Skin Changes to Expect Between Your 20s and 40s

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By now, we are all well aware of the basic skin care mantra: cleanse, tone, moisturize.

And while this is a great foundation for any effective skin care routine, certain tweaks and additions still have to be made depending on your age.

Why is this the case?

Well, as your body grows older, the natural mechanisms that take place in your skin cells tend to change, too.

One of the most visible consequences is related to the production of collagen in the dermis, which gradually decreases with age.

The effects of this can be seen in skin’s loss of volume and elasticity.

Another thing that slows down is the natural process of exfoliation and moisture transfer, causing the skin to become drier and more brittle.

Of course, there are also the environmental factors, such as sun exposure and pollution, which can cause breakouts, dark spots and dull complexion.

Depending on the stage of aging your skin is currently experiencing, you might be facing different types of challenges.

For example, 20-something-year-olds might still be battling leftover acne from their teenage years, while women in their 40s may be trying to find ways to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

That’s why a beauty regimen of someone who is fresh out of adolescence can’t be the same as that of someone who is in well into their 30s or 40s.

To help you figure out what are some common skin issues for every generation, we have compiled an essential guide that will inform you on how to keep your complexion healthy and glowing at any age.

20s: Clear, Vibrant and Protected Skin

young woman smiling

The twenties can be a time of massive changes in many people’s lives, marked with milestones events like graduation, first job, moving out of your parents’ home, etc.

As far as the skin goes, the twenties can vary greatly from person to person.

Many people find that their hormones tend to settle down in their early 20s, which means breakouts and acne are visibly diminished.

On the other hand, some people who never had acne before may start experiencing breakouts in their 20s due to unusual hormonal activity or external factors.

Early adulthood also comes with notable changes in lifestyle. People who are still in college or just starting their careers may be subject to lack of sleep, poor dietary choices and increased alcohol intake. This can also cause adverse effects on your skin, namely dehydration and increased likelihood of breakouts.

This is why, while in your 20s, the focus of your skin care routine should be placed on minimizing acne and breakouts, but also providing protection from external factors that contribute to accelerated skin aging.

And everything starts with a good cleanse.

As your oil glands still tend to be pretty active in this period, your pores can get clogged up and cause the appearance of blackheads and spots.

To make sure your complexion remains clear and free of blemishes, you should make a habit of thoroughly cleansing your skin both in the AM and PM.

If you’re the kind of girl who likes to rock a full glam face and party until the early morning hours, you should always make sure to remove every last bit of makeup on your skin. Here are some ideas for potent makeup removers that won’t be too harsh on the skin:

When it comes to day-to-day cleansing, opt for a lightweight formula that will remove all the dirt and bacteria without stripping your skin off its natural oils.

If your skin tends to be on the oilier side and you also have enlarged pores, you also might want to perform an even more thorough cleanse by using a face mask. If you’re not sure which one to go for, your best bet are clay-enriched products. This potent nature-derived ingredient will help penetrate deep into your pores and suck out all the grease and pollutants hiding in there.

Of course, if you want to keep your skin looking plump and spot-free well into your 30s and 40s, you should definitely start planning ahead.

A holy grail product in every preventive skin care routine is sunscreen, which provides a shield for your face, protecting it from sun’s harmful UV rays – number one external cause of wrinkles and damaged skin.

Luckily, sunscreens have evolved significantly in the last decade or so, meaning you don’t have to worry about your skin getting clogged and greasy if you choose to wear one daily. Today’s formulas are lightweight and water-based, making them easy to incorporate in your day-to-day routine. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are some basic tips:

  • Pick a sunscreen with an SPF of minimum 15 or 30
  • Make sure to go for the ones marked with “broad spectrum”, as they will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays
  • Opt for a water-resistant formula
  • Don’t be shy when applying – your sunscreen should cover your entire face, neck and décolletage area (if exposed to the sun)

Choosing the right products for your skin is only half of the battle. If you are a 20-something-year-old who leads a hectic life, you should strive towards building healthy habits that include getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated round-the-clock and avoiding greasy food filled with carbs and salts.

30s: Plump, Balanced Complexion

woman in her 30s smiling

This is the decade where we tend to feel more comfortable in our lives and in our skin, too.

However, that natural baby-face plumpness of your college years is by now entirely gone. What’s worse, you also might start noticing first fine lines, especially on your forehead and around your eyes.

Dryness and sullen complexion is another common issue in this period. The more you age, the more your skin loses its ability to retain moisture.

Furthermore, if you’ve had a baby in this period, you might also be experiencing darks spots or hyperpigmentation due to increased production of estrogen during pregnancy.

If you haven’t really cared much about your skin during your 20s, now is the time to step up your cosmetic game. Once you’ve hit the big 3-0, it’s simply not enough to slap on some cheap moisturizer and call it day.

