What To Know About Caring For Your Skin In Your 20s

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Ah, the 20s — they may be some of the best years of your life. This period is often filled with fun adventures and embracing your independence, and it's also a great time to start eating right and taking care of yourself — from the inside out. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep skin looking healthy and glowing just by practicing a few good habits regularly. And, if you start now, taking care of your skin as you get older and your skin changes will be a simple extension of the regimen you've already started. This week, I'm offering skin-care tips for women in their 20s, and in the next two weeks, I'll be following up with skin-care advice for women in their 30s and 40s.
At approximately ages 22-25, hormones from the teenage years start to level out, often decreasing breakouts. However, keep in mind that hormonal fluctuations before and during your period can stimulate sebaceous glands that produce excess oil, which may result in monthly breakouts. If you’re taking birth control pills, you may be impacted by breakouts (positively or negatively) since they can affect your natural hormonal balance.
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Although in my experience working with clients, the above has more or less been true, I have also had clients who had little to no breakouts during their teenage years but then developed adult acne in their 20s. The way hormonal activity affects us varies because each person’s skin and body chemistry is so different.
Regardless of what type of skin you have, I've got recommendations for keeping skin looking great in your 20s and beyond.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Do De-Stress & Get Plenty Of Sleep.
It’s easy to get caught up in studying, working, and late-night socializing, so sometimes getting seven to eight hours of sleep just doesn’t happen. This lack of sleep can cause stress that's reflected on the skin via acne flare-ups. A lot of consistent stress can even lead to a general worsening of your overall skin health. Not getting enough sleep causes the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol, a steroid, which makes sebaceous glands produce more oil. This is why people under a high amount of stress tend to breakout. This stress-related acne frequently takes the form of inflamed, puss-filled papules rather than simple whiteheads or blackheads.

So, try to pay attention to your body's sleep needs, and find ways to de-stress to limit stress-related skin issues. A couple of late nights are bound to happen, but avoid losing so much sleep that it shows up all over your face.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Don't Overuse Anti-Aging Products.
Once you've got your breakouts under control, it’s normal to want to focus on preventative aging strategies, but using too many highly concentrated products may cause negative side effects. Many anti-aging products have potent active ingredients (like retinol and peptides) that can increase the metabolism of skin cells. However, these ingredients can also be too active for younger complexions. Those with oily, combination and breakout-prone skin types might find that they are experiencing irritation, bumps, and clogged pores due to anti-aging products that are too strong for their skin.

A more age-appropriate way to address the prevention of wrinkles and brown spots, yet still prevent breakouts, is to use ingredients like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids which can increase cell turnover to keep the skin clear, even-toned, smooth, and glowing.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Do Use A Skin Lightener To Fade Brown Spots.
If you’re experiencing brown spots and patches of discoloration, it could be from birth control pills. This is because the pill increases estrogen, which can trigger melanin production. Talk with your doctor about experimenting with different dosages to manage your hormone levels and, at the very least, consider adding a natural topical skin lightener to your skin-care routine to fade and suppress pigment activity. Vitamin C (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is the one I consider to be the most effective) is an excellent ingredient found in skin serums. When used daily under sunscreen, a vitamin C serum can help fade discoloration and encourage more even-toned, brighter skin. Using an exfoliating acid serum (containing glycolic or lactic acids) as part of your evening skin care routine also works well to break up and remove pigmented cells.

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Don't Ignore The Role Diet Plays In Skin Care.
Consider limiting or cutting back on certain foods to determine if they could be triggering your breakouts. Sugary carbohydrate foods can cause a prolonged increase in insulin levels and acne, especially prior to your period.

Additionally, if you are prone to cystic acne breakouts (those to deep, sore blemishes, or bumps typically located on the chin and jaw area), consider limiting your dairy intake. Hormones found in foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt may mimic the hormones that trigger oil production within the skin and ignite the acne process. There are a lot of sebaceous glands in the face, and since hormones are fat soluble, the body may use these glands as an avenue of excretion for fat-based hormones. Bottom line: Since certain foods may be the culprit for acne, you'll have to find out what works for you and what doesn't by paying close attention to your diet.

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Do Use Serums And Moisturizers To Hydrate Skin.
Increased progesterone levels in your 20s can cause skin to become dehydrated. Skin cells are like fish and they need water to live and be healthy. Incorporate a water-based serum, followed by moisturizer with the ingredient hyaluronic acid into your routine to combat dehydration. When skin is hydrated, cells are plump and the skin has a fresh, radiant glow.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Don't Use The Wrong Acne Products.
In their teenage years, people who struggled with acne most likely used products with drying antibacterial ingredients to control breakouts. By the 20s, most people only experience occasional breakouts; however, using drying products to clear the skin is no longer an effective strategy. This is because products for acne dry out all areas of the face, including parts that have no breakouts. This may trigger the formation of new blemishes due to oil and bacteria getting trapped underneath the dry skin cells. Instead, use an acne spot treatment on individual blemishes as needed. Also, use a gentle, sulfate-free antibacterial cleanser with salicylic acid that will clean the pore lining to prevent and clear breakouts.

Not in your 20s? Next week, I'll have skin-care tips for the 30s.
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