they teach boys about women’s things. She made a joke about how she heard a 10-year-old boy tell a bunch of aunties that his mother says there’s a difference between face cream and body cream. Hilarious? I didn’t get it. Stop bagging the young men for actually having sensible opinions. And stop bagging the women for explaining sensible things to their sons.
I find it quite disturbing that modern culture would think it’s good to discourage men from ever touching face lotion for no reason. Too bad if you’re a man and you have dry skin. We expect men to just shrivel up like prunes in the sun for all we care. Having healthy skin is feminine, enjoying the sensation of pureed happiness on your skin is feminine, having “oil to make their faces shine” is feminine, it’s all feminine feminine feminine. For no real reason other than that modern culture says so. It was good enough for ancient men like David and Solomon, but somehow it’s not good enough for the men of today. It casts aspersions on their masculinity. Modern men are simply left to wrinkle up like walnuts and die young of skin cancer.
That was a modern fallacy. Real men wear moisturiser. May the Lord have mercy on our souls for denying this.
 “Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.” 2 Samuel 12:13-23.
 Exodus 29:7.
 “Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.” 1 Samuel 10:1.
 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy,” Exodus 40:9.
 Exodus 30:23-4.
 Exodus 30:32-33.
 The Septuagint translation uses “Christos” for the Hebrew word “Messiah”, which means the same thing, “the anointed one”. See eg. Psalm 132:10.
 “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:27.
 Psalm 104:15.