I'll never forget the first time I thought seriously about getting Botox. I was watching an episode of Vanderpump Rules, and a cast member admitted that she'd been having the neuromodulator injected into her face since the age of 25 to prevent the eventual formation of fine lines and wrinkles. I was 27 at the time and had never once considered it. Since I didn't have any significant concerns around skin aging yet, I just didn't see the point. Even still, I couldn't help but wonder if my lack of a Botox regimen would eventually result in a wrinkly little raisin staring back at me in the mirror. Not going to lie, I began to spiral a bit.
Well, a few minutes passed and so did my panic. I reminded myself that the show takes place in Los Angeles (where I live as well), which might be the Botox capital of the world and where starting an injectable regimen in one's early 20s is more common than starting a 401(k). A quick look in the mirror left me with another important reminder: I was completely satisfied with the way my face looked. I've always been into skincare and have gone to great lengths to protect and preserve my skin, so the fact that I wasn't yet noticing any severe crow's-feet, forehead wrinkles, or frown lines wasn't actually that surprising. On top of that, the faint lines I did already have didn't really bother me.
Fast-forward to today. I'm 31 and still don't feel like my Botox time has arrived yet. And trust me—I'm not in any way opposed to the procedure, nor do I judge anyone who partakes. If it makes you feel good about yourself and isn't financially crippling, then, by all means, go for it! It just so happens that my skincare routine seems to be doing a perfectly adequate job of keeping my skin as smooth and free of lines and wrinkles as I find necessary. I'm alright with slight indentations on my forehead or around my eyes that linger for a moment after outwardly expressing myself in this wild world. (We'll see how I feel about this in another few years as I delve deeper into my 30s, though.)
Anyway, I recently put one of those "How old do I look" filters from Instagram on my face, and it said I look 16, so we can all thank technology for the unsolicited skincare advice I'm about to share. Aside from minding my own business, fiercely protecting my energy, and drinking a gallon of water a day whenever I can, I'm certain my fine-tuned skincare routine has contributed to my glowing 31-year-old face. My mom definitely sprinkled some of her ageless magic into my DNA, but seriously, I've spent years learning what my skin wants and needs to build the most effective routine. Keep scrolling for the eight indispensable products I'm loving in my 30s that I think you will, too.
1. Hydrating Serum
When: morning and evening
How often: daily or as needed
Why I love it: For me, juicing up my dermis with varying hydrating ingredients that are able to reach different layers of my skin results in plump, firm, and elastic skin that bounces back when I tap it and glows from within. In my eyes, plump skin and youthful-looking skin are one and the same, so I'll never skrimp on the hydrating products. After all, they act as a refreshing gulp of water would inside my body.
Hyaluronic acid is the hydrating ingredient everyone knows about, but silver ear mushroom actually provides five times the hydration of HA. This serum has both of those ingredients, plus anti-inflammatory reishi mushroom and vitamin E.
I like to layer this humectant serum in the morning alongside an active to make sure my skin's getting all the hydration it might need as I move through the day. Factors like the heater, air-conditioner, and sun attempt to zap the moisture right out, so I try to stay one step ahead. The hero ingredient here, provitamin B5, holds hydration within the cells to return the skin’s moisture level to normal after experiencing dehydration or imbalance.
This isn't like a regular toner—it's a cool toner. What I mean by that is it doesn't attempt to suck oil and moisture out of the skin, but rather, it drenches it with moisturizing phospholipids, vitamin C, and niacinamide for cell support, protection, and improved skin barrier function. It's also thicker in texture than typical toners, which is why I'm comfortable mentioning it among serums. I've been using it at night underneath The Ordinary's "Buffet" + Copper Peptides 1% ($28), and so far, it's a winning combination.
When: evening only
How often: 3-4 times per week
Why I love it: So far, retinol is still the only skincare ingredient that's been studied and proven to reverse visible signs of skin aging. I haven't spoken to a single dermatologist who doesn't tout it as the ultimate product for smooth, firm, and even skin. Up to this point, I've only used cosmetic retinol as opposed to prescription-strength retinoids, but I'm satisfied with the results I've seen. I'm open to transitioning to the hard stuff if and when I ever recognize the need, but for now, I'm happy riding around with my training wheels on.
