As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I decided to grow up and try to take care of myself. Like most guys who face a quarter-life crisis, I realized that my daily intake of Diet Coke, salt and sugar wasn’t doing wonders for my skin. Same for the fact that I was only washing my face during my morning shower. So it wasn’t surprising that my skin frequently felt tight, and on hot days, was covered in bumps and red marks.
I needed a skin-care routine.
The only problem was I had no idea where to start.
There are, of course, plenty of products on the market. Skincare, after all, is a booming business — especially for men. According to the Financial Times, it’s worth more than $50 billion. Data from the polling website Statista suggests that this growth is being driven by men (like me) between the ages of 18 and 30, who are buying products to help with everything from dark circles under their eyes to cleaning their pores. Furthermore, men’s skin-care routines have become fixtures of pop culture, whether through Instagram influencers like Matthew Zorpas and Nick Wooster, who advertise beauty and grooming products to a male audience, or through shows like Netflix’s Queer Eye, where grooming is a fundamental part of a guy’s holistic transformation.
My problem then wasn’t a lack of products but information on how to use them. I’d grown up reading guides in Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, but more often than not, these were reviews of products or advertorials that were high on hyperbole and low on utility — more likely to tell me that I’d feel “fresher than a newly minted CEO” or “smell so good that she’d want to skip dinner and go straight for dessert” as opposed to how to put the stuff on my face (or wherever else it was supposed to go). Store clerks weren’t particularly helpful either, mostly trying to convince me to buy more products to complement the skin cream I’d bought.
My friends were equally clueless. They had no skincare products, let alone a routine. In fact, the most they ever did was apply some moisturizer their mom or girlfriend had bought them, which sat idle in their bathrooms. Others had stranger methods of skincare, such as using hand sanitizer. But one piece of feedback, from my friend Mike, really stood out: “Have you ever seen American Psycho?” he texted. “The Patrick Bateman skincare routine — I basically follow that.”
Apparently a lot of other men do the same. “The Patrick Bateman Morning Routine” clip from the movie has more than three million views on YouTube, while men’s sites such as Bosshunting, StyleVanity and Ignorelimits.com have all run pieces that, without irony, carefully dissect Bateman’s skincare regimen, while also providing a list of products you can buy to replicate it. The scene is also frequently discussed on r/skincareaddiction, where guys painstakingly detail how they use their products in Bateman-esque tones.
Popular men’s lifestyle YouTubers like Charlie Irons, Greg O’Gallagher and Erik Conover have even produced videos that either mirror the movie’s scene or adopt a similar style, explaining their morning routine in painstaking detail and arguing that it’s a means to elevating your entire character. “There’s an idea about the man about town,” Irons says as he ends his 10-step skin-care routine. “This is only the beginning.”
For his part, Mike says Patrick Bateman was the first guy who came to mind when he decided to start paying better attention to how he was treating his face. “I saw American Psycho when I was 16. It was one of those movies that every guy watches because it’s weird and violent, and you’re in that stage of life when you want to seem more cultured than the guys who just watch Fast & Furious films. That scene is famous because it sticks out. It’s something that young guys don’t usually see. For example, I never saw my dad do any kind of skincare routine. I grew up thinking it was something only women did; so I didn’t bother learning anything about it until a couple of years ago.”
Plus, the scene’s step-by-step breakdown made all of those steps super easy to remember. “I always remember the part about using skin products with ‘little to no alcohol’ because it dries the skin, and I’ll be honest with you — I bought a facemask because I didn’t want my eyes to be puffy,” Mike says. “It’s strange to talk about, but because I know so many of the lines — and because Christian Bale has such great skin — it’s just ingrained into my mind now.”
“I started the Patrick Bateman skin-care routine after I saw the movie last year, when I was unemployed,” says Jack Evans, 25, who works as a business operations manager in London’s financial district. At the time, he describes himself as “not being in a good place in any sense,” spending most of his free time watching movies and half-heartedly applying for jobs while living at home with his parents. He enjoyed American Psycho as a movie, but he found Bateman’s skin-care routine particularly compelling. “I hadn’t ever taken care of myself — like I brushed my teeth and put some wax in my hair and deodorant under my arms, but that was it.”
In Bateman, however, Jack saw the model of a successful man — rich, well-dressed and with an expensive apartment and an appetite for New York’s most exclusive bars and restaurants. “I knew the movie was satirical — and also violent. Like I’m not wanting to be Patrick Bateman,” he insists. “It’s just that image was something I felt I needed to become to move to the stage of life I wanted to get to. So I started doing my own routine, because I guess I felt it would help me feel more successful.”
If nothing else, it made him feel more confident and awake. “I got a job that I like, and I’m moving to my own place in a few months, so maybe it was the skincare routine after all!” he laughs.
“Patrick Bateman is probably the only heterosexual male portrayed in pop culture who gives a shit about how they look,” adds Joshua Headtham, 35, another city worker who recently got into skincare. A couple of years ago, Joshua was in a similar situation to me — a poor diet and lifestyle had caught up to him in the form of dry, itchy and flaky skin around his cheeks. “I had to treat my skin better out of necessity,” he tells me over WhatsApp. “At the same time, it felt like it was this big part of growing up that I was never told about, that none of the guys in my family ever did and that I had to learn about it myself.”
Also, like me, Joshua found Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness unhelpful, largely because he couldn’t afford the products they were advertising, and while he did search for routines on YouTube, they were often presented by people considerably younger than him, who he also felt were using more products than he would like. “After all that, you’re only left with Patrick Bateman. I reckon, too, most heterosexual guys who watch American Psycho end up fascinated with the Bateman lifestyle, even if they know that it’s terrible and destructive.” (He does, after all, kill nearly everyone in his orbit by the film’s end.)
Given all that death and destruction, my journey into skincare wasn’t through admiration of Patrick Bateman’s abs or his poetic monologues on water-activated gel scrubs. Rather, it’s because I’m getting older. And like everyone else — yes, men, too — I really, really, really don’t want to look older. I want to remain young, glowing and successful. Now please pass the sheet mask.