A Decade-by-Decade Guide to Changing Up Your Skin Care Routine

Here's what’s happening to your skin through your 30s, 40s and 50s, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

Just when you think you’ve got your skin-care routine nailed down, there’s a wrinkle. And a zit? Your skin’s needs change as you age, and what worked in your 20s probably isn’t resulting in complete perfection (many) years later. Certain skin-care practices should be lifelong — hello, SPF! — but we went to the experts for the lowdown on what your skin really needs, decade by decade.

skin-care by decade | best skin-care for each ageImage Credit: Shutterstock

In Your 30s…

If you didn’t give much thought to caring for your complexion before, this is the decade to get serious about skin care. “You know those pillow marks you sometimes get from sleeping? They’re a sign your skin is changing and not bouncing back as quickly as it used to,” says Shoppers Drug Mart beauty pro Sarah Aubert. “In your 30s, you may start to notice the effects of lifestyle choices and genetics: sun damage, environmental dulling of the skin, lines around the eyes and dark circles,” she says.

Now’s the time to focus on preventing further skin damage — and to start maintaining what you’ve got. “Your 30s are your sweet spot for fat and collagen production,” says Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology in Toronto. “People tend to look more sculpted, and your face tends to look more mature, in a good way.”

In the morning

A gentle face wash will help protect your skin’s natural barrier. A daytime moisturizer is also essential. If you’re not already in the habit, opt for a lightweight cream that suits your skin type (oily, dry or a combination). And bonus points if it contains SPF 30, which allows you to skip the extra step of applying a sunscreen. (Yes, your complexion requires daily sun protection, year-round.) Women with dark skin should avoid the mineral-based SPF products — “they can make dark complexions look dull or ashy,” says Carroll — and go for sheer chemical UV filters. (Here are the best sunscreens for people with dark skin.)

If your skin is showing signs of hyperpigmentation, apply a vitamin C serum before your day cream to help with dark spots. If you have a dark complexion and are experiencing dryness, smooth on a few drops of facial oil as well before your face cream to seal in moisture and provide a healthy-looking glow.

At night

A few times a week, after cleansing (or instead of your usual cleanser), use a product containing alpha-hydroxy acids (or AHAs), like glycolic acid, or a mild scrub to help boost skin cell turnover — a process that starts to slow in your 30s. “You can almost imagine glycolic acid like little scissors that loosen up the skin cells on the surface to let them exfoliate and allow fresh skin cells to come through,” says Carroll. Opt for a mask containing glycolic acid that you leave on for a few minutes before rinsing away, or try a one-and-done night cream that works while you sleep.

But be wary of overuse, especially if you have dark skin, because the brightening effects (it does wonders on discoloured patches in all skin tones) can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in complexions with higher melanin content. Another must for bedtime is an under-eye cream containing ingredients like retinol (to boost collagen), caffeine (to de-puff the area) and niacinamide (to reduce redness).


Zero’s Face Scrub ($27, shoppersdrugmart.ca) is an all-natural exfoliating cleanser contains finely ground apricot seeds to buff away dead skin cells and brighten your complexion. We love the sustainable and fully recyclable packaging.

Neutrogena’s Bright Boost Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($28, walmart.ca) is a lightweight moisturizer that nourishes with antioxidants like vitamin C, kick-starts dull-looking skin with a brightening complex and protects against UV damage.

Weleda’s Awakening Body & Beauty Oil ($40, amazon.ca) is a blend of nine plant oils, including pomegranate, apricot and avocado, helps lock in hydration. It’s perfect for an invigorating facial massage.

skin-care by decade | best skin-care for each ageImage Credit: Shutterstock

In Your 40s…

These are the years when deeper wrinkles tend to set in around the eyes and mouth. There can also be an overall loss of volume in the face, as we start to lose subcutaneous fat. “As you hit your 40s, that delicate balance starts to tip a little bit, and you begin to break down more fat and more collagen than you’re producing,” says Carroll. Plus, acne seems to spike in this group due to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels. This can lead to big-time breakouts, especially the large cystic type, that tend to appear along the jawline. “And they can leave spots and scars behind too,” says Carroll. Yes, wrinkles plus pimples — oh joy!

