What happens to your skin as you age—and what it needs

As we age, our needs' change—and that includes our skins' needs. For most people, adapting to change simply means stocking up on retinol skincare products at the first sign of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Amir Karam MD Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon Founder / Creator of KaramMD Skin

As we age, our needs' change—and that includes our skins' needs. For most people, adapting to change simply means stocking up on retinol skincare products at the first sign of fine lines and wrinkles. 

For others, it means dipping into their wallet for collagen supplements and expensive procedures like fillers and lasers. (And, spoiler alert: one-time procedures aren't the answer to reviving your skin back to its glory days.)

Understanding what your skin needs as you age can feel overwhelming. But here's the good news: nourishing and caring for your skin doesn't need to be complex or expensive. Once you understand the key ingredients your skin needs, building an effective skincare regimen becomes simple. In fact, you'll see how you can say "good-bye" to costly routines that involve tons of skincare products that only clutter up your bathroom countertop. 

In this guide, I'll walk you through how the skin ages naturally and what it needs during each phase in life. 

Skincare for your teenage years

What's happening: Hormones play a big role in many areas of a teenager's life, from their emotions, to their energy levels, to their skin. Specifically, levels of testosterone begin to rise and increase the production of sebum (commonly referred to as "oil") from the sebaceous glands. The size of the sebaceous glands and how much sebum is produced depend on genetic factors, so some people may experience oiliness more than others. 

Common skin concerns: Shiny or oily skin, blemishes, and blackheads.

What you need: Proper, thorough cleansing is a critical step in any skincare regimen. During a person's teenage years, a gentle cleanser twice a day is recommended. 

It's natural to think that cleansers with benefits like "foaming action" will be the most effective for combating oily skin, but the truth is these cleansers tend to use harsh surfactants that can cause inflammation—only worsening the concerns you had to begin with. This is also why you should avoid using bars of soap or liquid body washes to cleanse your face.

Another common misconception is that you can skip moisturizer if you have oily skin. The truth is, the right moisturizer will actually help balance your skin and decrease excess oil and shine. 

Key takeaways: 

  • Start with the foundational blocks of a strong skincare routine: cleansing, moisturizing, and sunscreen during the day. 
  • It takes time to build a habit. Starting in your teenage years will serve you well into the future if you stay consistent. 

Skincare for your 20s

What's happening: Lack of sleep, sunbathing, stress, and poor nutrition habits—all of these lifestyle factors over a prolonged period of time can manifest in the skin. Habits like frequent consumption of alcohol and smoking can also negatively impact the skin's health and appearance

Also, there's a lot going on in a person's life in their 20s, and sticking to a consistent skincare routine doesn't always seem like a top priority. Many people—particularly in their mid-to-late 20s— may begin noticing that their skin appears duller and simply doesn't have that same youthful glow they're expecting to see in the mirror.

Common skin concerns: Dullness, tired appearance.

What you need: Nail down the critical basics of cleansing, hydration, and UV protection, and prepare for the future by introducing products with retinol or collagen into your routine. While you may not have any fine lines or wrinkles now, introducing preventative products now means fewer skin aging concerns in the future.

Also, if you're not getting enough quality sleep, often feel stressed, and find yourself reaching for iced coffee more often than water, you should address those factors as well. Change doesn't need to look like a huge lifestyle overhaul—small steps everyday can make all the difference. For example, consider journaling for five minutes each day to release your thoughts and de-stress. Or, swap your afternoon sugary drink for fruit-infused water. The little things add up.

Key takeaways: 

  • Create a skincare regimen that's easy to maintain and includes preventative products. Often, less is more. (A seven-step regimen is harder to maintain than a three-step routine.) 

  • Focus on making healthy lifestyle decisions and remember that it's okay to start with small changes. Small steps in the right direction will still take you where you need to go.

Skincare for your 30s

What's happening: During this stage of life, you may begin experiencing the first effects of sun damage—which is why it's so important to habitually use sunscreen. (Consistent sunscreen use goes for anyone at any age and the earlier you form this habit, the better.) 

Skin cell turnover, which is the skin's process of producing new skin cells to replace existing skin cells, naturally slows down as a person ages. This is the body's natural process of exfoliation, which helps give the skin a young, healthy glow. 

Collagen production also usually begins slowing down in a person's 30s. Collagen fibers support skin elasticity and strength, so decreased collagen can result in duller-looking skin. 

In particular, the under-eye area tends to be a big concern as a person approaches their 30s. The skin under the eyes is sensitive and thinner than other areas of the face, which is why dark circles, puffiness, and wrinkles tend to be more pronounced here. 

