Mastering Skin Care in Your 30’s: A Derm’s Anti-Aging Guide
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It is important to start good skin care in your 30’s.
The poor practices in your 20’s must be fixed because this will dictate how your skin ages for decades.
In your 20’s you were able to get away with just washing your face twice a day and looking radiant. As we age, we need to do more to look great.
If we do not preserve and maintain what we have, it is very difficult to try and get it back.
This article will discuss the best skin care routine and best anti-aging skincare products for those in their 30’s.
Skin care at 30: Understanding skin aging
What is skin aging?
There are 2 different types of skin aging: intrinsic and extrinsic (1, 2).
Intrinsic aging is a normal programmed inevitable process that begins in your 20’s when the skin starts producing less collagen. Collagen production decrease by 1% every year. There is nothing we can do to stop this process. Aging normally occurs in all our organ systems, not just the skin.
Extrinsic aging is caused by external or environmental factors and leads to premature aging. We can control this to some extent. Extrinsic causes include UV damage from the sun, pollution, poor diet, smoking, and alcohol.
What does aging skin look like?
Aging skin can take on several different appearances (1, 2).
You may exhibit some or all of these findings.
The cell turnover rate is how fast dead skin cells get sloughed from your body. Because the skin’s cell turnover rate starts to decrease in your 30’s, dead skin cells, which normally slough quickly, stay on your skin longer than they should.
This leads to a dull ashy appearance to your skin, not the bright complexion of youth.
Since the skin is not functioning properly as you age, the top layer of the skin (stratum corneum) is not as hydrated as it is in youth. Also, our skin’s barrier layer (stratum corneum) breaks down and we lose water more rapidly.
Dry skin is also in part due to the slow cell turnover rate mentioned above as well. These dead cells do not hydrate the same way as living cells, and they are stuck on the surface of the skin because the body can’t get rid of them as fast.
Loss of fullness and elasticity:
As we age, our body produces less collagen and elastin. The result is a loss of firmness and tautness to the skin which gives us a wrinkled look.
There is also a loss of elasticity which causes our skin to sag and droop. While our skin is aging, so are our fat and bone. Over time, our fat gets redistributed because of gravity.
The fat that should be in our cheeks slides down to our jowl area. Our bone also gets reabsorbed to further accentuate the sunken look. Our face is no longer an upside-down triangle of youth, but more square-shaped and less feminine.
As we age our skin’s barrier no longer functions as well as it used to, allowing not only more water loss and dehydration of the skin, but also leading to more sensitivity to products.
It is less able to tolerate certain products like harsh alkaline bar soaps. Since the skin is slightly acidic, you want to stick to skincare products that are acidic as well.
These form as a result of excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays over time. As more years go by, more spots appear and more damage occurs. Ultimately, excessive sun damage can lead to skin cancer formation.
This is a particular skincare concern for 30-year-old women that may need addressing. Especially if they have been lifelong acne patients.
For some women, around the time of menopause, which can start in the ’30s for some women, our hormones change and oftentimes hormonal acne appears. This is not typical acne.
These are cysts on the chin that can be difficult to eradicate. Eradication of these cysts often requires medical treatments by a dermatologist to prevent scarring.
How can I combat skin aging?
You can combat skin aging through a healthy lifestyle and healthy skin care (1-3). I will discuss the best skincare products for 30 something later on in the article.
A healthy lifestyle consists of several things.
You need about 8 hours of good sleep a night to help your body repair itself (3). This is the only time in the day where your skin can focus on regenerating itself.
It spends all day combating the damage the environment is trying to inflict on it. It is too busy to repair itself during the day. If you rob your body of enough sleep, it will not have enough time to fully regenerate your cells and this leads to premature aging.
You need to drink about 8-8 ounce glasses of water per day, depending on your body size (4-5). The number of ounces of water needed is approximately your body weight divided by 2.
Water is necessary for every organ system, including your skin. It helps flush out toxins and ensures the proper function of enzymes necessary for skin functions, such as barrier protection.
Diet rich in anti-oxidants:
Anti-oxidants are necessary to scavenge and get rid of free radicals that can damage our skin and body (1, 3). Free radicals are unstable molecules because they have an unpaired electron.
They are constantly searching for another electron, so they will form a pair and become stable. Anti-oxidants donate their electron to stabilize these free radicals and render them harmless to the body.
You can get anti-oxidants from certain fruits and vegetables, like pomegranates and blueberries. Some foods, like processed meats and alcohol, can cause free radicals to form. It is best to avoid these things because they will damage your organs.
