Aging gracefully is the goal of hopeful, optimistic millennials everywhere, isn’t it? We’d like to look healthy, and damn
good, as the decades go by. Well, as professionals (and capitalism!) tell us, the key to a beautiful complexion is daily care and smart prevention.
We get it: You already knew that! But, don't you get confused about how exactly you should be “preventing” things? (
Is Botox preventative?) How can we weave new products into our routines without prompting an onslaught of clogged pores and acne? And, more importantly, at what point do we need to get Olivia-Pope levels of serious about fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation?
To answer these very important questions (and help phase you into
real adulthood), we consulted one prominent dermatologist and two aestheticians. Here, they take us through the early, middle, and late chapters of our 20s, and then give us a sneak peek at our 30s. But, before you start clicking, we want you to note: At no point is it too late to start taking good care of your skin. And, if you have any questions about what you see here, feel free to leave a message in the comments, and we’ll i get back to you.
Photo: Via Ren.
The Early 20s
Adulthood is just beginning for you, children of the future! Unfortunately, while life speeds up, your body does the opposite. “Skin-repair replacement mechanisms begin to slow by age 20,” says celebrity dermatologist Harold Lancer, MD. “In women, there are hormonal shifts — estrogen declines, and testosterone increases.” This might come as a surprise for someone who’s just beginning to enjoy the best skin of their lives: “Your skin, right now,
like it's in its prime,” says
, a London-based aesthetician. “But, what you do right now will determine how it looks later on.”
So, your early 20s are kind of like facial bootcamp: It's the time to build up the proper discipline and habits that will help you age gracefully — without going totally overboard and causing your face to become a red, irritated mess.
Swap the Acne Wash
“Americans treat their skin like it’s the enemy," says Hirons. "It’s not! Get rid of any foaming acne cleansers, because they’re too stripping.” Unless you’re under specific instructions from your derm to use a medicated daily wash, choose a gentler alternative. “A cleansing milk will balance the complexion and remove the day’s grime,” she says.
Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk,
Pick Up A Cleansing Oil
And, of course, washing twice daily is absolutely necessary. “I always tell my clients that cleansing before bed is non-negotiable. Now is the time to be responsible,” says celebrity aesthetician Joanna Vargas. And don’t try to be sneaky after you’ve had a few too many cocktails at happy hour: “Cleansing wipes absolutely don’t count as washing your face!” Hirons says.
Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil, $28, available at
A cleansing balm is another excellent choice. Many formulas, like this one, are loaded with oils that dissolve makeup in a matter of seconds. Unlike cleaning oils, balms are solid at room temperature, making them a great mess-free options for travel.
Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm, $29, available at
Squirt a few pumps of this oil cleanser into your hands and massage it onto dry skin. Infused with camellia oil, it'll melt away heavy-duty, long-wearing makeup without having to tug or rub. Even better? After rinsing off, your face will feel soft and clean — without ever experiencing that uncomfortable tightness.
Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil, $48, available at
Start Exfoliating Three Times a Week
“You have to stimulate your skin in order for it to repair itself,” explains Dr. Lancer. “It’s just like exercise — you have to get the muscles burning in order to promote cardiovascular muscular growth. Make sure to use a scrub at night, so your skin has time to recover.” Since you’re still young and beautiful (as Lana Del Rey sings), you’ll want something gentle with just the right amount of grit: You don't want to rub your face raw. This product should do the trick.
Skin Prep Scrub, $37, available at
Photo: Via Éminence.
Swap Your Toner That’s right: It doesn’t always have to sting! “I always recommend my younger clients stay away from astringent toning products [in favor of] something more balancing,” Vargas says. “Rose is incredibly hydrating and good for circulation — it works on any skin type.”
Start Using an Eye Cream
“The skin around the eyes is very thin and gentle, which means signs of aging are likely to start there,” says Vargas. You should apply a basic, hydrating eye cream both day and night to keep fine lines at bay. Just pat it in with your ring finger, and make sure you leave time for it to sink into the skin.
