How to get beautiful skin in your 20s

In Your 20s...
Attention, dewy young beauties: This is the most important decade for your skin. The way you care for it now will determine what it will look like for the rest of your life. Because it's probably at its healthiest, with great collagen support, your skin is supple. Whatever sun damage you may have has not yet started to show. Lucky you: Light reflects off the plump surface of your cheeks, giving you a healthy glow.

The number one complaint among women in their 20s is acne, says Ranella Hirsch, MD, president-elect of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery. (See "I'm Too Old for Acne!") But it's largely avoidable. Most 20-somethings break out because they use dehydrating products that strip their skin of natural oils, says Hirsch. This causes oil glands to overproduce, resulting in pimples.

Your No-Fail Plan

Use gentle products, and focus on damage prevention. "You don't need antiwrinkle creams or microdermabrasion in your 20s," says Ranella Hirsch, MD, president-elect of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery.

Cleanser: If you have normal skin, you need to wash it only before bed, says Lupo. Use a mild cleanser—either a gel, if your skin is oily, or a milky one, if it's dry.

Moisturizer: Pick a brand, any brand. But be absolutely sure that your moisturizer has SPF 15 or 20, and that it gives you both UVA and UVB protection. Apply it all over your face and on your neck and chest, says Lupo. (This is critical no matter what your age.)

Nighttime treatment: Use a hydrating fluid or an oil-free moisturizer. Many dermatologists recommend starting on the vitamin A-derivative prescription retinoids (like Retin-A, Tazorac, and Avage)—the gold standard for reducing fine lines, stimulating collagen, and treating acne—or products containing the less potent, over-the-counter retinol. Before bed, apply a pea-size amount all over your face and right up under your eyes, says Hirsch; then you don't need an eye cream.
How to get beautiful skin in your 30s

In Your 30s...
Even if you've taken good care of your skin, you'll probably start noticing fine lines and wrinkles, especially around the eyes and mouth, says Susan Taylor, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University. Dark-skinned women might notice discoloration and uneven skin tone; fair-skinned women might see some hyperpigmentation (brown spots) and ruddiness. Skin becomes thinner and finer, there's some loss of collagen, and cell turnover has begun to slow down, making your complexion look a little dull. You'll see an immediate improvement if you exfoliate. You're getting enough exfoliation if you're using a retinoid at night, says Hirsch. But if you're not, or if your skin isn't too sensitive to handle it, add a cleanser, moisturizer, or night cream with glycolic or salicylic acid. Avoid harsh scrubs, says Taylor. Look for one with synthetic microbeads (indicated on the label), which are gentler than those containing larger, irregularly shaped ones.

Your No-Fail Plan

Cleanser: In the morning, use a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) to encourage exfoliation. In the evening, wash with a creamy cleanser.

Moisturizer: In addition to SPF 15 or 20 with UVA/UVB protection, your moisturizer should contain antioxidants, like green or white tea, pomegranate, or vitamin C, which will protect your skin from damaging free radicals. Start wearing an eye cream daily. For dark circles, use one with hydroquinone, vitamin C, or botanicals that brighten, like kojic acid, soy, or licorice; for puffiness, look for one containing caffeine; for extra moisturization, use one with hyaluronic acid, says Taylor.

Nighttime treatment: "Once you're in your 30s, a retinoid or retinol isn't optional anymore," says Hirsch. So if you're not on a prescription retinoid, choose a night cream or serum with retinol.

How to get beautiful skin in your 40s

In Your 40s...
Those great beach vacations you took in your teens are showing up on your face: You're beginning to see cumulative sun damage in the form of blotchiness, red spots, and ruddiness. You're also losing more collagen and elasticity, and your skin retains less moisture. Because it doesn't reflect light evenly, your complexion is losing some of its glow. (See "I'm Too Old for Acne!" and Seeing Red)

Your No-Fail Plan

Cleanser: Use a creamy (rather than gel) cleanser morning and night, unless you can tolerate one with a mild AHA or salicylic acid once a day, says Ava T. Shamban, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA.

Moisturizer: Supplement your broad-spectrum moisturizer, which should contain SPF 15 or 20, with a couple of creams, lotions, or serums containing at least two types of antioxidants, such as lycopene, green tea, or soy, alternating them every other day, says Shamban. You'll get a wider benefit from switching off, because different antioxidants address different problems, says Shamban. Or, if your skin is beginning to look crepey, try a formula with peptides, which have been shown to strengthen collagen, says Hirsch. Treat dryness with a rich moisturizing cream that contains hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, shea butter, or oils.

Nighttime treatment: A prescription retinoid is the way to go, say both Hirsch and Shamban. It reduces brown spots, increases exfoliation and collagen production, thickens the epidermis, and can reverse precancerous sun damage. If your skin can't tolerate a retinoid every night, use it every other night.

How to get beautiful skin in your 50s

In Your 50s and Beyond...
Don't even think of retiring from the skincare game. It's never too late to prevent sun damage and to stop the progression of damage you may already have. Cell turnover is slow; the most significant change you'll notice in your complexion is dryness and loss of elasticity. Expression lines no longer disappear after you stop smiling or squinting; pores are more visible, especially on the nose and cheeks. You're likely to have developed spider veins and hyperpigmentation (age spots), and precancerous spots from sun damage. (The Elos laser works well to zap spider veins, and the Fraxel laser reduces hyperpigmentation; precancerous spots can be treated with cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen) or topical medication, says Wendy E. Roberts, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Loma Linda University Medical Center.) Menopause can cause a multitude of skin problems, including extreme dryness, acne, and rosacea. (See "I'm Too Old for Acne!" and Seeing Red)

Once you hit your 60s and 70s, basically all the issues that arose in your 50s become more extreme. Aren't you glad you're flooded with postmenopausal zest?

Your No-Fail Plan

Cleanser: Wash morning and night with a nonsoap cleanser or a creamy, foaming one.

Moisturizer: Apply a serum containing peptides or an antioxidant like vitamin C when your face is still damp. Serums, in general, are more easily absorbed than creams and lotions. Then apply a broad-spectrum moisturizer containing SPF 15 or 20, with UVA/UVB protection.

Nighttime treatment: Try Renova, a prescription retinoid, which is more moisturizing than others, says Roberts.