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You reached your 20s, you finished school, you may be living on your own, working or going to university. And even though your skin still looks amazing, you might also start to think about establishing a skincare routine to prevent premature aging already.
If you do, you have come to the right place, because today I am going to break down what to do (and what NOT to do!) to keep your skin looking its best!
Let me preface that blogpost by telling you not to take my skin as guidance of what you can expect if you follow these tips. I am 42, and when I was in my 20s, there was WAY less information about skincare available than there is now, which means I made every single mistake I am going to talk about myself. Well, except for smoking, I never touched a cigarette in my life.
I have skin issues that could have been prevented by taking better care when I was younger, and let me tell you: prevention is always easier than cure.
What goes on with your skin in your 20s
Opposed to your teenage years (More info: The best skincare routine in your teens), your hormones have most likely reached a more stable state, the increased oiliness has reduced to your normal levels and your collagen and elastin production are still at their optimum. At least in the beginning of your 20s, as the actual aging process, the slow decline of collagen and elastin, starts at around 25.
These numbers are of course just average, your “biological and mental age” might differ a lot from the age in your passport. My husband for example is biologically still 18 if you ask me.
Your main goal should be prevention and maintenance – prevent anything that causes your skin to age prematurely and keep what you have as long as possible.
How you do that? It is actually pretty simple: You establish protection as in sunscreen and develop habits that fight off skin damage.
Why sunscreen is the most important step
I am going to focus on sunscreen first, as I am sure you are already tired of me going on and on about it, but it has to be said: The sun is the main source of premature aging. It causes hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone and accelerates the breakdown of collagen and elastin, both of which are needed to keep your skin firm and plump. (More info: Sunscreen Reviews)
If you don’t wear sunscreen and don’t establish sun smart behavior, you can pretty much save everything else, as you won’t be able to undo the damage done.
I love beach days, I love being outdoors, and all that is still possible, just be sensible and don’t bake in the sun for hours and, so important, do not use tanning beds. Believe me, I did and it was not worth it in the long run.
Why Cleansing is also very important
Now that you are in your 20s, there is a new difficulty that appears when it comes to cleansing your face every night – the difficulty of remembering when you stumble home drunk. That is an issue that probably did not occur very often in your teens, at least I hope it didn’t, but as your 20s are a time of experimenting, chances are there will be a night or two each week when you get home that late (that early?) that removing your makeup doesn’t sound too appealing.
I know it was that way for me, even though I was never one for drinking, and at one point I even claimed that my eye makeup only looked right when I had slept in it and reapplied the next morning. Gross!
Trust me when I say, this is not only a sure way to ruin your bedding, it is also disastrous for your skin. Yes, even if you don’t get breakouts from the makeup and dirt cocktail clogging your pores.
You see, during the day a lot of things accumulate on your face: Makeup, sweat, sunscreen, but also dirt from your hands and pollutants from the environment. All these things can trigger inflammation in the skin, and the oxidative stress that is caused by that will over time break down collagen and elastin – something we said earlier we wanted to prevent.
So: Wash your face at night to get everything off and give your skin time to repair without the added task of defending itself against the grime of the day.
Again a cleanser doesn’t have to be expensive, try finding one you enjoy enough to look forward to using, that makes it easier to stick to it. (More info: How to find the right cleanser for your skin type)
The best cleansers to use in your 20s
I am a huge fan of oil or balm cleansers for my evening cleanse, as they get rid even of heavy layers of makeup without being irritating.
A personal favorite of mine is the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm (125 ml for 19,95€, full review here). Yes, it is a little pricey, but you don’t need much, so I think it is good value for money.
I don’t think Double Cleansing is always necessary, just like I don’t think everyone needs to cleanse in the mornings with a dedicated cleanser, but if your skin leans more on the oily side or you are wearing a lot of makeup, a follow up with a balm or gel cleanser might be beneficial for you. (More info: The truth about Double Cleansing)
There are a ton of different reviews up on my channel, because which one you like depends on personal preference and skin type more than anything else, but as example: I think the Geek & Gorgeous Jelly Joker (150 ml for 8,80 €, full review here) is a really nice one and I recently started using the Youth to the People Superfood Cleanser (227 ml for 36 $) that so far I enjoy and that ticks all the important marketing boxes as in vegan, environmentally conscious and inclusive.
I really don’t want to sound dismissive here by saying marketing boxes – all these topics are extremely important, it is just that I have not yet had the time to look into what is actually behind these claims.
Why your 20s are the perfect time to start using a serum
Moving on to my favorite part in a skincare routine: serum! Yes, if you ask me, now is finally the time to start incorporating them in your routine, and for a start I would go for an antioxidant one. (More info: What is a serum?)
