Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 30) every day—and don’t skip the eye area. “The single most important thing you can do for your skin is to defend it against UV rays,” says New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler. “The SPF in your makeup isn’t enough.”
Never sunbathe or use a tanning bed. If you want to look tan, a spray tan or self-tanner is the only answer.
Exfoliate regularly. Whisking away dead cells makes your skin feel silkier and look brighter. Plus, it helps any treatment—for acne, for wrinkles, truly anything—work better.
Use a retinoid at night. Prescription-only retinoic-acid treatments (like Retin-A, Tazorac or Renova) fight wrinkles, unclog pores, clear acne, smooth skin, even out skin tone and fend off some skin cancers. (If your skin is too sensitive for prescription retinoids, the next strongest thing is over-the-counter retinol.)
Don’t pick at your skin. Permanent scars are totally not worth it.
Moisturize, especially if your skin feels dry or if you’re using drying acne treatments. Hydrated skin is more resistant to aging.
Wechsler notes that 54 percent of 35-year-old women have adult acne. Brandt agrees: “The biggest complaint is pimples and wrinkles at the same time.”
Retinoids treat both acne and wrinkles, as can salicylic acid. If these don’t work for the acne, dermatologists have more powerful solutions, from bacteria-zapping laser treatments, oral antibiotics, birth control pills and prescription androgen blockers to (for persistent cystic acne) Accutane.
Add antioxidant serum to shield your skin from free radicals better than sunscreen alone. “Look for ingredients like green tea, white tea or blue ginger,” says Wechsler. “You want a high concentration, so make sure the antioxidant is listed in the top five ingredients.”
Start using eye cream, preferably one with retinol, peptides or both, plus a humectant like hyaluronic acid. If you use a prescription retinoid, use a smidge of it around your eyes, as long as it doesn’t irritate.
Brown spots and dark patches are hyperpigmentation from sun damage. Larger splotches, called melasmas, are caused by hormonal changes and are especially common in Latin and Asian women. Be vigilant about sun protection and use retinoids, light peels and lightening agents (like soy, licorice or kojic acid) to gradually fade dark spots.
Manage stress. “Chronic anxiety speeds up aging—I wrote a whole book about it,” says Wechsler, who holds degrees in both psychiatry and dermatology. “It can cause wrinkles, pimples, dryness, redness and irritation.”
Fillers are also sometimes useful in the 30s. “Some women start to see nasolabial folds and a bit of sagging in their mid-30s,” says Brandt. “Some subtle Restylane in the cheek can lift that right up—people are always amazed at the result.”
This is when your past sun damage comes back to haunt you—in the form of wrinkling, redness, uneven skin tone and brown spots. You might see some volume loss in your face, too.
Add a peptide cream to your routine. Peptides generally don’t cause irritation, so they’re easy to incorporate morning or evening, and they treat practically every sign of aging.
Lasers (like Clear and Brilliant, Fraxel and IPL) can supercharge your at-home efforts, brightening skin and obliterating lines, broken capillaries and hyperpigmentation.
Switch to a richer moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, ceramides or glycerin—all brilliant for plumping and smoothing. To lock in moisture, apply while your skin is still damp.
In addition to your regular eye cream, carry a cooling roller-tip gel with caffeine (to reduce puffiness) in your bag. Antihistamines like Claritin can also help with undereye bags if the problem turns out to be allergies.
Lashes grow skimpier and shorter over the years. Latisse, the prescription lash grower, really works. “It’s good for thinning eyebrows too, although it’s not FDA-approved for that,” says Brandt.
As oil production drops off, your skin’s protective barrier starts to weaken, making it less able to hold moisture, so build hydration into every step of your routine.
Switch to a creamy cleanser, and use face oils, hydrating serums and lotions or balms that sink right in. Together, they’ll strengthen the lipid barrier so your skin feels smoother and calmer.
You may need a more moisturizing form of topical retinoid like Renova. If you’re still super-dry, layer on a ceramide moisturizer before the retinoid. “They’re terrifically hydrating, lightweight and anti-inflammatory,” says Brandt. “If you apply a ceramide cream before your retinoid, you’ll get less irritation, and it won’t interfere with the treatment.”
Crepiness starts to be a problem because of lost collagen. A first step might be a lift-and-tighten peptide cream smoothed in with a Clarisonic Opal—the sonic waves help the cream sink in and create a temporary plumping effect that lasts for hours. Dermatologists have more drastic—and more lasting—solutions: Thermage, Fraxel and Ulthera treatments kick up collagen production for long-term repair. Over three months, skin gets firmer and smoother.
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The right routine is everything, no matter your skin type and no matter your age. "The only way to guarantee fewer lines and clearer skin is to start early," says New York / Miami dermatologist Fredric Brandt. As you get older, the ideal routine becomes bigger.
So start with the following routine-and add on as your age and skin demand.