As a teenager, your skincare routine may have consisted of products designed to help quell excess shine or keep pimples at bay. But after the chaos of puberty passed and those teenage breakouts dissipated, it’s likely you tweaked your routine to suit your skin’s new needs. After all, your skin changes as you get older—the best skincare routine for your age probably isn’t the same routine you followed at 13.
To figure out exactly how your skincare routine should change as you get older, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. Here, the New York-based Kiehl’s expert dishes on how your skin changes in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. She also shared some of her recommendations on the best skincare products and ingredients to use during different stages of life. Read on to learn more about how to curate the best skincare routine for your age.
Skincare Essentials For Every Age
Before we get into the specifics of how skin changes as you get older—and what that means for your routine—we felt it’d be helpful to review the things that are must-haves for every age. First up, Dr. Garshick says, is sunscreen. “It’s never too early…to start wearing sunscreen,” she says. She adds that not only does wearing sunscreen help protect against skin cancer but “it’s also very helpful to prevent signs of sun damage and skin aging.” So if you want your skin to look and feel its best, sunscreen should be a part of your daily routine, no matter how young or old you are, your lifestyle, or where you live.
We suggest reaching for a facial sunscreen that’s suitable for all skin types, like our Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. It provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays and helps defend the skin against damaging environmental stressors, such as air pollution. The lightweight formula absorbs quickly and leaves the skin with a matte finish. We recommend using this sunscreen every day as the last step in your morning skincare routine. For the best results, reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
The other two essentials that everybody should be using, regardless of age, Dr. Garshick says, are a facial cleanser and a moisturizer. Ideally, you’ll want to reach for formulas tailored to your skin type and concerns. If you need help determining what, exactly, your skin type is, we recommend checking out our article How To Determine Your Skin Type for help.
The Best Skincare Routine For Your 20s
In Dr. Garshick’s experience, oftentimes, “people in their twenties are just kind of figuring out what their skincare needs are, and they’re sort of focusing in on whatever they see on the surface of their skin [at that moment].” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with addressing existing skin concerns—in fact, you should—your twenties are also ideal for starting a preventative skincare routine. As Dr. Garshick explains, starting in your twenties, your skin will begin to lose collagen at a rate of about 1% per year.* Over time, this can result in visible skin concerns like fine lines and wrinkles. The sooner you start an anti-aging routine to help prevent these concerns, the better—Dr. Garshick says it’s much easier to prevent early signs of aging than to treat them after the fact.
Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide
While you may not see the effects of collagen depletion until later in life, incorporating ingredients like retinol into your routine early can help protect against premature skin aging, Dr. Garshick says. There are plenty of different retinol products on the market, but we recommend starting with a gentle retinol serum, like our Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide. Made with a precise daily dose of pure retinol, this fast-absorbing serum helps encourage gentle skin surface turnover for youthful-looking skin. It’s clinically-demonstrated to help firm and smooth the skin, as well as visibly diminish fine lines and wrinkles.* Plus, the gentle formula delivers these results with minimal dryness, redness, or peeling—even for first-time retinol users. We suggest applying it once daily (morning or night, it doesn’t matter which) and following with moisturizer for a more even, refined appearance. Note that if you’re using your retinol during the day, sunscreen is a non-negotiable, as retinoids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical test for subjects showing improvement after 12 weeks of use.
The Best Skincare Routine For Your 30s
In your thirties is typically when you’ll start to see the first telltale signs of skin aging, Dr. Garshick says. This may include “expression lines and fine lines,” as well as minor skin sagging. However, “the biggest change for a lot of people in their thirties,” Dr. Garshick says, is that the skin becomes duller-looking. This loss of radiance results from a slowing in the rate at which skin cells turn over and can also cause the skin to appear uneven or rough.
According to Dr. Garshick, adding an exfoliant to your routine can help get rid of dead skin cells built-up on the skin’s surface and promote a more radiant appearance. The exact type of exfoliant you should use depends on your skin type, but she says alpha-hydroxy acids are a great (and versatile) option. We recommend reaching for a gentle exfoliating product, such as Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner. The dual-phase formula with lipo-hydroxy acid gently exfoliates without causing discomfort, leaving the skin smoother, softer, and brighter-looking. The mild toner is suitable for all skin types and can be used twice daily after washing your face.
