The Ultimate Anti-Aging Game Plan for Your 30s, 40s and 50s

Although those of us with melanin-rich skin show visible signs of aging more slowly than our fair-skinned counterparts , the fact is it does happen (despite what photos of Halle Berry might say). The beauty is that with a game plan for each decade, our skin can grow older gracefully—without hiding any of our wisdom. Bookmark or print this page for your action plan, year by year.

How Skin Ages—and Changes—Over Time

Before getting into the tips, tricks and treatments, it’s important to understand how exactly your skin ages from a physiological standpoint. Arming yourself with this information will crank up the motivation you need to stay committed to your skincare routine. Knowledge is health, and health is beauty!

No one can tell you exactly when your skin will experiences these changes—but do know that it happens gradually and that it’s always happening, even if you can’t see it.

• Your skin progressively gets thinner . This makes skin more susceptible to damage, laxity, wrinkles, etc.
• Collagen production slows down, causing wrinkles and sagging.
• By the time you’re 80, it takes up to 50% longer for your skin cells to turn over (in contrast, it takes 28 days when you’re younger; and 14 days when you’re a child). Skin cell turnover is essentially your skin’s natural exfoliation mechanism, which allows fresh, healthy cells to surface. With slower cell renewal, skin becomes more lackluster and prone to issues.
• The uppermost layer of the skin begins to lose its ability to prevent transepidermal water loss, which is when hydration evaporates from skin.
• The number of cells that contain melanocytes (pigment) decreases. Aging skin looks “paler and clear (translucent)” while age spots or “liver spots” might turn up, especially in areas that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun.
• Connective tissue in the face reduces elasticity.
• Skin begins to produce less and less oil, causing increased dryness.

The rate at which you’ll see the visible effects of these changes depends not only on your age. Factors like sun exposure, lifestyle habits, genetic predisposition and of course skin care all make a huge difference.

Also keep in mind that while these changes are inevitable they’re nothing to fear. In fact, with all the scientifically advanced skincare and professional treatments available these days, we can all age radiantly. (Plus, don’t forget we already have a head start!)

Here’s what you should consider for each decade. This is a flexible game plan; as in, if you’re in your 30s but want to snag a tip from the 40s, do so if it works for you.

The Best Skincare Routine for Your 30s

Skin cell renewal slows down as early as your 20s, although it often doesn’t manifest until your 30s. Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF that “dead cells start accumulating on the surface of the skin and interfering with light reflection.” This means your skin might not quite have that youthful glow it once did. Zeichner adds that twenty years of sun exposure might start showing up more obviously in the form of dark spots.

Your 30s are a great time to take proactive action against dark spots and uneven skin tone, while focusing on replenishing what your skin is slowly beginning to lose: hydration and collagen production.

Add in a Vitamin C serum (but not just any)
Vitamin C is one of the most studied ingredients in skin care because it’s truly an anti-aging multitasker—with copious scientific evidence to back it up. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C fights free radicals, which are unstable molecules that cause skin damage and wrinkles.

Whether you’re adding or upgrading another vitamin C serum to your routine, make sure you choose a serum that also features companion ingredients that boost overall effectiveness. Ferulic acid, for instance, works harmoniously with vitamin C for a double dose of protective power. “This combination of pure natural low molecular weight antioxidants provides meaningful synergistic protection against oxidative stress in skin and should be useful for protection against photoaging and skin cancer,” one study reports.

Tackle and prevent dark spots with niacinamide
If dark spots are your concern, layer on a second serum, one that contains niacinamide. This form of vitamin B3 has been shown in research to reduce freckles, sun spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (the last being a particular concern for dark-skinned folks).

Adopt retinol at night time
Alongside with vitamin C, retinol is every dermatologist’s favorite thanks to its profound ability to reform skin like no other. Retinol stimulates collagen production, softens the look of fine lines and wrinkles, reduces dark spots, and also helps improve acne.” Retinol is notorious for making untreated skin dry and irritated, so give your skin time to acclimate before titrating up to higher levels. Work with a credentialed esthetician or dermatologist to determine the percentage of retinol and what kind to start with, as well as the frequency of application.