Pep-Start Eye Cream, $26.50, available at
Photo: Via Consonant.
Get Diligent About SPF The biggest no-brainer, though, is starting to use SPF, ASAP. “Daily sun protection will go a very long way in terms of preventing the signs of aging,” Hirons says. Dr. Lancer notes: “You should be using [SPF] 15 to 30, because much more than that is [just] marketing. Just make sure to apply it liberally — that’s the one mistake a lot of my patients make with sunscreens." We love this all-natural wonder from Canada.
The Perfect Sunscreen,
Get to Know Antioxidants “There’s a huge lifestyle component to skin care,” says Dr. Lancer. "At this age, you’re wolfing down your lunch, going to parties, imbibing too much alcohol, and being surrounded by tobacco products. That’s why antioxidants are key.” You can only counteract the damage done by living la vida Lohan with the proper cocktail of ingredients, which helps ward off environmental stressors. This daily cream does the trick without being too heavy. When you’re applying it, says Hirons, be sure to save some for the neck and décolletage. “Americans are the only people who think the face stops at the chin,” she says. Save yourself from a future of turtlenecks by spreading the love.
Try a Facial Oil
Oils are the true gold standard of skin care, mostly because they contain potent ingredients and optimum moisturizing properties. “The right oil can also help mend acne scars and breakouts,” Hirons says. Sunday Riley’s blends might put a dent in your savings account, but you can practically feel them transforming your skin as you smooth them on. (Or maybe it’s just the placebo effect that comes with applying something so rich and lovely — it works either way.)
Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil, $90, available at
This blend of brown algae extract, camellia seed oil, and botanical extracts promises to give you a glow.
Beautifying Face Oil, $68, available at
The vitamin C and marula oil in this formula will keep your complexion bright and fresh.
Marula & Neroli Brightening Oil, $42, available at
Get to Know Glycolic Acid
Renowned for both its resurfacing and purifying properties, glycolic acid helps regenerate the skin
treat pesky acne and blackheads. “It will also help with pore size and improve overall skin texture,” Vargas says. The best part? It comes from all sorts of delightful, naturally-sourced ingredients, so you can feel good about using it. (Yup, raspberries can help you battle wrinkles!) Start by using this product only on the nights you exfoliate, and then build your way up to once a night. You'll wake up with a glowing, polished visage.
T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, $90, available at
Photo: Via Lancer.
The Mid-20s Okay, so you’ve built the foundation for good skin. Congratulations! Now, it’s time to start getting a little more serious. Twenty-five is, in the beauty world, a tipping point: “By age 25, the skin has decelerated its repair mechanisms, and that affects your entire body,” says Dr. Lancer. This is also when you can accurately evaluate what damage has been caused — and, with the help of a dermatologist, plan how to treat it. “Everybody should be seeing a board-certified dermatologist at least once a year by this point in their life,” says Vargas. Together, you and your derm can discuss concerns like hyperpigmentation or hormonal acne. At the quarter-century mark, you should allow for splurges now and then, which means one thing: “Monthly facials are essential for detoxing the pores and doing a mini-peel,” Vargas says. “You should also look for a service that provides oxygen for the skin, which promotes healing.” And, this is just the beginning. Keep Your Cleanser, But Upgrade Your Scrub “The ‘no pain, no gain’ rule also applies to skin,” insists Dr. Lancer, whose Polish exfoliant is beloved by Victoria Beckham. “By your mid-20s, your skin is more like a couch potato: It has potential, but it’s lazy. This will help get it up and running." Try using this three times a week before bed in order to super-charge the rest of your routine. (There’s a formula for blemish-prone skin, too.) As for the rest of your regimen? Make sure to maintain the nightly double-cleansing, the daily SPF, the eye cream, your oil, and your antioxidant moisturizer.
