How your skincare routine may change as you age

The skincare routine you develop as a teenager can set you up for a lifetime of healthy skin habits.

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.
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If there’s one universal experience, it’s aging. Think about it: From the second you’re born, you grow and change, but your skin sticks with you the whole time. It’s not surprising that what your skin needs today may be drastically different from what it needed a few years ago or what it will need tomorrow. Skincare isn’t one-size-fits-all, and there’s no uniform skincare routine for each decade. But that doesn’t mean your skincare routines should get more complicated! It might even get simpler as time goes on (more on that later).

Because everyone’s skin is unique, a medical provider can help you figure out how to address your most personal skin needs. But we’re here to share what we know—when it comes to skincare, knowledge is power.

Skincare milestones

As we age, there are a few significant events (hormonally speaking) that change our skin, especially for women: puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. 

Puberty

As if the revved-up emotions and new sensations weren’t already intense enough, breakouts are also the most common at this age, as the skin can become more acne-prone. Puberty might be the first big hormonal change you face, but for most of us, it won’t be the last!

Pregnancy

The incredible changes that happen to the body during pregnancy are fascinating—and for some people, clearer-looking skin is one of them. Thanks to higher levels of estrogen (along with other factors), pregnant women experience a higher total blood volume.¹ This may be why some women notice a “glow”. Others might be plagued with concerns like breakouts or melasma because of these hormonal fluctuations. Breakouts can occur when fluctuating hormones signal your sebaceous glands to secrete more oil (sebum). Hormonal changes can also trigger the “mask of pregnancy” (melasma), which may affect up to 75% of pregnant women. The good news is that melasma often fades once your baby is born.²

Pregnant woman touching her belly

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Just like pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy isn’t a universal experience. But if you do undergo HRT, it’s can be a pretty big life event. If you’re transgender, breakouts can be quite common (and stubborn) while you’re transitioning. That said, you can often treat this hormone-induced acne the same way you would a typical breakout.

Menopause

One of the last big hormonal changes comes later in life when hormone production slows down. During menopause, you may see this change manifest dramatically in your skin. Breakouts can still happen. There can also be an increase in skin dryness and sensitivity, so even the reliable skincare routine that got you through the past 20 years might need to be revamped.³

Skincare for teens

Adolescence can be an exciting time of firsts—first kisses, first cars, the first day of high school—and, for many, first breakouts. That makes it a great time to build a basic skincare regimen that includes: 

  • Cleansing: Start cleansing when you brush your teeth—once in the morning and once at the end of the day. Use a gentle cleanser, and steer clear of harsh soaps that may possibly dry out or irritate your skin.

  • Treating: Once your skin is clean, use an anti-acne skin treatment. Make sure you don’t use products or cosmetics with comedogenic ingredients. Comedogenic ingredients can clog pores and may exacerbate acne.

  • Moisturizing: Choose a facial moisturizer or lotion for your unique skin type. Learn if your skin is acne-prone, sensitive, dry, oily, or a combination of these.

  • Slathering: Sunscreen is a must! Make a habit of applying sun protection as the last step in your daily skincare routine, every single day. 

  • Removing makeup: Remove your makeup and wash your face at the end of the day, and watch out for makeup with pore-clogging or irritating ingredients. Try micellar water; it both cleanses and removes makeup at the same time.

And most importantly, don’t believe everything you read! Staying up on the latest in skincare is fine, but do your homework. Check out blogs and guides for skin facts you can trust.

Acne treatment for teens

For many, acne is one of the great trials of adolescence with no one-size-fits-all solution. You might never get a breakout after puberty, or acne might stick with you through your 20s. Your breakouts might stop for years only to resurface. And others who’ve never had a pimple in their lifetime wake up with acne at 50. But here are some pointers for keeping it at bay: 

  • Consider prescription-strength treatment for acne-prone teens. 

  • Use a gentle, hydrating cleanser to prevent pimples.

  • Consider gently exfoliating about once per week using a konjac sponge. 

Curology’s custom skin care program changes as your skin changes—it’s customized to meet your skin where it is today and helps you adjust for concerns that may arise down the road. Pair your Custom Formula with our cleanser made with a special blend of plant sugars and anti-inflammatory oat extract.

Skincare for your 20s

During your 20s, the routine basics from your teen years still apply: cleanse, treat, moisturize, and use sun protection. But now that you’re a bonafide grown-up, you might consider the following:

  • Eating mindfully: Consider decreasing high glycemic foods (like simple carbs) and dairy, which can contribute to breakouts in some people.⁴ Research has also shown that a diet high in sugar can contribute to wrinkles and sagging skin.⁵

  • No smoking: There are plenty of good reasons not to smoke or to quit. Better skin is just one of them!  

  • Staying out of the rays: In addition to sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats. Whatever you do, steer clear of tanning beds. They’re a fast train to sun-damaged skin and have been shown to increase your risk of melanoma.⁶

Retinoids for acne in your 20s 

Topical retinoids are great for acne and signs of aging, thanks to the way they boost cell turnover.⁷ Curology can prescribe tretinoin, a prescription-only retinoid used to treat acne vulgaris and photodamage, as part of a formula that’s customized for your skincare goals. 

To boost your protection from acne and premature aging, select products with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Glycolic acida powerhouse AHA, and salicylic acid is a common BHA. Once weekly, consider using a face mask with these ingredients to help exfoliate the skin. We like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Baby Facial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask. It also contains niacinamide to help fade dark spots, plus hyaluronic acid (in the form of sodium hyaluronate) to help keep your skin hydrated.

