Skincare through the decades

Our guide to skincare on a timeline

7 minute read

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.

Table of Contents

If there’s one universal experience, it’s aging. It’s pretty profound if you think about it: from the second you’re born, you’re always growing and changing, and our skin sticks with us through all of it, growing and changing along with us. It’s not surprising that what your skin needs today may be drastically different from what your skin needed a few years ago—but that doesn’t mean your skincare routines should get more complicated! In fact, your skincare routine might even get simpler as time goes on (more on this later).

If you’re in search of advice on anti-aging skincare, keep this in mind: skincare isn’t one-size-fits-all, and there’s no uniform experience for each decade. The amazing biological changes we face over time play a big role in our ever-changing skin. We’re here to tell you what we know about keeping your skin happy for each of life’s big moments.

First things first: sunscreen

When you’re starting out in skincare, it can feel like your skin is totally out of your control. And we won’t lie—some things definitely are out of our control. No one chooses the DNA that makes us more acne-prone. The good news is that the more we get to know our skin, the more predictable it becomes. 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 sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily, and then again for every 2 hours of sun exposure. Sun protection is arguably the single most important part of skin health throughout your life. It’s never too late to start using sunscreen, but the earlier you start best SPF practices, the better!

Sunscreens for every age IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation Full Coverage Moisturizer with SPF 50 This product does the work—a full-coverage tinted moisturizer that provides sun protection while improving the appearance of signs of aging like sunspots, large pores, and wrinkles.

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Skincare milestones

As we age, there are a few big events (hormonally speaking) that change our skin.

Puberty As if the revved up emotions and new sensations weren’t already intense enough—breakouts are also the most common at this age. When reproductive hormones rev up, your skin can become more acne-prone, which is why so many teenagers struggle with acne at this age. Puberty might be the first big hormonal change you face, but for most of us, it won’t be the last! More on this in a second.

Pregnancy The incredible changes that happen to our body during pregnancy are fascinating—and for some people, better skin is one of them. Thanks to higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, some women experience the famed pregnancy glow. But it’s totally normal to get breakouts because of these hormonal fluctuations, too!

Hormone replacement therapy Just like pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy isn’t necessarily a universal experience. But if you do undergo HRT, it’s a pretty big life event. If you’re a transgendered person, breakouts can be quite common (and stubborn!) when you’re transitioning. That said, acne usually responds to treatment the same, whether you’re trans or cisgendered.

Menopause The last big hormonal change comes later in life when hormone production slows down. Those of us who experience menopause may see this change manifest in dramatically different skin. Breakouts are less common—though they can still happen—but there’s an increase in skin dryness and sensitivity, so even the reliable skincare routine that got you through the past 20 years might need to get switched up.

Skincare for teens

Adolescence can be an exciting time of firsts—first kiss, first car, first day of high school—and, for many of us, our first breakout. And it’s a wise time to start building a basic skincare regimen.

Routine basics

  • Cleanse. Try cleansing whenever you brush your teeth—once in the morning, and once at the end of the day. Avoid harsh soaps and try using a gentle cleanser that’s specially formulated for the face.

  • Treat. After your skin is prepped, use an anti-acne skin treatment as directed—but know your ingredients! In addition to doing your research about which skincare ingredients are ideal for your skin, you should double-check your products and cosmetics using the cosDNA test to make sure they don’t have any pore-clogging ingredients.

  • Moisturize. If your skin is feeling tight or dry, you’ll want to use a facial moisturizer for your unique skin type. Learn if your skin is acne-prone, sensitive, dry, oily—or a combination of these types.

  • Don’t believe everything you read. Who doesn’t love a good viral trend? Well, dermatologists, for one. Staying up on the latest in skincare is totally fine, but do your homework! Check out more blogs and guides for skin routine facts.

Acne treatment for teens

Teenage acne might be one of the great beasts of adolescence, but when does acne stop? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You might never get a breakout after puberty, or your acne might stick with you through your 20s. Your breakouts might stop for years and then start again. And others never get a breakout in their life only to wake up with acne at age 50.

The Curology custom cream Come for the prescription-strength treatment for acne-prone teens, stay for the #SkincareJourney. You’ll be prescribed a customized cream that can be tweaked as your needs change, so once your breakouts are under control, we can focus on maintaining your youthful glow 🌟

The Curology cleanser A gentle, hydrating cleanser is essential in the plight against pimples. With a special blend of plant sugars and anti-inflammatory oat extract, our cleanser soothes your skin while fortifying against clogged pores.

Konjac sponge Made from the root of the konnyaku plant, a konjac sponge can help clear pores by gently exfoliating the skin. This helps clear away the build up of dead skin cells that can inadvertently cause breakouts.

Skincare for your 20s

The routine basics from your teens still apply: cleanse, treat, moisturize, and use sun protection. But now that you’re a bonafide grown-up, you might take the following into consideration:

Routine updates

  • Remove makeup. Avoid makeup with pore-clogging or irritating ingredients. Removing makeup at the end of the day is a good idea. You can use micellar water, which cleanses and removes makeup at the same time.

