Any dermatologist will tell you it’s never too late to start caring for your skin—yet the earlier you develop a regimen, the better.  However, prevention is more effective than correction.  That means incorporating certain habits and ingredients into your morning and nighttime routines in your 20s and 30s so that by the time you reach your 40s, you’re likelier to have tighter, brighter, healthier skin.

At the same time, there is so much skincare advice in the world that distilling the most important habits to take on before 40 can be tricky. Not to mention the hard-core anti-aging services you might find at a dermatologist’s office or skin health spa can be time-consuming, pricey, and (unless you’re majorly skincare-obsessed) not that fun. When developing a skincare routine in your 20s and 30s, you have to adjust to what feels doable and fun to you personally—otherwise, you won’t stick with it, and it won’t work.

What are the most important skincare products, ingredients, and habits to adopt before 40? After much research, I have combined seven habits and ingredients that you should perform in your 20s and 30s that will help assure healthier and more beautiful skin in your 40s.

1. Incorporate Vitamin C serum

The antioxidant vitamin C is one of the most important ingredients to start using in your 20s and 30s, as it helps prevent dark spots before they happen and support collagen before you lose it. Vitamin C is a terrific skin brightener with firming benefits since it boosts collagen and has antioxidant and UV protection benefits as well.  Look for a high-potency vitamin C serum with antioxidant boosters ferulic acid vitamin E. Apply your vitamin C in the morning before moisturizer and sunscreen for extra protection.

2. Exfoliate Two or Three Times a Week

Maturing skin thickens, becomes dull, drab, and lifeless, and pores become more visible.  This happens because our dead skin cells don’t shed as fast the older we are. That makes the skin start to look dull and the texture rough. Plus, excess pigment is stored in dead cells, so your skin tone can look discolored or uneven.

Fortunately, exfoliating two to three times a week can help solve or at least stave off some of these concerns. Regular exfoliation also helps your other skincare products (like your vitamin C serum!) penetrate much better.

3. Make Sunscreen the Hallmark of Your Beauty Routine

If you incorporate only one anti-aging skincare product into your everyday routine, it should be sunscreen.  It’s never too late to begin wearing daily SPF, even if you have been a lifelong sun seeker, it is never too late to prevent further sun damage.

Consistency is the key with sunscreen—you really do have to apply at least SPF 30 every day (and ideally throughout the day, too) to keep your skin glowy, youthful, and, most importantly, safe. Consistently apply sunscreen on all exposed skin surfaces every day.  This includes hands, exposed forearms, neck (front, sides, back) and décolleté in addition to face.

4. Embrace Moisturizing Emollients

Skin gets drier, flakier, and duller as we age, meaning you should get in the habit of protecting its moisture barrier early on. There are a few truly effective moisturizing ingredients that are consistently recommended. There are moisture-trapping lipids, which mimic the natural lipids in the skin that make babies’ skin so soft and silky but that deteriorate over time.

Sodium hyaluronate, a derivative of hyaluronic acid, is the other moisturizing ingredient as it re-creates the lubrication of the hyaluronic acid that our skin produces naturally. It’s great for hydrating dry, aging skin and reducing wrinkles, and it especially does wonders for the aging eye area.

5. Start Getting Head-to-Toe Skin Checks

Looking younger is cool and all, but making sure your skin is protected against skin cancer is way, way cooler. That’s why it’s smart to make an early habit out of getting full-body exams by a dermatologist once a year, or more if melanoma runs in your family. It is always much easier to catch something in its early stages than suffer the consequences later on.

6. Use Retinol in Your Routine

Just as vitamin C should have a place in your morning routine, retinol should have a place at night. Your 20s are the perfect time to start using a high-quality retinol at night, as the vitamin A derivative works preventatively to fight wrinkles and boost collagen production.

Retinol is a bit of a finicky ingredient, so make sure to choose a product that comes in an opaque, well-sealed container and don’t expose it to sunlight, as it’s not photo- or sunlight-stable. Also, because retinol can be irritating on the skin, use it one or two nights a week to start, and then work your way up to nightly use.

7. Develop a Skincare Routine for Morning and Night

Just like brushing your teeth, it’s not enough to care for your skin only once a day. Because skincare during the daytime is all about protecting your face, and skincare at night is all about repairing it, establishing a routine before you go to bed and when you wake up (incorporating the ingredients and the advice above, of course) is key.

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