Sadly I'm not talking about the abrupt halting of pimples, because adult acne is real. But, as Joanna Czech, celebrity esthetician and founder of Czechlist.com, puts it: The results of good (and bad!) habits can start to reveal themselves on your face around this time. "That's why you should take good care of your skin from as early an age as possible," she tells me.
So what exactly does this mean for your routine? "When you reach your 30s, your skin starts to become a little lazier than it used to be," says Quenby Erickson, MD, a Chicago board-certified dermatologist. "The skin cell turnover rate slows down and your cells don’t renew as quickly as they used to. Collagen and elastin begin to break down, resulting in slight volume loss. The oil glands are less active and hyaluronic acid production slows down, resulting in drier skin. You may also start to see more dark spots and sun damage from previous years beginning to show."
Alas, when you know the challenges of the new decade, you can be better prepared to tackle them head on. "This is an important time to pay close attention to what your skin needs specifically," says Czech. And with that, these are the most important skin-care habits to pick up once you reach your 30s.
Be diligent about SPF
Of course, sunscreen is a skin-care staple that should be in your beauty bag regardless of your age. Still, it's particularly important when you're starting to guard from the first signs of aging. "Prevention starts with daily SPF, whether the sun is shining or not," says Dr. Erickson. "I recommend SPF daily to ensure that your skin's protected from the sun's damaging rays. UVB rays can cause sunburns, and UVA rays trigger premature aging such as brown spots, wrinkles, and the breakdown of healthy skin cells." Also, she says to apply it even when you're not outside since rays can penetrate windows.
Never skip a nighttime routine
Hitting the hay without a proper facial cleanse may have happened more times than you'd like to admit in days past, but it's best to not keep that habit going once you reach your 30s. "The most important thing to do is to properly prepare your skin in the evening so that it can relax and renew itself," says Czech. "While you sleep, your skin is in the cell renewal process, so everything that you apply at night will penetrate more deeply and give more noticeable results." Her tips? "I like to use a good cleanser and Biologique Recherché P50 Lotion, which is a pH-balancing toner," she says. Follow that with a retinol that helps to stimulate collagen production such as Environ Vita C-Quence.
Embrace facial massage
Beauty products tend to instruct you to massage them into your skin—yet it's commonplace to slap them on and go about business as usual. The thing is, taking the time to give yourself a facial massage is loaded with benefits. "It increases blood circulation, stimulates lymphatic drainage, awakens the muscles resulting in a better tone, stimulates cell turnover, and relieves muscle tension," says celebrity facialist Michaella Boulder. Not only that, but it also allows your products to absorb better, according to her. "Mornings are to awaken your skin, so getting a strong massage flow during your cleanse is the first step," she recommends. "Take your cleanser and massage it into the skin using deep circular pressure before removing with warm water and a face cloth." Her tip? Massage your facial muscles upwards and outwards (the directions you naturally want the face to go).
Exfoliate, but not too much
Exfoliation is an essential part of anyone's skin-care regimen, since it gets rid of the dead skin cells that make a complexion dull as well as contributes to a glowy complexion. The thing is, because it's so effective, it's important to take it down a notch when your skin's in its 30s—or else it can have detrimental effects. "Too much exfoliation can actually strip the oils from your skin and damage the protective layer, leaving it more vulnerable to environmental stressors," says Czech. "I recommend exfoliating no more than three times per week and always following up with moisturizer."
Don’t neglect the neck, décolleté, or hands
Caring for your skin is so much more than nourishing from the chin and up. "Your face starts at the nipples and ends at the hairline, so keep these areas in mind when you are taking care of your skin," says Czech. They're your skin, too, which means they'll also be losing collagen and elastin as you age—hence why Czech says it's key to include them in your beauty routine as well. "The Meder Gel Net-Apax Cleanser ($80) is a gel-emulsion with yogurt powder and goat’s milk peptides that's perfect for applying to both the neck and décolletage," she recommends. "And Grown Alchemist’s Age-Repair Hand Cream ($39) is great for fine lines and wrinkles."
