What is it about the prospect of turning 30 that brings a newfound devotion to skincare? Yes, there’s the obsessive poring over stray spots and microscopic lines you’re yet to be familiar with, but is it all in your mind, or does your skin actually start to change right when you enter that third decade?
According to Alicia Barba, a Miami-based dermatologist, the first signs of sun damage do generally show up in your thirties, as your skin’s reparative abilities begin to weaken—think mild brown spots, crow’s feet and dull skin. But it’s important to remember that those changes are actually a reflection of past behaviour. “The damage you do in your twenties is going to show up in your thirties, forties, and fifties,” she explains. “It’s a cumulative effect; things will come back to haunt you.”
Fortunately, by taking early action, you can make a significant impact on your skin’s future health, Barba explains. “A lot of it has to do with prevention and protection—being the 20-year-old wearing a hat at the beach,” she says. “But it’s also about developing good habits to carry you on through your later years.” One especially important practice: extending your products’ reach. “When you’re young, it’s easy to think just about your face, but we need to protect our neck, chest, hands, and feet as well,” she adds. “As you get older, you’ll start thinking about them more. You can usually carry what works for your face down to your neck and chest.”
Here, Barba breaks down the best skincare products for your twenties that every woman should be using before she turns 30—but those 30 and older should also take notes. “It’s never too late to start, and I promise it will help,” Barba says. 30 is the new 20, after all.
“It’s important to exfoliate, but sometimes we can become over-exfoliated. From cleansers to sonic devices to scrubs, if you use one exfoliator on top of another, the skin can become irritated and raw. It’s always nice to have a gentle cleanser on hand, especially in the morning when you really only have natural oils and the product from the night before to clean off.”
Vitamin C serum
“I recommend a vitamin C serum packed with antioxidants for an added layer of sun protection. Everyone should know that sunscreen is not a complete block. UV rays do still penetrate, so it’s nice to wear something underneath the SPF to neutralise the free radicals that get released and also to help with collagen production. Some sunscreens will claim to have antioxidants in them, but it’s never been proven that the amount they include is enough to protect, so it’s better to use them separately.”
“Sunscreen is nonnegotiable on a daily basis. There are so many formulations to choose from, but you should pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher. I love to look for the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which create a nice even finish and can cause fewer breakouts in 20-somethings. If you’re out and active, you should reapply your SPF every one to two hours; if you’re not spending a lot of time outdoors, then it’s fine to apply just once in the morning.”
“Retinoids are still the gold standard. They are the one thing that’s actually been proven to treat the skin, to build collagen, but also to reverse photoaging. Pick a mild, over-the-counter retinol product that is not irritating or too exfoliating and start using it every other night, and you can mix a little moisturiser with the retinol to make it more tolerable. The goal should be to start in your late 20s and get used to the effects so that you can work yourself up to prescription-strength retinol by your late 30s or 40s.”
“The skin around our eyes is the thinnest skin on our body and one of the first spots to show your age. Starting an eye cream early develops a good habit, and even if you’re not treating a visible wrinkle, it hydrates the skin to plump it, so the wrinkles show less when you’re older. I like to rotate creams with different active ingredients to work out the different layers and structures of the skin. For example, starting with an eye cream that has a little retinol to build collagen, and after finishing that jar, switching to a more hydrating formula with hyaluronic acid.”
“Once you hit your late 20s, some people might start to see the early signs of sun or smoking damage and want to be more aggressive in treating it. There are a lot of amazing acids to use at home once a week or fortnightly to exfoliate the skin. There is a learning curve with these, as well. You have to be very careful to moisturise and use a gentle cleanser to avoid further stripping the skin.”
“In my world, exfoliation is always paired with hydration. When one exfoliates, you also remove your own natural moisturisers along with dead skin cells. Too much exfoliation can lead to dry, itchy skin. A gentle exfoliating body polish that moisturises while exfoliating is the way to go.”
Hyaluronic acid serum
“Hyaluronic acid holds up to a thousand times its own weight in water and gently hydrates and plumps the skin.”