Skincare for your 30s

“Keep it simple” should be your motto for this decade, especially as the rest of your life takes off. Just trade out your anti-acne for anti-aging—if you’re breakout-free, of course. Here are some simple updates to your daily routine:

  • Cleanse daily: If you’re breakout-free, it’s probably fine to skip the AM cleanse. But don’t skip washing your face at night to clear off build-up from the day and prep the skin for other products.

  • Moisturize twice daily: Keeping your skin hydrated will help you look and feel great. Consider using two moisturizers: one with SPF in the morning and one for deep hydration in the evening. Look for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid for an extra boost of moisture. 

  • Use retinoids: Reach for anti-aging skin care products with vitamin A derivatives. Prescription retinoids like tretinoin are stronger than over-the-counter ones like retinol and retinyl palmitate.

  • Try an eye cream: Your 30s are a time of career, kids, and other big life events that might cut in on your beauty rest. If you’re considering adding eye care to your routine, read on for a few of our faves.

Anti-aging eye cream for your 30s

A hydrating eye cream with caffeine can help improve the appearance of dark circles and help your skin look brighter, so you can look rested even when you’re not. Check out some of our top picks priced under $20. Here are two of our go-to’s: 

  • Dermalogica Age Smart Reversal Eye Complex. This eye cream has retinol to assist in smoothing fine lines, caffeine to help improve the appearance dark circles, and niacinamide to improve hyperpigmentation. It also has a little vitamin C to boost protection against UV rays (so long as you haven’t skipped your sunscreen)!

  • The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Serum. This serum is lightly hydrating, helping to moisturize the skin around the eyes without weighing you down. It also has squalane, an antioxidant derived from natural oils that can help fight free radicals.

Skincare after 40

It’s not just a figure of speech to say we soften with time. Collagen production continues to slow down in our 40s, and skin gradually loses its elasticity. Ready to update your skincare routine? In your 40s, it may be time to add:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids. That’s right—the same AHAs we recommended for skincare in your 20s is still a great option for skincare in your 40s! Use AHAs to help boost collagen synthesis, fade sunspots, and buff away dead skin cells.

  • Vitamin C serum. Vitamin C boosts not only your collagen but your sun protection, too! Try layering a vitamin C serum under your sunscreen in the morning to maintain a youthful complexion.

  • Tretinoin. We’ve already mentioned that tretinoin is a powerful retinoid and powerhouse in the anti-aging department. It also supports normal skin structure, increases cell turnover, and promotes collagen production. All the stuff you need to improve skin texture like fine lines and wrinkles.

Building a skincare routine for your 40s

Considering an AHA exfoliant? Try The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA, which includes hyaluronic acid to boost hydration and can create visibly plumper skin. By the way, AHAs increase sun sensitivity, so be sure to only use them at night and pay extra-close attention to your sunscreen application!

As for a vitamin C serum, try Eve Hansen Vitamin C Facial Serum. This one is made with ingredients that can help repair UV damage, including vitamin C, hyaluronic acid to help hydrate, and organic aloe to help relieve irritation and inflammation. Best of all, it’s designed for all skin types.

Happy senior woman sitting on beach chair

The importance of sunscreen

Regardless of your age or life stage, one practice you can absolutely nail from the get-go is practicing proper sun protection by making it a part of your daily routine.

In general, you should apply an SPF 30 sunscreen before leaving the house and then every two hours throughout the day, depending on your activities. Sun protection is arguably the single most important part of skin health throughout your life. It’s never too late to start using sunscreen to protect against sun damage, but the earlier you start best SPF practices, the better! The sunscreen by Curology is a dermatologist-designed SPF 30 mineral formula that is non-comedogenic, non-greasy, and won’t leave a white cast on your face. Best of all, it’s reef-friendly. Apply your sunscreen about 15 minutes before sun exposure and don’t forget to blend well. 

What about wrinkles?

Old woman sticking her tongue out

Fine lines and wrinkles happen to everyone eventually, thanks to gravity, genetics, and time. But laugh lines and smile lines are what happens when you experience a lot of joy. Nonetheless, you’re not alone if you feel insecure about your wrinkles. Using a retinoid and being diligent with sun protection is the foundation of any anti-aging routine. A great moisturizer may also help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It's a must to maintain healthy skin, along with staying hydrated.

Image of Curology Cleanser Custom Formula Moisturizer and Micellar Makeup Remover

Custom skincare for any age 

Once you figure out what works for your skin, you can trust your gut. Think of your skincare routine as a daily ritual of self-care that can cultivate both confidence and a glowy complexion. Sticking to a simple routine is the best way to stay focused on what works for you.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If you’re looking for effective, affordable, acne or age-defying skincare, Curology is here for you. Sign up for a free trial of Curology to get started (you just pay $4.95 shipping & handling)* and your Curology provider will customize your products to target your skin concerns.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Mandalà M. Influence of Estrogens on Uterine Vascular Adaptation in Normal and Preeclamptic Pregnancies. International journal of molecular sciences. (2020).

  2.  Tunzi, M., & Gray, G. R. Common skin conditions during pregnancy. American family physician. (2007). 

  3.  Herman, J., et al. Skin care during the menopause period: noninvasive procedures of beauty studies. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii. (2013).

  4.  Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016)

  5.  Danby, F.W., Nutrition and Aging Skin: Sugar and Glycation. Clinics in Dermatology. (2010 July-August). 

  6.  American Academy of Dermatology. 10 Surprising Facts About Indoor Tanning. (n.d.).

  7. Baldwin, H. E., et al. 40 years of topical tretinoin use in review. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD. (2013)

This article was originally published on September 28, 2020, and updated on July 15, 2022.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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