Are You Aging Prematurely, Or Just Normally? Here's What Dermatologists Look For.

We're taking anti-aging precautions earlier in life than ever. But are they even necessary before a certain point?
If you want to combat signs of aging, dermatologists recommend keeping safe in the sun.
Dimitri Otis via Getty Images
If you want to combat signs of aging, dermatologists recommend keeping safe in the sun.

We fantasize about the future, whether it’s about getting that promotion when our supervisor retires in a few years, saving up enough to buy a house in our favorite neighborhood, or planning a monthlong European getaway for our next major birthday. But actually growing older? That’s a part of our future that many of us actively fight against.

Our culture is obsessed with all things anti-aging. From all the skin care products marketed to make us seem more youthful to injections that paralyze facial muscles to flawless celebrities applying filters to make themselves appear younger on social media, it seems like we’re taking anti-aging precautions earlier in life than ever. But are they even necessary before a certain point?

While many of us would probably like to turn back the clock on our crow’s feet and frown lines, what should our skin actually look like for our age? We went to the experts to talk about normal signs of aging and signs that indicate our skin is actually prematurely aging.

Common Causes Of Premature Aging

Before we can talk about signs of premature aging, it’s first important to understand what variables can speed up the aging process of our skin.

“So many factors go into determining how the skin ages,” said Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist and the president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Connecticut. “Genetics play a role, too, but lifestyle choices lead the charge.”

Common factors for aging include:

  • Unprotected sun exposure
  • Smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Poor stress management
  • Poor diet
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Genetic disorders
  • Exposures to certain chemicals or radiation
  • Drugs

Expected Signs Of Aging In Your 20s

“In our 20s, our skin starts slowing down production of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin,” said Dr. Nicole Ruth, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “The consequence is our skin becomes dehydrated and its barrier function weakens.”

As a result, sun spots and UV damage that occurred from our teenage years and even earlier may begin to appear around this time. By the mid-20s, some individuals may also begin to notice fine lines. What would be considered abnormal in this age range would be deep wrinkles, dryness, sunspots, loss of facial fat and loose skin.

Mraz Robinson explained she likes to introduce prejuvenation to interested clients around this age, which is using preventative treatment for signs of aging.

“I am a big believer in prejuvenation, the idea that we can start introducing skin care, injectables and energy, laser and light therapies in our 20s and 30s to support the skin as it naturally begins to lose collagen and elastin,” she said.

Dr. Carmen Castilla, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital, said “it is reasonable to start a retinoid in your early to mid-20s when you start to lose collagen. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can also be helpful.”

Expected Signs Of Aging In Your 30s

“Normal signs of aging generally start after the age of 30 years old and can be variable in nature,” said Dr. Justine Park, a celebrity dermatologist in California. “In terms of the skin, one might notice pigmentation issues, fine lines and adult onset acne.”

Volume loss can also begin in this decade, which is characterized by prominent under-eye hollows and less plumpness in the cheeks.

“However, in those with melanin-rich skin, these changes can be delayed by almost a decade,” Castilla said. She explained, “Ethnic origin also influences aging with darker skin types having, in general, a later onset of skin aging changes.”

Despite more fine lines, loss of volume and maybe even acne being normal in this time frame, many people, understandably, do not like to accept these changes.

“As a dermatologist, I would recommend anti-aging products to anyone who has concerns about these issues,” Park said. “Starting earlier as ‘preventative’ can be done, but isn’t recommended due to the lack of research in this area.”

In our 40s, skin changes become even more accelerated.
Dimitri Otis via Getty Images
In our 40s, skin changes become even more accelerated.

Expected Signs Of Aging In Your 40s And Beyond

In our 40s, skin changes become even more accelerated.

“Our skin really starts to show the effects of the actual loss of collagen and elastin with the appearance of deeper wrinkles and a change in skin texture,” Ruth said. “It is important to recognize many women are going through menopause and hormonal changes can intensify the appearance of skin aging.”

More discoloration and volume loss are expected to happen in these years and will continue to happen over the decades.

“However ‘normal’ this may be, it is not something many people are willing to accept,” Castilla said.

Skin Care Tips To Combat Signs Of Aging

When maximizing a skin care routine for anti-aging benefits, there was one thing all the skin care experts could agree upon ― and it should come as no surprise:

Stay Safe In The Sun

“The best defense one has against skin aging is protection from the sun,” Park said.

