It's the age of K-Beauty, the indie skin care product revolution, and Instagram: This all makes for some pretty beauty-savvy 20-somethings. It's practically a rite of passage for an influencer to dish out the contents of their shelf—full of goodies that make for impressive, if not daunting, regimens. That said, there's more to tending to your complexion than a bathroom cabinet full of millennial-pink products.
Here, our best tips for skin care in your 20s:
Keep it simple.
Your roaring 20s is definitely a time for experimentation, and with so many trendy options available, you may be tempted to make yourself a beauty product guinea pig. But the more stuff you slather on your face, the bigger the likelihood that chaos can break loose in the form of redness, irritation, and breakouts. In fact, when people think they have sensitive skin, many times they've simply just sensitized it. "This is something you are doing to yourself," board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., tells us in this story about sensitive versus sensitized skin. It's done by stripping the top layer of skin: Essentially, you can turn otherwise healthy, balanced skin into reactive skin by experimenting away that protective layer with scrubs, face brushes, acids, harsh toners, irritating makeup, and so on. "It's a tricky balance. You want to remove dead skin cells so you get a nice glow but don't want to do it too much and thin out that layer," warns Bowe. "You need to be careful." Choose a basic routine and stick to it in order to help keep you in the clear.
Yes, you have to use SPF.
"By your 20s, your skin has already been greatly impacted by environmental assault, so incorporating habits that 'save face' for the long term is a good idea. Applying a moisturizer with a mineral-based sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily is a good start," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. We like Honest Beauty's Tinted Moisturizer, which kind of does it all: The formula is noncomedogenic, uses non-chemical SPF, incorporates vitamin C, and lends a #NoFilter-friendly blurring effect. It is a delicate balance, however, as we know vitamin D is good for us. So just be mindful of your sun protection: Ensure you're getting to enjoy some sunshine while protecting it from the adverse effects that come with too much.
Take smart supplements.
Your younger years are all about proactive care—making sure your body has all the tools it needs to fight things like inflammation, UV damage, pollution, late nights, you name it. See, these all lead to oxidative stress.
If you don't know, oxidative stress is what happens inside the body when you're exposed to internal or external aggressors, and it wreaks havoc on all parts of your body. For the skin, it depletes our natural levels of collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid, and just generally contributes to premature cell aging. If you are better able to manage oxidative stress in the body, you'll fare better long term. And we tend not to think much of the cumulative exposure we're collecting in our youth, no?
Look for potent antioxidants that come with a wide variety of unique benefits in and of themselves. For example, astaxanthin and pomegranate whole fruit extract have photo protective qualities, meaning they can help the skin deal with sun exposure.* Vitamin C and E not only deal with free radical damage, but they are vital parts of the collagen synthesis and cross-linking process.* Coenzyme Q10 energizes cells at the cellular level and supports the mitochondria.* Options like turmeric and SGS can act as anti-inflammatories.*
Please, wash your face.
Late nights out tend to increase the urge to fall asleep with your makeup on. While a lazy pass with a face wipe is better than nothing, a good old-fashioned double cleanse is optimal. And it's not just a good precaution against breakouts: "Cleansing your face at night to wash away the dirt and grime from the day is important, as the polyaromatic hydrocarbons from air pollution can contribute to hyperpigmentation and premature aging," says Barr. We recommend using something to remove your makeup—be it an all-natural oil or micellar water—followed by a rinse with gentle cleansing gel, balm, or water-based wash to really get the gunk out.
Don't skimp on moisturizer.
Although everyone's skin is unique no matter what age they are, this demographic isn't typically associated with rich creams, especially as acne—either leftover from teen years or occurring for the first time—tends to be an issue. That said, skimping on moisturizer will do you no favors. Beauty By Earth Oil Control Moisturizer provides a solid natural pick: It's packed with soothing aloe vera, antibacterial coconut oil, and Co-Q10, which fights free radicals. Bonus: It smells like peppermint and sandalwood.
Be mindful of how you're treating your acne.
After washing your face, don't dry it with the same towel you've probably had hanging around in your bathroom all week. Cleansing with an old, dirty, harsh towel is one of the most common face-washing mistakes people make, 20s or not, says holistic esthetician Kimberly Yap Tan. Instead, ever-so-gently blot with a clean microfiber reusable pad to ensure you're not depositing bacteria onto your freshly cleansed face. Then, apply an acne-preventing product (we love this Keeva Organics product with tea tree oil), followed by your moisturizer.
Late nights out are a mainstay of the 20-something lifestyle but can wreak havoc on your skin. "Drinking water and bone broth collagen is key to achieving a juicy, dewy glow and to combating adult acne," advises esthetician Elle Feldman. "Excessive alcohol is not great for your complexion. Consider having at least three alcohol-free days a week, and try drinking natural wine. It is less processed, with no added sugar or chemicals, so it's better for you." We're obsessed with Good Clean Wine, which is sustainably sourced in Tuscany.
Your 20s is a decade when you should start learning a very important lesson: Everything in moderation. Sure you should feel free to experiment with fun new beauty products, but you also need to remember that overdoing it has consequences. Yes, always wash your face—just not too hard. Enjoy drinks with friends; just be mindful that it might show up on your skin. Mind your acne, but also moisturize it. The bottom line is that skin care, like life, is a balance.
Erin Flaherty is a beauty expert who has worked for publications such as Allure, Jane, Marie Claire, V, and Harper’s Bazaar. She received her B.A. in english literature from The College Of Santa Fe. She has traveled the world discovering indigenous ingredients and both traditional and modern beauty and wellness rituals. She lives in Woodstock, NY with her husband and two dogs.