The Expert-Approved Skin Care Products Every 20-Something Needs

Prevent premature aging while you still can.

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In your 20s, you embark on a lot of exciting journeys. Typically during this period in your life, you graduate from college, start a full-time job, and perhaps even move to a brand new city. But during this particularly busy decade, it’s crucial not to forget about caring for your health, especially when it comes to your skin. In fact, experts say choosing the right skin care products in your 20s is more important now than ever, especially if you want to target signs of premature aging (and eliminate pesky adult acne).

“Prevention and attention to your skin are key [in your 20s],” Dr. Diane Madfes, M.D., FAAD, a New York City-based dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells TZR. “It’s normal to take healthy skin for granted before you turn 20, but now is the time to practice UV protection every day.” In fact, the dermatologist says most of the signs of aging are from sun damage, which can luckily be prevented by using consistent sun protection. To add to that, Dr. Kan Cao, a scientist, anti-aging authority, and founder of Bluelene, says that during this age, you begin to lose collagen, which is the most important building block of youthful-looking skin. And at age 25, she notes that the natural aging process is well underway. “Developing great skin habits in your 20s will preserve a youthful, healthy look [to your skin] for a long time.”

And, unfortunately, it’s common to still experience acne in your 20s, too. According to Dr. Muneeb Shah, a North Carolina-based Industry-Leading Dermatologist (you might know him as @dermdoctor on TikTok), acne around this age can be from many causes, but oftentimes, women are dealing with hormonal acne. “The same treatment principles apply to all age groups when treating over the counter: retinoid, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide,” he explains. “The difference in treatment for hormonal acne is that sometimes we can target the underlying hormonal issues in our treatment plan, this may require prescription medications but lifestyle changes can help too!”

So there you have it: proper sun care, healthy skin habits, and targeted acne treatments — everything a 20-something needs to maintain the health and look of his or her skin. Ahead, find exactly what products the professionals recommend using while you’re in your 20s.

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Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Cleanser

Once you enter your 20s, Dr. Madfes says it’s time to cleanse every single night. “As one tends to stay out later, get less sleep, have increased alcohol, the nightly washing of the face is essential.” The dermatologist recommends gentle glycolic or salicylic cleansers, which she says are perfect for reducing oil production, controlling acne, and removing the day’s activities. Her favorite products for this include SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser and Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.

Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Exfoliator

Dr. Cao says it’s always a good idea to exfoliate, especially if you wear makeup or sunscreen on a daily basis. “Exfoliation helps to shed dead skin cells and prevents accumulation and clogged pores,” she explains. “I recommend a gentle exfoliation with lactic glycolic or salicylic acid.” Just be sure to pair an acid toner with a gentle cleanser rather than one with acne-fighting actives — try alternating nights to start and see what your skin can handle. When in doubt, exfoliate less so you don’t upset your skin barrier.

Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Sunscreen

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist, says sunscreen should be worn daily. “It’s a misconception that you only need sunscreen on a sunny day at the beach,” he explains. “However, even incidental sunlight exposure adds up over a lifetime.”

And Kristina Kitsos, a trained registered nurse and cosmetic injector, notes that it’s best to wear a zinc oxide-based SPF 30+ broad-spectrum to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB damage. This is because chemical sunscreens only last two or three hours after you apply them, while zinc oxide lasts as long as it’s physically on the skin. “Also, sensitive skin will not react to zinc oxide because it is a mineral.” As for her go-to zinc sunscreens on the market, she likes both Elta MD and Trader Joe’s Mineral Sunscreen Stick.

Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Serum

Serums are a concentrated dose of ingredients that benefit your skin. If you’re new to the serum game, Dr. Zeichner suggests incorporating a vitamin C serum into your routine. “Vitamin C is perhaps the best study antioxidant we have for the skin” the dermatologist explains. “It protects the skin from harmful free radicals to prevent dark spots from developing and allows for healthy collagen production.”

The dermatologist encourages his younger patients to incorporate vitamin C into their routine early in life, like in their 20s, as a preventative measure. “It’s much better to prevent the dark spots from happening rather than trying to get rid of them after they are already there.” The expert’s go-to vitamin C serum is RoC Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum. Additionally, Dr. Madfes loves Cerave Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum. You can apply this after cleansing and toning (if you’re using a toner) and before your moisturizer and sunscreen.

Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Retinoids

Sure, there are many retinoid products to choose from, but why all the hype? Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, an aesthetic and surgical dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says vitamin A derivatives like retinol will help promote collagen synthesis (remember, collagen is what gives your skin that bouncy, youthful look). “We are born with a great deal of collagen in most of our tissues and the amount of that collagen tends to diminish over time with normal aging,” she explains. “It may be used for teenage acne, but for purposes of aging well, if well-tolerated, it may be used beginning in someone’s 20s or 30s.”

In addition to retinol, Dr Wesley suggests using bakuchiol. “Bakuchiol is a plant-derived ingredient used for many years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, that works along the same gene pathway as retinol, but typically without as much irritation.” If you’re looking to test out the ingredient, the dermatologist says AgeWell Moisture Restoring Cream with 0.5% Bakuchiol is a great option. If you’re also using an exfoliating toner, hold off on your retinoid of choice — using them together will be too much for your skin and could cause irritation. Try using it every other night to start.

Skin Care Products To Use In Your 20s: Moisturizer

“In your 20s, the skin tends to be more oily, but that does not mean you don’t need a moisturizer,” Dr. Zeichner explains. If the skin feels dry, he says moisturizers are definitely appropriate. And around this age, the dermatologist recommends lighter lotion or gel-based moisturizers that won’t way the skin down. “For example, Simple Skincare Hydrating Gel-Cream is a light, gel-based moisturizer that can be used across all skin types.”

And Dr. Wesley suggests looking for ingredients rich in omega fatty acids that our skin needs such as seed oils, like sunflower, safflower, or sesame seed oils as they are all high in linoleic acid. “Linoleic acid helps the skin barrier and moisturizes well, but also tends not to irritate or inflame acne-prone skin,” she explains. For this, her recommendation is Arbonne Bio-Hydria Gel Cream. “With sustainably sourced edulis cellular water and aloe vera, this gel-cream is hydrating in a soothing lightweight formula that is also non-comedogenic.” Just remember to use your moisturizer first, allow it to dry slightly, and then finish your routine with SPF.