It’s been nearly two years since I found myself on the precipice of my 30s, yet I vividly remember the way that the transition into my fourth decade left me feeling in a wholly reflective mood. Cliché? Maybe. But there’s something about approaching the end of a decade that shifted you out of your teenage years and propelled you into adulthood that feels monumental. Of course, there were plenty of fundamental learning curves along the way (including accepting a job at a bank that really wasn’t the right career move for me, or discovering that squash definitely doesn’t make an appropriate mixer for any spirit), but for today, I’m going to focus on what I’ve learned about skin.
Disclaimer: My complexion has never been flawless, poreless or perfect (or any other adjective the beauty industry might have you covet). In fact, I experienced my first bout of hormonal acne as a teen and went on to suppress it for as long as possible with a strong contraceptive pill. I have, however, spent the past few years learning about skin health and the products you should have in your arsenal to manage scarring, pigmentation and adult acne—many of which are par for the course for many women in their 20s.
This list of products is by no means comprehensive, but for me, it’s a basic toolkit that everyone in their 20s should be able to use to keep skin as happy and healthy as possible. Your 20s are often a period of intense change, and there’s no doubt my skin is always at its most blemish-prone when I’m under stress. In these instances, I’d recommend sticking to a simple “cleanse, treat, moisturise” routine—and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Today, at almost 32, I still have spots, but I’m managing to learn what triggers them and how to calm them when they do appear. I’ve found products that have worked wonders with reducing acne scarring and am beginning to introduce formulas to help with how I might want my skin to look in the future. Most importantly, though, when I look in the mirror, I feel pretty content with the skin I’m in. This comes with time, not products, but I hope these recommendations will help you on your way.
Keep scrolling for the five skincare products and the accompanying routine you need in your 20s plus advice from top skincare experts.
When I entered my 20s, I was well and truly a face-wipe kind of girl. As I approach the end of this decade, however, cleansing is my favourite part of my skincare routine (not only due to the improvement in my skin from a good double cleanse but also because of the ritual of it).
“For women in their 20s, a good cleanser is essential,” says Tiina Meder, dermatologist and founder of Meder Beauty Science. In fact, she goes as far as to say that it’s the most important skincare product of this decade. So if you buy just one skincare product, make it a cleanser.
As I’ve experienced personally, many women in their 20s find themselves living in overly polluted cities with a hectic lifestyle and skin that produces excess sebum. “As a result, it’s crucial that the skin is cleansed of makeup, dirt, dead skin cells, excess oil and other pollutants,” Meder tells me. “The cleanser of choice must be gentle and effective whilst also helping to restore the natural skin barrier and provide a calming effect.”
Skincare expert Susanne Kaufmann also confirms that although other skincare needs will vary depending on your specific skin type, “gently cleansing at morning and at night is always very important.”
The second step of any good skincare routine used to be a toner. These days—and particularly in your 20s—its about identifying your specific complexion concerns and giving your skin what it needs. I used to go straight from cleanser to moisturiser, but since experimenting with chemical exfoliators, serums and masks, I have really seen an improvement in my skin.
“Women in their 20s should adopt weekly targeted skincare treatments to keep the skin healthy and glowing,” advises Meder. “Exfoliating once or twice a week will ensure skin is thoroughly cleansed, while face masks will help give skin a boost.”
Personally, I’ve spent much of my 20s experimenting with products and routines to find what works for me. Now, I use an antioxidant serum every morning to brighten (usually a vitamin C–based product) and a salicylic acid–based treatment each night to treat any breakouts. I’ll use a chemical exfoliator like lactic or glycolic acid two or three times a week to remove dead skin cells (any more and my skin becomes irritated). I’ll also use a purifying clay mask or nourishing sheet mask a couple times a week.
“A hydrating mask is ideal for those with normal or dry skin,” says Meder. “A mattifying or detoxifying mask is perfect for those with oily or acne-prone skin, and a calming mask works wonders for those with sensitive skin.”
Along with cleanser, moisturiser is probably a given for most people. In your 20s, however, it’s important to be delivering lightweight hydration to your skin. For years, I wrongly believed that using a moisturiser would exacerbate my acne-prone skin, but it’s vital that all skin types keep their complexion hydrated and healthy. In fact, depriving your skin of moisture can cause it to overproduce sebum to compensate.
David Colbert, New York Dermatology Group founder and head physician, tells me that “using a light moisturiser daily is essential as well as using an SPF every day.” Similarly, Annee de Mamiel, skincare expert and founder of De Mamiel, believes that light oils are ideal for use in your 20s, as they’re both hydrating and balancing—exactly what you need during a hectic decade.
From 20 to 29, a great deal changes in not only your life but also your skin. “From your teens to your 20s, the skin loses some subcutaneous fat and collagen production decreases,” Colbert tells me. In other words, the juicy, dewy skin you might have naturally enjoyed at 21 might not be so plump at 28.
Similarly, Susanne Kaufmann advised that “you should work in your mid- to late 20s preventatively against premature ageing of the skin.” This might mean looking for ingredients like collagen in your cleansers and moisturisers or introducing retinol into your treatment stage as a preventative against fine lines and wrinkles. “Often underestimated but immensely important is the correct and regular use of eye cream,” Kaufmann tells me.
To combat these early signs of ageing and fatigue, French pharmacy brand Nuxe has created a new range of products specifically targeted towards the millennial age group. The new Crème Prodigieuse Boost is designed to combat “the external and environmental factors that contribute to the first signs of ageing, including stress, pollution, dehydration and signs of fatigue,” a Nuxe representative tells me.
Our eyes are often the first place that gives away signs of stress and tiredness due to puffy under-eyes, dark circles and fine lines, so introducing an eye cream to your routine early on can work wonders as a preventative measure.
If there’s one thing all dermatologists agree on—and that I’ve fully converted to—it’s the daily use of SPF. This is non-negotiable, as by slathering it on in your 20s, not only will you be protecting your skin from scary damage like skin cancer, but you’ll also be doing the best job you can at preventing wrinkles, dark spots, pigmentation and fine lines. “Fine lines and sunspots can be combatted preventatively by using an SPF every day,” advises Colbert. Meder also stresses that along with cleanser, SPF is one of the key products to use in your 20s: “A good SPF that provides both UVA and UVB protection will be required on a daily basis,” she tells us.
Next up, I’m always asked if Elemis products are worth the hype—here are 13 I’d recommend.