Stock up on a good retinol
If I had to pick one MVP of my skin-care regimen, it'd be retinol—without a doubt. Vitamin A's effectiveness is not only praised by dermatologists and facialists alike, but even science backs up the fact that it improves your skin. It's the most studied and most effective product around. "Retinoids are the key component to warding off signs of aging, as they speed up the cellular turnover rate which smooths the skin's texture," says Dr. Erickson. "When used daily, long term, they help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles while promoting collagen growth in the skin." If you start using it in your 30s or sooner, she says that your complexion should appear even more glowy, regardless of the decade you're in.
How to put together a skin care routine in your 30s
AM skin care routine in your 30s:
In the morning, you'll want to use a gentle cleanser that will refresh your skin without stripping it of its natural oils, and will prep your skin for the active ingredients you'll layer on top of it. Derma E's hydrating cleanser—which will only run you $12 at the drugstore—will do all of that, plus give your skin an extra boost of hydrating hyaluronic acid.
2. Antioxidant serum
SkinCeuticalsC E Ferulic, $166
Vitamin C serum has been called the "little black dress" of a skin-care routine, meaning that everyone should have one. Antioxidants, like Vitamin C, help protect from free-radical damage from pollution, which can cause skin to age more quickly. This derm-approved serum from SkinCeuticals includes a high concentration of Vitamin C, which brightens skin and helps even skin tone, plus Vitamin E which moisturizes and treats inflammation.
3. Hyaluronic Acid
"Your thirties are when the naturally-occcuring hyaluronic acid in your skin begins to decline, so you should add in a boost of topical hyaluronic acid every morning to keep skin plump," says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD. The ingredient holds 1,000 times its weight in water, which means that in addition to infusing moisture of its own, it also draws the hydration from your moisturizer more deeply into skin. SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator uses five different types of hydrating ingredients to balance moisture levels and smooth skin.
Since collagen production slows in your 30s, which leads to skin laxity, you'll want to introduce ingredients that help stimulate your body's natural production of it. Thanks to a unique algae ingredient, this Elemis cream can do exactly that, while hydrating skin with an ultra-light texture.
Rain or shine, whether you're 10 years old or 100, everyone should be using an SPF of at least 30 every single day. Apply a mineral-based version, like this one from EltaMD (which derms sing the praises of) to your face, neck, decolleté, and hands to combat sun damage and prevent future signs of aging.
PM skin-care routine in your 30s:
Fresh Soy Cleanser, $38
Cleansing at night is an important step in anyone's skin-care routine, regardless of age. It's important to remove dirt and debris from the surface, and take off any makeup that you might have had on during the day. Our editors swear by Fresh Soy Cleanser, which melts off makeup and cleans skin without leaving it dehydrated in the process.
Three nights a week, you'll want to integrate a gentle exfoliant into your routine by way of a alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, like glycolic and salicylic. This Drunk Elephant serum combines the two, and will rid the dead cells from the surface of your skin while you sleep.
On nights when you aren't using your exfoliant, you're going to want to introduce a retinol, which derms say is the number one most important ingredient to use in your 30s. It stimulates cellular turnover, which evens skin tone and reduces signs of aging. Retinol is known for being sun sensitive, so in order to get the maximum benefits of the ingredient, you'll want to apply at night, and since it can be drying be sure to use a moisturizer immediately following. Differin's version is the most potent you can get at the drugstore, but be sure to start slowly (a few days a week, when you aren't exfoliating) and only use a pea-sized amount so your skin can build up its tolerance. If it's too intense, apply a thin layer of moisturizer before you put it on (which pros refer to as the "retinol sandwich") to make it more amenable to sensitive skin.
"In your 30s, start thinking about a heavier night cream," suggests Dr. Gohara. "Moisture is the basis of a healthy skin barrier and healthy skin." Look for hydrating ingredients, which draw moisture into the skin, as well as emollient and occlusive ones, which seal the moisture in. This one, from SkinFix, has all three, plus lipids and peptides to strengthen your skin barrier.
5. Eye cream
The skin under your eyes is the most delicate on your face, and because of that it's the first spot where signs of aging will start to pop up. Peptides can help with that by stimulating your DNA to produce collagen, and this pick from Belei is packed with them.
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