How To Start An Anti-Ageing Routine

Ageing gracefully is the goal of hopeful, optimistic women everywhere, isn’t it? We know that wrinkle-free isn’t an option — unless you’re a Real Housewife — but 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 anti-ageing 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.

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 — oestrogen 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, looks like it's in its prime,” says Caroline Hirons, a London-based aesthetician and blogger. “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
“People 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.

And, of course, washing twice daily is absolutely necessary, as is adapting an oil cleanser for nighttime to remove makeup before you start your routine. “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 - because here's the gross stuff that could happen if you don't wash your face) You should, however, keep all your clay masks and spot treatments handy, and use them as needed — especially at night.
REN Beauty Clean Skincare Face Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk$20.00 $17.00 Buy
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.
Caudalie Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil$18.00 Buy
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.
Clinique Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm 125ml$25.00 Buy
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.
Dermalogica Thermafoliant Body Scrub$39.50 $30.49 Buy
Start Using an Eye Cream

“The skin around the eyes is very thin and gentle, which means signs of ageing 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. Here are some of our other favourite eye creams.
Clinique Eye Cream$24.00 Buy
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 ageing,” 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.

If you suffer from oily skin and tend to suffer breakouts when you use SPF, take a look at our guide to lighter SPFs here.
SkinCeuticals SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50+$26.50 Buy
Get to Know Glycolic Acid

Renowned for both its resurfacing and purifying properties, glycolic acid helps regenerate the skin and 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.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum$76.00 Buy
Photo: Via Tammy Fender.
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.
Tammy Fender Antioxidant Crème$81.13 Buy
Try a Facial Oil

Oils are the true gold standard of skin care, mostly because they contain potent ingredients and optimum moisturising properties. “The right oil can also help mend acne scars and breakouts,” Hirons says. She recommends this blend by Sunday Riley, which contains a purifying lemon-myrtle oil. “Just be careful: A couple of drops across the forehead and cheeks should do it. Avoid the chin!”
Sunday Riley Face Oil$27.00 Buy
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 hyper-pigmentation 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 moisturiser.
Lancer Skincare Lancer Skincare The Method: Polish$97.00 Buy
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.
Caudalie VineActiv Glow Activating Anti-Wrinkle Serum$36.00 Buy
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.
Embassy of Beauty Lotion P50$56.00 Buy
Update Your Masks
Now’s the time to invest in an anti-ageing 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 minimises 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.”
Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask$68.00 Buy
Update Your Face Oil
As you get older, keeping your skin hydrated is key. Invest in an oil that improves skin radiance, evens skin tone and improves the skin's elasticity, reducing the appearance of fine lines.

The high-performance blend of bio-actives in Oskia's Restoration Oil helps firm, hydrate and replenish, for a healthy, radiant complexion.
Oskia Restoration Oil$72.00 Buy
Add Night Cream
The days of one moisturiser 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.”
Kate Somerville Oil-Free Moisturizer$55.00 Buy
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.
Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser$37.00 Buy
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 moisturiser,” 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 moisturiser, protecting the skin’s barrier,” Hirons says. (It also makes applying makeup a total dream.)
Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Booster Face Serum$24.99 $16.66 Buy
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 reorganise the process known as keratinisation, 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 before then. To complement it, stick to your regular daily serum.
SkinCeuticals SkinCeuticals Retinol$65.00 $54.95 Buy
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.
Caudalie Vine[Activ] Energizing and Smoothing Eye Cream$27.50 Buy
This radiance-boosting cocktail of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid will perk up a stress, tired complexion (so... everyone's) in a pinch.
Joanna Vargas Daily Serum$68.00 Buy
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.
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid $30.00 Buy
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 moisturiser and facial oils handy. (And, never forget SPF!)
Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Serum$257.00 Buy
Update Your Eye Cream

Getting religious about eye cream will also go a long way: one for day and one for night is best.
Clinique All About Eyes Eye Cream Rich$27.00 Buy
Update Your Face Cream

Elemis' best-seller and cult Marine Cream has been reformulated with SPF - rejoice! This anti-ageing wonder encourages collagen growth under the skin, keeping wrinkles at bay and fine lines fine.
Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream SPF 30$68.00 Buy
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.
Shiseido Eye Mask 12 Sachets$48.95 Buy
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