I love to use retinol creams that have the concentration of the ingredient explicitly stated on the packaging so I can more accurately track my progress and make smarter choices about when and how to gradually up the dosage. This is a great one I've used for a while and recommend to anyone who will listen.
This one combines retinyl palmitate with lactic acid and aloe vera to boost collagen, gently exfoliate, and soothe the skin all at once. My first go-round with this product was pretty successful in that my skin changed fast. Seriously, within the first couple of weeks, I could visibly see major improvements. I did find it quite sensitizing, though, as it was the first vitamin A derivative I ever tried. Now that I've spent so much time slowly getting used to retinol, I think I'd have a better shot at major skin improvements without any uncomfortable side effects.
I just started using this retinol eye cream, and so far, so good. I have some hereditary discoloration starting to appear under my eyes that I'm hoping this will handle. I like it because I tend to avoid the area immediately around my eyes when using all-over retinol, so using this ensures that that region is still getting the clock-stopping benefits of the ingredient. I only use it on nights when I'm not using retinol on the rest of my face to avoid irritation.
3. Vitamin C Serum
How often: daily
Why I love it: Antioxidants will always be part of my skincare routine to keep cell-damaging free radicals from wreaking havoc. My go-to and perhaps the most popular antioxidant right now is vitamin C because it increases collagen synthesis (hello, plump skin!), boosts luminosity, and helps to smooth out uneven tone and hyperpigmentation, which I struggle with.
I haven't tried this affordable serum for myself, but it's been on my radar ever since I started tracking the tens of thousands of positive Amazon reviews it's accumulated.
This viscous serum packs a powerful punch with 15% L-ascorbic acid, ferulic acid, and a 1% vitamin E concentration along with pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract to dissolve dead skin cells and minimize the look of enlarged pores.
When: morning and evening
How often: daily
Why I love it: Locking in all the goodness of my serums while adding in its own moisturizing factors are just a couple of reasons I'll never kick moisturizing cream out of my routine. While I'll sometimes supplement with oils to crank it up a notch, I'm committed to day and night creams that help give me more of that skin-plumping power I'm always after.
This moisturizer is smarter than me. I love each of U Beauty's expertly formulated products, but this moisturizer has been my go-to lately to keep winter dryness from stealing my glow. It's stacked with shea butter; argan, avocado, and grape-seed oils; and skin-building peptides to support cell turnover for improved collagen production, firmness, and circulation.
Did I mention that peptide moisturizers are kind of my thing right now? It goes back to that plumping agenda I won't shut up about, but the moisture-barrier support is an added bonus. I love this one for daytime since it layers so nicely on top of serums without getting too oily for makeup on top if needed. Plus, it's cheap!
This is a nourishing cream to use after exfoliating, using retinol, or doing anything else that might cause any irritation or stress on the skin. It's lightweight but highly advanced, with anti-inflammatory sea whip extract, calming red marine algae, niacinamide, and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 for healing.
When: morning only
How often: as needed
Why I love it: In case you hadn't heard, sunscreen is a must. On days when I'll be setting foot outside, I always cap off my morning routine with a product with SPF 30 or higher to make sure my skin is protected. This is especially crucial if I've been particularly heavy-handed with retinol and other exfoliants. It also helps to keep hyperpigmentation from advancing.
This SPF gel glides on beautifully on top of moisturizer without making things too slippery. It's oil-free and velvety, so it creates a lovely base for makeup.
This derm-approved formula might look white when you first pump it from the container, but it's actually clear upon application to the skin. No white cast here.
Here's another lightweight, noncomedogenic formula your derm would sign off on.
6. Chemical Exfoliator
When: evening only
How often: 1-2 times per week
Why I love it: I've fallen into the overexfoliation trap once or twice while trying desperately to scrub and melt away dead skin and hyperpigmentation, but I've learned that the dryness and sensitivity that can result from damaging my skin's delicate acid mantle just aren't worth it. When done properly (read: in moderation), though, exfoliation is a surefire way to reveal glowy, refreshed, supple, and healthy skin. Plus, it helps to loosen and rid the surface of my face of dead cells that can clog pores and inhibit the absorption of all my carefully selected serums and creams.
