As someone who's taken care of my skin since the tender age of 12, I have experience — and lots of it — with anti-aging skin care at every single decade up to my current 50's. I received excellent advice from older women as a teen, and now I'm the one hounding my 13-year-old to take care of her skin. I'm already telling her what she needs to start doing now in order to look and feel fabulous when she's in midlife. Because really, aging takes its toll and I know first-hand that good beauty habits in youth carry over into adulthood.
There are some skin-care rules that apply to any age and any ethnicity of course, such as: don't wash your face with hand soap, do moisturize and wear sunscreen every single day (to avoid photoaging and dark spots or melasma) and never go to bed with makeup on. Drink lots of water, eat a balanced diet, and exercise. Now, let's see what you need to be doing from the outside at each decade to keep your complexion in the best possible shape.
In your 20s
Your late teens and twenties are the time to establish a good skin-care routine. The most common issues may be breakouts, blotchy skin if you're Latina, oiliness and dehydration, depending on the climate you live in. Experts continue to be divided as to the use of toners. If you enjoy using one and it makes you feel fresh, by all means use one especially designed for younger skin. You can exfoliate once a week, but don't overdo it. Also, don't forget the skin on your body! If you start moisturizing it daily now, you will thank yourself for that 20 years later! A facial once every few months is a good thing to get used to. In Europe, women have monthly facials, just like women in the U.S. like to get regular mani-pedis.
Must-haves in your twenties include: a mild cleanser to use morning and night (Cetaphil is great and affordable), sunscreen during the day (in addition to or instead of a moisturizer), a moisturizer without SPF at night, and stick to a light-textured eye cream (as anything heavier can cause you to break out).
It's time to step up your routine as your skin changes. Fine lines may start to appear around your eyes, so you can start using a heavier eye-cream, but save the big guns for later on. If you're pregnant, your skin may have increased blotchiness, which you need to speak to your doctor about. As skin gets a little duller (but really, it's nothing like what will come at you later, so enjoy it now!), you can start using more nutritive creams at night with fancier ingredients such as retinol, hyaluronic acid and collagen. Kojic acid is the safest alternative for sun-spots or blotchy skin. A night oil with vitamin E is also a good addition to your routine. Aside from exfoliating once a week, hydrating face masks will help your skin look and feel more supple. BB creams instead of, or under, your foundation are beneficial, too. Don't forget your body cream, please! Every single time you shower. Start paying attention to using hand and foot cream at bedtime.
If your skin is on the lighter side, this is the age at which fine lines really creep up on you. The darker your complexion, the longer it will take to show wrinkles, which is really great news! Either way, your early forties are the time to ask your dermatologist about prescription-strength Tretinoin or Retin-A. I've been using it since I was 43 and I swear by it! Tretinoin not only helps diminish the appearance of fine lines but also unifies skin tone. The downside is that you need to use it sparingly, or you run the risk of redness and irritation. It also makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so if you are using it at night — which the best time to apply it — then you need to really slather on the sunscreen in the morning, no matter what. I use it in winter and give my skin a break in the summer, when I use an anti-aging serum instead.
You should have been applying moisturizer to your neck all these years but if you didn't, now is certainly the time to start! If you use a CC cream during the day instead of, or under, foundation, be sure to spread it down your neck and chest too. I can't stress how important it is to continue slathering that body cream all over, every single day! If you've been neglecting your hands and feet, now is the time to pamper them.
The onset of menopause is a game changer. Because of the decrease in estrogen and progesterone in perimenopause (which could start in your late 30s or your 40s), your skin really does dry out and become thinner, pretty fast. Even if you took perfect care of it your entire life, hormonal changes are a fact of life and they definitely affect your complexion. Once again, the lighter your skin the more noticeable this will be, and if you're blessed with a darker complexion, you may not see the effects of menopause until your early 60s. So what to do? Well, for one, start accepting the inevitable process of aging, but continue taking good care of yourself. Tretinoin really is your best friend at this point. If you want to step up the evening-out of your complexion treatment, then ask your skin doctor about hydroquinone, a skin lightener. Ironically it works better on lighter skin, and you can also substitute it kojic acid which is milder. Do not ignore your neck and besides, it won't let you! Rose balms are great for dry skin patches, also around your elbows and knees. Keep on slathering the body cream …. and don't ever leave the house without sunscreen or a hat! At this point, your hands also need all the tender loving care you can give them. Hand and foot creams at this age are a must!