How to Care for Your Skin in Your Mid-20s

I’ve been wanting to share some of my skin health knowledge with you guys for awhile now. Skincare is one of my passions, as I’ve had kind of a storied journey with it throughout my teens and 20s. It’s one of those things I’m willing to spend extra money on, mainly because my skin is such a big part of how I present myself to the world.

I dealt with acne (more so than most people) for many years, and finally don’t have to worry about that as much anymore. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing about how I cured my acne and finally put those days behind me. Today, though, I’m much more interested in anti-aging.

I know, I know – it sounds like something I don’t really have to worry about yet. But I’m a big believer in preventative health care. I eat well and work out now to prevent weight gain and health issues later. I take good care of my teeth so I (hopefully) won’t have to worry about expensive dental work as I get older (cavity-free club ftw!). And I take precautionary measures now so that I can keep my skin looking young and vibrant later in life.

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No makeup, no filter.

I’ve done a lot of research about skin health and ingredients. Like, hours and hours. I often spend the end of my day watching skin care videos on YouTube, simply because I love learning more about skin health. There are a lot of really ineffective ingredients and lots of bad advice out there. It takes an understanding of science – something I happen to love – to really sift through all the noise.

So I thought I’d share this knowledge in a comprehensive post about how to care for your skin if, like me, you’ve reached your mid-20s and you want to be proactive about aging.

The Routine

I’m sure you’ve already heard that you should cleanse, tone, exfoliate and moisturize, and there’s a lot of truth to that. I like to stick to that general outline every night, because there are good reasons for each of the steps. We live in a world with lots of pollution. We wear makeup. We apply lotions during the day. It’s vital to take these things off at night, which is why cleansing is important.

Toning is important for two reasons. Back in the day, its primary purpose was to restore the pH of the skin, as tap water and cleanser can both affect it. However, most good cleansers today won’t do this. Toning also preps the skin to absorb your serums and moisturizers. But I generally view toning the way it’s viewed in Korean skincare: Toners (and serums) are your way of treating whatever ails your skin. If you’re acne-prone, you want a clarifying toner. If you’re prone to dryness, you’ll want something much more moisturizing and calming. This is where your most targeted and individualized efforts should come in.

Exfoliation is super important, too, particularly if you’re looking to prevent signs of aging. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells so that your skin can “turn over” more quickly. In other words, the cells on the epidermis (the outermost later of the skin) will be fresh and new. This not only keeps your skin looking bright and young, it also decreases the appearance of lines, which can collect dead skin cells, makeup and other things.

And finally, moisturizing. This is obviously important because moisturizers seal water (and all those other products you applied) into your pores. They are also humectants, which means that they draw water up from inside your dermis into the epidermis, providing moisture on the skin’s surface.

The Products

So far, I haven’t really told you anything you don’t already know, but it’s in your product selection that you see differences between an average or even harmful skincare routine and a great one. Choosing products is probably the most important part of a good skincare routine. I’m going to go through what to look for in each of these steps.

In a cleanser, it’s so, so, so, so important not to strip your skin of its natural oils. I say this having suffered from acne for years. My skin improved dramatically when I stopped washing my face with cleanser in the mornings. All I do is use lukewarm water. Your skin needs those oils. Removing them causes you to produce excess oil, which leads to acne on top of the dryness you’ve just caused. There’s really no reason to use a cleanser in the morning, as your skin has been hidden from the elements all night long. A splash of water will remove the trace amounts of dirt that may have accumulated.

In the evenings, I stick with cleansing milks, oil-based cleansers and foaming cleansers. They’re gentle, but they accomplish the most important task: They remove my makeup. Some people swear by double cleansing, which I might try soon and can definitely get behind. In this methodology, you first remove your makeup with oil, and then cleanse with a gentle foaming cleanser or milk.

Good products:
Clinique Extra-Gentle Cleansing Foam ($20)
First Aid Beauty Milk Oil Conditioning Cleanser ($26)
Yes to Carrots Fragrance-Free Daily Cream Cleanser ($7.99)
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser ($8.99)

In a toner or serum, you want something gentle that’s going to boost blood flow to the skin, keep it bright and moisturized, and prep it for moisturizer. I go really low-key with toners, because I use serums, which can stand in for toners. In the mornings and on days when I don’t use a serum, I just apply a gentle toner and pat it into my face. Generally, though, I stick with the serum. As is the case with my exfoliants and moisturizers, I also prioritize products that contain antioxidants, which are great for preventing aging. Toners and serums with Vitamin C are also great for boosting brightness. The overall key is that you’re adding antioxidants and treating your skin issues, so let the ingredients be your guide.

Good products:
Caudalie Organic Grape Water ($22)
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80)
Clinique Even Better Essence Lotion ($42.50)

In an exfoliant, you’re going to want to be extremely gentle (have you noticed yet that gentle, non-abrasive skincare is key?). I like chemical exfoliants rather than physical ones because physical exfoliants can rip and tear at your pores, leading to long-term damage. Chemical exfoliants sound scary, but all they are is concentrated acids that dissolve dead skin cells rather than stripping them away. They’re usually made with salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids (which are found in fruit). I apply a chemical exfoliant every other day at bedtime, and the products I use are usually labelled as serums. NOTE: Don’t apply these during the day, they’re for nighttime use only.

