IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Everything your skin care routine needs in your 20s, according to dermatologists

These products are must-haves if you're under 30.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

The skin care routine you have in your 20s can impact the way your skin looks in a few decades, so it's the perfect time to lay the groundwork for a happy, healthy complexion that maintains its youthful glow for years to come.

Not sure where to start? Shop TODAY called up a few top dermatologists to find out what you should be focusing on in your 20s, and we also got them to recommend a few of their favorite products!

Skin care routine steps | Cleansers | Serums and treatments | Moisturizers | Sunscreens | Meet the experts

How to build a skin care routine for your 20s

In your 20s, while your skin still has much of its natural bounce and elasticity, your skin care routine doesn't need to be too complicated. Here is what a quality routine should consist of (in this order), according to dermatologists:

  1. Cleanser. Cleanser is important no matter what age you are, but when you're in your 20s, a gentle cleanser that doesn't strip your skin of its natural oils is ideal.
  2. Serums and treatments. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, your 20s are a great time to start incorporating a topical antioxidant such as vitamin C into your skin care routine. "Antioxidants help to protect the skin against free radical damage that can occur as a result of environmental stressors (like UV radiation and pollution) and subsequently lead to collagen breakdown, which can lead to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and skin laxity," she explains.
  3. Moisturizer. Did you know that dry skin can lead to premature aging? Yep! And that's why board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento believes that moisturizer is one of the most important skin care products for anyone in their 20s. "Consistently using a moisturizer will prevent you from developing premature fine lines and wrinkles. I recommend using a moisturizer that is oil-free and contains hyaluronic acid," she says.
  4. Sunscreen. Sunscreen is one of those non-negotiable products that you should be using every single day, no matter what the weather looks like. And it's important to start the habit early to help protect your skin as it ages. "Sunscreen should be worn daily in your 20s to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, brown spots and other pigment irregularities, but most importantly to help prevent skin cancer," Dr. Debra Jaliman says. Garshick says it's critical that you start a sun protection routine in your 20s if you don't already have one. "Wearing sunscreen provides protection against UV rays, and it is best to seek out a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB," she adds.

Best cleansers for your 20s

Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser

Cleansing your face helps remove impurities, but certain formulas can totally dry out your skin, so Jaliman suggests seeking out a product that offers an extra dose of hydration, like this cleanser from Kiehl's.

"It contains squalane, apricot kernel oil and avocado oil along with other hydrating ingredients," she says. "Squalane is extremely moisturizing and keeps skin hydrated. Its molecular makeup is very similar to our own skin's cell membrane and this allows it to absorb rapidly."

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Garshick calls this a "great overall cleanser" and sang its praises for its ability to get rid of dirt and buildup without drying out skin.

"This cleanser uses MVE Technology, which provides a continual release of ingredients for all-day hydration," she tells us. "It contains both hyaluronic acid and ceramides, so it helps to hydrate the skin as well as support and strengthen the skin barrier. It's a great option for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin as it is fragrance-free."

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser

It's rare to find a cleanser that works well for all skin types, but Jaliman raves about this versatile foaming option from La Roche-Posay that removes face and eye makeup and says she appreciates that it's "super gentle."

"It's made with prebiotic thermal water, which contains trace elements and minerals. This makes the water soothing for the skin. It also contains hydrating ceramides, glycerin and niacinamide," she says.

Best serums and treatments for your 20s

Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum

This vitamin C serum is one of the Garshick's faves, and it's easy to see why. The multitasker helps protect and brighten skin and it's also safe to use on sensitive skin.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2%

Think you're too young for a retinol in your 20s? Think again! "Using a product with retinol from an early age helps increase cellular turnover and stimulate collagen production. This can minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles later on in life," board-certified facial plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Somenek says.

If you're new to the world of retinol, Somenek suggests easing in with this gentle yet effective serum. "It minimizes dark spots and fine lines and evens out the skin’s texture," he adds.

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum

This is another affordable vitamin C serum that's ideal for youthful skin. "It contains hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, which all work together to fight against the signs of aging. This serum is known for its skin-brightening effects and rids the skin of dark spots," Chimento tells us.

