No, we’re not just talking antiaging creams.
By Jenn Sinrich – https://www.self.com
The age of 30 is often approached with a bit of wariness and, in some cases, downright panic. For some it can feel like a whole new chapter of life is beginning—for better or worse—and when it comes to your skin that is true.
In your late 20s, you might have already noticed a few things changing about your body. You need more sleep to function, hangovers are much more extreme, and your stomach just doesn’t respond well to certain foods (or is that just me?). Your skin is also going through a transition during this time. After 30, you might experience more dryness and irritation than you ever did. Not to mention strange spots seem to pop up from nowhere. But all this is perfectly normal, according to dermatologists.
When your skin starts feeling out of whack, you can make a few simple adjustments to your skin-care regimen to get things back in sync. We asked top dermatologists to reveal the skin changes you can expect in your 30s, and the solutions that work best to treat them.
You notice that your skin is looking a little dull.
Your skin cell turnover slows down as early as your 20s. By the time you hit your 30s new cells are visible every 28-35 days, whereas they once turned over every 14 days or so when you were a child. “This means dead cells start accumulating on the surface of the skin and interfering with light reflection,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF. “This is often characterized by a loss of radiance.”
Solution: Exfoliate twice a week.
Since your skin cells aren’t turning over as often, you can rid your skin of these dead cells manually to reveal newer, brighter skin cells underneath. This not only makes your skin more glowing, but it also helps ensure that the products you layer on top are absorbed more deeply. Dr. Zeichner suggests using a gentle exfoliating scrub, such as St. Ives Even and Bright Pink Lemon and Mandarin Orange Scrub ($4) or Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub ($8), to exfoliate and improve skin radiance. “Start out once per week, and advance to twice or three times per week as tolerated,” he adds.
Your skin is dry, dry, dry.
Another pesky side effect of slowing skin turnover is that the top layer of skin has a more difficult time staying moisturized naturally. “It takes longer for the top layer of the skin to slough off, giving a more dull and dry quality,” Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai, tells SELF. “Furthermore, production of hydrating factors in the skin such as hyaluronic acid slows down and break down increases.”
Solution: Add an exfoliator with alpha hydroxy acids and a moisturizing cream.
Dr. Levin recommends incorporating an exfoliating product with alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic, lactic, citric, etc.) into your weekly routine in your 30s to help with cell turnover. (Note: If you are already exfoliating with a scrub, there’s no need to add an AHA, and vice versa.) She likes Revision Brightening Facial Wash ($32), which has both salicylic and glycolic acid in combination with vitamin C and other skin-brightening agents. Keep in mind that over-exfoliating can make dryness even worse, so make sure you’re restoring the skin’s moisture barrier with a hydrating cream. For a drugstore option, try CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($13). A luxury alternative is Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 ($128), which has a balance of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.
Your face doesn’t look as full as it used to.
“I always say that life starts to show up on our face and skin in our 30s,” Dr. Levin says. “Cell turnover slows down, skin recovers less easily from inflammation, important proteins such as collagen and elastin breakdown faster and less is made and the naturally found skin plumping sugar known as hyaluronic acid starts to decrease.” Forehead wrinkles, crow’s feet, bags under the eyes, and more prominent laugh lines called nasolabial folds are all new things you might notice in your 30s. Changing hormones also contribute to many of these changes, specifically a loss of estrogen that causes us to lose volume and bone mass in our skull, cheekbones, and jawline.
Solution: Slather on a moisturizer with sun protection every day and start experimenting with retinol.
“When someone asks me the most important anti-aging skin-care product, it is easily without hesitation sunscreen, since premature skin aging is driven primarily by the sun so protection is key,” Dr. Levin says. But in addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+, she urges the importance of a complete, multi-step skin care routine with a cleanser, moisturizer, and retinol-containing product.
“The tried-and-proven vitamin A derivative ingredients have been studied since the 1980s and have been proven to improve the appearance of wrinkles, diminish brown spots, and even out discoloration in the skin,” she explains. “At the cellular level, retinoids work by increasing collagen formation, decreasing breakdown of collagen, and normalizing cell turnover.” If you’re new to retinol, it’s probably a good idea to start out with a drugstore brand instead of a prescription since they’re usually lower in concentration and will be more gentle on your skin. Try ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Filler ($23) or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer ($22) a few days a week at first and then use more frequently as your skin becomes more tolerant.
You get cystic acne for the first time in your life.