The Method Polish Exfoliator,
Upgrade Your Serum
If you've ever wondered what the difference is between moisturizer and serum — or if there is one at all — here's your answer. “Moisturizer is for skin type, but serum is for skin
,” explains Hirons. That means it's time to target whatever's given you complexion trouble with pumped-up ingredients, both in the morning and at night. Her recommendation? “Alpha-hydroxy acids will help to dry up hormonal breakouts and lightly exfoliate."
Clearing Serum, $67, available at
“Antioxidants, like vitamin C, will help to protect and brighten spots and acne scars," Hirons adds. We love Eminence Organics Citrus Kale Potent C+E Serum for brightening and helping to strengthen skin. Not stressing over anything in particular? Keep clicking.
Organics Citrus Kale Potent C+E Serum, $110, available at
Even if fading dark spots and fending off acne aren’t at the top of your to-do list, you’re still not off the hook. Skipping serum means missing out on a great opportunity to infuse your skin with potent active ingredients, like damage-repairing antioxidants, collagen-boosting vitamin C, and radiance-enhancing vitamin E in this does-it-all formulation.
Vine[Activ] Glow Activating Anti-Wrinkle Serum, $52, available at
This radiance-boosting cocktail of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid will perk up a stress, tired complexion (so... everyone's) in a pinch.
Skincare Daily Serum, $85, available at
This vitamin C-packed serum gives such a good glow, you don't even need highlighter.
Acne Skin Brightening Serum, $48, available at
Photo: Via Biologique Recherche.
Update Your Toner You let go of the alcohol-based acne toners for a few years, but now you need to get serious. “Acid toning is essential, because it gives you a gentle, mild exfoliation,” Hirons says. This product, known among beauty junkies simply as “P50,” is what Hirons calls “the Rolls-Royce of toners.” She says to use it nightly, but we suggest easing into it: For the first few times, it tingles and stings, and might leave you a little pink. (It gets better — promise!) The reason? It has a high AHA content, which regulates oil production and maintains the skin’s pH level for a balanced, even complexion.
Lotion P50 1970,
Photo: Via Joanna Vargas.
Update Your Masks Now’s the time to invest in an anti-aging treatment. But, is there one that can also help with pimples, just in case? “I’m a huge fan of lactic acid because it lightly exfoliates, but also minimizes the pores,” Vargas says. Her Exfoliating Mask (shown here) is a soon-to-be cult beauty product, beloved by her celebrity clients (and this writer). “It’s gentle enough that you can put it under your eyes for a quick pick-me-up,” she says. “Or, you can sleep with it on blemishes to treat them overnight.”
Photo: Via Kate Somerville.
Add Night Cream The days of one moisturizer are over: You have officially joined the legions of women who use night cream. “Sleep is an important time for the skin,” Vargas says. This is especially true if you’re using products like Polish and P50 — you'll need a healthy dose of moisture before bed when active ingredients are at play. “You can use just your facial oil, or you can put on a night cream and then an oil, depending on your skin type,” Hirons suggests. “But, start with something light, and avoid anything with shea butter — this one is gentle enough for daily use.”
Nourish Daily Moisturizer,
This overnight mask tightens skin as you sleep and drenches it with moisture, so you'll wake up looking a little more contoured than usual, and feeling a whole lot softer.
Black Tea Firming Overnight Mask, $92, available at
Photo: Via Sarah Chapman.
The Late 20s
“By 29, you really need to get serious about stuff,” says Vargas. “Your skin goes through a complete transformation between the ages of 22 and 29. Your body’s ability to produce new skin cells slows down completely.” Look at your late 20s as an opportunity to really crack the whip on your complexion before the big 3-0: You can start using retinol, learn that “plump” is a good thing when it comes to your skin, and learn how to protect your skin barrier in a major way. All of this hard work will hopefully delay the need for more serious things, like Retin-A and chemical peels, until they’re absolutely necessary. You should, however, see a facialist once a month for a peel and an LED light treatment, which will help maintain your skin's texture.
