If you're in your 20s or 30s, it's prime time to prevent the signs of aging.
"What you do for your skin or against your skin will have ramifications as you age," dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD, says.
Two of the best things you can do for your skin are not to tan or smoke. Don't count on quitting either habit later; that won't protect your skin from what's happening now. "Unfortunately, younger women are still smoking," dermatologist Doris Day, MD, says. "It’s one of the worst things -- after sun -- you can do to your skin."
Signs of aging may still be subtle in your thirties, Day says. "But it’s a nice time to start to address it because a little bit goes a long way."
10 Anti-Aging Tips
Keep your skin looking youthful every decade with these tips from top dermatologists.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and says "broad-spectrum" on the label. That means it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. The sunscreen should also offer some water resistance. The UVA rays cause the sun’s aging effects, Waldorf says. To get UVA protection, check the ingredients list for avobenzone, mexoryl, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide.
Reapply the sunscreen as directed on the label. Most people don't put on enough, so be liberal when you apply it, and reapply it every one to three hours, depending on the amount of sweating, swimming, or direct sun exposure you get. "Nothing is going to work if you don’t put on enough and use it often enough," Waldorf says. Don’t forget your neck, hands, and arms.
2. Avoid tanning, both indoors and outdoors.
Tanning is one of the biggest skin mistakes that younger women make, Waldorf says. "Damaging your skin with ultraviolet radiation will make it look worse." And too much sun, she says, can also cause skin discoloration and damage to elastin and collagen.
If you want a tanned look, Day recommends you use sunless tanners. They come in sprays, gels, creams, lotions, and wipes. Just remember, they don't protect you against sunburn, Day says. "You still need to wear sunscreen every day, all year round."
3. Wear sunglasses.
4. Wear hats, visors, and sun-protective clothing.
Wear them along with sunscreen. Hats with a broad brim are a good choice, Day says. You could even rock a parasol to keep sun off your skin.
If you're outdoors a lot, you might consider buying sun protection clothing. They look the same as regular clothes, but, Day says, they have been treated to provide at least SPF 30 protection against UVB and UVA all day. "Not only is the practice good for your health, but it’s a very smart anti-aging move," she says.
5. Don’t smoke.
Smoking is bad news for every part of you. In your skin, it speeds up the breakdown of collagen and constricts blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to your skin. Smokers are more likely to wrinkle early. In time, their nails and fingertips will turn yellow.
Day, a former smoker herself, strongly urges smokers to quit. The prospect of wrinkles could be the last bit of motivation you need. You may need to try several times to quit for good, but it's more than worth it.
6. Avoid too much alcohol.
Having a drink with a friend or savoring a glass of wine with dinner is fine, Day says. But drinking too much alcohol dehydrates your skin and dilates your blood vessels. If you drink too much, you could develop broken blood vessels and rosacea, a skin disorder marked by redness and tiny pimples.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, stress and damage your whole body, including your skin, hair, and nails. These are serious -- even life-threatening -- disorders, so seek professional help for them immediately.
Many women in their twenties and thirties also go through periods of "yo-yo" dieting, without having an eating disorder. Day says that repeatedly gaining and losing weight can stretch the skin and make it sag.
"At a certain point," Waldorf says, "your skin does not bounce back when your weight changes."
That's all the more reason to work on reaching, and keeping, a healthy weight.
8. Use retinoids or retinols.
If you're pregnant or are planning to get pregnant, ask your doctor about whether they're safe to use.
Women who aren’t planning to become pregnant can start using retinoids at any age, even their early twenties, Waldorf says. Day recommends that women begin using a retinol (an over-the-counter, weaker form of a retinoid called tretinoin) in their twenties as an anti-aging strategy.
If you don't have a lot of sun damage by your twenties or thirties, you can wait. Waldorf didn’t have much sun damage from her earlier years, so she held off on retinoids until her forties. "How necessary it is and how much difference a retinoid is going to make will depend on your baseline skin," she says.
9. Consider antioxidants and peptides.
For women in their twenties, the most basic skin care routine is washing with a gentle cleanser and using a moisturizer at night, with a retinoid if needed, Waldorf says.
If you use skin products with antioxidants, Waldorf recommends applying them in the morning before using a sunscreen moisturizer. Both products may work in tandem to protect skin from damage.
10. Consider treatments for youthful skin damage.
If you have a lot of sun damage or acne scars, microdermabrasion, light peels, or laser treatments may help. These procedures can improve skin more than facials can, Waldorf says.