I wish I could say I was someone obsessed with skincare from an early age. Regrettably, I fall distinctly into the category of misguided adolescents who occasionally cleaned their face with some chemical-laden cleanser, piled on layers of unnecessary drugstore foundation, and picked their pimples—with tweezers, no less.
Once I hit my twenties, it didn't get much better. Though I ditched the pimple picking, I still didn't understand why my skin was always breaking out, nor did I comprehend the nuances of different types of products and their purposes (oil-based vs water-based, for example). In fact, I didn't really start getting into beauty and skincare until I turned 30.
As I inch toward my 34th birthday—March of 2021, in case you'd like to send me a card—I've been reflecting on skincare rituals I can't help but wish I'd adopted sooner. If you happen to be reading this and are still in your twenties, it's not too late. Here is advice I wish my younger self had received and that you hopefully will find useful.
Learn and Research Your Skin Type
If healthy skin is a padlock, then knowing your skincare type is the key—it’s impossible to unlock unless you know what you’re working with.
I have normal to combination skin, which is arguably easier to deal with than dry or oily skin. But there’s a catch: my skin is very sensitive and in the last couple of years I’ve developed a mild case of rosacea. Now knowing this, I reach for ingredients with soothing properties and avoid others that might inflame my skin.
Embrace Clean Beauty
I’m usually pretty skeptical of joining any sort of health-related bandwagon that’s gone viral. I do not fast, I do not drink celery juice every day, and I definitely don’t drink bulletproof coffee. That being said, the premise of clean beauty makes total sense to me: don’t put ingredients on your skin that are potentially toxic. Thankfully, it’s easy to find beauty brands that embrace these sensibilities, but back in the early aughts when I was beginning my foray into skincare, options seemed sparse.
Learn how to read the ingredients list on the back of your products, know which ones to avoid, and understand which chemicals you might be allergic to.
Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate
Exfoliating removes dead skin cells, which not only helps unclog your pores (and prevent breakouts), it also unveils new skin cells for a more radiant complexion. Most experts recommend exfoliating around two to three times a week.
If you suffer from breakouts or a dull complexion and aren’t exfoliating, make haste! I wish I had learned about this sooner.
Retinol and Retinoid Are Your Friends
Retinol is universally recommended by dermatologists—and anyone who uses it usually sings its praises. Retinol is derived from vitamin A and offers two main functions: skin cell turnover and collagen production.
While retinol is available over-the-counter, retinoid includes both OTC products and prescription strength options. Retinols ward off fine lines and wrinkles, firm and smooth skin, and even help with breakouts. Even though I have sensitive skin and a pinch of rosacea, I’ve found success with retinol after gradually introducing it into my skincare routine.
Face masks are not only deeply relaxing, they’re also rather good for your skin. I recommend stocking up on a few options that target different skincare issues like dullness, breakouts, and dryness.
When Sunday rolls around, you can assess what’s going on with your skin that week, choose and apply a mask, and sit back and chill out with Netflix or a warm bath.
Don’t Forget About Your Eyes
A skincare expert once told me that women should start applying eye cream at age 26 (very specific, I know). I didn’t begin this ritual until I was already in my thirties, and I regret it. The skin around your eyes is thin and prone to fine lines, which is incentive enough to take care of it early on.
Layer Your Products in the Right Order
Chances are, you’ve layered your skincare products in the wrong order (don’t worry, me too). Ensuring that your ingredients go on in the right order ensures they’ll be as effective as possible.
A good rule of thumb is to go from lightest to heaviest, and an easy routine to follow is cleanser, toner, mask, serum, eye cream, moisturizer, then oil.
If it’s the morning, finish with sunscreen as the last step.
Your Face Needs Massaging, Too
I’m guilty of associating massage with frivolous indulgence, but as I get older and my body is less nimble, I’ve realized the significance of this technique—especially for your face.
Massaging your face is said to increase blood flow and relieve tension. It’s also purported to aid lymphatic drainage and even reduce sinus pressure. If those benefits aren’t enough to pique your interest, some experts say it makes your skin glow.