So you survived your 20s… Congratulations! Your 20s were a bit of a mess, and now that you're in your 30s, life is still a mess, but it's a different kind of mess. Especially for your skin.
"Your 30s are a time of … stress and hormonal swings that can wreak havoc on your skin," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "The growth hormones start to slow down, so the skin won't repair itself as it did in your 20s; breakouts can often occur in the form of cystic acne." In your 30s, you might also be dealing with dark spots, acne scars, and fine expression lines that were never there before. "It's definitely time to take your skin seriously," says Rouleau. "The days of neglecting your skin are over."
Meet the Expert
But don't freak out—for every skincare concern that's likely to pop up in your 30s, there's an easy fix. We spoke with a handful of trusted experts who walked us through their best advice for skincare in your 30s. So pour yourself a glass of wine, and keep scrolling for the seven most important habits to integrate into your skincare routine in your 30s.
1. Use Makeup to Your Skin's Advantage
Many women avoid wearing makeup every day in order to let their skin "breathe," but according to Rouleau, makeup can actually help protect your skin. "I like to educate my clients to think of makeup as a skincare product," she says. Because UV damage is the number one cause of premature aging and most people don't actually wear enough sunscreen to get the true protection, Rouleau recommends wearing foundation every day "as an insurance policy." In other words, that layer of makeup serves as an extra barrier between your skin and its "worst enemy—UV light."
If you're worried about daily foundation clogging your pores, don't be: "As long as you're using makeup that's appropriate for your skin type, you shouldn't run into any problems," says Rouleau.
For even more protection, choose a foundation with SPF built into the formula. We recommend Laneige or BareMinerals.
2. Don't Neglect Your Neck
Estheticians agree that as you age, it becomes especially important to treat your neck and décolletage. "These are more delicate areas that show signs of aging first," explains esthetician Joanna Czech of Joanna Czech Dallas. "Your 'face' starts at your nipples and ends at your hairline."
And remember: Rubbing the leftover moisturizer from your face down to your neck isn't good enough. "While the intention is good, it's truly not helping that much in the quest for smooth, moist skin on the neck," says Rouleau. Instead, the neck deserves its own step in your skincare routine. "This means applying one application of moisturizer (with sunscreen during the day) to the face and then a second full application to the front and sides of the neck," says Rouleau. "This will ensure that the neck gets a proper coating of moisturizer and sunscreen to keep it looking soft, smooth, and damage-free."
We recommend using moisturizer specifically formulated for the neck, like the Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+ Neck & Chest Broad Spectrum SPF 25 ($89) or Sisley Neck Cream ($180).
3. Make Eye Cream a Part of Your Routine
Rouleau explains the importance of eye cream like this: "Considering the eye area has virtually no oil glands and is the first area of the face to show aging from facial expressions like squinting and smiling, protecting this area with a well-formulated eye cream is essential."
That doesn't mean you should slather eye cream all over your under-eye area, though. "Eye cream should be applied only to the orbital bone around the eyes, which is the bone just at the top of the cheekbone," says Rouleau.
If the product gets too close to your lash line, your lashes may lift microscopic amounts of product when you blink, which might get into your eyes, causing unnecessary irritation.
For daily use, we recommend the Tatcha eye serum above or Botanics All Bright Refreshing Eye Roll-On ($14) for a more affordable option.
4. Trade Makeup Wipes for Proper Cleanser
In your early 20s, it was a good night if you remembered to take your makeup off at all; in your late 20s, you embraced the makeup-wipe life. But now it's time to get serious.
"Makeup wipes dehydrate and spread dirt and grime all over your face," explains Czech. Not to mention they don't actually do a good job of cleansing your skin. Instead, choose a gentle, sulfate-free cleansing lotion or gel-like the Renée Rouleau option above. Follow up by wiping the skin with a baby washcloth, making sure to switch out your cloth each time you wash to avoid bacteria. (You can get a pack of washcloths for $12 on Amazon.)
"Clean skin is healthy skin," Rouleau reminds us. "Be very meticulous about cleaning a day's worth of makeup, dirt, and bacteria from your skin so you'll get the best results from serums and moisturizers applied afterward."
5. Start Using Retinol
"In your 30s, it's important to start using anti-aging products," says NYC board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD. By starting in your 30s, you can successfully prevent signs of aging, so you'll have less to deal with later.
"Aside from sunscreen, the best, tried-and-true proven ingredient for smoothing the texture of the skin and making lines, wrinkles, and pores less visible is retinol or a prescription retinoid like Retin-A," says Rouleau.
Retin-A (tretinoin) is a form of vitamin A that helps the skin renew itself by encouraging cell turnover. It's commonly prescribed for acne, fine lines, and sun damaged skin.
In your 30s, you can start by using an over-the-counter retinol like the RoC serum above three or four nights a week. "Once you have been using it for six to nine months, you can transition into a prescription retinoid," says Rouleau.
6. Switch up Your Routine From Day to Night
"Many people in their 30s fall into the habit of using the same routine morning and night, but it's important to understand the needs from day to night are different," says Rouleau.
During the day, our skin is exposed to the UV rays and environmental stressors that age us; then at night, our skin goes into repair mode to recover from all that. Thus, your morning skincare routine should be all about protection, involving an antioxidant serum, like DermaDoctor Kakadu-C Serum ($95) and sunscreen. Then your nighttime routine should focus on rejuvenation, incorporating products like retinol, peptides, and chemical exfoliation (try the First Aid Beauty glycolic pads above), followed by night cream.
7. Get in Your Eight Hours
Odds are you didn't get a full eight hours of sleep each night in your 20s, and that undoubtedly took a toll on your skin. "Beauty sleep is very important," says Jaliman. As our experts mention, nighttime is when the skin repairs itself, and the longer you sleep, the more time it has to do that. "Sleep on a satin pillowcase so that the skin doesn't crunch against the pillow and sleep lines do not form," Jaliman suggests. We recommend Slip Silk Pillowcase ($85).
Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019;36(4):392-397. doi:10.5114/ada.2019.87443
Parrado C, Mercado-Saenz S, Perez-Davo A, Gilaberte Y, Gonzalez S, Juarranz A. Environmental stressors on skin aging. mechanistic insights. Front Pharmacol. 2019;10:759. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00759