You’ve probably spotted a certain trendy meme as you’ve scrolled through your social streams featuring those Steve Madden sandals from the ’90s declaring that if you used to own a pair, then it’s time to start using a night serum. While the *hilarious* image might induce some nostalgia, the picture also pushed many of us to start putting serious thought into our skincare regimen. Sure, many of us might not need (or want) to worry about wrinkles now, but as the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Aside from avoiding the sun’s harmful UV rays, it can be incredibly confusing to figure out not only which products (like serums, moisturizers, and eye cream) we should use to prevent the signs of aging but also when to start incorporating them into our routines. A number of dermatologists say it’s never too early to start an anti-aging regimen, but most agree that starting in your late 20s to mid-30s is a good time. “Over the years, the paradigm has shifted from treatment of skin aging signs beginning after 40 or 50 to [the] prevention of skin aging,” says Andrew Alexis, MD, MPH, chair of the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West.

While starting early might seem a bit eager, rest assured. Taking steps to upgrade your skincare routine will help you get the most out of the anti-aging products you invest in early on, while also ensuring a smooth and glowing visage for years to come. Worth it? We think yes.

Sussing Out The Signs of Aging

Before you start stalking the shelves for products to buy, you should know what your skin might be subject to as it ages. Though UV rays, airborne pollution, stress, and other free radicals can contribute to the breakdown of collagen that causes skin aging, their effects might differ depending on your tone. “Due to the sun-protective effects of melanin, manifestations of skin aging in skin of color tend to be less severe and delayed by as much as a decade in comparison to lighter skin types,” says Alexis.

All skin tones are subject to dryness (regardless of your specific type), fine lines, wrinkles, loss of radiance, and dark spots, but they may show up earlier on lighter tones along with other signs of sun damage, according to Carlos A. Charles, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Derma di Colore. On the other hand, darker complexions are more likely to see a loss of firmness and volume to the skin, texture changes like enlarged pores and roughness, hyperpigmentation that can become darker or lighter, dark circles under the eyes, and even a deepening of the folds around the nose and mouth (those dreaded parentheses wrinkles).

To find out which products are worth adding to your routine, read on.


When it comes to anti-aging, protecting the skin’s barrier is key to maintaining collagen production as much as cleansing. So even if you have oily skin, the derms we spoke with advocate using soap-free formulas like CeraVe’s array of gentle cleansers to avoid stripping natural moisture. Alexis loves La Roche Posay’s Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser ($15), which is formulated with the brand’s prebiotic thermal water as well as niacinamide, an ingredient that Dr. Sasha Hu of the Dr. Brandt Skin Advisory Board says not only calms inflammation but also plays well with a number of skin types to improve the look of enlarged pores, uneven tone, fine lines and wrinkles, and dullness.

There are also plenty of hydrating options if your skin is already feeling parched. Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner suggests emollient cleansers like L’Occitane’s Shea Butter Cleansing Milk ($24) since it adds a serious dose of hydration with a blend of shea butter and sunflower oil, while licorice calms but also brightens to maintain a radiant and even skin tone.


Toners toe the line between an essential for some and a seriously stripping, sometimes unnecessary step for others. In the end, it largely depends on the formula, as many include alcohol that can dry out the skin further. As such, it’s best to check the ingredients list and keep an eye out for bottles that list antioxidants, vitamins, and ceramides in its ingredients. For example, It Cosmetics’s Miracle Water 3-in-1 Tonic ($38) helps brighten and even tone without stripping, thanks to its base of micellar water.

In terms of toner, Zeichner still feels that they’re “an effective way of removing oil from skin that your cleanser leaves behind,” which is why he loves Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner ($6). The water-based formula works well for oily skin types who might need to sop up excess sebum in order to balance their skin.

Serums & Retinoids

We know it takes way more than scrubbing up to sustain a smooth, firm, and radiant complexion. As the aforementioned meme noted, a serum that works for your skincare needs is key. Derms like Charles and Zeichner suggest looking for formulas that feature a dose of vitamin C, like Charles’s go-to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166) as well as Zeichner’s pick, Drunk Elephant’s C Firma Day Serum ($80). For worthy drugstore buys, consider Derma E’s Vitamin C Concentrated Serum ($20) and Vichy’s LiftActiv Vitamin C Face Serum Brightening Skin Corrector with Hyaluronic Acid ($29).

Hu also pointed to a number of acids that help undo UV and environmental damage like dark spots and uneven tone. “For concerns on pigmentation, look for key ingredients such as soy, kojic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, glycolic acid, and niacinamide, which are all effective at decreasing melanin synthesis and calm down inflammation,” she explains. Try Aveeno’s Absolutely Ageless Intensive Anti-Aging Renewal Serum ($15), Peter Thomas Roth’s Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum ($65), or Juice Beauty’s Antioxidant Serum ($48).

