How Real 20-Somethings Actually Feel About Aging

Updated 06/04/19
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As I travel through my 20s and try to navigate the strange way age plays a role in my life, I can't help but look at all of it through a beauty lens. I write about anti-aging constantly—excitedly trying and reviewing the newest and most innovative products on the market. But at the tender age of 27, I only now feel like I've begun to feel the effects of my age. Fine lines have crept in where smooth, taught skin used to lay, and you can see how late I stayed out splayed prominently across my face the next morning. But what does all of this even mean? Does it truly affect my life if my face looks different from when I entered this decade? I feel different: more settled in my career, more perceptive and thoughtful in my relationships, and kinder to my body and myself. So why shouldn't that wisdom show on my face? And yet, it's so easy to forget that with every blemish, fine line, or imperfection. 

I wondered if other 20-somethings were feeling the same struggle. This is the time when you go from profoundly young to rooted in such a short amount of time. As Bowie would say, we're going through changes. Or Britney Spears hit the nail on the head with the whole, "not a girl, not yet a woman" thing. It's interesting because turning 30 doesn't hold the same weight it used to—everything was meant to be figured out‚ done, and set for life. So I wondered what that defining moment in our lives is now as modern, empowered, and often-single 20-somethings.

I talked to women about their thoughts on vanity, anti-aging routines, body image, and just generally how they feel about themselves as they grow older each year. What I found was a refreshing insight into not really giving a damn. It's a small sample, but one that was robust with ideas on aging gracefully and worrying about health and happiness above all. Of course, we care about the way we look—but isn't it wonderful to think it doesn't have to be the only thing on our minds? Aging is a mixed bag of emotion, anxieties, and, hopefully, a better sense of self. And if I can impart some wisdom and a few stand-out products along the way, that rules.

"I feel incrementally calmer each year, less influenced by and attached to the external factors in my life, and more comfortable in my own skin—flaws and all. On the downside, maybe I'm just imagining it but I feel like I'm a little less flexible and energetic than I used to be, which I should probably get on top of...

"I've gained some weight in the past year and half, but it's more due to doing sorta sedentary work and snacking too much than my age. I definitely would have internalized it a lot more when I was younger. Now I feel like it doesn't change my self-worth and care more about my health than my weight.

"I've always cared a lot about my skin's health and quality and definitely invest time and money into taking care of it, but not to an obsessive extent. My philosophy is that health and beauty are born from the inside out, so as long as I'm getting a comprehensive range of nutrients and hydrating regularly, I trust that my appearance will, for the most part, be maintained. Also, as cliché as it may be, no matter what age I am, as long as I live with joy, gratitude, confidence, and intelligence, I will be happy with the face I show the world.

"Getting enough sleep is a big one for me. In the past year, I discovered that my body's sleep cycle is a little longer than I used to allow for, so I've been trying to get an average of nine or 10 hours of sleep per night. As for nutrition, I've been vegetarian (almost vegan, besides yogurt for its probiotic content and the occasional bowl of ice cream) for 16 years and stick to a plant-based diet with lots of fiber and dark greens, in addition to taking a women's multi-vitamin every night. I also take probiotics every day, which have a noticeable effect on how I feel and how my body processes energy. Hydration is also very important so I always carry a full water bottle with me (preferably of filtered water). 

"Every morning I splash cold water on my face, and depending on how my skin feels I might use either an exfoliator (Mychelle Refining Sugar Cleanser, $25) or a simple soap (Nubian Heritage African Black Soap, $6, or Peppermint and Aloe, $6). Then I douse my face with SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($99) and follow it all up with either or both (depending on how much hydration I want) Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream ($48) and Jurlique's Skin Balancing Face Oil ($50). I'm also a little crazy about dental care, because I have weak teeth and fear what could happen to them as I get older, so I brush my teeth every morning and night and after every meal, floss every night, and use a tongue cleaner daily.

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"I don't think of aging daily, exactly... If I'm feeling mysteriously tired or achy, I'll wonder whether it has to do with getting older, but generally, I just try to maintain my health and prevent illness and take each day in stride.

"I've always been told I have a 'young face,' so if anything I wonder what it would be like to have a bone structure that looks more "my age." I do have a slight anxiety about my skin's integrity and healing abilities being compromised by aging—same goes for gaining weight—but if I can age 'gracefully' without any sudden or significant changes I will be grateful."

"It's funny, for as long as I can remember I always wanted to be 24. I think it's because when I was a young teen, the person I looked up to most in the world was this 24-year-old that I knew. I thought she was so confident and beautiful and effortlessly cool. Now that I am 24, I can honestly say it's just as great as I'd hoped. I definitely feel 24. I feel like it's the age I was always meant to be. I kind of want to stay 24 forever, ha.

"Twenty-four means still having your youth, but not being the sloppy melodramatic mess you were in your early 20s. It means caring less about what people think of you, but still caring enough to want to be part of the game. It means still being young enough to act like a fool sometimes, but old enough to be able to pay your bills and have your stuff together. It means being taken slightly more seriously. After all, there aren't any anthemic pop songs about how nobody likes you when you're 24. 