In the morning

If you’re dealing with hormonal acne, or even “maskne” from wearing a face mask, cleanse with a face wash containing salicylic acid to help minimize breakouts. “Retinol is also something you can add in for sure in your 40s,” says Carroll. Layer on a retinol-based serum daily (or every few days, depending on the dosage strength of the product and your skin’s reaction to it) before your moisturizer, to help improve skin tone and target fine lines. You can also buy face creams that contain retinol, if you want to reduce the routine by a step. “It always comes back to the basic three: sunscreen, vitamin C and retinol,” says Carroll.

At night

Now’s the time to up your efforts. Antioxidants like resveratrol, growth factors and peptides can all help turn around dipping collagen production, making them great ingredients to look for in a night cream. Be sure to moisturize nightly before you tuck in, extending your skin-care products down your neck. It’s also a good idea to dab on a rich eye cream around your peepers. “Eye cream with active ingredients such as vitamin A can help with dermal thickness, making circles less visible, as well as under-eye darkness by promoting drainage and microcirculation,” says Aubert.


Avène’s Cleanance Women Corrective Serum ($42, shoppersdrugmart.ca) treats blemishes, prevents dark spots and limits sebum oxidation to help prevent future breakouts.

Tap Monat’s Eye Smooth Nourishing Eye Cream ($75, mymonat.com) below your eyes morning and night to de-puff and tighten skin, and treat dark circles.

The Inkey List’s Retinol ($13, ca.theinkeylist.com) maximizes results with one percent retinol, but the slow-release formula minimizes irritation for gentle brightening.

skin-care by decade | best skin-care for each ageImage Credit: Shutterstock

In Your 50s and beyond

Your new mantra is moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. These are the years when dryness will likely be your biggest skin issue. “You can also start to get some bone resorption, so you can see some sagging or drooping in your face too,” says Carroll. “This can cause everything to slide down a bit.” Increased evidence of sun damage, deeper lines and broken blood vessels are also hallmarks of this decade.

In the morning

Focus on products that are hydrating and nourishing, from cleanser to eye cream. Hyaluronic acid is an all-star moisturizing ingredient for any age, but it should certainly be in your skin-care lineup by the time you hit 50. Look for it in serums, day lotions and night creams, and aim to work it into your routine at least once a day. When it comes to skin repair, retinol is still top of the list, but it’s worth a trip to your dermatologist. “I recommend prescription retinol at this age, if you can tolerate it,” says Carroll.

While sheet masks might be the cornerstone of a me-time ritual, don’t save them for special occasions — use them any time your skin needs a boost. “Ones that are hyaluronic acid–based can do a nice job of temporarily plumping the face,” says Carroll. Add a sheet mask to your routine before makeup on days when you have, say, an important Zoom meeting.

At night

Slather on your nighttime products —don’t be stingy! Work them into your skin for an even layer of ample coverage, extending all the way down your neck and across the top of your chest, and even over the tops of your hands. The skin in these areas is thin and doesn’t regenerate well, especially as the years go by, so it requires a little extra love, says Carroll. But that doesn’t have to mean adding an extra skin-care step. “You’re already using your hands to put product on your face, so why not just rub it into the backs of your hands at the end of your routine?” she says. Another application tip: If you shower at night, apply your skin-care products before you put on your pyjamas. “If you’re just wearing a towel, you’re more likely to get the product right down to the base of your décolleté,” she says.


Shiseido’s Waso Bauty Smart Water ($40, shoppersdrugmart.ca) is an all-in-one cleansing water inspired by amazake, a traditional Japanese drink full of vitamins. A few swipes over your face will whisk away makeup and grime, and also prime and hydrate your skin.

There are 180 doses of big-time moisture in AN-hydra’s Hyaluronic Hydrator ($60, an-hydra.com). Mix five drops with a splash of water in the palm of your hand and massage over face, neck (and hands) for an instant quench.

Treat tired eyes to a 15-minute masking session with Garnier’s SkinActive Eye Sheet Mask Moisture Bomb ($4 for a pair, walmart.ca). These little patches target dark circles and bags with a soothing, cooling effect that feels like minus 4ºC!

Next: 40 of the Best Beauty Products of All Time That Should Be on Your Radar

Originally Published in Best Health Canada