When it comes to anti-aging, there’s no bigger or more popular skincare ingredient than retinol. And it’s no wonder, as it provides a slew of beauty benefits including increasing cell turnover, as well as kicking your collagen production into high gear to tackle concerns like fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and texture irregularities as you edge closer to your 40s. According to Charles, it can take some getting used to, regardless of whether you score a prescription or snap one off the shelves. “The downside to using retinols and retinoids is that they can cause some irritation when they are initially used,” he says. “Generally, these products should be introduced gradually and without other potentially irritating products.” The unwritten rule about retinols, like Dr. Brandt’s 2% Retinol Serum ($69) and Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum ($17), is that they should be applied every other or every third night, depending on how your skin tolerates it, and then gradually increased to nightly use over the course of four to six weeks.

Regardless of what serum you go with, the experts advise that you don’t stick to just your face. “It is important to take care of our body just as we do our face,” Zeichner explains. “Areas like the hands, arms, neck, and chest may age earlier than the face because we don’t take care of them as we should.” If you have any excess serum or moisturizer, don’t be afraid to slather it on those spots, as they’re places that can also show signs of aging.


No matter your skin type, moisture becomes increasingly important as we get older since our lipid production slows down along with our collagen. “These trends translate to drier skin, more fine lines, thin texture, loss of elasticity, and longer healing and damage repair times,” Hu says. “This is why as we age, it is important to incorporate more antioxidants, more nourishing natural ceramides, and lipids, and be mindful of products that may over-dry or irritate your skin.”

As with your cleansing routine, you’ll need to moisturize twice a day with formulas that won’t clog your pores. But sticking to the same formula for day and night won’t do you much good. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is essential to prevent dark spots or patches (as seen with conditions like melasma) from darkening, wrinkles from increasing and, of course, keeping skin cancer at bay as your risk rises with accumulated exposure to UV radiation. Charles considers Elta’s MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($33) a staple, or you could opt for Alexis’s pick, Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($17), that will also keep you covered without causing a reaction.

As important as daily moisturizers are, the bigger focus should be on what you apply before bed, as our skin does most of its repair work while we snooze. Many of the available night creams come packed with similar ingredients to those found in serums, so they can help double up your anti-aging ingredients. They also deeply infuse the skin with hydration that comes courtesy of the hyaluronic acid that’s often included in the formula, like you see in SkinMedica’s Dermal Repair Cream ($129) or CeraVe’s PM Face Moisturizing Lotion ($11) — both of which the experts recommended.

Eye Creams

The eyes are one of the first places to show signs of aging since the skin is thinner and more delicate than the rest of your face. You’ve probably experienced symptoms like puffiness or dark circles after a long night of partying, but hollowness and wrinkles can start cropping up in your 30s, according to Zeichner.

While you could cover up some of those concerns with concealer, it won’t actually correct the problem and can, in fact, make them more obvious. Eye creams, like moisturizers, will often include many of the anti-aging ingredients found in serums (think: antioxidants, retinols, and acids), so find a formula that suits the signs of aging you’re trying to tackle. Some like Estée Lauder’s Revitalizing Supreme+ Global Anti Aging Cell Power Eye Balm ($62) and L’Oreal Paris’s Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle + Firming Eye Cream ($9) will also add caffeine to the mix in order to increase blood circulation, drain away puffiness, and tighten fine lines. A little tap, tap, tap all around the orbital bone at night can help you look refreshed when you wake up.

Additional Treatments

There are a number of treatments, like peels, injectables, and lasers meant to smooth skin’s surface and even tone. No matter which one you’re interested in, all of the experts agree that the age you start using these procedures completely depends on the individual. For those who prefer peels, you don’t necessarily have to visit the doctor’s office in order to get one. Hu favors trying Dr. Brandt’s Radiant Resurfacing Foam ($65), as it “contains gentle alpha-hydroxy acids and hydrating peptides to treat pigmentation and dull complexion.” Though Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads ($20) are budget-friendly and can easily be incorporated into your routine.

If you’re opting for lasers, Charles recommends looking into the Clear + Brilliant laser as a great entry-level option to treat discoloration and early sun-related skin changes. On the other hand, Hu prefers using Intense Pulse Light (IPL) lasers for newbies, and Alexis likes Fraxel Re:Store and Laser Genesis. Before booking any laser appointments, you should schedule a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist to discuss your options, especially for people of color who can experience hyperpigmentation if done improperly. “These lasers can be used in skin of color when performed by an experienced board-certified dermatologist,” Charles says. “However, with all procedures patients must be aware of potential side effects that can sometimes occur even in the most experienced hands.”

As for injectables, Hu says, “The rule of thumb is when you start seeing hints of laugh lines or frown lines when you are not making expressions, it’s time to start injectables.” Botox is likely the first thing that comes to mind for those looking to relax apparent expression lines on the forehead, between the eyebrows, or on crow’s feet, but there are also other neuromodulators like Dysport or Xeomin that are also worth bringing up to your derm when exploring your options.

If there’s a loss of volume or wrinkles become deeper set, especially around the nose and laugh lines, Alexis usually turns to fillers (made of hyaluronic acid) like Juvederm, Restylane, Belotero, and Radiesse. As Charles put it, “There are a whole host of injectables that target various concerns. One would need a thorough in-person consultation to determine the best injectable for them.” So if you do decide to try them, discuss all of your options in depth with your derm to ensure you get the smooth results you’re searching for.

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