Major Skin Mistakes You're Making In Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

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By By Maureen Choi,Glamour

Our skin changes as we get older, and so do the mistakes we make with it. We asked some of our favorite dermatologists to break it down for us. Here's what you shouldn't (and should!) be doing to get the skin of your dreams.

(Photo: Talaya Centeno/WWD)

Skin Mistakes You're Making in Your 20s

Skin Mistake #1 in Your 20s: Forgetting to reapply sunscreen.

You know the drill: Wearing sunscreen--at least half a teaspoon on your face--every single day will help combat the harmful effects (wrinkles! brown spots! skin cancer!) of UV rays. But to make sure you stay protected, you need to reapply it every two hours, says Chicago dermatologist and assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Peter Lio, M.D. How to do that without messing up your makeup? Start by layering a tinted moisturizer containing sun protection or a BB cream over your sunscreen in the A.M., then throughout the day, sweep a powder formula like Colorscience Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 50 ($64, or spritz a sunscreen mist (we like Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50, $28, all over.

Skin Mistake #2 in Your 20s: Not sanitizing your cell phone.

"Your phone is a magnet for bacteria," says New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. "And when you hold it up to your face, those germs can mix with makeup, dirt, and oil, resulting in breakouts." Avoid them by cleaning your screen regularly with an alcohol wipe or disinfectant cloth like Wireless Wipes ($4 for one pouch, and switching to a headset or speakerphone the next time you make a call.

Skin Mistake #3 in Your 20s: Treating adult acne the way you treated your breakouts in high school.

News flash: Grown-up pimples, which we can thank stress and hormonal changes for, are very different from teen zits. "Adult acne tends to be deeper and more cystic, but our skin gets drier and thinner overall as we age," explains Dr. Lio. In other words, using standard acne go-tos like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid may be too drying or ineffective to curb big-girl breakouts. Instead, try switching to products with sulfur or niacinamide, or ask your dermatologist for a topical dapsone gel.

Skin Mistake #4 in Your 20s: Popping pimples.

The problem isn't the picking itself, it's what happens afterward--scarring! And "once a scar forms, it's permanent," warns Dr. Lio. If you have a giant zit, here's your plan: Use a sulfur-based mask like the Murad Clarifying Mask ($38, to dry it out, then stick on an anti-acne patch like Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dot ($30 for 72 stickers, to help it heal.

Skin Mistake #5 in Your 20s: Putting off anti-aging products.

You may not see wrinkles yet, but to keep it that way, Dr. Zeichner suggests using anti-aging serums and creams now. "The sooner you start, the better you'll look," he says. Try adding a pea-size amount of retinol (the anti-aging gold standard) to your nightly routine. If your skin is sensitive, mix it with a serum or moisturizer to buffer irritation. "Retinol helps prevent fine lines, lighten pigmentation, and can even slow down certain types of precancerous cells," adds Dr. Lio. A heads-up though: It can make skin more sun sensitive, so be extra vigilant about sunscreen.

(Giovanni Giannoni/WWD)

Skin Mistakes You're Making in Your 30s

Skin Mistake #1 in Your 30s: Skipping your skin care regimen.

We've all fallen asleep with our makeup on once (or a bazillion times) before, but derms agree that being consistent about a regular skin care routine--morning and night--is the secret to great skin. "It's all about preventing damage during the day and repairing at night," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her skin care nonnegotiables: A good cleanser and moisturizer, plus an antioxidant-packed serum (we like SkinCeuticals C+AHA Exfoliating Antioxidant Treatment, $134,, SPF 30 mineral sunscreen, and BB cream for day, and retinol before bed.

Skin Mistake #2 in Your 30s: Not switching up your products.

Starting in our 30s, skin gets drier, cells turn over slower, collagen production gets sluggish, and skin tone becomes more uneven, says Dr. Tanzi, so the Holy Grail moisturizer of your 20s may not be cutting it anymore. Take stock of the current state of your skin and tailor products to address whatever issues you're dealing with now, whether it's dullness, brown spots, wrinkles, or some evil combination of all of the above.

Skin Mistake #3 in Your 30s: Overexfoliating.

We know you're just trying to reclaim your youthful glow, but do yourself a favor and limit exfoliating to one or two times a week once you hit the big 3-0. "Skin is already beginning to lose elasticity, so overdoing it with gritty scrubs and cleansing brushes can cause capillaries to rupture and worsen the appearance of fine lines," says Santa Monica, Calif., dermatologist Sonia Batra, M.D. She suggests replacing those with a mild glycolic acid peel (we like Cane+Austin Miracle Pads, $78,, and applying your serum or cream right afterward to lock in moisture.

Skin Mistake #4 in Your 30s: Missing your annual mole check.

The single most important thing you can do for your skin (besides wearing sunscreen with a rating of SPF 30 or higher on the regular) is to get a mole check every year. "A thorough exam only takes five to 10 minutes," says Dr. Tanzi. Before you go, remove nail polish and avoid tanning or getting sunburned (duh, but seriously, a mole can look markedly different on tanned or sunburned skin when viewed under a microscope).

(Photo: Delphine Achard/WWD)

Skin Mistakes You're Making in Your 40s

Skin Mistake #1 in Your 40s: Not moisturizing enough.

Regardless of your skin type (yes, even those who battle acne), now is the time to add an extra dose of hydration. According to Dr. Batra, "hormonal changes in our 40s make skin drier and decrease its ability to keep moisture in." Another downside to dryness? It makes lines and wrinkles look way worse. To boost hydration without clogging pores, switch to a milk or cream cleanser and layer a lightweight serum under a noncomedogenic moisturizer like Neutrogena Deep Moisture Night Cream ($13, before bed.

Skin Mistake #2 in Your 40s: Cocktailing too many products.

This is one of those situations where too much of a good thing is bad. "Piling on multiple active ingredients can often lead to redness, inflammation, and peeling," says Dr. Batra. And while it's true that antioxidants work best when combined (vitamins C and E are an especially powerful duo), retinols paired with acne treatments and alpha hydroxy acids are a recipe for disaster. Her rules for minimizing irritation: Introduce one new product at a time, wait a full minute between layering products to buffer interactions, and go for formulas that are fragrance-free.

Skin Mistake #3 in Your 40s: Skipping eye cream.

"It's OK to use a serum or moisturizer around your eyes, but you're better off going with something that's specifically formulated for that area [usually fragrance-free with a lower concentration of active ingredients] to avoid irritation," says Dr. Batra. And don't forget an eye cream with sunscreen (try Shiseido Sun Protection Eye Cream SPF 34, $35, for day. "Your eye area is so thin that even a few minutes of sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin to start breaking down," she says.

Skin Mistake #4 in Your 40s: Banking on products to perform skin miracles.

As far as anti-aging products go, no amount can completely obliterate wrinkles or bring back the chiseled cheekbones of your 20s. For that, you'll have to see a dermatologist. "In-office procedures can help where topical formulas leave off," says Dr. Zeichner. A few effective fixes worth exploring: Fraxel laser treatments to even out skin tone and texture (about $1,500 per session), Juvéderm Voluma XC to plump up cheekbones (about $700 per syringe), and Botox to soften wrinkles (about $300 per syringe). He adds: "Treating aging skin is a marathon not a sprint, so maintain the benefits by sticking to a solid at-home regimen--even if you don't see immediate results."

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