A Basic Skincare Routine for Your 20s That Genuinely Works

It's been nearly two years since I found myself on the precipice of my 30s, yet I vividly remember the way that the transition into my fourth decade left me feeling in a wholly reflective mood. Cliché? Maybe. But there's something about approaching the end of a decade that shifted you out of your teenage years and propelled you into adulthood that feels monumental. Of course, there were plenty of fundamental learning curves along the way (including accepting a job at a bank that really wasn't the right career move for me and discovering that squash definitely doesn't make an appropriate mixer for any spirit), but for today, I'm going to focus on what I've learned about skin.

Disclaimer: My complexion has never been flawless, poreless or perfect (or any other adjective the beauty industry might have you covet). In fact, I experienced my first bout of hormonal acne as a teen and went on to suppress it for as long as possible with a strong contraceptive pill. I have, however, spent the past few years learning about skin health and the products you should have in your arsenal to manage scarring, pigmentation and adult acne—many of which are par for the course for many women in their 20s.

This list of products is by no means comprehensive, but for me, it's a basic toolkit that everyone in their 20s should be able to use to keep skin as happy and healthy as possible. Your 20s are often a period of intense change, and there's no doubt my skin is always at its most blemish-prone when I'm under stress. In these instances, I'd recommend sticking to a simple "cleanse, treat, moisturise" routine—and don't be too hard on yourself.

Today, at almost 32, I still have spots, but I'm managing to learn what triggers them and how to calm them when they do appear. I've found products that have worked wonders with reducing acne scarring and am beginning to introduce formulas to help with how I might want my skin to look in the future. Most importantly, though, when I look in the mirror, I feel pretty content with the skin I'm in. This comes with time, not products, but I hope these recommendations will help you on your way.

Keep scrolling for the five skincare products and the accompanying routine you need in your 20s plus advice from top skincare experts.

Skincare Routine For Your 20s: Nnenna Ecehm with glowy skin and blue suit



1. Cleanser

When I entered my 20s, I was well and truly a face-wipe kind of girl. As I approach the end of this decade, however, cleansing is my favourite part of my skincare routine (not only due to the improvement in my skin from a good double cleanse but also because of the ritual of it).

"For women in their 20s, a good cleanser is essential," says Tiina Meder, dermatologist and founder of Meder Beauty Science. In fact, she goes as far as to say that it's the most important skincare product of this decade. So if you buy just one skincare product, make it a cleanser.

As I've experienced personally, many women in their 20s find themselves living in overly polluted cities with a hectic lifestyle and skin that produces excess sebum. "As a result, it's crucial that the skin is cleansed of makeup, dirt, dead skin cells, excess oil and other pollutants," Meder tells me. "The cleanser of choice must be gentle and effective whilst also helping to restore the natural skin barrier and provide a calming effect."

Skincare expert Susanne Kaufmann also confirms that although other skincare needs will vary depending on your specific skin type, "gently cleansing at morning and at night is always very important."

My favourite cleanser:

Although collagen is associated with restoring plumpness and bounce to ageing skin, I've used this rich cleansing balm since my early 20s and wouldn't be without it. It's rich in natural oils and waxes that help to calm and rebalance my oily/combination skin, and it does a truly amazing job at dissolving makeup and deeply cleansing the skin. Apply it to dry skin and remove with a hot cloth for best results. 

Best all-rounder:

If you live in a city, addressing pollution is key if you want to maintain good skin health throughout your 20s and beyond. This oil-based one from Lisa Franklin contains antioxidants to shield against pollution and removes every trace of makeup. This gentle formula is a great all-rounder for all skin types, and it also helps to minimise the look of enlarged pores.

For sensitive skin:

An allergy-tested, fragrance-free cleansing balm that transforms from a solid balm into a silky oil once massaged into your skin. It's a great non-irritating formula that also makes light work of removing makeup.

For dry skin:

This purse-friendly cleanser was developed in the U.S. by a team of dermatologists. This creamy cleansing lotion is non-foaming (so as not to dry out skin further) and uses hydrating ceramides and moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid to deeply nourish skin while removing dirt and grime.

For oily/combination skin:

Founded to help sort stressed out skin, Disciple is an amazing clean beauty brand with great skincare solutions for oily and hormonal skin. This oil-based cleanser uses fruit oils and exfoliating acids (like lactic and glycolic) to remove impurities, makeup and dead skin cells that can clog pores. It smells absolutely dreamy too.