Antioxidants, Dr. Garshick says, are one of the most useful ingredients to start incorporating into your skincare routine in your thirties. In addition to helping “protect against free radical damage,” some antioxidants, like vitamin C, can help brighten the skin and improve texture. As such, we suggest adding Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum to your daily routine starting in your thirties (though earlier won’t hurt). Made with 12.5% vitamin C, this potent serum boosts radiance, smooths skin texture, and helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores. Over time, it also helps visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles, leaving the skin looking firmer and smoother.
The Best Skincare Routine For Your 40s
The slowing of skin cell turnover and loss of collagen that begins earlier in life will likely become evident by the time you hit your forties, according to Dr. Garshick. The skin may “start to droop a little bit,” she says, which can contribute to jowls and an overall less-firm appearance. General dullness and unevenness, she says, are also common concerns for those in their forties. These concerns may be especially obvious in the eye area, which has the thinnest skin of anywhere on your body.
Anti-Aging Eye Cream
Being so thin, the eye area is uniquely vulnerable to a host of age-related concerns, including dark circles, crow’s feet, and puffiness. To help address these concerns and keep your eye area hydrated, we recommend adding an anti-aging eye cream, such as Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Eye Cream, to your daily routine. This supercharged formula is designed to help address the visible signs of aging in four key areas around the eye. It helps diminish the appearance of dark circles, smooths crow’s feet, and lifts the eye area to promote a more youthful appearance. Plus, the fast-absorbing formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night as part of your regular skincare routine.
In addition to continuing to use your retinol, vitamin C serum, and exfoliating toner, adding a wrinkle cream to your skincare routine can help give your skin a firmer, more youthful appearance. If general laxity (a.k.a sagging) is a concern, we recommend using a moisturizer that can also help lift the skin, such as Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Cream For Face and Neck. Made with phytomimetic vitamin A and renewable chaga mushroom, this anti-aging moisturizer helps reduce wrinkles and improve skin tone and texture within four weeks. It’s uniquely formulated for use on the face and neck (an oft-neglected area, Dr. Garshick notes) and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
The Best Skincare Routine For Your 50s and Beyond
Staring in your forties or fifties, you may start to notice sun spots (also known as age spots). These dark brown or greyish spots result from “the cumulative effect of UV exposure” and can give your skin an uneven or mottled appearance. While sun spots don’t typically fade on their own, skincare products can help improve their appearance.
Dark Spot Serum
If you’re noticing sun spots or other dark spots on your skin, we suggest addressing them with a dark spot serum like Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector. This unique serum is clinically-demonstrated to help improve the appearance of an array of skin discolorations, including sun spots, age spots, and post-blemish marks. It’s suitable for all skin types and can also be used to address visible discolorations on the hands, neck, and chest. Use it all over or as a spot treatment to help improve the appearance of stubborn discolorations.
A Night Cream
As you continue to age (gracefully, of course), you may notice your skin becoming drier—this is natural and results from a decrease in the amount of sebum, or oil, your skin produces. For some, dryness may make concerns like fine lines, wrinkles, and even dullness more apparent, even if your skin is otherwise in pretty good shape. To help keep your skin hydrated in your fifties and beyond, we recommend adding a night cream to your nighttime skincare routine. Try Midnight Recovery Omega-Rich Night Cream, which contains squalane and a blend of omega-three and omega-six fatty acids. The restorative formula helps replenish your skin’s natural lipid barrier while you sleep, leaving your skin visibly smoother and plumper. It has an indulgent, cloud-like texture and is subtly scented with lavender essential oil to help soothe your mind for sleep. Use it nightly for a more radiant, youthful appearance over time.
I. Ganceviciene, Ruta et al. “Skin anti-aging strategies.” Dermato-endocrinology vol. 4,3 (2012): 308-19.