  • Eat mindfully. Diets high in sugar, simple carbs, and dairy are associated with acne breakouts. Research has also shown that a diet high in sugar can lead to wrinkles and sagging skin, so keep an eye on your nutrition.

  • Don’t smoke. There are a lot of good reasons to quit smoking now if you haven’t already—and better skin is one of them! Smoking leads to accelerated aging—you might say it makes you age faster. “Smoker’s face” is a term often used to describe the damage smoking can do to your skin. This includes making your skin look more wrinkled, coarse, and sallow than it would otherwise.

  • Don’t soak up the sun. The longer you live, the more UV rays you’re exposed to. In addition to using sunscreen, it’s a good idea to wear sun-blocking clothing like sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. And don’t lay out or go to the tanning salon—use a fake tanner to achieve a bronze glow instead.

Retinoid for acne?

Fun fact: retinoids are good for acne and signs of aging, thanks to the way they increase cell turnover. Besides tweaking your Curology cream if appropriate, an AHA or BHA product can also help with both signs of aging and acne in your 20s, 30s, and 40s.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution This mask contains power-house ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to unclog pores and help fight signs of aging. We suggest starting slowly when introducing this mask to your routine and increasing the frequency as tolerated.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Baby Facial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask A once-weekly mask with lactic and salicylic acid to help exfoliate skin, perfect for both hormonal acne and signs of aging. It also contains niacinamide to help fade dark spots and other hyperpigmentation, plus hyaluronic acid (in the form of sodium hyaluronate) to keep your skin hydrated and baby-soft.

Skincare for your 30s

Your skin routine can be a constant ritual of self-care, no matter what new stress your 30s brings. If you’re breakout-free by this age, you might start to swap your anti-acne products for anti-aging ones. But you can still stick to a simple skincare routine in your 30s.

Routine updates

  • Cleanse daily. Feel free to skip the AM cleanse if you don’t need it, especially if you’re breakout-free. It’s still a good idea to wash your skin at night to clear off any 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, so if you aren’t already, start moisturizing twice a day—especially if your skin feels tight and dry! You might even want to use two different kinds of moisturizers: one with SPF in the morning, and one for deep hydration in the evening.

  • Use retinoids. Reach for anti-aging skincare products with vitamin A derivatives. Prescription retinoids like tretinoin are more powerful than over-the-counter ones like 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. A hydrating eye cream with caffeine can help improve the appearance of dark circles and helps skin to look brighter, so you can look rested even when you’re not.

Anti-aging eye cream

Dermalogica Age Smart Reversal Eye Complex This eye cream is formulated to smooth under-eye skin with texture-improving moisturizing ingredients while working to improve signs of aging. A triple-threat, this eye cream has retinol to assist in smoothing fine lines, caffeine to improve 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)!

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Eye cream for dark circles

The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Serum Caffeine eye creams may help with puffiness and dark circles because the caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, which improves skin color and texture. 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 fights wrinkle-forming free radicals.

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Skincare after 40

It’s not just a figure of speech to say we soften with time. Collagen production in our skin continues to slow down in our 40s. But—fun fact—collagen is too large to be absorbed directly by the skin. Instead, incorporate a product into your routine that stimulates collagen synthesis.

Routine updates

  • Alpha hydroxy acids. That’s right—the same AHA’s we recommended for skincare in your 20s are still a great option for skincare in your 40s! Use AHA’s to help boost collagen synthesis, fade sunspots, and clear 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 tret is a powerful retinoid, but did you know that it helps to support the normal structure of our skin? It increases cell turnover rate and collagen production, helping to improve skin texture issues like fine lines and wrinkles.

Building a skincare routine for your 40s

AHA exfoliant The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA Lactic acid is a great option for exfoliating mature skin because it moisturizes while clearing away dead skin cells. We like this one because it also has hyaluronic acid to boost hydration. The result is skin that looks visibly brighter and plumper. 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!

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Vitamin C serum BareMinerals SKINLONGEVITY Vital Infusion Serum If you’re looking for the best anti-aging serum, this one is made with a few ingredients that repair UV damage: vitamin C (in the form of ascorbyl glucoside) and niacinamide. It maintains skin hydration with moisturizing ingredients like squalane, butylene glycol, and dimethicone. It’s a thicker serum that contains alcohol and fragrance, so this one isn’t the best for sensitive skin.

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What about wrinkles?

Fine lines and wrinkles happen to everyone eventually, thanks to gravity, genetics, and the passage of time. Think about it like this: laugh lines and smile lines are what happen when you’ve experienced a lot of joy. You’re not alone if you feel insecure about your wrinkles. Using a retinoid and being diligent with sun protection are the foundation of any anti-aging routine, but a great moisturizer may help to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Wrinkle cream Boomsilk Face and Body Moisturizer A hydrating moisturizer that may help to smooth the appearance of wrinkles. This product includes olive oil and honey, natural humectants that help boost skin’s moisture retention. This simple formula is ideal for sensitive skin, and it can be used on the face and body, from your under eyes to your toes.

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Truth be told: 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.

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