Building a daily skincare routine you can stick to can feel overwhelming—but it shouldn’t. Your regimen should be robust enough that it addresses your unique needs (without using too many potent ingredients), but simple enough that you’re able to stick to the plan.
The first step is non-negotiable: Wear sunscreen every day. It’s the most effective product you can use to not only protect yourself from skin cancers, but also prevent damage and signs of aging. Once you’ve got that essential step out of the way, I like to recommend a few easy-to-use serums and creams that focus on hydration and target specific concerns that arise with each decade of your life.
Here’s what you should be doing, according to your age.
If you’re in your…
20s – 30s
In the morning: Start with an antioxidant-rich serum. Think vitamin C, which is known for brightening, tightening and reducing redness—basically all the things you want from a skincare product. More importantly, antioxidants help combat skin-damaging free radicals caused by pollution, which can reduce collagen production (i.e., the protein that keeps skin strong and elastic) and cause hyperpigmentation.
Follow your serum of choice with moisturizer, which helps enhance hydration. There’s no need to get too fussy about the type. Find a texture you like (whether it’s a light gel or thick cream) that works for your skin type. If you have acne-prone skin, be sure to use a non-comedogenic moisturizer, as it will be less likely to clog your pores and cause blemishes.
In the evening: After cleansing, use an exfoliant, which will help clear out your pores, remove acne-causing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin and smooth out the texture and tone of your skin. Exfoliants can be irritating, though, so start slowly, once a week, to assess your skin tolerance, slowly building up to three times a week max. If you start to see dryness or flakiness, reduce frequency to give your skin time to adjust.
In the morning: Hydration becomes even more important into your 40s, since that’s when fine lines and wrinkles really start to set in and deepen—something that can become more prominent with dryness. Start with hyaluronic acid, a sugar naturally found in our skin that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Hyaluronic acid draws water to the surface of your skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and creating a plumping effect. It’s also a very sought-after ingredient, so you can find it in many forms, from serum to moisturizer.
In the evening: Apply retinol, a highly effective ingredient you can find in serums or creams. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol increases collagen production, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, decreases oil production (helpful for those with oily skin), clears out your pores and helps with pigmentation. While it’s incredibly effective, it can also be highly sensitizing. At first you may experience redness, peeling and even slight burning of skin. That’s why it’s important to start with a pea-sized amount of a low-concentration formula twice a week. Follow with moisturizer and avoid retinol altogether on days when you’re exfoliating. As your skin starts to build a tolerance to it, you can increase how often you’re using it, and work up to a higher concentration for more effective results.
Now is also the time to make an eye cream a regular fixture in your regimen, both morning and night. The skin under your eyes is the thinnest on your entire body, which makes it much more sensitive with several potential concerns, like fine lines, dark circles and puffiness. Choose an eye cream that’s specially formulated to target your individual needs.
50s and beyond
Continue to use the topical treatments mentioned in the age categories above—increasing frequency and potency (particularly in terms of retinol). The major concern at this stage in life is the hormonal changes that skin naturally goes through with age, which results in a loss of collagen and elasticity. Because of this, it’s essential to boost hydration as much as possible. To do so, look for a serum or cream that contains peptides, which will strengthen your skin and increase firmness. You will also want to make sure to target the neck, chest and hands, which tend to get neglected when we’re busy focusing on the face.