2. Treatment

The second step of any good skincare routine used to be a toner. These days—and particularly in your 20s—its about identifying your specific complexion concerns and giving your skin what it needs. I used to go straight from cleanser to moisturiser, but since experimenting with chemical exfoliators, serums and masks, I have really seen an improvement in my skin.

"Women in their 20s should adopt weekly targeted skincare treatments to keep the skin healthy and glowing," advises Meder. "Exfoliating once or twice a week will ensure skin is thoroughly cleansed, while face masks will help give skin a boost."

Personally, I've spent much of my 20s experimenting with products and routines to find what works for me. Now, I use an antioxidant serum every morning to brighten (usually a vitamin C–based product) and a salicylic acid–based treatment each night to treat any breakouts. I'll use a chemical exfoliator like lactic or glycolic acid two or three times a week to remove dead skin cells (any more and my skin becomes irritated). I'll also use a purifying clay mask or nourishing sheet mask a couple times a week.

"A hydrating mask is ideal for those with normal or dry skin," says Meder. "A mattifying or detoxifying mask is perfect for those with oily or acne-prone skin, and a calming mask works wonders for those with sensitive skin."

My favourite treatment:

I discovered this during a time in my life when I was really struggling to get my hormonal breakouts under control, and although it isn't a miracle worker, it did an amazing job at reducing the redness and uncomfortable feeling that comes with blemishes. I now use this every evening. It's a blend of 100% natural salicylic acid and organic essential oils, and it has done a great job of evening out my skin tone and minimising pores with continued use. Plus, I love the smell.

Best exfoliating toner:

Inspired by Lisa Franklin's in-clinic treatments, this exfoliating toner is designed to help re-create the glow-giving effects of a facial at home. It contains a potent mix of exfoliating AHAs (which help to brighten the complexion) and BHAs (which help to unclog pores) leaving skin even-toned and clear. Trust me, you only need to use this once a week to see incredible results.

For sensitive skin:

Brimming with calming cucumber and comforting hyaluronic acid, this cooling mask is the perfect antidote to sensitivity. Apply a thin layer to your skin a few times a week, and the calming, gel texture will not only reduce any irritation but will also minimise how your skin reacts to other external stressors. It's just one of the many SkinCeuticals products we rate.

For dry skin:

Thermal spring water and glycerin combine to make this gently replenishing skin serum. It uses a patented active known as Cohederm to lock in moisture to dehydrated skin with long-lasting results.

For oily/combination skin:

Another skincare product in my regular treatment rotation is this deep-cleansing mask. On days when I'm feeling particularly oily or my skin looks overly congested, this is the kind of product that'll get me extra results. Apply it to damp skin, and purified clays draw out impurities. Once removed, your skin will look instantly clearer and brighter thanks to antioxidant-boosting parsley seed and rose-hip seed extracts.

3. Moisturiser

Along with cleanser, moisturiser is probably a given for most people. In your 20s, however, it's important to be delivering lightweight hydration to your skin. For years, I wrongly believed that using a moisturiser would exacerbate my acne-prone skin, but it's vital that all skin types keep their complexion hydrated and healthy. In fact, depriving your skin of moisture can cause it to overproduce sebum to compensate.

David Colbert, New York Dermatology Group founder and head physician, tells me that "using a light moisturiser daily is essential as well as using an SPF every day." Similarly, Annee de Mamiel, skincare expert and founder of De Mamiel, believes that light oils are ideal for use in your 20s, as they're both hydrating and balancing—exactly what you need during a hectic decade.

My favourite moisturiser:

Specially formulated for oily and acne-prone skin, this gel moisturiser is incredibly lightweight and does a great job of reducing unwanted shine and minimising the severity of breakouts. After continued use, I've found that blackheads are diminished and my hormonal blemishes calm down a lot more swiftly.

For sensitive skin:

Vitamin E is renowned as a go-to ingredient for sensitive skin thanks to its ability to gently hydrate without irritation. This gel moisturiser also contains raspberry extract and plumping hyaluronic acid to leave sensitive skin types feeling comfortable and silky-soft.

