When people say you appreciate something when it’s gone, they’re often referring to an event of some kind—like a whirlwind romance or a relaxing vacation. However, we’d argue that the sentiment applies to something much more mundane and universal as well: smooth and radiant skin. If someone told us years ago that we would eventually move on from a first love or that we’d always look back fondly on a summer trip, but we’d never get back those childhood years of flawless faces, then we would have done everything we could to hold on to that.
“It is never too early to start caring for our skin,” Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York City dermatologist, says. “Prevention is key for looking young and most importantly, keeping skin healthy. Facial skin is very susceptible to environmental damage and one of the first spots that we start to see aging.”
If you were like most adolescents, then you probably didn’t do much to protect your skin other than use soap, water, and maybe the occasional cream. Now that you’re older—with the blemishes, fine lines, and dark spots to show for it—it may seem as though you need a time machine to get your skin back to its youthful glow, but Engelman says that any adult’s skin can benefit from just two products, so you may still be able to get away with having the patience of a teenager.
“If you only have five minutes, the most important thing to do is remove the day’s grime and gunk. Stick with a gentle cleanser that will not strip your skin of natural oils and leave you more dehydrated than before,” she says. “And never forget sunscreen! I recommend both chemical and physical ones.”
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a more detailed skincare routine to address skin’s many shifts in adulthood, we asked Engelman to explain how skin changes with age from your 20s to your 60s and to provide tips that’ll benefit your skin. While your adolescent sheen may be gone, you’ll appreciate all of the ways these tips can improve your skin with age.
In Your 20s
What’s Happening: Hormonal acne will appear with stress, or when you’re on your period, she says. That’s because the hormones trigger an increase in oil production, which can cause more blemishes to appear.
Products to Use: “Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids can help treat blemish-prone skin,” she continues.
What to Remember: “Even though the skin is young, it is never too early to prevent skin damage,” Engelman notes. “Sunscreen gives you a head start on anti-aging and protects your skin so you have less to worry about later.”
“And keeping the skin hydrated with a moisturizer is key because dry skin can start premature aging,” she continues. “I love CitySmart by Elizabeth Arden. Also, start an eye cream—the under-eye skin is 40% thinner than the rest of our skin, so it shows aging first. Lastly, wash your skin daily to help with any bacteria that might be causing breakouts.”
In Your 30s
What’s Happening: Hormonal acne starts to ebb, but fine lines and wrinkles start to appear, she says. Sun damage and dark spots will also start to show, too.
Products to Use: “Vitamin C serums are my go-to for anti-aging and reversing sun damage because it’ll increase collagen production as well as cell turnover,” Engelman notes. “I particularly like the Sonic cleansing brush to remove dead skin cells and clear the way for better penetration of products. Use a serum to keep face moist and never forget your sunscreen.”
What to Remember: “Skin regeneration is at its height between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., so this is the best time to help the skin repair,” she says. “I love sleeping masks for this reason: It gives your skin a boost of hydration while you sleep. My favorite is Elizabeth Arden Overnight Ceramide Mask.”
“You don’t need the intense treatments yet, which is why I prefer peels and facials,” Engelman continues. “Peels will use a blend of acids to lift pigmentation and reduce fine lines. Light therapy facials will increase collagen production, oxygenate the skin, and destroy bacteria.”
In Your 40s
What’s Happening: Fine lines, wrinkles, and damage will be more evident, as will a loss of collagen production. It’ll be important to find products that penetrate deeper into the skin, she says.
Products to Use: “You want to target anti-aging with an antioxidant,” Engelman says. “This will fight against free-radical harm and start to repair damaged cells. My favorite, and I believe the gold standard, is SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. This product will noticeably reduce fine lines and wrinkles while improving skin’s overall appearance.”
What to Remember: “You’ll also need a face and eye cream to strengthen the skin barrier,” she continues. “I like Conture Kinetic Toning Device. It is a non-invasive, at-home way to lift and revive skin through isometric compression and low-frequency vibration. It has a multitude of benefits with over 250,000 hours of research behind it, so your serum will penetrate deeper into the layers of the skin and work harder for you.”
In Your 50s
What’s Happening: Skin becomes drier and looks thinner, which will increase the appearance of wrinkles, she says. Cell growth becomes even more important since natural production can diminish.
Products to Use: “Prescription retinoids will increase cell turnover, and skin will be thicker as a result of the new cell growth. For over-the-counter retinol, I like Shani Darden Retinol Reform,” she says. “Start using thicker products to hydrate as well as using a layer of similar products.”
What to Remember: “Layer starting with the thinnest product first, and make sure include your neck when applying products,” she says. “Also consider using red LED light devices for use at home. They stimulate cellular regeneration by helping the active ingredients penetrate deep into the skin.”
“You can also explore supplements for long-term solutions,” Engelman notes. “Oral dietary supplements boost collagen and help support the skin structure from the inside out. It’s also worth thinking about fillers like Juvederm and Voluma to camouflage under-eye circles and lift the cheek, which will soften the marionette lines that appear at the nose and mouth.”
In Your 60s
What’s Happening: Sagging skin will become a bigger issue, she says, as will the appearance of thinning skin around the eyes, mouth, and neck.
Products to Use: “Continue to use your retinoid, and add a face oil,” Engelman says. “Since your skin is drier now, heavier moisturizers may be necessary during the day. Lastly, a face oil will help to tighten the skin and keep elasticity.”
What to Remember: “Apply a makeup primer even if you don’t wear makeup,” she notes. “It will fill in the lines and give a light-reflecting quality. I like Biossance Squalene Oil since it is super hydrating, while also minimizing environmental damage.”