How to Take Care of Your Skin in Your 20s, According to Dermatologists

Like most parts of your body, your skin is constantly changing in a myriad of ways over the course of your life. Women have a lot going on in their 20s, but establishing a good skin care regimen early on is key. We talked to top derms for their tips on the best skin care routine for your 20s

Skin can be oily and acne-prone during the teenage years (thanks puberty-induced hormones!), and this stage can extend well into your twenties. In fact, as Marnie B. Nussbaum, MD, a NYC-based dermatologist, points out, hormone levels actually peak in your third decade, leading to lower jawline acne as well as dehydration due to increased progesterone levels.

“From an anti-aging perspective, cellular turnover decreases by a whopping 28 percent, leading to a duller complexion and fine lines,” she says. “Furthermore, collagen production starts to decline as well leading to fine lines and increased laxity.” Sun damage also plays a role in premature aging, hyperpigmentation and brown spots.

To help ward off some of these effects on the skin, establish a good skin care routine and stick with it. “If you experience persistent bouts of acne, this can lead to hyperpigmentation and scarring which often worsens in your 30s and after as well, since you have a loss of elasticity and the acne marks can become more exaggerated,” explains Loretta Ciraldo, MD, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare. “I have a number of patients with beautiful skin in their 80s, all of whom tell me they have been using a set routine starting in their late teens or early twenties.” 

Dermatologists’ guide to the best skin care routine in your 20s

The Best Skin Care Routine in Your 20s, According to DermatologistsIf you establish a solid skin care routine in your 20s, you will be more equipped to stick with it through the decades (FYI: here’s what you should be doing in your 30s and 40s). That will ultimately lead to healthier, glowing skin through your life. Here are the skin care practices that dermatologists recommend adding to your skin care routine in your 20s.

1. Wash your face twice a day

Some people wash their face at night only—after all, how dirty could their skin get overnight? Well, according to Dr. Ciraldo, there is a significant amount of debris, including dead skin cells and dust mites, that get on your skin overnight. For this reason, washing your face in the morning is equally important to nighttime cleansing.

She recommends opting for cleansers that contain antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the environment that lead to premature aging and give you a lit-from-within glow. 

2. Keep skin hydrated

Even if you don’t consider yourself someone who has dry skin, you should be moisturizing twice daily—ideally once after every cleanse. “Hydration is the first step to healthy skin,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “Moisturized skin improves the skin barrier to prevent inflammation, irritation and dryness, and also plumps the epidermal cells to look supple and smooth rather than dehydrated and wrinkled.”

Consider choosing a moisturizer that is formulated for your skin type, be it dry, oily, acne-prone or combination. You can DIY this rosehip moisturizer for dry skin and add essential oils your skin will love, like frankincense.

3. Add some vitamin C

A vitamin C serum is a must in your morning routine, according to Dr. Nussbaum. “Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals to decrease skin aging and skin cancer,” she says. By using a serum containing vitamin C, you can expect to have brighter, tighter and healthier skin overall. Try Drunk Elephant C-Firma or Korres Wild Rose Vitamin C Active Brightening Oil.

4. Exfoliate weekly 

Once or twice a week at most, Dr. Nussbaum recommends gently exfoliating your skin with glycolic acid-containing pads like these from First Aid Beauty for a brighter complexion. “Glycolic acid helps decrease the aging process, however you want to be wary about over-exfoliating, which can lead to redness and inflammation as well as cause microtears in the skin,” she says. 

5. Wear sunscreen every day, all year round

You know the importance of wearing sunscreen, but might not realize that you need it year-round—even on the cloudy days. “Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from sunlight is the number one reason the skin ages,” notes Simone McKitty, MD, a dermatologist in Torrance, California.

She recommends protecting your skin by wearing a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen (rather than chemical) with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even on cloudy days and when you’re inside. Two we really like are Dermalogica Sheer Tint and Coola Mineral Face Matte Moisturizer. And don’t forget to reapply every few hours at least or after you come out of the water. 

6. Don’t forget your hands

Too often people neglect to care for the very sensitive skin on their hands. And this area tends to age faster than others. “The way to prevent older-looking hands by your forties is to use your facial moisturizers and serums on your hands as well as your face,” says Ciraldo. “Your 40- and 50-year-old face will be very appreciative that you did!”

7. Try a retinol

Dermatologists believe that retinol, also known as vitamin A, is an essential ingredient for counteracting the decline in skin cell turnover through the years. “It increases cellular turnover and therefore exfoliates dead skin cells, decreases acne production and decreases fine lines and wrinkles, and is truly the gold standard of antiaging,” says Nussbaum.

She warns, however, that less is more when it comes to retinol. She suggests starting out slow, using it three times a week and increasing to nightly if your skin tolerates. “Only use a pea-sized amount for the entire face, moisturize immediately and, if your skin gets red or dry, you are using too much.” Also, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid retinol altogether. 

8. Live a healthy lifestyle

Your skin is the largest organ and your body and, like other organs, works at its peak when you eat healthy, exercise, sleep well and are less stressed. To have beautiful skin, you should avoid smoking, which is second to sun exposure in causing wrinkles and dry skin.

Try things like long soaks in the tub and essential oils to manage your stress. “When you’re stressed out, your adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone,” says Dr. McKitty. “Cortisol causes your sebaceous glands to produce extra oil, making your skin oily as well as contributes to premature aging.” 

9. Get regular facials

West Hollywood-based celebrity esthetician, Joshua Ross of SkinLab, recommends regular facials for all of his clients, especially HydraFacials because they are less abrasive and clean out pores without the risk of scarring and pigmentation. “Start facials and get on a treatment protocol 3-6 months in advance,” he says.


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