The Skin-Care Rules to Live by for Every Stage of Your Life

Updated: May 06, 2021

What your skin needs in your 20s isn't the same as in your 50s. We talked to experts to find out the most important skin needs during each decades and the best regimen to address them so you can have your best complexion at any age.

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verona studio/Shutterstock

In your 20s

How you treat your complexion in your younger years can set you up for skin care success later in life. In your 20s, it’s mostly about prevention. Make sure you know the correct age to begin these vital skin care practices.

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Prevent sun damage

Any dermatologist will tell you that one of the most important things you can do to protect your skin is to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ every single day, rain or shine. UV rays damage collagen and elastic tissue and cause wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, brown spots, broken blood vessels, and uneven texture, explains Debra Jaliman, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. People who wear sunscreen religiously tend to look much younger (not to mention it helps protect against skin cancer), so this is important for every age group. If you need some product recommendations, these are the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.

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Handle breakouts

Just because you’re out of your teenage years doesn’t mean acne suddenly disappears (but wouldn’t that be amazing?!). To keep skin clear, Dr. Jaliman suggests using a cleanser like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Face Wash Cream Cleanser or pre-soaked pads with salicylic acid like Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads. You can also find more over-the-counter drugstore acne-fighters that dermatologists trust.

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Deep clean pores

And once a week, use a purifying mask to really give pores a deep clean. Look for formulas with ingredients including charcoal or clay, like Biore Self Heating One Minute Mask or Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Mud Mask. If you have acne-prone skin, these blemish-busting face masks are a must!

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Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

Treat tired eyes

Eye masks (or patches) are great for faking a well-rested look—even after those late nights. Some good options are G.M. Collin Instant Radiance Eye Patches and Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Eye Mask. Didn’t catch enough zzzs? These genius makeup tips will help you look less tired.

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In your 30s

During this decade, hormone changes and stress can throw your skin out of whack. And if you didn’t take care of your complexion in your 20s, it’s time to do some damage control, pronto. Give these home remedies for acne a try.

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Deal with discoloration

“When it comes to patients in their 30s, I see a lot discoloration—mostly from pregnancy, melasma, and sun damage,” says Dr. Jaliman. She suggests using vitamin C in the morning. Try Ole Henriksen Truth Serum or Glossier Super Glow. (Here’s the difference between melasma and other skin spots.)

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Fight hormonal breakouts

Sadly, blemishes can follow you until your 30s. If you’re still struggling with blemishes or inflammation, try a pH balancing (alcohol-free) toner, like Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner or Cocokind Raspberry Vinegar Toner.

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Step up your anti-aging game

Retinol (vitamin A) is a favorite among dermatologists, prized for its ability to promote cell turnover, thus boosting radiance and diminishing fine lines and discoloration. Because retinol increases photosensitivity, it’s best to use it at night. Consider trying Amarte HydroLift Cream. If you have sensitive skin, consider Roc Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Sensitive Skin Night Cream or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum.

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Africa Studio/Shutterstock

In your 40s

Haven’t you heard 40 is the new 20? Make sure your skin gets the memo by stocking your medicine cabinet with plenty of nourishing products, and be sure to apply them in the correct skin care routine order to get the best results.

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Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

As skin ages, it loses oil. Here’s how to combat dryness: Replace astringent toners with gentle micellar water, like Lierac Paris Demaquillant Douceur – Micellar Cleansing Water. Swap harsh cleansers for creamy, nourishing formulas, like Youth To The People Age Prevention Superfood Cleanser or Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Facial Nourishing Anti‑Aging Cleanser, which remove impurities without stripping skin of precious natural oils. Here are some more skincare tips for dry skin.

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Ditch dullness

Dullness and dryness are common complaints of women in their 40s. Facial oil is a great way to boost radiance, luminosity, and moisture! All you need are a few drops in the AM and PM. We like Edible Beauty & Snowflower Illuminating Face Oil and Herbivore Orchid Youth Preserving Facial Oil. Try these other amazing tricks for healthy, glowing skin.

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Elena Stepanova/Shutterstock

Banish crow’s feet

You’ll also start to see fine lines around your eyes. Dr. Jaliman suggests formulas with peptides, like Sea Radiance Rapid Eye Lift or Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel, to smooth the delicate eye area. (What are peptides? Here’s what you should know.)

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In your 50s and beyond

During this decade, the most major concerns are wrinkles, sagging, uneven tone, and dryness. Here are some tips on how to get rid of wrinkles.

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Firm up

Start by investing in a serum with hyaluronic acid—this mega-moisturizing ingredient holds 1,000 times its weight in water. Advances in technology have produced low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (LMW-HA), which penetrate the skin more easily to help plump, hydrate, and firm. Some of our favorites are SkinCeuticals H.A. Intensifier and PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum. Here are some more of our favorite beauty serums.

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Valeri Potapova/Shutterstock

Tackle wrinkles

Retinol-based night products are still going to be your best bet. But you can up the ante with a higher concentration or even a prescription option, like Renova (make an appointment with your dermatologist to determine the best option for you). Once a week, try a concentrated anti-aging mask, like Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Face Mask. Don’t miss the retinoid rule dermatologists are urging everyone to follow.

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Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Prevent cellular damage

Cell turnover slows as we age, making damage more visible and difficult to reverse. Make the most of your beauty sleep with a reparative overnight treatment, like Amorepacific Moisture Bound Sleeping Recovery Mask or Exuviance Overnight Recovery Masque. Read up on the nighttime habits of people with great skin.