Your main skin care goals in this period should be boosting skin cell turnover, eliminating hyperpigmentation and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

Here’s how to do it.

As skin becomes more prone to damage, you should definitely steer clear of harsh face washes and scrubs.

However, this does not mean you should skip on exfoliation all together. The process of removing dead skin cells is the key to promoting new skin and achieving clear, balanced skin tone.

The trick is to do it with gentle, yet effective exfoliants.

This is where the much talked-about AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxyl acids) step onto the stage.

Extremely potent in shedding the old stuff and helping reveal a new layer of skin, AHA and BHA-infused product are a godsend for anyone battling 30s skin woes.

Not only are they more efficient at evening out your complexion compared to traditional, physical peels, they are also well-suited for people who have dry or sensitive skin due to their gentle properties. BHAs can also be incredibly beneficial for people who have oily, acne-prone skin, as they are effective in dislodging the dirt that accumulates in the pores and making them appear smaller.

However, if you find that acids aren’t powerful enough to help you get rid of those annoying skin spots, you might want to go the extra mile and invest in a quality Vitamin C-enriched product.


Well, this super-charging ingredient is notably efficient in eliminating temporary dark spots and reducing the more persistent ones. It is also an all-around great addition to your skin care routine that will help diminish fine lines and give you that coveted glow.

Keep in mind that all your efforts to reduce spots, blemishes and fine lines have to be protected with a physical barrier. So don’t be quick to ditch that sunscreen just yet! A properly applied layer every day will help seal in all the hard work and shield your skin from further damage.

40s: All About the Moisture

woman in her 40s smiling

No matter how much we try to combat the signs of aging during 20s and 30s, you will still notice some wrinkles, dark spots or laugh lines once you step into this decade – and this is perfectly natural.

Your cells simply aren’t as efficient at shedding the dead layers, which can contribute to skin looking lifeless and emphasizing the lines.

Moreover, collagen production and cell renewal become even slower, meaning your complexion will start lacking in firmness and elasticity. On the bright side, many people who have suffered from acne should be mostly rid of this pesky skin problem by the time they hit 40.

As dryness and lines are your two main enemies, top skin care priorities in this decade should be keeping your skin nourished and thoroughly hydrated – every step of the way.

When it comes to cleansing, you might want to step away from whatever run-of-the-mill face wash you’ve been using and opt instead for something more hydratingjelly, milk and balm cleansers can be especially beneficial for increasingly dry skin, especially during the cold winter months, when dehydration and flakiness intensifies.

Hydration plays the key role in any through-out 40s beauty routine and the most efficient way to boost your skin’s moisture levels is by learning how to properly layer all those nourishing products on your face to maximize on their effect.

After you’ve cleansed your face with a hydrating wash and applied alcohol-free toner, you might want to introduce essence as your next step. These watery formulas are packed with anti-aging nutrients that will penetrate deep into your cells.

Follow up the essence with a nourishing serum. This anti-aging skin care essential is excellent for repairing any damage on your skin and prepping it for a more heavy-duty moisturizer. A notably potent ingredient to look for in serums is hyaluronic acid, which will perk up your skin and subtly fill out those fine lines.

As you probably already know, moisturizing is a skin care must at any age.

For women in their 40s, a good, nourishing moisturizer is what will make your skin go from dry and dull to picture-perfect. Look for products enriched with peptides (protein fragments that boost collagen production), ceramides (lipids that help lock in the moisture and form a protective barrier for your skin) and antioxidants (they help reduce the appearance skin damage, inflammation and dark spots).

The already delicate area around the eyes tends to be the place where you will notice first signs of aging. This is why your 40s is a good time to incorporate an eye cream into your everyday routine, if you haven’t done so already. Anything infused with soothing ingredients (cucumber extract or aloe vera) or rejuvenating properties (hyaluronic acid or retinol) will help brighten your under eye area and remove any puffiness.

And if you’re someone who has spent their 20s and 30s jumping straight into bed without any skin prep (other than maybe removing makeup)?

Well, you might want to reconsider those habits. As you step into your 40s, nighttime skin care becomes increasingly important. Prepping your skin just before sleep can be incredibly beneficial for your complexion, as this is when your skin cells go into intense repair mode and recover from all the damage that accumulated during the day. Use this recharging time to your favor by nourishing your cells with a quality night cream that will replenish your skin and make it look plump and glowing in the morning.

This has been a brief explanation of some of the most common skin issues you will encounter as you grow older. As we’ve seen, every decade comes with its own set of challenges and benefits. As long as you take good care of your skin and do your best to protect it from all the harmful effects of everyday life, you will be able show off a beautiful, healthy complexion at any age.

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