Knowledge drop: In your 20s, your skin cell turnover decreases. (Cell turnover is a key component in keeping your skin youthful.) You know what else slows down? Your collagen production. Starting in your 20s, collagen decreases by about 1 percent per year. As someone now entering their late 20s who's borderline obsessive about their skincare routine, I am hyper-aware of this statistic. But the anti-aging routine for someone in their 20s isn't going to be the same as for someone in their 30s or 40s.
Should you want to prevent fine lines and wrinkles, there are a few things you can do in your 20s that will help with that. After all, the best offense is a good defense. We spoke to the experts to see the best anti-aging products for your 20s.
Meet the Expert
- Joshua Ross is a celebrity esthetician and founder of L.A.-based SkinLab.
- Audrey Kunin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the clinical skincare brand Dermadoctor.
- Michael Somenek, MD, is a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C., whose practice offers specialized cosmetic and reconstructive services.
Before we discuss what you should be doing for your skin, it is important to know what not to do, such as baking in the sun without sunscreen. "When it comes to vices they are not nice for your skin," says Somenek. "If it’s bad for you, it’s bad for your skin. Cigarette smoking reduces blood flow to the skin and causes premature wrinkling and a dull skin texture. Making the repeated pursed motion to inhale can also cause smoker’s lines. Alcohol and recreational drugs are toxins for the skin that damage its cellular structure and DNA."
"If you combine all of these, at the age of 25, you could look closer to 45. The faster you eliminate vices while you are young, the better chance your skin and body have to recuperate," explains Somenek.
Ready to find out what you should be doing? Read on for expert-approved products to add to your skincare routine in your 20s.
"We all know that the sun is the number one cause of skin aging and starting the prevention in your 20s is very important," Ross says. "The majority of your sun damage won't start to appear until you're in your 30s, so don't wait until you see it surface or you'll be behind the curve. Stay ahead of it with a good-quality zinc-based sunscreen worn daily."
An invisible sunscreen with SPF 30, plus botanical extracts meant to protect skin with tons of antioxidants. Bonus: It's clean and fine to use under makeup.
Although we recommend you use your SPF and moisturizer separately, we also understand moments when you don't have time or energy for that extra step. For those times, this bareMinerals moisturizer is a great thing to have on hand.
Vitamin C Serum
"A great introduction to anti-aging is to start with a vitamin C serum in your morning skincare routine," Ross says. "It's a powerful antioxidant that will neutralize free radicals and brighten the skin." He adds that it's a great way to counteract the effects of the sun's harmful rays, which, as previously mentioned, are among the biggest causes of premature aging.
The Drunk Elephant C-Firma is a lightweight serum that promises to give skin a glow by combining the brightening powers of vitamin C with ferulic acid, l-ascorbic acid, and vitamin E. The included sodium hyaluronate is meant to replace any hydration lost, so you shouldn't have to deal with any irritation.
This potent serum is jam-packed with vitamin C (15 percent, to be exact), which means it's a potential superstar at both brightening skin and dousing it in antioxidants.
Using peptides on your skin has many benefits, says Somenek. "The skin barrier is what defends the body against pollution, UV rays, bacteria, and toxins. It can be damaged through several everyday factors. Using topical peptides aid in building a stronger barrier," he says. "Peptides comprise elastic fibers, which are a type of protein. These fibers help to make skin appear taut and firm. Peptides can also help repair damaged skin, relieve inflammation, and even out skin tone. Some peptides can kill acne-causing bacteria that is common in 20 somethings."
Kunin agrees, saying, "Peptides are an excellent entry point for supporting collagen." She recommends looking for face and eye treatments that contain these collagen-boosting powerhouses.
This Charlotte Tilbury super-emollient eye cream has a base of coconut oil and shea butter (read—it's incredibly hydrating). Botanicals plus peptides are meant to help reduce dark circles and boost collagen, respectively.
Get you a face cream that does both. You are meant to get both potent collagen-boosting peptides and pycnogenol, and antioxidant-rich vitamin C in this creamy moisturizer. "Instead of sitting on top of the skin, peptides penetrate the outer layer so they go deep. The 'signals' they send tell the cells to produce elastin and collagen, which are needed for youthful-looking skin," says Somenek.
At-Home Peel Pads
Remember that skin cell turnover fiasco we talked about earlier? One way to help support it is by exfoliation. "Exfoliation is important to help keep skin fresh and luminous," Kunin says. She recommends using at home peel pads as an easy and effective way to exfoliate.
Somenek says you should only exfoliate two to three times a week. "People of all ages are guilty are over-exfoliating and that can be too much of a good thing," he explains. "The goal in your 20s is to fight the slowing pace of cell turnover. It is wise to use products that gently exfoliate, yet still remove oil and other impurities. Products that have Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) are a good choice."
A few swipes of this Derma Doctor powerful peel pad promises to leave your skin glowing and smooth, thanks to the seven (yes, seven) types of chemical exfoliants, including AHA and BHA. It also contains vitamin C via Kakadu plum extract for added brightening and antioxidant protection.
Kakadu plum extract is sourced from the Kakadu plum, a fruit grown in northern Australia. It contains vitamin C, which restores the skin's natural barrier, increases collagen production, and soothes irritation.
These are the gold standard of peel pads, with a cult following and over 900 five-star reviews on Sephora. They're easy to use and contain a blend of anti-aging, exfoliating acids.
Emollient Night Cream
"In your 20s, you need to start upping the hydration in your skincare routine. You may have been cautious of over-moisturizing because of acne in your teens, but as you enter your 20s, your skin transitions and becomes drier," Ross says. "I recommend an emollient night cream added into your evening skincare regimen."
One great choice is the CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream, which is a non-comedogenic night cream that leaves skin soft and glowy. It combines the moisturizing powers of ceramides and hyaluronic acid.
"Twenty-somethings need to make sure that they are not using creams that will clog their pores and cause excess oil production," says Somenek.
"The best night cream ingredients contain retinol, benzoyl peroxide, and/or salicylic acid or hyaluronic acid. The goal is to moisturize, yet remove excess oil," says Somenek. This Roc Retinol Correxion cream fits the bill as it contains both hyaluronic acid and retinol so it promises to moisturize while also being non-comedogenic.
Reilly DM, Lozano J. Skin collagen through the lifestages: Importance for skin health and beauty. Plastic and Aesthetic Research. 2021;2021. doi:10.20517/2347-9264.2020.153
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593