Smoking can not only lead to lung cancer but it releases free radicals which destroy the body and skin (3). It attacks our collagen and destroys it, leading to wrinkle formation.
Avoid excess sun exposure:
UVA and UVB rays from the sun cause the destruction of collagen as well as damage to DNA (1, 2). Collagen destruction causes wrinkles to form because free radicals released from the sun steal electrons from our collagen
This theft leads to the destruction of collagen. Also, the sun will damage our DNA which leads to skin cancer formation.
Here are some things you can do to combat the sun. Think of them as the 5 “S”s:
- Sunscreen and chapstick with broad-spectrum coverage and SPF of 50+
- Sun protection clothing and a wide-brimmed hat with UPF of 50+
- Sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection
- Sun avoidance from 10 am-4 pm
- Seek shade when outside
The best skin care routine in your 30s
What is the best skin care regimen for 30-year-olds?
It is important to not only select the right products for your skin type but to apply them in the correct order (1).
If you layer things incorrectly, you will not get the full benefits of the products and you will be wasting your money and time.
Layering requires products to be applied starting with the thinnest and ending with the thickest to ensure proper absorption of all the products. Make sure you wait in between products so they have sufficient time to absorb into your skin before applying the next.
Here is an easy dermatologist recommended skin care routine when in your 30’s:
- Toner (oily skin)
- Anti-oxidant serum
- Moisturizer and eye cream
- Toner (oily skin)
- Serum with peptides or growth factors
- Night cream and eye cream
** It is important to remember to exfoliate 1-2 times a week.
How do I know my skin type?
It is important to know your skin type, so you can select the proper skincare for a 30-year-old woman (1, 2). If you use the wrong products, it will just hurt your skin.
For example, if you have oily skin and you do not use an oil-free moisturizer, it will just make your skin greasier and cause more breakouts.
There are 4 basic skin types:
1. Normal skin:
- Not oily or dry
- Does not feel tight or irritated
- Never gets red
- Tolerates all products
2. Oily skin:
- Feels greasy
- Looks shiny
- Prone to acne and large pores
- Needs non-comedogenic products
3. Dry/sensitive skin:
- Looks flaky or scaly
- Feels irritated, red, or tight
- Does not tolerate all products
- Needs more moisturizers
4. Combination skin:
- Dry on the cheeks
- Oily in the T zone (forehead, nose, chin)
- May need to treat each area with different products
Knowing the best skin care products for 30-somethings
What kind of cleanser should I use?
Cleansing is a vital step in your skin care routine (6, 7). It needs to be done twice a day and after exercising. In the morning, cleansing removes the dirt and oil that have accumulated overnight.
It also prepares your skin for the products you will apply next to help protect it during the day. Products absorb better on clean skin.
Cleansing in the evening is also important. It removes the dirt, oil, toxins, and makeup that have appeared throughout the day. You want a clean palette before you apply your nourishing night treatments that help repair your skin while you are sleeping.
Use clean fingers to apply the cleanser. You do not need a harsh scrub brush. That will just irritate your skin. Use warm water to wash with, as hot water can irritate and damage your skin by leading to dehydration. Also, use a clean towel to pat dry. Never rub or scrub at your face as that can irritate it as well.
Avoid bar soaps as they are too alkaline for your skin and can cause problems (6, 7). To function properly, your skin needs to remain slightly acidic. Bar soaps can alter the pH of your skin causing the skin’s barrier to not function properly leading to dehydration and entrance of microbes that can cause infection.
ZELEN Life makes a great cleanser that is good for all skin types. If you have sensitive skin, Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser is a good mild liquid cleanser that is slightly acidic. In fact, it can be used on all skin types.
Do I need a toner?
The right toner can benefit all skin types, especially oily skin (1, 2). Toners for oily skin help remove the oil so it does not clog your pores and cause blackheads, enlarged pores, or acne. There are toners that calm and soothe irritated skin and others that hydrate dry skin. Some have anti-oxidants to protect the skin.
ZELEN Life has a toner that is safe for all skin types. If you have very oily skin, La Roche Posay Effaclar Astringent Toner for Oily Skin works well at keeping your face oil-free.
What kind of serum should I use?
Anti-oxidant serums are one of the best anti-aging products for your skin and are a must in your 30’s. These protect against free radical damage which will destroy your collagen (1, 2, 8).
Vitamin C is probably the best known and most potent of the antioxidants (1, 2, 9). It not only protects collagen but also helps stimulate collagen production and helps lighten dark sunspots.