The paraben-free, cruelty-free serum is ultra popular with Amazon shoppers and has earned almost 90,000 verified five-star ratings.

InstaNatural Niacinamide Serum

Dealing with redness, irritation or dryness? This serum is a worthwhile solution, according to Jaliman, thanks to its star ingredient: niacinamide. "Niacinamide is a B vitamin, also known as vitamin B3. It helps even skin tone and is a potent antioxidant with numerous benefits. Niacinamide improves the appearance of enlarged pores and dullness," she says.

It is vegan, cruelty-free and can be used on all skin types, according to the brand. It's also full of multiple multitasking ingredients. "Besides the niacinamide, it has other beneficial ingredients such hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, rosemary extract and aloe. It soothes, firms and replenishes the skin," Jaliman notes.

Best moisturizers for your 20s

Simple Water Boost Hydrating Gel Cream

When asked for a great moisturizer suggestion for those with dry skin, Chimento let us know about this budget-friendly find. "It provides skin with ultimate hydration but does not leave an oily residue. This product is lightweight and leaves the skin feeling refreshed," she says.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Moisturizer

When it comes to moisturizing, hyaluronic acid has always been one of the best ingredients around, so we weren't surprised to hear that dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling loves this popular product from Neutrogena. "It leaves the skin looking radiant," she says.

The derm also explains why hyaluronic acid is such a powerhouse: "It works to lock moisture in your skin, keeping it looking and feeling healthy."

Cetaphil Gentle Clear Moisturizer

Dealing with oily, acne-prone skin? That's totally normal in your 20s, but you don't have to sit back and just accept these annoying complexion conundrums. Garshick suggests looking for a moisturizer that won't leave behind extra residue or grease, like this one from Cetaphil.

"The lightweight gel cream helps hydrate the skin and helps breakouts with its 0.5 percent salicylic acid. Additionally it is soothing on the skin and leaves behind a natural matte finish," she says.

EltaMD PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer

A solid nighttime moisturizer can help your skin recover overnight, hence the name of this product that board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo digs. The multitasker helps strengthen skin's natural moisture barrier and has a potent blend of powerhouse ingredients — including niacinamide, glycerin and rice proteins — that help hydrate, even skin tone and encourage cell growth, according to the brand.

Best sunscreens for your 20s

CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion

Jaliman recommends this mineral sunscreen that's made with zinc oxide and titanium and says it's great for all skin types. "The niacinamide in this will help to prevent more dark spots from forming and if there is inflammation or redness from acne, it will help fade it," she adds.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen tops Garshick's list of skin care must-haves and she loves how lightweight it is. "It's easy to apply and oil-free, so it won’t leave the skin looking or feeling greasy. It offers broad-spectrum SPF 40 coverage and also contains red algae to protect against blue light, which can be emitted from digital devices," she notes.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

Lupo suggests using a mineral-based broad-spectrum sunscreen every day to clients in their 20s. She particularly loves this tinted formula that's made with titanium dioxide.

The SPF 50 sunscreen protects and provides light coverage, offering skin a healthy glow with its subtle tint. It also helps that it's lightweight and non-greasy and has an antioxidant complex that shields skin from free radicals.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

If you're willing to spend a bit more, this is one sunscreen that derms constantly recommend, and Sperling tells us it's one of her go-to products. "This sunscreen contains zinc and works as a mineral SPF. This brand has tinted ones to match skin tone, too," she says.

The derm adds that you should look for an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply often. "This will protect against photo-aging. Your skin will thank me later!" she exclaims.

Meet the experts

  • Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist who serves patients in both New York and New Jersey. She is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell's New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
  • Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City and author of the book “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist."
  • Dr. Stacy Chimento, MD, is a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology.
  • Dr. Michael Somenek, MD, is a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon based in Washington, D.C.
  • Dr. Mary Lupo, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
  • Dr. Shari Sperling, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, cosmetic, laser and surgical dermatology and the founder of Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, New Jersey.