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How to take care of your skin in your 20s, 30s 40s and 50s, according to a dermatologist

How your daily regimen should change as you get older to prevent signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation.

In your 20s, you may have been able to get away with washing your face (when you remembered to) and throwing on some SPF. But as you age, issues like fine lines and wrinkles, dullness and pigmentation lead many of us to rethink our skin care routine.

“Having a good skin care practice early on, for both men and women, is all about the long game,” Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist, told TODAY in a segment that aired on April 25. “The 20s is about prevention and later on in life we start targeting our specific needs.”

Here’s what you can do to prevent signs of aging and keep your skin healthy.

The difference between men and women’s skin

Nussbaum noted that men and women’s skin is very different due to hormonal fluctuations.

“Men have skin that is 25% thicker than women’s due to testosterone," she said. "Their collagen is packed so tightly, so they look tighter and firmer for longer. However, they have more sebaceous glands so they can get more acne.” 

Fun fact: A woman’s skin is about 15 years older than that of a man of the same age, said Nussbaum, but because men tend to be less concerned with skin care and don’t start applying sunscreen until later in life, this difference isn’t noticeable. This is a testament to how much a simple skin care routine like applying SPF daily can make a big difference in the appearance of skin as we age.

Skin care routine in your 20s

In our early 20s we can get away with a less-than-stellar lifestyle without it showing up on our face. But bad habits like not getting enough sleep, drinking alcohol and smoking start to catch up with us in our late 20s. This is the time to start a good skin care routine, said Nussbaum, who stressed that skin care is about more than what we put on our face.

Start by focusing on healthy lifestyle habits like eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting eight hours of sleep a night. This is also the time to implement a good skin care regimen, which doesn’t have to be complicated:

  •  Wash your face twice a day.
  • Remove makeup at night.
  • Use a moisturizer twice a day to maintain the skin barrier.
  • Most important: Start using sunscreen SPF 30 and above daily.

For those still dealing with breakouts, Nussbaum recommended incorporating a salicylic acid wash and using a low-potency retinol two to three times a week, plus moisturizing with an oil-free moisturizer. 

Skin care routine in your 30s

Your 30s is when “things start happening,” said Nussbaum. “We lose collagen and elastin at a rate of 1-2% per year and our skin-cell rate or turnover is slower, meaning we’re not renewing our skin cells as fast so dead skin cells start staying on top.” This leads to a dull complexion and superficial fine lines, she added.

Nussbaum recommended adding these steps to your skin care routine:

  •  Retinol: Increase the potency and frequency, using a stronger dosage on a nightly basis to increase cell turnover and encourage new collagen formation (except if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding).
  • Alpha hydroxy acid like glycolic acid: This will also help gently remove the dead skin cells for a more even tone and texture. You can use this in the form of a cleanser, serum or facial pad.
  • Wear a moisturizer and sunscreen daily.

Skin care routine in your 40s

During this decade, “it’s about mitigating the damage that the sun has done,” said Nussbaum. At this age, the sun breaks down collagen and elastin in the skin much easier. The sun “creates free radical damage, which decreases our skin’s self-repair mechanisms causing skin cancer, fine lines and hyperpigmentation,” she said. 

To prevent this, she recommended adding some antioxidants into your skin care routine:

  • Vitamin C and niacinamide stimulate collagen production and decrease oxidative stress from the sun, which protects the skin and helps the DNA repair itself. (Bonus: Vitamin C also inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production and decreases pigmentation.)
  • Continue to use sunscreen religiously

Some people will also experience hormonal acne during this time, which is usually visible around the jawline or as a few cysts monthly, said Nussbaum. For this, go back to the basics with salicylic acid, benzol peroxide spot treatment and glycolic acid washes, advised Nussbaum, adding that if the breakouts are more significant consider seeing a dermatologist for a prescription treatment.

Skin care routine in your 50s and 60s

During these decades, hormones start to affect women’s skin. Perimenopause happens in the mid-40s and 50s and during this time they “lose 30% of their collagen at once,” said Nussbaum “Men will start to notice this too, but it is more steady progression.

A loss of collagen, elastin and lipids during this decade leads to dull, dehydrated skin, said Nussbaum. The dead skin cells have also built up due to a decrease in cellular shedding, making it harder for anything you apply to the skin to get absorbed.

To combat this:

  • Exfoliate 3 times a week with a gentle chemical exfoliator like glycolic acid or lactic acid. This will help shed dead skin cells allowing for better absorption of products and a brighter complexion.
  • Use peptide cream to help repair the skin barrier and produce collagen. It also works synergistically with vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide for firmer, plumper skin.
  • Focus on hydration. Choose moisturizer with hyaluronic acid to create a plumper, more glowing appearance.