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The Correct Age to Begin 10 Vital Skin Care Practices

If you wait to address problems only after they show up—think sun damage, age spots, and wrinkles—you're missing out on the incredible powers of prevention. Here's the TLC your skin needs starting right now.

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When to start these skin care practices

Taking good care of your skin goes way beyond washing your face. There are moisturizers, chemical peels, laser treatments, and anti-aging serums that will protect and nourish your skin. We checked with dermatologists about the best skin care practices for every age. Here’s their advice for keeping your skin healthy.

mother applying cream on baby's faceFluxFactory/Getty Images

Start wearing sunscreen yesterday

There are some vital skin care practices you should be practicing nearly from birth. While you can’t go back in time to slather your baby self in sunscreen, you can at least make the right sunscreen choices for your children and for yourself now. “For children, I recommend a physical sunscreen—one with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, over a chemical sunscreen,” says Julie Russak, MD, of Russak Dermatology Clinic. Chemical sunscreens can cause irritation or allergic reactions because a chemical sunscreen is absorbed instead of just sitting on the top layer of skin. It’s also imperative you wear sunscreen even in winter. To make it a default part of your daily routine, use a makeup primer, moisturizer, or foundation with built-in SPF. Some of our favorites are Coola Daydream Mineral Primer SPF 30; Revision Skincare Intellishade Matte, a tinted moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 45; and L’Oreal Paris True Match Super Blendable Makeup broad-spectrum SPF 17.

young girl washing facedamircudic/Getty Images

Exfoliate regularly before your first pimple

Did you begin exfoliating in your late 20s? If so, you actually started this key practice pretty late. “Exfoliants should be used beginning in the teen years to clean pores, protect against acne, and clear dead cells from the skin surface,” says Gerald Imber, MD. “Whether your skin is oily or dry, regular exfoliation is necessary from your middle teenage years on, to promote smooth skin surface and to minimize pores,” says S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, of the Miami Skin Institute.  Studies show that an uneven buildup of dead skin layers may contribute to a dull complexion and possibly even non-melanoma skin cancers later in life, she adds. (Find out if you need a beauty fridge for your skincare products.)

medical laser treatment on facerobertprzybysz/Getty Images

Consider laser treatments as soon as you can vote

“It is never too soon to start on lasers,” says Dr. Russak. “Some patients receive laser treatment for acne scarring or acne breakouts from their teenage years. Depending on the laser and what you’re being treated for, you can start in your late teenage years.” Alongside early laser treatments, Dr. Russak recommends taking skin care supplements with collagen and antioxidants. “Investing in your skin is one of the most important things a person can do,” she says. “Remember, you have one skin that needs to last you a lifetime.”

young woman getting a skin care treatment Dmytro Varavin/Getty Images

Consider chemical peels in your early 20s

Despite what the name might imply, chemical facial peels are actually gentle solutions that help loosen the bonds that keep dead skin cells together so you can shed them more easily, and reveal fresh, new ones below. “Chemical peels are much like regular exfoliation at home, but on steroids,” says. Dr. Jegasothy. “Whether you have enlarged pores, clogged pores, brown spots, redness, sensitive skin, we can tailor the fruit acid used in your chemical peel to promote a fresh glowing complexion that is pore-free and smooth enough for any makeup to glide on seamlessly,” she says. At home, top performers are Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel, with powerful but gentle glycolic acid, and Exuviance Performance Peel AP25, with a blend of fruit acids to exfoliate plus ingredients to stimulate cell renewal. A budget option is Pixi By Petra Glow Peel Pads, with glycolic acid to sweep away dead skin cells and rosewater to hydrate. Dr. Imber also recommends his No Peel Peel, available at his New York City-based Youth Corridor Clinic.

woman looking in mirror applying skin care on faceWestend61/Getty Images

Cue the anti-aging eye serums in your mid-20s

It’s important to begin this practice decades before your eyes begin to wrinkle and sag. “You should start an anti-aging eye serum in your 20s,” Dr. Russak says. “Although you always want to be wearing SPF with eye protection to minimize sun exposure, you should then start wearing an anti-aging cream—one that contains antioxidants and other beneficial factors.” Eye creams help plump out fine wrinkles, but don’t prevent them, which is why Dr. Imber always suggests adding a vitamin C serum, like Youth Corridor Ultimate Antioxidant C Boost Serum in the under-eye area to revitalize and build collagen. (If’s also smart to enrich your diet with anti-aging foods.)

close up of woman moisturizing handsFreshSplash/Getty Images

Start moisturizing your hands in your mid-20s

Hand cream isn’t just a fragrant feel-good—it’s necessary to preserve the thin, delicate skin on your hands, which only gets thinner and more sun damaged with age. “Lighter skin types experience thinning of the skin and a crepey appearance that extends from fingers to knuckles, giving the hand an aged appearance, even more than the face,” says Dr. Jegasothy. Fairer skin types are also prone to liver spots or seborrheic keratosis, brown, warty skin growths that are unsightly and may start appearing as early as our late 30s. For people with darker skin, it’s equally important to moisturize daily to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dehydrated or ashy skin.