You thought admission into your 30s meant your days of perusing the acne aisle of your local drugstore were over. But many are surprised to learn that adult female hormonal acne kicks into high gear during this decade, due to changing hormonal levels. Hormones can go haywire due to a myriad of things, from discontinuing oral birth control pills, pregnancy, or even simply the stressors of modern adult life
Unfortunately you can’t treat adult acne like the pimples of your teenage years. The issue, Dr. Levin explains, is that adult skin is far less resilient than teenage skin and turns over less frequently. So it takes much longer to see a result from a topical medication than in teenage skin. “Furthermore, since many adult women and men feel as though they ‘shouldn’t be breaking out,’ there is a factor of panic where patients are frequently using so many different products, which can dry and irritate the skin which makes acne worse,” she says.
Solution: Add one acne treatment to your routine.
Since the skin is more dry, sensitive and has a harder time recovering from inflammation, Dr. Levin warns against using the regular acne treatments women used during their teens years. Instead, she recommends a gentle hydrating cleanser, an active topical medication, moisturizer, and sunscreen. If you’re going to add anything else to your routine, incorporate one new product at a time as long as the skin isn’t irritated. One of her go-to acne medications is Differin Gel ($13), which used to be prescription-only and is now available as an over-the-counter retinol. “It not only normalizes skin cell turnover, but also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as improves the skin texture and tone with regular use,” she says. “It does not cause dryness or irritation of the skin and the lightweight gel can easily be used within a skincare routine as a stand alone active ingredient or in combination with other acne medications.”
Your skin seems to get irritated more often.
In addition to your skin being more susceptible to dryness, it is also less tolerant of external factors like cold and dry weather and harsh soaps. In other words, the cleansers you may have used on your face and body when you were younger without blinking an eye at the ingredients list won’t cut it anymore—they’ll quickly cause skin irritation and leave you hanging out to dry, literally.
Solution: Switch up your cleanser.
Traditional soaps have an alkaline pH that disrupts the naturally acidic skin pH, which is why Dr. Zeichner recommends sticking to gentle, soap-free cleanser that respects the skin barrier. His go-to is Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($9 for eight bars), which has hydrating ingredients built-in. If you prefer a liquid cleanser, reach for Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($10).
Your face seems to flush and stay red.
Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that most commonly rears its head in the 30s. “Rosacea shows up on the face and is manifests as flushing, blushing, redness, and red pimple-like bumps that can be triggered or worsened by a number of factors, including hormonal changes, weather changes, stress, spicy foods, hot temperature beverages or foods, chocolate, and caffeine,” Dr. Levin explains. “Rosacea skin is finicky since it is marked with sensitivity and intolerability to a number of skin-care products.”
Solution: Lighten up your skin-care regimen to include just the basics.
Rosacea often calls for a total revamp of your skin care routine. Dr. Levin recommends patients with rosacea simplify and focus on a gentle skin-care regimen with a cleanser, moisturizer, and mineral-based sunscreen such as Revision Intellishade TruPhysical SPF 45 ($75). Also consider seeing a dermatologist for a prescription treatment. “There are many medications that can help control rosacea, but one of my favorites is Soolantra cream, which a prescription topical medication that has anti-inflammatory properties specific to rosacea skin,” says Dr. Levin.
Dark spots pop up from nowhere and don’t fade as fast as they used to.
With decades of sun exposure under your belt, you might start noticing dark spots popping up on your face. These spots are caused by years of low-grade exposure to the sun, which stimulate pigment-producing cells to go into overdrive, says Dr. Zeichner. You’ll also start to notice scars from things like acne fade at a slower rate (you can blame that crawling cell turnover again). Those with darker skin types often notice these changes in pigmentation to a higher degree. Hyperpigmentation is often made worse by hormonal changes, UV exposure, and certain medications.
Solution: Add a brightening product to your regular routine.
Hydroquinone has been the gold standard for lightening dark spots for the past 50 years. There are plenty of over-the-counter preparations at lower concentrations—usually 2 percent or less—like Ambi Fade Cream ($6). But if you don’t see any change in the spot after 8 weeks you might need something stronger. You can get a higher percentage through a dermatologist. “Hydroquinone is one of the most powerful inhibitors of a key enzyme called tyrosinase, which is important in the production of pigment or melanin,” says Dr. Levin.
Retinoids are also key in terms of exfoliating the skin, collagen remodeling, and treating discoloration. “Most of the clinical studies for brown spots have been performed with Tretinoin (Retin-A) but any retinoid such as Differin and Tazorac can also be effective,” Dr. Levin adds. Her favorite over-the-counter retinoids are Differin Gel ($13) and Skin Better AlphaRet ($110).
Jenn Sinrich is a Boston-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist with a passion for all things beauty and health. In addition to SELF, she contributes to publications including TotalBeauty.com, Glam, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, PureWow, Parents and Romper.