We mostly focus on prevention and maintenance.
1 Sun Protection
When it comes to preventing aging, the number one thing at any age, but especially in your 20s, is wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin from the sun. The vast majority of external aging is due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun penetrates the deeper layers of the skin and chews up the collagen there. So, if you’re not wearing sunscreen in your 20s, get on that now. I also heavily encourage the use of sun-protective clothing, like broad-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and not staying out in the sun too long. These are things that will really add up over your lifetime and reduce the visible signs of photo-aging.
Sun protection is not just a summer thing or a sunny day thing. Incidentally, UV is around all of the time, and cumulatively over a lifetime, that adds up and increases the visible signs of photo-aging, things like wrinkles, modeled pigmentation, and sagging skin. So even if it’s cloudy out, that’s not an excuse to not protect your skin from the sun.
2 Wash Your Face
Cleansing the skin of the face is important to do on a daily basis. The face and neck is the most exposed to environmental stressors, things like pollution and allergens. You also need to remove sunscreen, makeup, and cosmetics at the end of the day. If those things stay on your skin, they can cause damage throughout the night.
When we sleep at night, our skin goes to work repairing some of the damage done throughout the day. If you still have garbage on your face in the form of pollutants, allergens, leftover makeup, etc., it distracts your skin from the real healing work, and promotes the formation of free radicals that can age your skin. If you have an underlying skin condition like acne or eczema, these things left on the skin can aggravate those conditions as well.
On the other hand, it’s really easy to go overboard with cleansing. Using a harsh cleanser or cleansing too frequently can strip your skin of its natural lipids and disrupt the acid mantle of the skin barrier, and therefore make you predisposed to dry skin and irritation.
The key is figuring out a cleansing method and frequency that works for you. Some people with oily skin do just fine cleansing their skin twice a day. They like to wash their face in the morning to remove some of that shiny sebum from the surface of the skin, and they never have issues with dryness. Others, like myself, with drier skin may do better only cleansing once a day.
No matter the frequency, pay attention to the cleanser that you’re using. You really want to pay attention that your cleanser is not leaving your skin feeling squeaky clean. That is basically a sign of a harsh cleanser that is stripping the skin barrier, which can lead to a lot of dryness and irritation and disrupt the microbiome of your skin. Ditching your cleanser altogether is also not a good idea. Strike a balance that works for you, but make sure you have some degree of cleansing on a daily basis.
3 Exfoliate If Needed
There is a chance you can ignore the need to exfoliate. Beauty ads often stress exfoliating, which can give people in their 20s a lot of anxiety because they don’t know where to start.
There are a lot of different exfoliants out there. There’s chemical. There’s mechanical. But in your 20s, there’s a good chance you don’t really need to focus on exfoliating. People with certain skin conditions, like acne, may benefit from it; but exfoliating can also lead to clogged-up pores and acne flare-ups. Some people benefit from consistent use of products like salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant that focuses on those oily surfaces that cause acne.
People with a dry skin condition called keratosis pylorus have trouble exfoliating dry skin; it stays around the pore and they get these little dry, red bumps. They actually benefit from consistent use of an alpha hydroxy acid moisturizer to soften that dryness and help it exfoliate. So, some people do benefit from using an exfoliant, but not everybody needs to be using one.
If you don’t have these conditions, don’t worry about exfoliating. When you cleanse the skin, you’re exfoliating to a certain extent by encouraging the sloughing of those skin cells naturally.
Moisturizers are really important to apply to the skin after cleansing because they help aid in skin barrier recovery and help reduce what’s called trans epidermal water loss that ultimately leads to dryness. Moisturizers also help in in restoring the acid mantle and facilitating an overall healthier skin.
Certain moisturizers are especially important for people who have an underlying skin condition, like eczema or acne or rosacea, because all a lot of these diseases have an underlying component to them that has to do with an impaired skin barrier. Plus, these conditions are often treated with medications whose side effects include dryness, irritation, burning, and stinging. Using a moisturizer along with these medications reduces those side effects and ultimately yields better results.
5 Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C, if you’re not familiar, also goes by the name Ascorbic Acid. It is an antioxidant that, when applied topically to the skin, has been shown in small studies to improve collagen production, reduce damage due to ultraviolet radiation exposure, and reduce free radical production.
Ascorbic acid is a very nuanced and finicky ingredient. In my opinion, using a vitamin C serum is absolutely not necessary at any age. It’s a matter of personal consumer preference. We do not have studies that actually show that using a vitamin C serum ultimately reduces the signs of photo-aging. You can make the argument that it would be beneficial to introduce it in your 20s, but in my opinion, we don’t have the data to say that it makes a long-term difference.