"In my early 20s, people always thought I was in high school, which annoyed me to no end. Everyone always guessed I was at least three years younger than I was. But having entered my mid-20s, something has definitely changed. I don't know whether it's because I cut my hair short, or started dressing in a more polished way, and wearing more makeup—maybe it's just that I've finally lost the baby fat in my cheeks—but these days no one ever thinks I look younger than I am. I'm okay with that. Like I said, I'm happy to look and feel 24. Just not particularly excited to look and feel older than that.

"I'm ambivalent about aging. In part, I dread not being the star of the cultural conversation, which the youth of America always is. Our society is basically set up to worship and cater to the youth. I'm afraid that one day I'll look at myself in the mirror and miss seeing the young version of myself. But I'm also excited to get older, to mature, to see what life has in store. If I have to look older to get older, then that's what I'll do. It's inevitable. Nobody gets to stop time. 

"All that said, I do try to take care of my skin and body so that I don't age quicker than I need to. I eat a healthy vegan diet. Lots of fruits and vegetables. And I follow a fairly strict skincare regimen. I use chemical exfoliators, moisturizer, and SPF. I just started using retinol. It's kind of the least I can do, physically anyway. But at the end of the day, I am more concerned about my brain aging than my skin. So I do what I can to keep myself sharp, even at 24. I read a lot. I take a weekly Italian lesson to exercise my parietal lobe. Losing my wits scares me more than losing my collagen. My dream of my elderly self is to be witty and smart and with-it, even if my skin eventually sags down to the floor."

"I don't think I've ever felt my age. Only just recently did it occur to me that I'm no longer the youngest person in the room at work, which was disappointing on one level but also really empowering on another: I don't have to overcompensate for my age anymore. At this point, I'm focused on doing and feeling good. The number really only matters to my mom and my doctor.

"My forehead lines are becoming increasingly pronounced. I'm a furrower for sure. Like a lot of things in my life now, it's making me feel like I have to let things go, be less concerned (you know, furrow less). Whether it's letting someone go up the subway stairs however slowly they want, or giving my dog some extra time outside, I'm trying to let it be. I'll survive the 10-minute (or 10-second) delay. 

"I want to have healthy skin, but I don't necessarily worry about having 'too many' wrinkles. They're going to happen, so I just want to make sure I still feel good health-wise whenever it does. 

"I'm not great about eating well or 'working out' per se (I'm on the go a lot but not a regular gym goer), but I regularly check in to make sure I'm feeling good. At lunch, I try to eat based on how I feel, not how much else I've had to eat that day. And skincare-wise, I've started removing makeup and moisturizing every single day—no exceptions.

"Maybe it's because I didn't have great style back then, but I don't look back on my baby-faced pre-25 photos with fondness. I'm a bigger fan of 'grown-up' me now.

"Fortunately, my career and my marriage are going well, and I kind of think I've hit a stride—but let's knock on wood a few times now, shall we?

"I finally downloaded Snapchat this week (I know, I know—strike one) and followed Zendaya. I couldn't figure out why her username had '96' in it, and then I realized that's the year she was born. My heart sank just a little bit, I have to be honest.

"I'm human. But like I said before, I'm trying to let more things go, be less anxious, feel okay stepping away from my email for a few more hours in the day, and accept the good things, like my wife, my pets, my job, and my apartment's decent amount of closet space."

"Recently, (and I mean recently as in like the last year), I've finally felt very settled in as someone who is in their late 20s. Partially, if I'm being honest, it is because my body no longer allows me to behave in the way that I once did at 22 years old, but also I've almost physically felt my frontal lobe becoming fully developed. I notice my behavior and how it affects others more, and I'm more capable of making positive behavioral changes based on this knowledge. It's insane, I know.

"I've definitely noticed changes recently in my skin, my body, and my hair. Some of them I'm fine with, I don't mind the light wrinkles around my eyes, for instance, because I feel like I look distinguished in some ways, but I also really hate that I can't eat badly (like at all) anymore without seeing almost instant weight gain.

"I'm a little worried about losing the 'currency of youth.' I think 27 is a weird age because you don't get to blame your mistakes on being young, but you're also not quite old enough for people take you seriously. I'm sure once I hit the point that I socially am granted the 'wisdom of age,' I won't miss my youth so much.

"I want to look my age, but like, really good for my age. More recently, my attempts to take care of myself have been more about lifestyle changes—drinking less, sleeping more, and guzzling water. I wish I could say those were totally conscious changes and choices, but I have to admit that I started doing all of those things because my body was actually craving it. I just couldn't live the lifestyle I used to and not feel like shit all the time—so I had to change it.

"I feel in many ways like my life is even more chaotic and difficult than it used to be, but one of the best things about growing older for me is that I've been able to deal with the chaos and difficulty without the stress, sadness, and agony that I used to deal with. Things truly roll off my back much more often than they used to—and that is the biggest reason I've enjoyed growing older; I'm a chiller, calmer person."

"My thoughts on aging come down to this: I believe I was born destined to be a brassy old lady living in New York City with a robust wig collection and colorful assortment of sunglasses. So bring it on—all of it."

Feeling great about all this insight? Follow up with a few skin stories where 20-somethings share their beauty routines.

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