Again, for prevention. Oxidative stress as in free radicals ages our skin, and antioxidants are there to catch off these free radicals before they do structural damage to the cells. These free radicals occur due to stress, pollution, UV rays, basically everything that your day throws at you, so on top of eating healthy (More info: The effects of your diet on your skin) applying an antioxidant serum in the morning helps give you that extra boost.
The best serum to use in your 20s
My ingredient of choice is Ascorbic Acid as in Vitamin C (More info: Everything you need to know about Vitamin C), but if that doesn’t agree with your skin due to its irritation potential you can go for Ubiquinon or other antioxidants, the possibilities are endless.
I swear by the Geek & Gorgeous 101 C-Glow Serum (30 ml for 10,50 €, full review here), but also used and liked The Inkey List Q10 (30 ml for 5,90 €, full review here) in the past.
Something I really enjoy that works for almost everyone is Niacinamide, as it has some antioxidant properties, but is also antiinflammatory, helps regulate sebum production and helps stimulate the production of the skins own lipids needed for a healthy skin barrier. (More info: Everything you need to know about Niacinamide) Niacinamide can be found in many moisturizers, so you might already get it from there, but if you want a dedicated serum, I like The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc (30 ml for 5,90 €, full review here)
Another option is a hydrating serum, as hydrated skin is just overall more resilient, but as most antioxidant serums do already have a hydrating component I would keep it simple and not use too many different products. If your skin is really dry though, I would recommend The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum (30 ml for 6,99 €, full review here) for night time use. It is the best budget Hyaluronic Acid serum I have used with a lovely texture.
Why you need a moisturizer in your 20s
The last step in your routine should be a moisturizer, or, in the mornings, your sunscreen.
Because it helps keep hydration in the skin, offers an extra layer of protection against environmental factors and can reduce inflammation by strengthening the skin barrier. Stay clear of the ones that are labelled anti-aging, as they are usually too rich for your skin and focus on lighter textures like lotions or gels.
I like the pixi Clarity Lotion (50 ml for 24 $, full review here) or the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Aqua Gel (50 ml for 9,95 €) for more oily skins and The Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer (50 ml for 12,99 €, full review here) for normal to dry skin types.
Should you use retinoids in your 20s?
One of the most frequent questions I get is: “I am XX years old, can I start using retinol?”
The answer is usually yes, the only exception here is if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, where it is not recommended. There is no harm in starting retinol early, against what you might read it won’t thin your skin or stop working after a certain time. (More info: The different kinds of retinoids explained)
But while yes, you can absolutely use retinoids at your young age, the question is: Do you need to?
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love retinoids as ingredients, but they aren’t always easy to use. They can lead to irritation, make sun protection even more important than it already is and require some consistency to get them right. So while it is never too early to start prevention, you need to be sure that you want to commit to having a retinol skincare routine. If you don’t think that fits your current lifestyle, there is surely no harm in waiting until you reach your 30s. (More info: How to use retinol with minimal irritation)
How about exfoliation in your 20s?
As we age, cell turnover starts to slow down, and the layer of dead skin cells might make your skin look dull or lead to clogged pores and skin texture. That is not true for everyone, and certainly depends on your skin type and predisposition, but if you find that to happen for you, exfoliation is the best way to address that.
The important thing is not to overdo it, once or twice a week is usually enough. (More info: Damaged skin barrier – the reason for acne and eczema?)
Depending on your skin type you might prefer Salicylic Acid if you are oily and blemish prone (the one I am currently using is Paulas Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Peeling 118 ml for 34 €) or Glycolic Acid if texture is more of a problem. Very sensitive skins might get along better with Polyhydroxyacids like The Inkey Lists PHA Toner (100 ml for 11,45 €), so experiment a little and see what works best for you.
Not everyone needs exfoliation though, so don’t feel pressured to do regular exfoliation just because you heard it somewhere – many people do not need to exfoliate until later in life, and the best thing is always to go by what you as an individual need.
How about specific skin concerns like acne or hyperpigmentation?
The routine outlined above is of course targeted at those that do not suffer from specific skin issues. I have said it 100 times before: If you have a serious skin concern, go see a professional if possible. That is especially true if you suffer from acne.
If seeing a dermatologist is not possible, I will do a blog post on acne skincare eventually, and if hyperpigmentation is a concern, I already have a post talking about causes and treatment options. (More info: Different forms of hyperpigmentation)
As last words of advice: In your 20s you think that you are invincible – keep that thought, but remember: Even if you are, your skin barrier is not. Treat it and the rest of your body with respect and it will thank you in the long run.
And if you want to get a vote in the next Ask Doctor Anne Topic, Ingredient Spotlight or product I review, don’t forget you can head over to my Patreon account to get more involved!