"Ugh, acne!" Your skin may be shifting from teenage acne to the adult variety, which means breakouts migrating to your chin and jawline or, for an unlucky few, occurring in both former (forehead, nose) and newer areas simultaneously.
"Reach for retinoids." "One of the gentler retinoid formulations, like prescription Differin, two or three nights a week will help prevent breakouts, undo some sun damage, and boost collagen production," says Bank. Use it in the evening in conjunction with a daily moisturizer that has at least an SPF 15 in the morning, and your skin will say thank you when you hit your 30s.
"Speed up turnover." Bump up your retinoid use to four or five nights a week to stave off wrinkles, uneven texture, and loss of elasticity. "It gives you an antiacne, antiwrinkling effect with little to no drying or irritation," says Bank. (If you have sensitive skin, try less-irritating Kinerase instead.) On nights you're not using a retinoid, smooth on a potent exfoliant like glycolic or lactic acid to speed cell turnover; if your skin can tolerate it, apply a mild at-home glycolic peel once a week.
"Mmm, antioxidants!" They boost sun protection and fight free radicals (destructive molecules that are formed when your skin comes into contact with UV rays, pollution, allergens and a host of other irritants). "The most effective include vitamin C and tocopherol [a potent form of vitamin E]," says Bank. Green tea and selenium may also be beneficial. Look for them in your moisturizers and sunscreens.
"I miss my old resilience!" At night, step up to Renova, the most moisturizing retinoid product, or if you're prone to breakouts, try a retinoid like Avita along with an oil-free moisturizer; use it on your neck and chest, too. You should be alternating between alpha hydroxy acids and lighteners to treat hyperpigmentation; if you're using hydroquinone, you might find the need to move up to a higher concentration (4 percent instead of 2 percent, prescription strength instead of OTC). "I recommend an eye cream if the thin skin around your eyes is becoming more sensitive and irritated by your regular moisturizer," says Waldorf. Consider a moisturizer with anti-inflammatory ingredients like polyphenol and grapeseed extracts as well as other ingredients that have been shown to improve skin elasticity and resilience—like coenzyme Q10, copper peptides, DMAE, and alpha lipoic acid. If you're not seeing satisfying results from topicals, "it's a good time for laser treatments—the Vbeam to zap broken capillaries and give you a little bit of a collagen boost, the diode to eliminate large brown spots," says Bank.
"Eating well is the best revenge." "A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants can do more to help maintain radiance than a bagful of products," says dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD, who explains that the omega-3 fatty acids found in wild Alaskan salmon, avocado, flaxseeds, and spinach reduce the body's production of inflammatory compounds.
"Plump me up!" Step up your regimen, including the staples from previous decades—a retinoid in an emollient base (like Renova or Avage) as well as alpha hydroxy acid exfoliators, which can be used four or five times a week now, if your skin can tolerate it. Day creams should be cocktails loaded with antioxidants (vitamins C and E) and anti-inflammatory ingredients. And upgrade to more moisturizing bases across the board. "It makes sense to switch to the most emollient forms of every skincare product—creamy cleansers as well as moisturizers," says Heidi Waldorf, MD, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. If you're looking for a big bang, book a trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or 70% glycolic peel. "It's a great way to get rid of fine lines, uneven skin tone, and brown spots in one treatment," says dermatologist David Bank, MD.
"Ommm." Take up yoga, meditation, or another form of effective, daily stress relief. "As we age, our bodies become less efficient at fighting the stress hormones that age us prematurely," says dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD. "If you stress a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old, the younger woman's cortisol level returns to normal more quickly than that of the older woman." In other words, the cumulative effects of daily living, gravity and UV damage could be offset by a regular dose of relaxation in a quiet room. At least that's what your skin would tell you.