Any dermatologist will tell you it's never too late to start caring for your skin—but the earlier you develop a regimen, the better. "Generally, prevention is more effective than correction," comments Miami-based cosmetic dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD. That means incorporating certain habits and ingredients into your morning and nighttime routines in your 20s and 30s so that by the time you reach your 40s, you're more likely to have tighter, brighter, healthier skin. According to Ciraldo, it's important to use brightening and anti-wrinkle products even before any deep-set lines or sunspots show up because microscopic changes like excess pigment and loss of collagen start in our 20s and progress so slowly that you don't usually see them until your 30s and 40s. By then, they're much harder to treat.
At the same time, there is so much skincare advice in the world that distilling the most important habits to take on before (and during) your 40s can be tricky. "Adopt skincare habits that are enjoyable to you," advises Dr. Craig Kraffert, a board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte Skin Care. "If your skincare routine is not enjoyable, continuity is difficult. Choose products of high quality. And select your active ingredients carefully."
So what are the most important skincare products, ingredients, and habits to adopt before and during your 40s? We spoke with three top dermatologists to find out. Read on for the updates to make when it comes to skincare in your 40s.
Get Acquainted with Vitamin C
Dermatologists agree that the antioxidant vitamin C is one of the most important ingredients to start using in your 20s and 30s (and to continue using in your 40s), as it helps prevent dark spots before they happen and support collagen before you lose it: "Vitamin C is a terrific skin brightener with firming benefits since it boosts collagen and has antioxidant and UV protection benefits as well," says Ciraldo.
Kunin recommends looking for a high-potency vitamin C serum with antioxidant boosters like ferulic acid and vitamin E, (like DermaDoctor Kakadu C Serum, $95) or SkinCeuticals tried-and-true C E Ferulic ($166). Apply your vitamin C in the morning before moisturizer and sunscreen for extra protection.
Exfoliate Two or Three Times a Week
"Maturing skin thickens, which can make it look a bit more dull," says Kunin. Why does this happen? As Ciraldo explains, our dead skin cells don't shed as fast as we age. That makes the skin start to look dull and textured.
Fortunately, exfoliating two to three times a week can help solve (or at least stave off some of these concerns). "Incorporating exfoliation, both chemical and physical, can help shut down the problem before it begins and help maintain your youthful glow," says Kunin.
Make Sunscreen the Centerpiece of Your Routine
If you incorporate just one anti-aging product into your skincare routine, the experts we've interviewed all agree that it should be sunscreen. "It's never too late to begin wearing daily SPF," Kunin assures. "Even if you have been a lifelong sun seeker, it is never too late to prevent further sun damage."
Studies have found that the sun accounts for up to 80 percent of the visible signs of facial aging, which can be slowed by the daily use of SPF. "[Apply] on all exposed skin surfaces every day with a commitment to consistency," says Kraffert. "This includes hands, exposed forearms, neck (front, sides, back) and décolleté in addition to the face." The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of at least 30 or higher.
We know that most people, us included, are turned off by applying sunscreen to the face every day because many formulas can feel thick and chalky. If this sounds familiar, we recommend trying the EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen ($37)—it goes on completely clear with zero white cast.
Embrace Moisturizing Emollients
According to Ciraldo, skin can get drier, flakier, and duller as we age, meaning you should get in the habit of protecting your moisture barrier early on. There are a few well-supported moisturizing ingredients that dermatologists will typically recommend, including moisture-trapping lipids, which mimic the natural lipids in the skin that make babies' skin so soft—these deteriorate over time. Ciraldo recommends CeraVe's drugstore cream, which contains lipids, at a super-affordable price.
Hyaluronic acid is another moisturizing ingredient that the dermatologists we've interviewed recommend. HA is one of the key molecules that affects skin moisture levels, and it has an impressive ability to hold water, thus improving moisture levels in the skin.
Incorporate a Retinoid Into Your Routine
Just as vitamin C should have a place in your morning routine, a retinoid is a great, clinically-supported ingredient to incorporate into your nighttime routine. The derms we've interviewed agree that your 20s are the perfect time to start using a high-quality retinol (or even better, a prescription-strength retinoid) at night, as the vitamin A derivative is meant to work preventatively to fight wrinkles and boost collagen production. Studies have found that the consistent use of retinoids can improve the appearance fine lines and wrinkles in as little as 12 weeks.
Be Consistent With Your Skincare Routine
Even if you use the best, most expensive, most clinically proven skincare products on the market, they won't work if you only use them every now and then. Consistency is key—visit a dermatologist to determine the best skincare routine for you, then repeat that routine every single day.
Make Sure You're Getting Head-to-Toe Skin Checks
Looking younger is great and all, but making sure your skin is protected against skin cancer is the most crucial factor to consider. That's why it's smart to make an early habit out of getting full-body exams by a board-cerified dermatologist once a year, or more frequently if skin cancer runs in your family or you have a history of sun damage (from frequent tanning bed use, for example). "Now is the time to get a baseline skin evaluation from your dermatologist to make sure there are no early signs of precancerous skin changes," says Kunin. "It is always much easier to catch something in its early stages than suffer the consequences later on."
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