Skincare by age – what should be in your beauty kit?
Dermatologists give us an age-wise breakdown of ideal regimens
With so many goodies seducing us every time we hit the drugstore, our skincare cabinet is bursting with serums, oils and creams to carry out our own science experiments at home.
There’s an SOS cream for when our skin gets red and irritated, a go-to SPF we reapply all day and a jar of eye cream that costs as much as the Kohinoor that we’re still figuring out if we need or not.
“There are so many options available, that there’s plenty of opportunity to find what works for you. But these experiments can do more harm than good,” says dermatologist Dr Medha Gatkare.
Figuring out how and when to use a product is really a trial by fire — because your skin might just need a firehose to douse that burning sensation.
So how do you build a skincare regimen that addresses your needs at every age — because while you may have grown up oily and acne-prone, you might just wake up in your late 30s with skin as dry as stale roti.
Skincare by age: The products you need in your daily arsenal
Skincare in your 20s
Your 20s are for undoing the damage of your teens. Stepping out without sunblock, using only makeup wipes at night and rubbing off your kajal with water is going to have to stop.
“Your 20s are about protection and prevention of further issues. Your skin is resilient and will bounce back faster from short-term damage so you want to maintain that skin barrier and prevent any further disruption,” says Gatkare.
In your 20s, Dr Niketa Sonavane says to incorporate topical antioxidants into your routine. Antioxidants can come in the form of a serum or cream using vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids, resveratrol, even green tea extracts. These will power up your sun protection too.
We’re also getting more serious with makeup. Acing that winged eyeliner look and dabbing highlighter to make our cheekbones shine brighter than a disco ball.
That khichdi of makeup leftovers on your blush brush and beauty blender can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Give your tools a soak and rinse after every two or three uses (minimum), and give a silicone brush cleaner a try.
Your routine: Micellar water is great to remove makeup, or try oil-cleansing for long-stay foundation and waterproof eyeliner.
Gatkare says you can exfoliate one or two times a week with glycolic acid or salicylic acid (or both) to gently get rid of dead skin. Staying hydrated goes from water intake to topical hydration and moisturising ingredients. Your moisturiser can be a simple one — look out for ingredients like glycerin, fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, and hyaluronic acid (or sodium hyaluronate) at the back of the bottle to keep your skin barrier healthy.
Starting proper sun protection at an early age will minimise the appearance of wrinkles and help in the healing process of damage you may have already experienced. Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta suggests at least one whole teaspoon of product for your face and reapply every two or three hours if you’re out in the sun.
Stock up on: Salicylic acid will be your best friend, targeting blackheads and whiteheads deep in your pores and clearing them out. You can try it in the form of a wash-off treatment or a serum (start at a low percentage and work your way up if need be).
When considering skincare by age, remember that brown skin is more prone to hyperpigmentation. So stock up on sunscreen, some Arbutin products and a daily dose of vitamin C for its skin brightening properties.
Niacinamide is a multitasking ingredient worth investing in. It tightens up pores, curbs excess oil production and re-texturises skin.
Avoid: Over-exfoliation. If you’re sceptical about using chemical exfoliators, start with lactic acid or mandelic acid as they’re easier on the skin.
Sonavane suggests polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) too. They like our favourite AHAs and BHAs but are kinder on the skin because of their larger molecule size. They can’t penetrate as deep as the others, so are less irritating but still offer the benefit of exfoliation and re-texturising.
Skincare in your 30s
The 30s are a time of reflection and if you’re reassessing your skincare by age, Gatkare says that while you crossed a decade barrier, your routine can stay largely the same (especially that SPF, we’re serious).
Your 30s will be about noticing the deeper changes to your skin type. “Our hormones are constantly up and down, and many people in their 30s notice quite a drastic change in their skin type. Many become drier and more sensitive, whether it’s due to using the wrong products in our teens and 20s or just improper sun protection,” she adds.
Now it’s about prevention and correction. There’s no defying ageing, unless you’re Paul Rudd, so you’ll want to get more proactive with your regimen.
Your routine: It’s graduation time, from a basic cleanser to a more targeted approach, according to Gatkare. If you’re on the dry side, try a milky, cream cleanser; oily skin folk can stick to gels and foaming face washes.
You’ll notice your skin not being as resilient as it once was. As we mature, the elastin and collagen in our skin start to slowly break down. We need to keep our skin’s upper layer strong with lots of ceramide-rich moisturisers for the night and a lighter gel-cream to get through the day. Up the antioxidant game by including it in your diet as well. SPF is non-negotiable.