Common skin concerns: Dryness, firmness, dullness, fine lines/wrinkles, uneven skin tone, puffy/dark under eyes. 

What you need: Retinol helps increase skin cell turnover and products with collagen will help rebuild skin elasticity. 

If the under-eye area is an issue for you, take care in finding products that are sensitive enough to be used under the eyes. Because under-eye skin is so sensitive, many beauty brands formulate specialized eye cream because their other moisturizers may be too heavy. 

Managing multiple creams and moisturizers can be tedious, which is why I formulated Illuminate—an all-in-one solution that's gentle enough to provide soothing hydration for facial, under-eye, and neck skin. It's also packed with ingredients your skin needs to help increase elasticity, stimulate collagen activity, trigger skin cell turnover, and more.

Key takeaways: 

  • Start using products with retinol and collagen to help increase skin cell turnover and improve your skin's elasticity. 

  • Make sure that moisturizers you use for the neck and under-eye area are gentle, like Illuminate

Skincare for your 40s

What's happening: At this stage, the skin's repair system and collagen production slows down even further, resulting in loss of volume, firmness, and elasticity. 

Perimenopausal women will also begin experiencing hormone changes that affect their skin. Estrogen promotes water retention and plumpness in the skin, so as estrogen production naturally decreases, it's not uncommon to experience dryness or irritation of the skin. 

Common skin concerns: Dryness, irritation, dullness, thinness, fine lines, and wrinkles.

What you need: During this stage, it's time to reach for the retinoids if you haven't already. Use products with retinol to help increase skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen production. 

Another way to help increase skin cell turnover is through exfoliation. This helps remove the buildup of dead skin cells (which can create the appearance of dull skin) and encourages your skin to produce new cells. 

As you begin adding exfoliation into your skincare routine at home, remember to not exfoliate too harshly or too frequently. In most cases, once or twice a week should suffice. (If you love the feeling of exfoliation, stay tuned for a new exfoliating product that will soon grace the KaramMD Skin collection.)

Along with these anti-aging ingredients, you should also consider products that help maintain moisture and luminosity. Hyaluronic acid and vitamin C are great ingredients that help in this department. 

Key takeaways: 

  • Cleansing, hydration, and sun protection are still as important as ever, but it's time to add proven anti-aging ingredients into the mix. 

  • Exfoliation can help promote skin cell turnover—but remember not to go overboard. Most exfoliating products are designed to be used once a week or can otherwise be abrasive and damaging. 

Skincare for your 50s and beyond

What's happening: Post-menopause hormonal shifts can affect skin. Decreased production of estrogen means that the skin becomes thinner, losing its luminosity. Lower levels of estrogen also mean that the skin doesn't hold water and moisture as effectively, which is why it's common for people to experience dry and sensitive skin during this stage of their life. 

Common skin concerns: Dryness, irritation, dullness, thinness, fine lines, and wrinkles.

What you need: Before we dive in, I want to make one thing very clear: it's never too late to start a skincare routine. Some people are under the assumption that there's nothing that can be done once you've reached a certain age, and that's simply not true. 

Using the right blend of skincare ingredients (like retinol, collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and everything else bundled into the KaramMD Trifecta) will help revive your skin when used consistently over time.

Key takeaways: 

  • It's never too late to start a skincare routine that nourishes, heals, and revives your skin from the inside out. With consistent use, you will see a change.

How to build an effective skincare routine

We've covered a lot of ground here. The important thing to take away from all of this is that skincare is a continuum with evolving needs. This is why expensive one-time procedures often don't give people the results they were hoping for. 

The approach to great skin is much like the approach to physical fitness. You wouldn't expect to see dramatic results after one really challenging workout. Instead, you see changes in your energy, strength, and overall wellness when you stay active and eat well over a long period of time. 

To build a skincare routine that works, follow these steps:

  1. NOURISH: First, choose products with the right ingredients. Now that you know what your skin needs for each stage in life, you can begin assessing your skincare product labels and check if they have the ingredients your skin needs. 
  2. REPEAT: Be consistent with the regimen that you build. No matter the products you choose, you'll see better results with regular use than with sporadic use. 
  3. COMMIT: Finally, a good skincare routine boils down to the three C's: consistency, continuity, and commitment. This means practicing your regimen for years to come and always addressing the key areas of cleansing, hydration, and sun protection. 

Finding products that include all of the ingredients your skin needs can be time-consuming and expensive. That's why we've developed the Trifecta: a three-step skincare regimen that delivers key ingredients for all skin types, skin concerns, ages, and genders. 

To learn more about the KaramMD Trifecta and get started with skincare that works, click here.


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