"Prevention is better than a cure," says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, who attributes the quote to Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. "In most things health and beauty, prevention is key. From wrinkles to hyperpigmentation, the more you protect and pre-treat your skin with proper ingredients and formulas, the better equipped you are to combat signs of aging."
As we get older, changes in our bodies begin to show on our skin. Our natural production of collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin slow down, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and skin laxity. While it's important to use your routine to plan ahead at any age, Dr. Engelman notes that it's particularly pertinent when approaching your third decade. "By age 30, ceramide production drops by 46 percent, and we are losing about 1 percent of our collagen every year," she says. "[By this point], many have accumulated enough sun or environmental damage to trigger visible signs of aging, and how you treat your skin—either by furthering damage or preventing it—sets the stage for how you age."
Below, she shares the seven products that should become permanent parts of your routine for preventative skin care in your 20s.
- Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, board-certified dermatologic surgeon based in New York City
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While most derms will tell you that it doesn't matter if your cleanser costs $8 or $800, what is important is the way that you're using it. Dr. Engelman recommends lathering with a sonic cleansing brush, which provides gentle exfoliation and removes dead skin cells to clear the way for products to sink into skin. This one uses light vibration and soft, silicone bristles to gently cleanse your skin without stripping or damaging its barrier.
Shop now: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, $166
"Vitamin C serums are my go-to for anti-aging and reversing sun damage," says Dr. Engelman, and this one is the best that money can buy. It's got one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C on the market, making it a potent antioxidant that brightens, evens skin tone, and fends off free radical damage. The addition of vitamin E means that it’s also ultra-moisturizing and great for treating inflammation.
Shop now: Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart SPF 50, $68
No matter how old you are, sunscreen is the most important part of any skin-care routine. "Sunscreen every day is imperative," says Dr. Engelman. "The effects may not be visible now, but signs of all those days in sun will accumulate in later years." She's a fan of this SPF 50, which offers protection from UVA and UVB rays, plus pollution, and has an enzyme complex that helps to strengthen your skin while you wear it. Whether it's for the sake of preventative skin care in your 20s or protection well into your 90s, the magic number with SPF is 365 (which is how many days a year you should be slathering it on).
4. Eye cream
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The skin around your eyes is the thinnest in your body, which means it starts to show signs of aging more quickly than the rest of your face. Because of this, Dr. Engelman suggests adding an eye cream to your routine by the time you hit 30. This one uses peptides to stimulate collagen production in the area, plus antioxidants, the combination of which diminishes the appearance of fine lines and improves skin elasticity.
Shop now: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, $68
Regular exfoliation is important at any age, but can be particularly useful in your 20s and 30s when wrinkles first start to show. "Peels will use a blend of acids to lift pigmentation and reduce fine lines," says Dr. Engelman. This cult-fave toner isn't exactly a peel, but it uses an intense combination of acids (meaning its not for sensitive complexions) to melt away dead skin cells and totally resurface your skin.
Shop now: Olay Regenerist 24 Retinol Night Serum, $28
If you're only going to integrate one ingredient from this list into your preventative anti-aging routine, make it a retinol. The vitamin A derivative is responsible for stimulating cell turnover, which replaces the dead, dull cells on the surface of your skin with fresh healthy ones. Dr. Engelman suggests using a light retinol, like this one, at least three nights per week. And if your skin is too sensitive to tolerate the intense active? Apply a thin layer of moisturizer before your retinol serum for an extra protective barrier.
Shop now: SkinBetter Science Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment, $135
"Dry skin can start premature aging, so keeping the skin hydrated with a moisturizer is key," says Dr. Engelman. She adds that skin regenerates mostly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., as we sleep. That means that your evening routine is the best time to apply a heavy hydrator that will help your skin repair. This triple-action formula contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin, all of which will help keep your complexion quenched and help with preventative skin care in your 20s and beyond.
Curious about what a derm uses in her own routine? Check out the video below to find out.
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