Investing in your complexion early on will save you money down the road—a fact that today's 20- and 30-somethings typically understand, say our experts.

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The ever-changing landscape of social media has—without a doubt—influenced how we see ourselves. It is partially responsible for the influx of preventive procedures many women in their 20s and 30s are currently using to ward off the early signs of aging; scientific progress and easy access to clinical data are also factors. "Prevention is more effective than reversal," notes board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu. And while categorically "younger" patients are oftentimes open to more invasive treatments, Dr. Angela Lamb, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, advises beginning with a product-based prevention routine (integrate retinol into your regimen, she says, before you turn 30). Ahead, Dr. Liu, Dr. Lamb, and Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, explain how the aging landscape is different for women below 40—and how to remain proactive as you age with grace.

woman applying beauty face cream
Credit: Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

Milliennial women are more diligent with their routines—but our experts still see damage every day.

Today, we know more about what causes skin aging—sun exposure, free radicals, stress—than ever before. The most pressing question, however, is this: How are younger women really using this knowledge? According to Dr. Engelman, millennials have played a role in making self care, which often involves a strict skin care regimen, mainstream; younger patients are more likely to layer serums, antioxidants, oils, and retinols, she says. While some of her patients certainly are taking preventative measures, Dr. Engelman points out that "there are always more who come in to repair damage after it has been done." The main reason? Top-of-the-line technologies and treatments for reducing or even eliminating specific signs of aging are widely available. "These tools alleviate some of the pressure of being diligent about preventative skincare," she explains. According to Dr. Liu, sunscreen is a critical precautionary factor—one that many women in their 20s and 30s understand as a key player in their anti-aging routine. "Hopefully they are wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, using enough, and reapplying it," she notes.

Women are experimenting with anti-aging treatments earlier than ever before.

Patients are asking for certain anti-aging-centric treatments earlier and earlier, explains Dr. Engelman; this is the new norm, she says, as cosmetic procedures are widely published and discussed more openly online and on social media. Younger women, adds Dr. Lamb, are also more willing to try new things. Dr. Liu agrees: "I'm seeing a shift in my patient base: Younger patients are more open to invasive procedures like Botox/Dysport, fillers, and laser resurfacing. Microneedling is another treatment that younger women are gravitating towards," she explains, due to its ability to improve acne scars, skin texture, and tone. Our experts say that the majority of their patients begin asking for these treatments in their mid-to-late 20s, when they notice the very first signs of aging, which are brown spots, crow's feet, and forehead creases, notes Dr. Lamb.

Retinol is the first line of defense.

It's not necessary to jump straight to neurotoxin, though. Retinol, which stimulates cell turnover and collagen synthesis, is the first line of proactive defense—and all three dermatologists urge their patients to start using it in their twenties. According to Dr. Liu, a rich moisturizer with hydrating, nourishing properties, such as Charlotte Tilbury's Magic Cream (from $64, sephora.com), is also important. "It aids in the rebuilding of the skin's barrier, and when skin is healthy, it appears less dull and fine lines are less visible," she explains.

Sunscreen is the "not-so-secret" secret to preventing premature skin aging.

The golden ticket is still sunscreen. Wearing SPF each and every day is the most important preventative measure of them all, since it can stop the leading cause of premature skin aging (and prevent cancer), which is sun damage. For an extra dose of antioxidant protection and to avoid sunscreen-related breakouts, Dr. Engelman encourages her patients to wear a vitamin C-based serum underneath their sunblock. "Early intervention could also involve utilizing at-home peel products a few times per week," Dr. Lamb adds; these products effectively exfoliate dead skin cells, fade dark spots, reverse dullness, and promote healthy cell turnover, notes Dr. Engelman (try Glo Skin Beauty's peel kits ($75, dermstore.com) for optimal results).

Avoid the most common pitfalls.

When it comes to the most common mistakes women in their 20s and 30s make, our dermatologists unanimously note that not using sunscreen and generally ignoring your skin (such as not washing your face before bed) are the true issues. "You should have the basics down first (cleanse, moisturize, and protect)," says Dr. Liu, before moving onto more ambitious measures (which will be moot without that baseline). Another common blunder, says Dr. Engelman, is relying on corrective treatments, rather than practicing healthy skin habits. "They also don't always moisturize as well as they should," shares Dr. Lamb.

Skin care isn't the only factor.

Exercising, eating healthy foods, practicing stress management, quitting smoking, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water can also ward off the early signs of aging, agree all three dermatologists. "In my opinion, patients who have a high percentage of those components have the nicest glow," notes Dr. Lamb.

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