Stock up on: Signs of ageing are going to start making their presence felt. Cosmetic retinol (in serums and creams) is something we can start using in our 30s as a preventative measure in lower doses.
Sonavane explains that retinol is a slow, long game. You’re not going to see changes in a few days, even months perhaps, but if you’re careful with your usage and consistent with it, you’re going to get to your desired results.
Avoid: Products that would strip our skin of moisture like drying, denatured alcohol in large amounts. Retinol is a fickle ingredient. Start with a low dosage once a week. Pay attention to how your skin tolerates it and over the next few weeks and months, you can build up your tolerance and use it more often.
The overuse of retinol can cause serious skin damage, irritation and redness that can take months to recover from. You don’t want to do too much to your skin right now. If you’re using retinol, cut back on your exfoliation and let this ingredient be the star of your routine.
Skincare in your 40s
Ask most women in their 40s and they’ll say that’s when they really came into their own. Mentally, you’re stronger and smarter than ever before, and your skincare needs to catch up.
“Now your skin is entering what we refer to as the mature stage. Your collagen needs an extra boost, and you may become prone to extreme dryness. You might even notice some sagging,” explains Gatkare.
“The decreasing oestrogen can cause thinning of the skin, sagging and more wrinkles,” she adds, explaining what you need to stock up on for skincare by age 40.
Your routine: Stick to a creamy cleanser but we’re going to need to up the hydration game with an added hyaluronic acid serum or a hydrating toner.
Add potent antioxidants in your routine, choosing products that can serve more than one purpose.
For example, an antioxidant-rich sunscreen or a night cream with actives. Gatkare is a fan of facial oils like marula, squalane, jojoba and rosehip seed oil for their added moisture properties.
“Using them at the end of your routine can also serve as a final seal to lock in all the goodness you’ve applied beforehand”.
Stock up on: Higher strength retinol products can combat crow’s feet, wrinkles and fine lines. By now your skin should be used to a lower percentage, paving the way for higher-grade retinol – use it every other night with a strong SPF the next day.
Peptides, in serums or your moisturiser, don’t have much scientific backing but are believed to help in the stimulation and production of elastin and collagen in your skin.
Replace the inorganic sunscreen for one with organic filters like zinc and titanium dioxide which are more suited for sensitive and reactive skin.
Avoid: Your skin is already more prone to irritation so you may need to ease up on the chemical exfoliation when planning your skincare by age 40. Instead of glycolic acid, choose one of its milder alternatives. Retinol speeds up your skin cell turnover, so you’re already getting that exfoliation you need regularly.
Skincare in your 50s
You’ve crossed off most of the goals on your professional bucket list and with your kids starting to earn money and finally take care of themselves, you’ve got more time on hand to lavish on yourself.
You can face the changes your skin and body is going through with an arsenal of the best that science and nature have to offer.
Some women going through menopause may notice skin scaling and dryness, while others are dealing with contact dermatitis and acne breakouts.
How you’re treating and coping through your menopause, whether you choose hormone replacement therapy or not, can determine how you care for your skin, says Gatkare. Pack in the moisturiser, anti-ageing ingredients and protect yourself from the sun as much as you can.
This may be the time you opt for a dermatologist checkup to find a routine that can cater to your specific needs.
Your routine: Choose a mild cleanser for your face and be gentle with your skin. A lipid-rich moisturiser will do a lot of good as well as targeted eye creams with active ingredients like peptides, niacinamide and retinol that can treat dark circles, fine lines or wrinkles.
Night time is treat-yourself time. Supplement your daily retinol habit with a soothing face mask, contouring facial massage with some oils or even just a sheet mask for an at-home spa day.
Stock up on: Ampoules are slightly heavier than your usual serum and a lot more viscous. An ampoule with hydrating ingredients like deeply penetrating sodium hyaluronate, glycerol and urea, will leave you with smooth, supple and soft skin.
Occlusive facial oils will form a barrier as your final skincare step to prevent any trans-epidermal water loss that happens through the night.
Another addition to your routine is a soothing face mist for when hot flashes hit. Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of hormonal changes during menopause and a quick spritz can help cool down your face.
Avoid: According to the rules of skincare by age, “this isn’t the time for experimentation”, says Gatkare. “If you’re curious about a new product or some trendy buzz in the market, consult your dermatologist first. Especially with invasive tools like at-home derma rolling. This should only be done by professionals.”