Good products:
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($28)
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90)
Sunday Riley Good Genes ($105)

In a moisturizer, look for something with high-quality ingredients. And if you have acne, don’t discount moisturizers that contain oil. Again, I can’t even tell you how much my skin improved when I stopped following the advice given to people to treat acne. An oil-based moisturizer works so much better for me. I usually apply an oil, followed by a moisturizer to seal the oil in. I look for all-natural oils, but I don’t use store-bought olive oil or anything like that – I stick with products specifically formulated for the skin. Then I apply an affordable, drugstore-bought moisturizer over top.

Good products:
Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil ($90)
Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil ($105)
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil ($72)
Origins High-Potency Night-a-Mins Skin Refining Oil ($43)
Fresh Seaberry Moisturizing Face Oil ($52)
Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer ($28)
Coola SPF 30 Cucumber Face Moisturizer ($32)

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How To Find the Right Products For Your Skin

So I’ve told you all about the steps you should complete, and I’ve gone over how important it is to be gentle. Now, how do you pick out the right products for your skin?

Beautypedia is my favorite research for skincare information. You can find almost any beauty product on this database, and it provides information about the ingredients that make up the product, how effective it is likely to be, and whether or not it contains any damaging ingredients.

Things to stay away from: I never buy any products that contain alcohol (seriously,  A LOT of products, even the all-natural ones from Whole Foods, contain alcohol, and it’s very harsh on the skin). I also never buy any products that contain fragrance or perfume. Some people even steer clear of essential oils. The reason? These products can cause skin irritation, even if you don’t notice any redness or burning. This is really bad, because skin irritation is thought to cause collagen breakdown over time. Can you imagine if you’re irritating your skin without knowing it, leading to more wrinkles and saggy skin later on? I just say no way to anything with these ingredients. I also, of course, avoid parabens, sulfates, etc., in my beauty products.

I also, as I’ve mentioned, stay away from physical exfoliants and cleansers that aren’t labeled as “for sensitive skin,” “moisturizing,” or “gentle.” Even Cetaphil isn’t gentle enough for me to feel comfortable using it on my skin. It gives my skin a tight feeling after I use it, which is a clue to how much it’s stripping my skin of its natural oils. If you’re concerned about finding good skin care on a budget, click on this link. This blogger, who works in the skincare industry, has some really great information on his blog and YouTube channel (note that he advises never to use Cetaphil!).

Things to look for: In your cleanser, look for gentle ingredients that won’t strip your skin. In your toner or serum, look for antioxidants. Vitamin C is particularly great, but you’ll want to get a full range of antioxidants over the entirety of your product spectrum. Your exfoliant should contain glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid – but only use it at nighttime. In your moisturizer, look for nourishing oils like coconut, avocado and grapeseed oil. During the daytime, you’ll want a moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or above (we’ll get to that in a minute) and at night, you may want one with retinol (we’ll get to that in a minute, too).

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Always Apply SPF

Seriously you guys, never leave the house without SPF on your face. I use a makeup foundation with SPF, and then apply a light SPF30 moisturizer if I go back outside after a few hours. Tan skin is simply not worth leathery skin later.

Eat Healthy, Don’t Smoke, and Exercise

Smoking makes your skin really gross. Don’t do it.

Eating healthy and exercising has been proven by science to prevent aging. People who eat a Mediterranean diet – a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and veggies and healthy fats from avocados, olive oil and fish – have longer telomeres as they get older, a DNA marker for age. Seriously, be good to yourself. All those DNA-damaging activities like smoking, drinking and staying up all night are fun in moderation, but don’t make them a lifestyle. They really do impact how you’ll age.

Other Helpful Hints

Finally, a few pointers for keeping your skin healthy and preventing aging:

  • Always wear sunglasses. Squinting causes lines, plus UV rays hurt your eye health.
  • Whenever you touch your skin, whether you’re washing your face, applying your products or drying your skin, pat the skin gently rather than pulling on it. Pulling on your skin can damage your muscles and cause lack of elasticity later in life.
  • Apply your products when your skin is still moist. This seals moisture in, which is the whole point of moisturizer.
  • Consider sleeping with a humidifier by your bed if you live in a dry climate.
  • If you can, sleep on your back to prevent squishing your face throughout the nighttime. Of course, if that leads to poor sleep quality, don’t worry about it – a good night’s sleep is more important for your skin than avoiding pillow lines.
  • Consider adding a retinol product. Retinol is a concentrated form of vitamin A that speeds up cell turnover. YOU HAVE TO WEAR SPF if you are actively using retinol products, and you should never use them while you’re pregnant. However, retinol is the only ingredient that’s truly been proven to reduce signs of aging. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to prevent rather than to treat.

OK, I think that’s it. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more about skin health. I could cover what I did to cure acne, my specific morning/evening routines, etc. And let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

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