The roaring 20s is a time most women get to experience the best skin of their lives. Fresh out of their hormonal teens, it’s a decade when acne tends to disappear, skin is mostly hydrated and dewy, and fine lines and hyperpigmentation caused by too much sun have yet to show up to the party.
It’s tempting to want to sleep on the job in your 20s and take a break from worrying about skin care, but to do so would be to rob your skin of a great gift: the ability to prevent wrinkles and fine lines before they even begin.
There are several good habits you can start engaging in now and a few good products that should be on your radar if you’re interested in looking your best well into your 40s, 50s and beyond. Here are seven anti-aging tips that every savvy 20-something needs to know about:
1. Use sun protection on a daily basis
You already know that fake tanner is the way to go, but are you wearing your trusty SPF 30 or higher each time you leave the house, including on overcast and freezing winter days? If not, it’s never too late to pick up the most crucial beauty (and health!) habit of your young adult life. “The single most important piece of advice for women in their twenties to prevent aging of their skin is sun protection,” says Dr. Hadley King. “Practice sun avoidance and sun protection on an everyday basis to keep your skin as young as possible.”
Dr. Sonia Batra of Batra Medical, Surgical, and Cosmetic Dermatology in Los Angeles says sun damage is the main source of wrinkles and brown spots (not to mention skin cancer!) and that a broad-spectrum, zinc-based SPF of 15 or higher should be worn daily. “I like to recommend the VI Derm SPF 50+ because of the Zinc Oxide protection and the product feels almost weightless on the skin,” Batra says.
2. Don’t smoke, no excuses
If you’re still smoking cigarettes, please put them out (like, right this minute). King counts smoking as one of the worst habits you need to break in your 20s, both for the sake of your health and for the fact that the more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes damage collagen and elastin, making your skin more prone to premature wrinkles and sagging.
3. Add topical retinoids to your routine
Prescription Retin-A, or tretinoin, is the gold standard as far as anti-aging products are concerned, Batra says, because they contain ingredients that accelerate cell turnover and stimulate collagen. If you’re interested in trying them out, visit your dermatologist and ask whether you can be put on the lowest dose of Retin-A (you can always increase the dosage as your skin becomes used to the ingredient).
“Retinoids, like tretinoin (prescription) and retinols (over the counter) are vitamin A derived, topical agents that accelerate cell turnover and help the skin make new collagen, a process that naturally slows down once we reach our 20s,” says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse of Rapaport Dermatology of Beverly Hills. “They can be irritating and drying, so start using them only twice a week, until your skin toughens up in a good way. They will help you shed older skin cells at the surface, to reveal shiny, healthy, stronger skin. They are best used at bedtime.”
4. Look for products that contain antioxidants (and other key ingredients)
You’re probably going to spend money on over-the-counter creams and serums, so be sure you’re reading labels for ingredients that are going to work to help prevent the signs of aging. Batra recommends products with an alpha-hydroxy acid such as glycolic, to help with fine lines and brown spots. Shainhouse suggests looking for ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin E, coffee berry, resveratrol, acai and green tea extract. And King suggests four OTC products you’ll find at most drugstores or beauty chain stores: Revision’s Vitamin C Lotion 30%, Strivectin, Olay Regenerist Serum and Erasa XEP 30.
5. Balance your booze and coffee intake with H20
While it’s tempting to want to party your 20s away, keep in mind that alcohol and the caffeine you’ll need to get through the next day can do a number on your skin. “Drinking too much coffee and alcohol without enough water can dry out the skin and cause wrinkled skin,” says Angela Portella, spa director at Guerlain Spa at the Towers of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. “For every cup of ‘joe’ and every mojito, be sure to balance it with a glass of H2O!” Portella also suggests hydrating from the outside with a mask like Guerlain’s Super Aqua Optimum Hydration Revitalizing Mask.
More: The only skin care products you’ll ever need to use
6. Sleep on your back
I’ve struggled with trying to sleep on my back for years — I’ve tried everything from an airline pillow to surrounding myself with eight pillows that act like a barrier to keep me from tossing and turning. And here’s why: All of that smooshing up against our pillows deepens creases and fine lines on our faces. “Sleeping on your side can cause wrinkles,” Portella says. “To prevent those stubborn ‘sleep creases,’ use a thick nourishing night cream to soften skin while you slumber.” And, if all else fails and you still wake up every morning on your stomach, invest in a silk pillowcase, which is gentler on skin and hair.
7. Consider botox (gasp)
No, I’m not suggesting that any 26-year-old needs to run to a plastic surgeon to get botox the second she spots her first fine line, but I’d be lying if I said neurotoxins like botox weren’t a temporary solution and preventive measure being used increasingly by younger women to help halt signs of aging. Botox and similar neurotoxins work by temporarily paralyzing specific facial muscles (usually those on the forehead and between the eyes) so that the underlying skin can’t move and crease, King explains.
“The effect is temporary, because the body generates new receptors within 3-6 months,” King says. “When you start using these neurotoxins early on before you develop wrinkles, the thought is that might act as a ‘training wheel’ — if you can teach your muscles not to contract, then you might not create skin creases, a.k.a. wrinkles, in the first place.”