Update Your Cleanser (Again), Exfoliate Daily
We know: It’s the millionth time you’ll have done this in a decade, but a cleansing balm is totally worth it. “They destroy makeup without being stripping, and they still leave the skin feeling soft and supple,” Hirons says. She loves this one for an ultra-nourishing feel. But, if you're combination, you might prefer
Nude's Cleansing Jelly
, which is safe for eyes and face.
Unless you have sensitive skin, you should also try exfoliating every night. But, choose a cleanser-scrub hybrid, and save the Polish for the days in-between. Try
Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser
Skinesis Ultimate Cleanse,
Photo: Via Indeed Labs.
Tone More, Hydrate Smarter Chances are, you’ve already interacted with hyaluronic acid during your skin journey. But, now it’s time to start using it regularly. The ingredient is well-known for its instant plumping effects. “It basically supercharges your moisturizer,” Hirons says. This is particularly important because you should, by now, be using acid toner both day and night to help regenerate your skin. “The hyaluronic acid will supercharge your moisturizer, protecting the skin’s barrier,” Hirons says. (It also makes applying makeup a total dream.)
Hydraluron Moisture Booster,
Photo: Via Arcona.
Start Using Retinol, Keep Your Serum “The king of all antioxidants is vitamin A, which is where prescription Retin-A comes from,” says Dr. Lancer. “It’s critically important, because products with retinoid acid reorganize the process known as keratinization, or the way the skin repairs and replaces itself.” But, as Vargas cautions, it can cause irritation among more sensitive types. So, try using this a few times a week before bed, and absolutely do not forget SPF the morning after. This is more of a precautionary method: Hirons says retinol isn’t really necessary until after age 30, but it can’t hurt to start a mild version (like this one) before then. To complement it, stick to your regular daily serum.
Vitamin A Complex,
The Ordinary's retinol-packed formula fights early signs of early aging with less irritation. Plus, check out the price tag.
Advanced Retinoid, $10.50, available at
Photo: Via Caudalie.
Update Your Eye Cream It’s also time to get serious about treating eye wrinkles to prevent crow’s feet. “Vitamin C is a massively important antioxidant that gives advanced environmental protection,” Hirons says. Caudalie’s lightweight formula is jam-packed with the stuff — plus, it's gentle enough to use day and night.
Polyphenol C15 Anti-Wrinkle Eye & Lip Cream,
If you're tired of waking up to puffy eyes and dark circles, dab on a bit of this eye cream every night so your under-eyes look well-rested and bright.
Multi Correxion 5 in 1 Eye Cream, $15.79, available at
Photo: Via Rodin.
Update Your Face Oil
If your blackheads and acne are finally calming down, it’s wise to start experimenting with a different facial oil for twice-daily use. “Put it on over your night cream if you're dry,” Hirons suggests. This Rodin product is a rich — and fragrant — blend of 11 essential oils. (Bonus tip: Smooth one drop over your complexion before applying foundation, and you'll glow like a lightbulb.)
Jasmine Neroli Face Oil, $170, available at
Photo: Via Ceramidin.
Update Your Night Cream
This liquid acts immediately, forming a cushion that protects the skin barrier from water loss. It'll serve as the ultimate soothing tool on your retinol days.
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Ceramidin Liquid, $39, available at
If Urban Skin Rx's name looks familiar, it's because you've likely seen it on the Instagram accounts of Teyana Taylor, Fantasia, and more. The brand was founded by licensed aesthetician
and uses plenty of ingredients like kojic and azelaic acids, which help with hyperpigmentation. "When we get samples, my staffers of all ethnicities try the products,"
she tells us
. "That’s how we see what works and what doesn’t work, rather than participating in some 50 patient case study [of predominantly white women]."
Urban Skin Rx
Even Tone Night Treatment, $68, available at
Urban Skin Rx
Photo: Via Skinceuticals.
