When it comes to skincare, your 20s is the time to seriously nurture that complexion. This decade is the time to rethink your routine and give it a serious overhaul, but where do you even start?
There’s the anti-aging stuff, which many experts say is important to start sooner than later. “Women should begin being proactive about anti-aging in their 20s. Research shows that as early as age 25, our skin’s two structural proteins—collagen (which keeps it firm, taut, and resilient) and elastin (which gives skin its flexibility, enabling it to stretch out and then snap back into place)—decrease,” says Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Dermatology in NYC.
If you’re unsure of the first steps, don’t sweat it. We’ve got you covered and have gathered some of the best advice from the top dermatologists in the country. So whether you want to ensure wrinkle-free skin is in the future or you simply want to maintain its long-term health, implementing these tips into your skincare regimen now is crucial.
Read on to learn about the advice we got from the professionals about taking care of your skin in your 20s.
Don't skimp on exfoliation.
“To continue daily collagen renewal, exfoliate daily. Products with salicylic, alpha, and/or beta hydroxy acids will help exfoliate dead skin cells and dirt off of the skin’s surface, as well as getting beneath the surface to unclog pores, prevent future breakouts, smooth texture, and boost cell renewal,” says Gross.
Never underestimate the power of SPF.
“UV rays are always around, even on a cloudy day, when you’re inside working near a window, or even just driving your car,” says Elizabeth Hale, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. “UV rays can actually be reflected off of a variety of surfaces like concrete, sand, water, and snow. Reflected UV radiation is just as damaging as direct exposure."
“Sun is the number one cause of external skin aging, and people should care about this level of sun exposure since it’s not always thought about on a daily basis," she continues. "It’s essential to protect ourselves at all times because incidental sun exposure is always present, regardless of the season, and contributes to premature skin aging. This is why the key to any healthy skin regimen is using a daily SPF product year-round.”
Your diet matters—so does exercise.
“Drink a lot of fresh water with a squeeze of lemon every day—try for two or three liters,” says Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and partner at OMNI Aesthetics MD. “Eat fresh greens and a lot of fiber; supplement with vitamin D3. Exercise regularly and live an alkaline lifestyle through diet for maximal health.”
Cleansing (and finding the right cleanser) are critical.
Still utilizing the same skincare routine from college or high school? You may want to rethink your game plan because as you age, your skin has different needs. According to Gross, “Many people in their 20s continue to use the same harsh cleansers and drying astringents they relied on when they were oily and acne-prone teenagers. You may not see it, but at this phase in your skin’s life cycle, your oil glands are starting to shrink—making anti-acne and mattifying products that were once effective cause redness, flaking, and irritation.”
Rebecca Kazin, MD, of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology echoes this advice: “Even if you suffer from acne, skin shouldn’t be squeaky clean. Too much scrubbing only exacerbates the problem because it can cause irritation and lead to more breakouts.”
Opt for oil-free products during the warmer months.
We all know that plump, hydrated skin not only looks great but is also crucial for its health: “It is imperative that you incorporate a moisturizer with humectants to help the skin absorb and retain moisture,” says Gross. But before you grab a rich cream or foundation, remember that oil isn’t always your friend—instead look for hydrating ingredients that will mesh well with your skin.
“It is always good to look for hyaluronic acid as an active ingredient because it moisturizes via these humectants, which basically pull water vapor from the atmosphere and into the skin,” he says. “Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient found in the body that is completely compatible with the skin and doesn’t cause breakouts, which can still be a concern during this decade. It helps plump skin and reduces fine lines, so you look instantly refreshed. Switch to an oil-free formula, especially in warmer temperatures.”
Retinol is a key ingredient and multitasker.
“Your skin starts to lose the ability to repair itself starting in your 20s, so it’s important to start early with an anti-aging regimen. The use of a conservative application of both retinol and glycolic will dramatically slow down the aging process while establishing a healthy routine,” says Craig Austin, MD, who is a huge proponent of glycolic.
Not only is retinol a great anti-ager, but it also helps with keeping acne at bay, which makes the star ingredient a skincare favorite. “There is actually a lot of crossover between acne and anti-aging products. Retinoids cover both issues, and so do peels. Peels are great for people who find Retin-A too irritating,“ adds Kazin.
Never sleep with your makeup on—seriously.
We’re all guilty of sleeping in our makeup from time to time—hey, it happens—but don’t even think about making it a habit. “Doing so can block pores, leaving oil trapped inside,” says Gross. “This leads to bacteria buildup and, yes, breakouts. It can also stretch out pores, which no one wants. Try a cleanser that includes witch hazel extract, a natural toner with antioxidant and anti-irritant properties, or willow herb extract, which has natural antibacterial properties.”
Witch hazel is harvested from the witch hazel plant in North America. It has many uses, including cleansing oily skin, treating minor wounds, treating acne, and removing makeup.
Treat adult acne gently.
Acne happens well beyond high school, but it’s important to treat it before it gets worse. “During this age, a few random breakouts can still emerge. Don’t over-dry your skin with the usual over-the-counter [treatments]. Consider getting a prescription like Aczone 7.5%, which calms inflamed cysts of acne without drying the skin,” says Annie Chiu, MD, a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist.
Kick-start your anti-aging regimen.
Everyone has a different philosophy when it comes to anti-aging. Including at least one anti-aging product in your skincare routine could be a good way to ease into the process and also try out ingredients that work for you. “Start with a product that contains vitamin C or other antioxidants. These products help prevent premature aging by preventing the oxidative damage that occurs with UV exposure and environmental pollution,” says Chiu.
Don't overdo it.
Keeping prevention and skin’s health as a priority is great, but it’s also important to remember that doing too much can cause irritation and damage. Kazin has even noticed an influx in sensitive skin among patients in their 20s, due to skin overhauls that are too harsh. “I’ve noticed an increase in rosacea and acne in my early-20s patients. They are usually so focused on prevention that they tend to overcompensate and go overboard with certain products. Some are using products that are too harsh or irritating for their skin, like using a retinol that is too strong or exfoliating too much,” she says.
There’s a method to changing up products if you’re looking to solve any sensitivities. “If your skin care regimen isn’t giving you results you want, simply change one product at a time,” she explains. “Otherwise, you may have a reaction, and if you’re using five new products at once, you’ll have no idea what caused it. Use a new product for at least four weeks before adding another new one into your routine.”
Should you consider preventative Botox in your 20s?
Botox is FDA-approved for patients 18 and older, so it is entirely possible to start Botox in your 20s if you hope to get ahead of a future problem. However, if you are hesitant about doing full-fledged Botox in your 20s, consider baby botox, which is a smaller amount of injection spread across the face.
Is it common to have acne in your 20s?
If you are still facing acne in your 20s or just starting it, don't sweat. Hormonal acne is very common in 20-year-olds.
How can I reverse the skincare mistakes I may have made in my teens?
It's okay if you skimped on sunscreen or slept in your makeup one too many times in your teens. Remember that jumping into proper skincare in your 20s is not too late in most cases.
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