Every other week or so, I love doing this at-home treatment created by Halle Berry's longtime facialist. It's pretty intense and may not be appropriate for those with ultra-sensitive skin, but its potent mix of AHAs can help detox the skin and leave it visibly smoother after just one treatment. Seriously, the glow I get after every single use is unreal.
These cult-favorite peel pads are soaked in a solution containing multiple acids at lower concentrations as opposed to one acid at a high concentration, so the chances of harming the skin are way lower. They've got hydrating lactic acid and oil-dissolving salicylic acid along with glycolic acid, malic acid, chamomile extract, and green tea extract. I use these once a week and wipe any extra solution from each step onto the backs of my hands to give the paws a little love, too.
This exfoliating toner has been on my radar for years (seriously, there are hardcore fans out there who ride so hard for it), but I was finally inspired to try it once a friend of mine shared before-and-afters of her boyfriend's skin after swiping this over his acne-prone skin for 30 days. The photos were so compelling that I sought out a bottle the very next day. While I don't deal with breakouts too often anymore, the pore-clearing, skin tone–evening, and texture-reducing benefits called to me. And don't worry—I'm actively trying to convince said gal pal to give me permission to share those photos with all of you because… wow.
When: morning or evening
How often: as needed
Why I love it: I love oils! I avoided them at all costs throughout my youth thanks to the oil-free skincare marketing craze of the '90s and early 2000s that tricked me into thinking that all oils were evil. But now, I incorporate them whenever I feel like my skin needs added moisture or when I'm removing makeup with the double-cleansing method.
If you associate oil with slippery, greasy skin and are not into that visual, then this is the oil for you. I'm relatively new to squalane but have always been intrigued by its reported similarity to the oils our skin naturally produces. Since it's so similar, it's actually able to help balance oil production. Whenever I use this, my skin feels soft and smooth and never greasy.
Here's another wish list item I haven't actually tried yet but desperately want to. The hype around this blend is real, but that price tag, though! A friend of mine got a bottle this past Christmas and has since reported a full-on obsession, so I think I'm finally ready to take the plunge.
This is technically a cleansing balm, but it's oil based, so I'm going to classify it among my other favorite oils. So yeah, this is my favorite cleanser of all time. It's minty and feels tingly on the skin as it grips makeup, sunscreen, and grime before melting into a gentle milk that rinses away with ease. It doesn't leave a gross film behind, but even so, I tend to go in with a lathering cleanser afterward to ensure that every stitch of gunk is washed away. Versed's Wash It Out Gel Cleanser ($13) serves as a great follow-up.
When: evening only
How often: as needed
Why I love it: There are so many wonderful skincare tools out there these days. With the recent influx of at-home LED lights, facial steamers, and the like, anyone can carry out a salon-quality facial. I'm new to tools and haven't explored the category all that deeply yet, but the few tools I do have in rotation are among my most prized possessions.
It took me a while to decide if I like this thing because it actually works or because I look like Iron Man while wearing it. I've concluded that, thankfully, the former is the true reason. You can set the mask to emit red light, blue light, or a combination of both to stimulate collagen production (plump me!), kill acne-causing bacteria on the face, or get both sets of benefits at once.
Whether or not this buzzing device is actually capable of jiggling out dirt from deep within my pores is irrelevant at this point because the pulsing massage it offers as I run it over my face is so satisfying. Sometimes, I just concentrate the device in small circles around my jaw or temples, and it helps to relieve muscle tension fast. My skin always feels smooth to the touch after using it, too.
This is like a pulsating squeegee for the skin that coaxes gunk out of the pores as it glides over the dermis. I do a fair amount of work to keep my pores clear in other ways, but in areas like my nose and forehead that tend to produce more oil, a pass with this thing can turn up some serious grime. It's so gross but so satisfying.