Just when you thought you finally had your skin figured out, it finds new ways to surprise you. (Is that a zit? And a wrinkle? Wait a minute, is it a zit on top of a wrinkle?). We generally assume that skin concerns follow a certain pattern: acne during our teen years; perfect, glowing skin in our 20s (er, who wants to be the one to break the news?); some signs of aging in our 30s, and so on.
And yet skin is more complicated than we think. From the two-for-one special that is simultaneously adult acne and signs of aging, to the rapid decline in collagen production when we hit 20, here are some of the most surprising ways your skin changes through the years.
Ah, those wild, raging hormones. The surge of hormones in your bloodstream during the teen years causes an increase in oil gland activity, leading to clogged pores, increased blackhead formation, and yes, breakouts—especially in those who are genetically predisposed to acne. Teens are also notoriously lacking in the sunscreen department. They often forget to apply SPF —or even worse, opt not to (why, though?!). And while signs of sun damage won’t appear until later in your 30s and 40s, they are definitely still happening under the surface.
Your superstar ingredient: Niacinamide. The water-soluble form of vitamin B3 boasts a wide array of skin benefits, but we especially love it for its ability to calm down redness caused by acne and inflammation. It also controls excess sebum production, preventing clogged pores, blackheads and breakouts.
Starting at around age 20, your skin begins producing 1% less collagen each year. (We know, but we don’t make the rules.) As collagen and elastin start to break down, your skin appears less plump and bouncy. Lower levels of collagen and elastin also lead to the production of expression lines that appear due to talking, frowning and smiling (so, due to living, basically).
For some, ongoing hormonal changes and acne from your teen years can either carry over into your 20s, or actually re-emerge (or even emerge for the first time; anything is possible!). Premenstrual flare-ups are common, especially around your chin and jawline area. This is a good time to get serious about daily sunscreen use if you weren’t already.
Your superstar ingredient: Squalane. This light, ultra-moisturizing emollient is well-tolerated by most skin types and forms a protective barrier, preventing your skin from losing its water content. Squalane will help you regain some of that plump, bouncy appearance we’re all after.
Age-related changes really start to accelerate in your 30s. Sun-induced fine lines and wrinkles start to form, and you will probably see an increase in expression lines and dullness due to slowing cell turnover rates. With the latter, skin isn’t naturally exfoliating itself at the speed it once did, so dead skin cells tend to sit on top of the skin, clogging pores and making your complexion look less bright and luminous. Slower cell turnover also means that any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (read: dark spots from acne) can take longer to heal. Many people choose this time to incorporate exfoliants into their routine, to help the skin’s natural exfoliation process.
In our 30s, skin also begins to lose ceramides, which are the fats/lipids that make up part of the skin’s barrier. When this barrier is compromised, moisture can escape and skin can become dry and easily irritated.
Oh, and hormonal acne? Yeah, it’s still around and can tend to ramp up—sorry. Treating skin with active ingredients and nurturing it with hydrating moisturizers is key.
Your superstar ingredient: Natural Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). Found in plant-based substances like fruits and sugars, these gentle exfoliants promote cell turnover and help to slough away dead skin cells, leaving you with a smoother, more even complexion.
When you enter your 40s, signs of aging that first popped up in your 30s—like hyperpigmentation, moisture loss and textured skin—become more pronounced. The hormonal acne from your 30s hasn’t gone anywhere, sadly. And by this point, collagen and elastin production have been steadily declining for two decades (!), which can lead to deeper expression lines and an increase in wrinkles.
Loss of elasticity can also make blood vessels in the skin weaker and more susceptible to dilation, leading to broken capillaries that present themselves as red blotches around the nose, cheeks and chin. Lymphatic drainage begins to slow in your 40s, leading to puffiness and more pronounced bags around the eyes.
And finally—yes, there’s more—signs of environmental damage and sun exposure through the years (like dark pigmentation and sun spots) may become more pronounced. Continued use of exfoliants can help combat these.
Your superstar ingredient: Hyaluronic Acid. This humectant is like a large drink of water for your skin. Hyaluronic Acid has the ability to pull moisture into the skin, giving skin a plumped, hydrated appearance. Your parched complexion will thank you.
The most prominent changes during this decade occur due to menopause-related hormonal changes. A decrease in estrogen levels and increase in androgens lead to significant volume and elasticity loss in the skin. And thanks to lower oil production levels, lines and wrinkles become deeper and sagging of the skin is more pronounced.
Any earlier signs of sun damage, like fine lines, sun spots and broken capillaries, continue to sprout and become more noticeable. But at least the days of breakouts are over, right?! Not exactly. That pesky increase in androgen hormones can cause persistent hormonal acne around the chin and jaw areas.
Your superstar ingredient: Bixa Orellana Seed Extract. Known for its brightening, anti-inflammatory and pore-refining properties, this powerful antioxidant is a great way to breathe some life and luminosity into a dull complexion.
60s, 70s and Beyond
Okay, now acne breakouts will begin to subside for most women who dealt with them, thanks to the fact that menopause-induced hormonal fluctuations are over. It only took literal decades. During these years, your skin isn’t producing much oil, so it continues to become drier and require more care. A primary concern at this age is to lock in as much moisture as possible.
Sun damage that’s accumulated over the years can lead to skin fragility and a tendency to bruise more easily, so it’s important to be gentle and continue to—you guessed it—use sunscreen.
Your superstar ingredient: Full Spectrum Hemp-Derived CBD. While CBD (or cannabidiol) is relatively new to the skincare world, research surrounding the ingredient’s anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties has shown the antioxidant’s ability to smooth skin texture, trap moisture beneath the skin and brighten the complexion.
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Dermatologist Q+A: Why aren't there more products for people with adult acne?