She recommended three tiers of protection against the sun and UV rays:

  1. Avoidance: Seek shade and avoid peak sun hours, which are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  2. Physical blocks: Wear sunglasses, hats and UPF-rated clothing, which can protect you from the sun’s rays.
  3. Sunscreen: “The cornerstone to a solid skin care routine is the daily use of a brand spectrum SPF 30+ daily,” Robinson said. “Adding in an antioxidant serum under your mineral SPF in the morning will help to protect the skin from oxidative damage from environmental stressors (air pollution, UV light, blue light etc.).”

Add Retinoids To Your Routine

Retinoids are another good option. “Retinoids also are scientifically backed skin care products that can improve fine lines, wrinkles and dyspigmentation,” Castilla said. “It is reasonable to start a retinoid in your early to mid-20s when you start to lose collagen.”

Robinson also suggested adding products to your evening skin care routine that promote skin cell turnover, like AHAs, chemical exfoliates and retinol.

“Anything beyond a sunscreen, a retinoid and a well-formulated vitamin C (antioxidant) is for fun,” Castilla said. She added, “Many of the anti-aging skin care ‘actives’ out there have no or very weak scientific data behind them. Regardless of age, extent of sun damage, or ‘problems’ you are trying to address, you do not need an expensive 20-step skin care routine.”

Looking to find the best retinoids? These are the ones dermatologists recommend.

HuffPost and its publishing partners may receive a commission from some purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently curated by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair retinol moisturizer
This is an excellent option for retinol newbies. Formulated for daytime use, Neutrogena's retinol moisturizer includes SPF 30, which is imperative to apply when using powerful ingredients like retinol. It fights fine lines, dullness, wrinkles, dark spots and more while hyaluronic acid adds much-needed plumping moisture so the moisture barrier stays healthy.
Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C moisturizer
Those with sensitive skin may want to go easy on this potent mix of powerful active ingredients, as it could cause irritation. The combination of retinol and vitamin C helps to brighten and replenish the skin while also improving skin texture and fine lines. It's a rich, nourishing cream that will protect against free radicals while working hard to hydrate and repair the skin.
Skin Better Science Intensive AlphaRet overnight cream
This potent cream is great for anyone who wants to up their retinol game but doesn't quite want to go all the way to prescription strength. Just be sure to be diligent about sunscreen use. Formulated with both retinol and AHAs to improve the visible appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone, Skin Better Science's night cream is a powerful addition to any skin care regime. A higher concentration of glycolic acids helps to enhance the texture and feel of skin.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni retinol cream
If you're seeking a more eco-friendly, vegan alternative that is also incredibly effective, then this is the one for you. Just be sure to go slow if you're a retinol newcomer. Made with a vegan form of 1% retinol with peptides and niacinamide, Drunk Elephant's night cream features a powerful combination of anti-aging ingredients along with soothing botanical extracts. It's the best of both worlds for those looking for powerful, plant-based retinol that delivers results.
CeraVe skin renewing retinol serum
Great for most skin types, beginners and those with sensitive skin, CeraVe's offering includes an encapsulated, time-released retinol along with moisturizing, skin-repairing ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. It has a gentle-yet-effective formula that won't cause irritation and helps smooth and brighten skin.
SkinMedica age defense retinol complex
This option is best for those who know their skin can tolerate high levels of active ingredients. SkinMedica's night lotion is formulated with multiple different strengths of retinol to help rejuvenate the skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines. Algae extract keeps skin soft, hydrated and protected against free-radical damage.
Alastin renewal retinol
Alastin's retinol cream is available in two strengths, 0.25 and 0.5, so you can start with the lighter strength if necessary. Those who are ready to try a higher percentage of retinol should do so slowly, so your skin can get used to it even if you've long used active ingredients. It is formulated with an encapsulated retinol to decrease the appearance of fine lines and to smooth skin texture. It includes oat extract and antioxidants to help calm and soothe the skin while protecting against dehydration with powerful hydrators.
Paula's Choice 1% retinol treatment with peptides and vitamin C
Retinol newbies and veterans alike can enjoy the benefits of this effective cream. This high-strength formula from Paula's Choice absorbs quickly into the skin, smoothing, strengthening and brightening the complexion. Powerful antioxidants like vitamins C and E work in tandem with hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin-firming, nourishing peptides to safely deliver results.

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