“A good glycolic moisturizing hand cream serves as a daily exfoliant and may firm, thicken skin, and prevent seborrheic keratosis,” Dr. Jegasothy adds. By the time you start seeing things like age spots and crinkly skin, it’s time to bring out the bigger guns, like Exuviance AGE REVERSE Hand Rejuvenator. It’s a two-step peel treatment (made by the scientists who created the first glycolic peel) designed to lift away dull rough patches, fight loose skin, crepiness, and age spots, and restore hydration for firmer, younger looking skin. (Not sure you’re need hand cream? Here are subtle signs your hands need TLC.)

woman applying cream on faceLightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Start an anti-wrinkle regimen in your mid-20s

“Between your 20s and 30s is when you should start wearing anti-wrinkle creams,” says Dr. Russak. “A retinol is great to start, at about the age of 25, when the first signs of sun damage and wrinkles are beginning to surface.” Retinol will help accelerate cell turnover, so you have fresh, plump skin cells right at the surface for a youthful glow. The FDA approved a popular prescription retinoid, Differin Gel 0.1%, for over-the-counter use. It’s marketed as an anti-acne medication, but the high-dose retinoids are powerful anti-wrinkle prevention as well. For best results, consider adding vitamin C, an antioxidant that fights free radicals, so it helps your retinol do a better job. (We suggest layering a serum under your retinol. Three recommendations, from high to low: iS Clinical Super Serum Advance, with a 15 percent concentration of vitamin C plus copper tripeptide growth factors for enhanced anti-aging properties; Dermalogica C-12 Pure Bright Serum, for major skin brightening; and Art Naturals Vitamin C Age Defying Serum, with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and ferulic acid.) “Not only will such a regimen prevent excessive sun damage, but it will provide chronic hydration and evening of the epidermal skin layer,” says Dr. Jegasothy, “all of which promote a smooth unwrinkled skin appearance later in life.”

close up of woman applying body scrubyacobchuk/Getty Images

Make friends with body scrub in your mid-20s

In the same way your face needs help shedding dead skin cells to make space for new ones, so too does the skin on the rest of your body. Instead of just exfoliating your face, be sure to also treat your arms, legs, chest, belly, and beyond. “Full body exfoliation is great from the mid-20s on, simply because it eliminates dead skin buildup, which can occur that early, depending on genetic makeup,” Dr. Jegasothy says. Our high-end pick is The Body Shop Spa Of The World Brazilian Cupuacu Scrub-in-Oil; a budget option is Alba Botanica Body In the Buff Revitalizing Scrub Grapefruit and Walnut Shell. Just don’t do a head-to-toe scrub too often. Dr. Russak says that “skin will take up to 20 to 40 days to renew itself once you’re past your teenage years.” So, there’s no need to exfoliate your body more than once a week. (One trendy way to exfoliate is with dry brushing.)

woman applying lotion to neckFreshSplash/Getty Images

Start wearing neck cream in your early 30s

Your neck can make you look older than you actually are, which is why it’s important to consider preventative neck care as one of your beauty priorities. “Lighter skin people who do not wear sunscreen on their neck or use neck cream are more prone to getting a chronic discoloration of their skin called poikiloderma. This is a result of chronic sun exposure—even casual exposure such as during the work day counts,” says Dr. Jegasothy. “Darker skin types experience more sagging and fat accumulations in the neck, and therefore need neck cream less than fairer skin types.” She recommends a good antioxidant cream to keep your neck looking as graceful and swan-like as it did back when you sported a ponytail in high school. One great neck cream option is the Cold Plasma Anti-Aging Neck Treatment by Perricone MD.

applying body oil moisturizer to legsandresr/Getty Images

Use body oil anytime

The key to youthful-looking skin is hydration, and one of the best ways to achieve a well-moisturized body is by slathering on body oil. “Skin types that are naturally drier would benefit from a body oil at any age,” says Dr. Russak. Dr. Jegasothy recommends focusing on the especially dry and rough elbows and knees. “It will also keep skin tighter longer in those areas as you approach your 40s and 50s,” she says. We love Dr. Hauschka Blackthorn Toning Body Oil and Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Skin Therapy Oil.

Next, check out the skin care rules to live by during every stage of your life.

Aubrey Almanza
Aubrey Almanza is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and King's College London. Her writing has appeared in Prevention, SHAPE, and Reader's Digest, among others. She specializes in data-driven content on topics of wellness, beauty, culture, art, and fashion.