Retinol/vitamin A is one treatment on which we do have significant data demonstrating its efficacy for reducing the burden of sun damage and photo aging, and helping your skin deal with ultraviolet radiation. Retinoic acid, a.k.a. TRED, is the retinol/vitamin A form that has been around the longest, so we’ve been able to best demonstrate its anti-aging benefits.
Trentino in retinoic acid is only available by prescription, but we do have studies that suggest that using an over-the-counter retinol also has anti-aging benefits, it just takes longer to start working. Down below, I’ll list some over-the-counter retinol and vitamin A dappling products that can help with acne control.
People in their 20s and 30s often ask me how to convince your doctor to prescribe Retno for anti-aging. Many doctors have reservations about prescribing it for cosmetic reasons, especially in young people, because they’re liable if you have an adverse reaction.
If you do want to incorporate a topical vitamin A, using retinol over the counter, consistently and long term, can offer some long term advantages.
The biggest game-changer in producing ultimate results is going to be sunscreen and sun protection. But the other thing that matters is your lifestyle.
Your diet makes a huge difference in the health of your skin. Ultimately, your skin care doesn’t matter if you have a crappy diet.
People who eat fruits and vegetables have a better ability to combat the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. It takes more sun to damage their skin than somebody who isn’t getting the carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals from fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.
Don’t fear the sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Find those that you enjoy eating and try to get a variety. Make sure that you incorporate healthy fats into your diet, things like nuts, seeds, avocado, to help with the lipid barrier.
Stay away from sugary processed foods, they have a high glycemic index, which translates into the increased formation of advanced glycation end products in the skin. Think of it as chewing gum on your collagen fibers and things like that—basically clumping up due to sugar. These glycation end products contribute to wrinkle formation and the darkening of the deeper layers of the skin with age. Additionally, if you have acne, eating sugary foods can spike your insulin levels, which promotes oil production and causes acne flare-ups.
I’m not going to tell you to never eat cookies or cake or candy or sweets that you enjoy. But eat a balanced diet and try not to gravitate towards sugary processed foods or convenience foods. Things that come out of a window are generally not the best for us. They’re fine once in a while, but make sure that you are eating healthy foods, ideally cooked at home. That eventually will show up on your skin for sure.
No, you don’t have to be an athlete. Just make sure that you get some cardiovascular exercise a few times a week at least, and generally try to move more. It really makes a difference in the health of your skin and your skin’s ability to handle free radical damage.
Exercise ultimately reduces total body inflammation levels and improves circulation, which translates to healthier, more radiant skin. If you have acne or any other inflammatory skin condition, the reduction in inflammation that comes with consistent exercise will help those conditions.
Getting eight hours of sleep is probably one of the best things that you can do for your skin long term. When we sleep, certain hormones have released that impact the ability of the skin to regenerate.
If you don’t sleep adequately, you don’t give your skin enough time to properly recover. Plus, if you’re over-tired, your body is going to release more stress hormones that further impair your skin function.
In my twenties, it was all the rage to subsist on very little sleep. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self something, it would be this. Even though people are not stressing it, it is very important. I wish I had done it sooner, if you form poor sleep habits in your teens and twenties, it’s going to be harder to correct when you get wiser. I know this firsthand because I’ve been working on it myself for many years now.
10 Fewer Skin Care Products
No magazine, infomercial, or beauty editor is going to tell you this. You don’t need seventeen products to keep your skin healthy. Focus on cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, and stay consistent with those on those three things. That’s perfect. Once you dial that in, that’s all you really need to be doing to keep your skin healthy
Yes, some products can improve some of the visible signs of photo aging and help make your skin look a little bit better, a little more glowing, less transient. But your lifestyle choices are going to carry you long-term. The fewer things you put on your skin, the better.
For example, because if I prescribe a patient one eczema cream, the likelihood of them using that one cream consistently is pretty good. If I prescribe them two creams, the likelihood of consistent use drops significantly. This is why cosmetics companies make combination creams. You can use each individual ingredient, but your compliance will go down tremendously. It’s not sustainable. Fewer products equal better consistency, and it’s ultimately better for counter space and your wallet as well.
Those are my top 10 tips for skin care in your 20s. One final note: enjoy your 20s. It was a very stressful time for me, but it was also a very fun time. Enjoy life, and smile more. Your future self will thank you!