5 things you wish you’d done in your 20s for better skin in your 40s

June 22, 2021

Clinically reviewed by: Lori Cahitas, licensed esthetician

Wrinkles and dark spots can instigate a moment of reflection: what if we had taken better care of our skin when we were younger? Time travel isn’t an option, but neither is regret, according to Dr. Jennifer Holman of U.S. Dermatology Partners. “The best time to start a skincare regimen is the present. We need to care for our skin differently at each stage of life to ensure we can age gracefully, and more importantly, prevent serious skin health concerns,” Holman says.

In addition to investing in Apple and ditching the brow tweezers, here are the top five things we’d tell our past selves for better skin in the future.


Sunscreen awareness has come a long way in the past decade, but dermatologists still feel the need to put the message on repeat. “At any age, the best thing you can do for your skin is to avoid cumulative damage caused by exposure to UVA/UVB sun rays,” Holman says. She recommends daily use of an SPF 30 or higher that’s reapplied throughout the day, especially when you’re outside or in the water. “Choose broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB wavelengths and contain the physical-blocking ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.”

Another tip for youthful skin? Take sun protection one step further by investing in a wide-brimmed hat and UPF clothing. “The more steps you take to protect your skin from sun damage, the longer you can keep your skin healthy and looking youthful.”

Retinol at the ready

Don’t sleep on the retinol. “Your 20s are a great time to introduce retinoids into your daily skincare routine to improve the firmness and density of skin (and correcting) pigmentation irregularities from sun damage,” advises Holman. She recommends using an over-the-counter retinol serum two to three nights a week. But using retinol isn’t just a tip for youthful skin—it can also help with acne. If you’re looking to clear up acne-related skin concerns, Holman recommends talking to your doctor about a prescription retinoid cream.

Master cleanse

Your 20s is the perfect time to create the life-long habit of washing your face, specifically before bedtime and especially if you’re wearing makeup. Holman recommends using “mild facial cleansers twice a day. At the end of the day, use micellar water or other gentle makeup remover to thoroughly remove makeup prior to cleansing. If you suffer from acne, use a cleanser that contains salicylic acid.”

The acid test

Skin cell turnover is how dermatologists describe the cycle of new cells pushing up to the surface. This process slows in our twenties, meaning older cells stick around a little longer, leading to dullness, defined expression lines and potentially clogged pores. Exfoliants mimic the quick cell turnover process of our youth by sloughing off dead skin cells to encourage new, fresh cells to the surface.

Dr. Holman’s product tip for youthful skin? “Look for chemical exfoliating products that include lactic, glycolic or salicylic acids to use 2-3 times weekly, as these ingredients help to remove dead skin and promote cell turnover,” she says.

Say no to dry spells

Moisturizing can be tricky, especially if you’re prone to breakouts or oiliness. But these conditions don’t cancel out skin’s desperate need for hydration, rather, the right moisturizer can help balance your skin and keep breakouts and oiliness in check. “Apply a light moisturizer or oil daily to keep skin hydrated. Moisturized skin is less likely to break out, is less affected by common skin conditions like eczema, and generally looks and feels better,” Holman says.



About the Author

More by this author
Jacki Marzano is SoCal-based storyteller and head copywriter at Murad Skincare. She's shaped the voice of some of the most recognized beauty brands in the business, has a penchant for sharing homemade cookies, and believes SPF is the secret to getting carded well into your 40s.