Wear sunscreen during the day, no matter what
The single most powerful factor in skin aging is the sun. All aging-related manifestations, like wrinkles, sagging, and dark spots, can be directly attributed to UV damage. Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen (which means it shields skin from both UVA and UVB rays) even if it’s cloudy, raining, or you plan to stay indoors all day.

Start paying attention to your neck
You can tell just by touching your neck that its skin is much thinner and dryer than the skin on your face. This means it’s a lot more prone to wrinkling and looking “crepey.” Fortunately, studies have shown that neck creams do work. One found that a formula containing many antioxidants effectively rejuvenated the neck area.

Lock everything in with a moisturizer
You might not quite need a super-rich moisturizer yet (unless you have naturally dry skin), but all skin needs to be properly pampered, especially after using retinol. Choose a moisturizer that’s chockfull of antioxidants and anti-aging ingredients on top of moisturizing factors so you can pack more benefits into one step.

Use eye cream
If you’ve ever wondered if eye cream is really necessary, remember the eye area is the most delicate area of your face and does not naturally produce as much collagen or oil . Although using any moisturizer is better than nothing, using an eye formula specifically designed to respect the fragile quality of the skin is ideal. Plus, because the eye area faces unique challenges, such as dark circles, bags, and puffiness, the ingredients in eye creams will help address them.

Get exfoliating
Remember: your skin cells don’t renew themselves as quickly in your 30s. Now is the perfect time to upgrade your exfoliation tools and techniques. If you’ve been sloughing skin with a physical exfoliator (such as jojoba beads), add in a chemical exfoliator that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and/or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Common AHAs include glycolic and lactic acids. Using AHAs helps “stimulates the growth of smooth, evenly pigmented new skin” while reducing fine lines and wrinkles. BHAs, most commonly salicylic acid, help clear pores—and it’s a great option if you still get pimples. You can find exfoliators, peel pads, or masks that contain a blend of these skin-smoothing acids.

If you do all of the above in your 30s, you should be well on your way to a gorgeous glow into your 40s. However, if you ever have specific skin issues that pop up, we recommend masks and facials tailored to your needs. If budget and time allow, get on a schedule with a facialist who has hands-on experience with melanin-rich skin.

The Best Skincare Routine for Your 40s

According to board-certified dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD, your 40s is when you’ll really see your skin start to lose its firmness, volume, and sagging. This is also when you’ll notice more pronounced wrinkles (particularly eleven lines between your brows, around your eyes and mouth, as well as on the forehead). Renee Rouleau, celebrity esthetician, writes on her blog, “Brown spots start to appear and around age 45, you can start to notice a loss of volume and tone in the skin. The face will start to form what is known as jowls; sagging skin in the chin, neck and jawline area.”

In your 40s, you should consider upping the ante on your skincare regimen. Get more serious about moisture and hydration and combat the more noticeable signs of aging with stronger ingredients.

(Note: If you’re in your 40s, read the 30s section as well because it explains the foundation of your skincare regimen.)

Replenish lost water with hyaluronic acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA), which is responsible for the plump, perfectly hydrated skin of babies, is found naturally in skin and decreases with age. Restoring lost hyaluronic acid levels can do wonders, considering HA can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water. One study assessed 40 females between 30-65 years old with Fitzpatrick skin types I–VI who used a HA facial serum twice a day with sunscreen. The serum proved to show a marked increase in skin hydration (134%!) right after application, while overall hydration improved 55% after six weeks. By the end of the study, there was a 64% increase in smoothness and 60% increase in plumping. Wow!

Get essenced
Essence, a liquidy fluid that’s thicker than water and toner, is arguably the core of K-beauty rituals. While it’s not as popular in the U.S., essence is considered an essential step to glowing, hydrated, and plumped-up skin—and boy, in your 40s, you’ll want that. Board-certified dermatologist Simon Ourian, MD, told Real Simple, “The main goal of an essence is to hydrate the skin and to help the other products in your skincare routine better absorb into your skin. It provides a ton of moisture deep within the skin, restoring the natural moisture balance.”