For dry skin:

This is like a huge glass of water for really dehydrated skin. The gel formula delivers long-lasting hydration that, with continued use, actually helps to restore your skin's natural moisture barrier. A healthy dose of lipids and fatty acids means that even the driest of complexions should feel quenched when using this.

For oily/combination skin:

It can feel counterintuitive to apply an oil to oily skin, but I've seen great success with this approach to moisturising. This one is one of my favourites, which helps to decongest and bring sebum production into balance.

4. Eye Cream

From 20 to 29, a great deal changes in not only your life but also your skin. "From your teens to your 20s, the skin loses some subcutaneous fat and collagen production decreases," Colbert tells me. In other words, the juicy, dewy skin you might have naturally enjoyed at 21 might not be so plump at 28.

Similarly, Susanne Kaufmann advised that "you should work in your mid-to-late 20s preventatively against premature ageing of the skin." This might mean looking for ingredients that stimulate collagen in your cleansers and moisturisers like vitamin C, or introducing retinol into your treatment stage as a preventative against fine lines and wrinkles. "Often underestimated but immensely important is the correct and regular use of eye cream," Kaufmann tells me.

To combat these early signs of ageing and fatigue, French pharmacy brand Nuxe has created a new range of products specifically targeted towards this age group. The new Crème Prodigieuse Boost is designed to combat "the external and environmental factors that contribute to the first signs of ageing, including stress, pollution, dehydration and signs of fatigue," a Nuxe representative tells me.

Our eyes are often the first place that gives away signs of stress and tiredness due to puffy under-eyes, dark circles and fine lines, so introducing an eye cream to your routine early on can work wonders as a preventative measure.

My favourite eye cream:

I've raved about the whole Drunk Elephant skincare range enough here, but for someone who's a little late to the whole eye-cream game like I am, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this one. I saw instant results the first time I used this, and I continue to love the brightness and radiance it adds to my under-eye area.

For sensitive skin:

Describing this as a basic eye cream doesn't really do its formula justice, but what I'm trying to say is that this is a no-frills formula that genuinely works. Made from 99% natural ingredients, it sinks in quickly to brighten and soothe even irritable eyes. Pop it in the fridge overnight for a real cooling treat come morning.

For dry skin:

This is one of the first premium eye creams I ever tried, and it was way too rich for my skin. However, I think dry complexions would really benefit from the creamy texture of this cult eye cream.

For oily/combination skin:

Honestly, this is great for all skin types, but I'm giving it a particular shout-out for oily/combination complexions thanks to the lightweight gel texture. It contains botanical caffeine and an antioxidant complex to reduce puffiness, brighten and smooth the eye area. It's a new generation of eye products, and I love it.

5. SPF

If there's one thing all dermatologists agree on—and that I've fully converted to—it's the daily use of SPF. This is non-negotiable, as by slathering it on in your 20s, not only will you be protecting your skin from scary damage like skin cancer, but you'll also be doing the best job you can at preventing wrinkles, dark spots, pigmentation and fine lines. "Fine lines and sunspots can be combatted preventatively by using an SPF every day," advises Colbert. Meder also stresses that along with cleanser, SPF is one of the key products to use in your 20s: "A good SPF that provides both UVA and UVB protection will be required on a daily basis," she tells us.

My favourite SPF:

I discovered this American skincare brand while working at a beauty subscription box. Back then, sun protection products tailored towards blemish-prone skin could only really be found in the U.S. I now use this every single day. It has an SPF of 30+ and protects skin against both UVA and UVB rays, but even better, it doubles up as an amazing moisturiser and a great base for my makeup each day.

Best for dry skin:

This is one of the most hydrating SPFs that I have tried, making it ideal if your skin is often left parched mid-way through the day. This one has an sun protection factor of 30 and combines antioxidants to help shield the skin from environmental damage, which can lead to lines and wrinkles. This one is also great if you have sensitive skin.

For sensitive skin:

Formulated without artificial fragrances and colour, this broad-spectrum SPF protects skin from UVA and UVB rays alongside free radical damage and pollution. Plus, it does a great job as a moisturiser for all-day hydration.

For oily/combination skin:

A 100% mineral-based sunscreen that won't clog your pores, this oil-absorbing formula boasts a unique lightweight mousse texture that glides onto skin. Not only does it provide protection against UVA and UVB rays, but it also mattifies and smoothes your skin while providing a sheer tint for makeup-free days.

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