It works best when it is combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid (1, 2, 10). This is a powerhouse anti-oxidant combination. CE Ferulic by Skinceuticals is one of my favorites. It takes only a couple of drops of this concentrated serum to protect your face.
There are many other good antioxidants, such as green tea, niacinamide, and resveratrol (1, 2, 11-13). Many of them are not just anti-antioxidants but they serve other functions, just like vitamin C.
For example, green tea is also chemopreventative, meaning it helps to prevent skin cancers. Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory, which helps calm and soothes the skin, especially in acne patients.
Resveratrol is also anti-inflammatory and chemopreventative. Vitamin E helps with skin hydration.
Why do I need an eye cream if I use a moisturizer?
Eye cream is essential now that you are in your 30’s (1). The skin around your eyes is very delicate and is the first the show signs of aging. It needs special treatments targeted to its precise needs.
Very strong products may irritate the skin here, so it is best to use the right products. This area shows the signs of aging with wrinkling, dry skin, dark circles, and puffiness.
Creams with retinoids, such as La Roche Posay Redermic Retinoid Eye Cream, can address the wrinkling skin here. If you have oily skin, you will want to select a moisturizer with a humectant like hyaluronic acid so it will not make the skin greasy, such as Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel.
If you have dry skin, you made need thicker more occlusive creams to hydrate the skin here, such as Skinceuticals Eye Balm. Dark circles can be helped with certain ingredients that bleach the skin, such as vitamin C, kojic acid, or hydroquinone, that can be found in L’Oreal Revitalift Triple Power Eye Cream.
Caffeine can help relieve the puffiness around the eyes, such as in La Roche Posay Pigmentclar Eye Cream.
Why do I need 2 different moisturizers?
You can no longer get away with just one face cream for 30-year-olds. Now that you are in your 30’s you will need 2 different moisturizers: one for daytime which is not as thick, and one for night time which is more hydrating and nourishing (1).
A lighter daytime moisturizer is great for hydrating the skin. Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel is great for hydrating but not greasy. If you need something thicker, La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra Moisturizing Cream works well.
The thicker nighttime moisturizer should have nourishing ingredients like lipids or growth factors. Nighttime is when the skin repairs and regenerates itself, so that is the best time of day to apply nutrients to the skin.
The skin is too busy warding off free radical attacks during the day to worry about repairing itself. Skin Medica Dermal Repair Cream and Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore make great night creams.
How often should I exfoliate?
Exfoliation is an important step to get rid of dead skin cells that give skin a dull grey look (1, 2). The frequency of exfoliation depends on your skin type.
People with sensitive skin may only be able to tolerate exfoliating once a week. People with normal to oily skin can exfoliate twice a week. More than twice a week and you might irritate your skin. Over exfoliation can cause redness, irritation, and even abrasions to the skin, which can lead to infection and scarring.
There are 2 different types of exfoliators: chemical and physical (1, 2). Chemical exfoliators include products with certain acids, like glycolic acid.
They serve to exfoliate by breaking the bonds between the dead skin cells so they just slough off as you are rinsing your face. These tend to be better, to begin with, if you are a novice to exfoliators.
There is less chance to harm your skin if you start at the lowest strength. Skinceuticals has a good one called Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser.
Physical exfoliators consist of beads or brushes that are used to scrub your skin and physically remove the dead skin cells (1, 2). If you select an exfoliator with very small, smooth dissolvable beads or a brush with soft bristles, there is less chance you can hurt your skin.
Large irregular, jagged beads or stiff bristles can cause cuts in your skin. La Roche Posay Ultra Fine Face Scrub has gentle superfine particles to help exfoliate.
Knowing the best anti-aging skin care products for your 30s
Why are retinoids good for my skin?
Retinoids are the number one anti-aging product on the market and have been around for decades.
They are a derivative of vitamin A. Retinoids accomplish many tasks to help repair and treat the skin. They can stimulate collagen production, exfoliate dead skin cells, decrease oil production and help lighten dark sunspots on the skin (1, 2, 14-17).
This exfoliation of dead skin cells and decreased oil production make it a great product for treating acne.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, to need to start retinoids cautiously. Sometimes retinoids can cause dryness, peeling, redness, and irritation. Begin with the lowest strength and use it infrequently until your skin gets used to it.
I usually recommend starting twice a week for 2 weeks, then increasing to 3 times a week if well tolerated. If after another 2 weeks and you are still tolerating it, you can apply it every night.
You may have to use more moisturizers to combat the dryness or use a thicker moisturizer. You can always try a small test spot first to determine if your skin will tolerate it. A little dryness and peeling are normal, looking like a snake shedding its skin is not.