The Early 30s You’ve made it. “By the time you’ve reached 30, your routine should really switch over to all anti-aging products,” Hirons says. “In this decade, things just slow down. I like to tell people that your body goes on a little holiday and then comes back! You laugh now, but by your 40s, it goes away — and you wonder if it’s ever returning!” But, a whole lot of this is skin sensationalism: Being 30 means your skin is still at its prime, especially if you’ve been vigilant about daily SPF and proper cleansing. Still, it’s time to consult your dermatologist about facials — or possibly even twice-yearly acid-based peeling. (Only if necessary!) “If hyperpigmentation is a concern, you may want to look into light-resurfacing procedures with low-energy lasers twice to three times a year,” Dr. Lancer suggests. If your skin’s in tip-top shape, all you need are a couple of upgrades to what you’re already doing. But, the pros caution, you should reconsider other things, like lifestyle choices: Think hard about forsaking cigarettes forever, limiting your alcohol intake, and curbing how much processed sugar you eat. “We look at women in Hollywood who have aged very well, [and] these people don’t have any caffeine or added salt, and their carb intake is low," Dr. Lancer says. "They’re proof that anti-aging really needs a multi-pronged approach." Upgrade Your Retinol This is a good age to start using Vitamin A daily, and you’ll want a more intense formula to get your glow going. “You should be using a product that contains 1% retinol,” Dr. Lancer says. “Anything more than that can be found in prescription Retin-A, which is more of a corrective treatment than a preventative one.” Use it before your bedtime moisturizer, so your skin has time to heal itself in case redness occurs. Consider daily polishing, too — morning and night, if your complexion can handle it.
Photo: Via Tata Harper.
Invest In a Serum Unfortunately, the more advanced skin care becomes, the more it costs. And, since serums deliver all the good stuff in the most essential, concentrated method, you might want to start considering formulas that are priced beyond what you’re used to spending. It boils down to this: If you splurge on one thing in your routine, let it be serum. Tata Harper’s range is spectacular, because it targets different concerns (lifting and firming, plumping, brightening) in formulas that are lightweight enough to use daily — even if you still get the occasional breakout. You should, however, still keep your hyaluronic-acid moisturizer and facial oils handy. (And, never forget SPF!)
Boosted Contouring Serum,
Photo: Via AmorePacific.
Update Your Eye Cream Getting religious about eye cream will also go a long way: one for day and one for night is best. AmorePacific’s duo is genius: The day version has SPF, so you’re protecting while hydrating. Meanwhile, the night formula increases turnover and restores collagen.
Future Response Age Defense Dual Eye Creme,
Photo: Via Chantecaille.
Update Your Night Cream Hirons says to avoid shea butters in your 20s. But, in your 30s: “You want something rich to sleep in.” If you massage a mask into your skin before bedtime, it'll go to work long after the label-suggested 10 minutes, which means you’ll wake up with refreshed and restored skin. Look for treatments labeled “healing,” since your routine now has a plethora of active ingredients at work. To put it simply: Serums and retinol deliver the good stuff, and moisturizer acts as a cushion. (Just consider this the most luxurious cushion ever.)
Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask,
Photo: Via Shiseido.
Update Your Masks Sheet masks are, essentially, thin paper cloths that have been soaked in serum. This one, which is doused in retinol, would be ideal to adapt into your routine on a weekly basis. Try it before bed, massage the excess into your skin and down the décolletage, and follow with a facial oil or your night cream.
Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Face Mask,
Invest In A Neck & Décolleté Cream
At this point, you know the importance of potent creams, serums, and masks, but you likely haven't given much attention to your neck and chest. “Many women in their twenties and thirties are using expensive face creams and coming in regularly for face-focused tweaks, but very few think to take care of their necks before 40,” says
Paul Jarrod Frank, MD
, a dermatologist in New York City.
To keep the thin skin supple and youthful-looking, reach for a treatment targeted to the area and containing ingredients like glycolic acid, calcium, and amino acids.
Do Not Age Firming Neck Cream, $67, available at
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