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10 Healthy Skin Habits to Establish in Your 20s

Skincare Habits to Start in Your 20s

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From not washing your face before bed to believing SPF 8 is actually effective, we're all guilty of some obvious skincare mistakes, especially in our younger years. However, just because you're still wrinkle-free in your twenties doesn't mean you should ignore your skin, says Mona Gohara, M.D., a medical dermatologist in Danbury, CT. "The key to healthy, younger-looking skin is to establish good habits early in life that'll prevent you from having to deal with issues later on." So from skipping certain cleansers to finally booking that facial, these 10 habits will set you up for younger skin for years to come. And the best news? They're all super easy to add to your routine. (Not in your twenties? We have Your Guide to Good Skin at Any Age, According to Dermatologists.)

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Simplify

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Is your medicine cabinet filled with 25 half-used bottles of lotions, soaps, and serums? That's a sign to rethink your skincare regimen, Gohara says. Trying out a bunch of different products can be damaging to your skin, especially if you're experimenting with different fragrances, ingredients, and chemicals. It also can take up to six weeks to visibly see a skin benefit from a product. "I often see young women switch products before they really give them a chance to start working," says Lauren Ploch, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New Orleans, LA. So stick to a few good products, and let them do their thing.

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Cleanse Correctly

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There are a few non-negotiables when it comes to choosing a facewash: gentle, pH-neutral, non-soap, cleanser. Gohara recommends Dove's Beauty Bar ($5 for 4; amazon.com), which cleanses your face without stripping your skin of your natural oils. (You know that "squeaky clean" feeling? You don't want that, since it signals those good-for-you oils have been washed away.) When you wash your face, rub using a circular motion, which helps stimulate blood flow for a healthy glow, Gohara says. (Just make sure to avoid The 10 Most Common Face Washing Mistakes.)

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Use a Mild Exfoliant

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"We shed about 50 million skin cells each day, so it's important to slough them away by exfoliating," says Gohara. But the keyword here is mild—derms don't recommend abrasive scrubs with rough granules (they could lead to everything from discoloration to scarring). Instead, reach for glycolic pads ($12.99 for 60; target.com), an inexpensive product found in drugstores. "These clean out pores and other impurities on the skin without being overly harsh," Gohara says. Plus, the individual size eliminates the risk of over-exfoliating. There's no need to use them every day, but a couple of times per week is good.

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Moisturize

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"It's a myth that people who have 'greasy' skin don't need to moisturize," Gohara says. If you tend toward oily skin, skip a heavy, cream-based product and choose a light lotion or serum instead. If you have normal or dry skin, go with a facial oil or cream. Ploch suggests using a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and/or niacinamide to incorporate some important anti-aging ingredients into your routine.

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Cover Up

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We're not the first to tell you, but sun and skin don't mix. "Ninety percent of signs of aging come from chronic unprotected sun exposure," Gohara says. And melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, has risen 800 percent in the past 40 years among women aged 18 to 39, which can largely be attributed to more frequent tanning, she adds. Choose a moisturizer with SPF of at least 30. However, sunscreen isn't only necessary when you're at the beach—wear it while driving around town, going to work, or running in the park, Gohara says. She recommends La Roche Posay's Anthelios AOX Sunscreen ($42.50; laroche-posay.us) or, if it feels too oily to wear a cream-based screen, try a powder, like one from Colorscience ($64; colorscience.com). Ploch likes Neutrogena's Sensitive Skin version ($11; neutrogena.com). (See more SPF and Sun Protection Myths to Stop Believing.)

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Stop Picking

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Once you pop, it's hard to stop. "Popping pimples is a pretty bad habit," Ploch explains. "It can result in serious scarring, ranging from red marks to dark marks to permanent divots." And it's not just scars you need to worry about—popping pimples can cause epidermal inclusion cysts, which are raised, round lumps on the skin that may have to be removed surgically. For large, painful bumps, ask your derm about a very low-strength steroid injection into the acne lesion, which can help the pimple disappear within a day or two, Ploch says.

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Consider Retinols

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Retinol, a form of vitamin A found in many cosmetic products, is usually considered an anti-aging measure for older skin, since it stokes collagen production and reduces its breakdown. But it's important to start using retinols in your twenties, Ploch says. The reason: the ingredient can also improve skin color and texture and even help reverse signs of sun damage. You can find several over-the-counter retinols—we like Dermalogica Age Smart Overnight Retinol Repair ($85; dermalogica.com)—or ask your doc about retinoids, which are a stronger version only available by prescription.

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Book Frequent Facials

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These spa-like experiences may seem like an extravagance to add to your skincare arsenal, but they're actually worthwhile, Gohara says. She recommends that women start getting facials at a young age—as early as age 13. Be sure to visit a good, reputable provider—like a derm's office (where they're also cheaper than fancier spas or salons—score!). Gohara suggests scheduling one every two to three months to keep your skin glowing and healthy. (But if you can't make it to the derm's office, DIY it! Try one of The Best Face Masks for Every Skin Condition.)

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Catch More ZZZ's

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There's more to good skin that what you put on it—what's going on inside your body plays an equally important role. Research has shown that sleep deprivation is linked to increased signs of aging, as well as a reduced ability of skin to recover after sun damage. "Maximizing sleep, fitting in exercise, and reducing stress are all essential steps to healthy skin," Gohara says. We know it's easier said than done, but since stress increases cortisol, a hormone held responsible for acne-prone skin and pimples, try to minimize stress in your life where possible.

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Eat Whole Foods

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Your skin is an organ—the largest in your body, in fact—so you want to treat it like you would your heart or brain, Gohara says. Omega-3s in particular have been shown to decrease inflammatory chemicals that age the skin and heart. Focus on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as nuts, plant oils (think flaxseed and hemp), and cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and halibut, and minimize processed foods. Finally, wine-lovers will be glad to hear that while drinking too much alcohol regularly can lead to a sallow complexion, a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine every now and then may actually be good for your skin, Ploch says. (They can also make you live longer! Check out 10 Healthy Foods That Further Your Life Expectancy.)

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