You can start with over-the-counter retinoids, like Differin Gel or La Roche Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel, and then graduate to stronger prescription ones.
How do peptides help my skin?
Peptides can also be beneficial to the skin. These are amino acids that help to manufacture collagen and elastin, which give your skin firmness and elasticity (1, 2).
There are 4 types of peptides: signal, enzyme-inhibitor, neurotransmitter-inhibitor, and carrier peptides. Signal peptides, like Matrixyl, will stimulate collagen production. Enzyme-inhibitor peptides, like soy, will inhibit the breakdown of collagen.
Neurotransmitter-inhibitor peptides, like Argireline, inhibit the release of neurotransmitters to prevent muscle movement and subsequent wrinkle formation. Carrier peptides, like copper, are involved in collagen production.
Skin Medica TNS Advanced Serum contains peptides to help rejuvenate your skin, such as trifluoroacetyl tripeptide-2. This tripeptide is an MMP and elastase inhibitor, which means that it stops the enzymes that breakdown collagen and elastin.
Are growth factors beneficial?
There are some growth factors, such as EGF (epidermal growth factor) and FGF (fibroblast growth factor) that can help collagen production (18-22). EGF and FGF enhance the function of fibroblasts, which are the cells that produce collagen.
Skin Medica TNS Essential Serum has fibroblast growth factors to help your skin stay young by encouraging fibroblasts to make more collagen. It also has peptides, like palmitoyl tripeptide-5, which boosts collagen production.
Do I need hydroxy acids?
Hydroxy acids are another great anti-aging product. There are 3 types: alpha, beta, and polyhydroxy acids (1, 2). Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) including glycolic acid and lactic acid.
They serve not only to exfoliate dead skin cells and decrease oil production but also to stimulate collagen production. They also are good humectant moisturizers. Beta hydroxy acids (BHA), like salicylic acid, are also anti-inflammatory which makes them good for treating acne.
Polyhydroxy acids (PHA), like gluconolactone and lactobionic acid, are less irritating than AHA’s but have the same anti-aging benefits.
Just like with retinoids, people with sensitive skin need to use caution. Start out using a low strength product and gradually increase as tolerated.
Also, start out using it infrequently and increase it as tolerated. Just to be cautious, you can try a test spot first. Also, you may need to use more moisturizer as well.
Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renewal Overnight is a great glycolic acid cream. If you are looking for a salicylic acid product to help with acne, you do not need anything expensive. Oxy Pads or Neutrogena Acne Wash are great and some of my favorites.
Why is sunscreen so important?
The sun emits harmful UVA and UVB rays every day (1, 2). These UV rays cause skin cancers to form by damaging your DNA and cause wrinkles to form by damaging your collagen and elastin. Proper use of sunscreens will protect your skin from this damage.
- You need to apply sunscreen every day, even on cloudy and rainy days.
- You need to apply the right amount of sunscreen as well. One ounce or shot glass size should cover your entire body and nickel size should cover your face, depending on your size.
- Sunscreen needs to be re-applied every 1-2 hours that you are outside to be effective. Outside includes driving in the car or sitting by a window because UV rays go through glass.
- You also need to select a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage, meaning a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- You want to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or more, which will block out 98% of the suns’ harmful rays.
People with sensitive skin oftentimes prefer a physical blocking sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide (1, 2). Both of these physical blockers can block out UVA and UVB rays.
Another benefit of physical blocking sunscreens is that they work as soon as you apply them. The combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, in a high percentage, makes for a powerful sunscreen.
Physical sunscreens, just as their name suggests, work by creating a physical barrier to prevent the UV rays from penetrating the skin. La Roche Posay Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is a great choice. It comes in a tinted form as well.
Chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone and octinoxate, can sometimes irritate sensitive skin (1, 2). Avobenzone can block UVA rays, while octinoxate can block UVB rays. The combination of the 2 will give you broad-spectrum coverage.
The only drawback to chemical sunscreens is that they take 30 minutes to begin working. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV rays and converting them to harmless heat by a chemical reaction in the skin. La Roche Posay Anthelios Melt In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60 is always at the top of my list.
It is hard to believe that in your 30’s your skin is already aging and you need to worry about preserving it. Normal programmed skin aging begins in your 20’s when collagen production decreases.
Now is the time to start preserving what you have and prevent premature aging that can come from the harsh environment.
A good skin care regimen can help you look younger and better for years to come.
You can’t stop normal aging but you can prevent premature aging through good skin practices.
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