Turn the dial up on your retinol
Ask your dermatologist or esthetician if you should strengthen your concentration of retinol or change up the kind of retinol you’re using.

Bring in the peptides
Your 40s are an excellent time to use a skincare product containing peptides, which are specifically known to help with wrinkles by upping your collagen levels. One study (out of many) confirmed that the “topical application of the peptides complex significantly increased dermal collagen expression.”

Pop some collagen supplements
In one study, participants took hydrolyzed marine collagen supplements for three months, at which point they saw a 35% reduction in wrinkles. In addition, a subgroup analysis with women between 45-54 years old experienced 20% improvement in cheek skin elasticity at week 6. Here’s what the researchers reported at the very end of the study: “At week 12, participants in the VWC group reported greater percentage improvements in overall skin score (9%) and wrinkle (15%), elasticity (23%), hydration (14%), radiance (22%), and firmness (25%) scores vs placebo.” Like with all supplements, there will be some BS options out there, so do your homework.

Laser treatments
If you haven’t already started, now is the time to seriously consider laser treatments if it’s within your budget. Lasers suitable for melanated skin are like turboboosted, supercharged skincare treatments that will have your skin thinking it’s traveling back in time.

Don’t forget to keep up the weekly exfoliation, eye cream, neck care, and moisturizing. In your 40s, you might also consider a weekly hydration sheet mask to keep your skin refreshed and revitalized, especially during weather changes or travel.

The Best Skincare Routine for Your 50s

One of the biggest changes in your 50s is the notable drop in estrogen, writes Rouleau. The way in which this hormonal change affects skin is by a loss of “natural padding of fat beneath the skin” which gives the skin a more flattened look. And remember the cell-turnover process and loss of collagen and elasticity that starts in your 20s or 30s? These are at full speed now. That means fine lines and wrinkles are a lot deeper and sagging is more prominent. Add in the continued loss of hydration and there’s a lot of TLC your skin needs.

In your 50s, turn it up a notch on active anti-aging ingredients and get richer and thicker with your creams.

(Note: If you’re in your 50s, read the previous two sections as well, as they explain the elements of your skincare regimen you should already have.)

Epidermal growth factors
Looking to get even more scientific with your active ingredients? Consider growth factors, which are large proteins made from cells of human, animals or plants. “Growth factor-based products have become important topical treatment modalities for addressing signs of skin aging such as fine lines, deep wrinkles, dryness, laxity, and textural irregularities.”

Get rich
You’ll need all the hydration and moisturizing you can get now. Because the epidermis, the top layer of skin, is made up of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol, find a thick, rich moisturizer featuring at least one these ingredients to make up for lost moisture.

Red light mask
If you’re able to make this investment, invest in an at-home red light therapy device. They typically come in the form of a mask (and you will look like an unidentified Avenger), but red light has been shown to give aging skin the boost it needs. In one study, it was concluded that “synthesis of hyaluronic acid, collagen protein and elastin protein were also increased in human fibroblasts exposed to red or infrared light. These findings suggest that low level red and infrared light treatments present opportunities for daily, at-home treatments for patients with photoaging and photodamaged skin.”

If you’re overwhelmed by all the amazing ingredients to incorporate into your skincare routine, don’t fret. A lot of products contain multiple of these ingredients in one formula.

So there you have it—your decade-by-decade anti-aging game plan. Whether you’re starting from scratch or are looking for ways to enhance your skincare regimen, start here. Your efforts will be rewarded now and well into your golden years.

Key Takeaways

• No one is exempt from aging skin, but taking diligent care of it can considerably slow down wrinkles, sagging, dark spots and other signs of damage.
• Whether you’re 30 or 90, consistently using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, serum, moisturizer, eye cream, and moisturizer is key. The type of product will change over time, but those basics should always be a part of your skincare regimen.
• If time and money allow, additional treatments, such as professional laser or light therapy, can help you reach your goals quicker.