When should I start using anti-aging skincare?
When is the right time to start an anti-aging skincare routine? This is a question that many people ask, but the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Our skin begins to age from the moment we are born, and the visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles and sagging skin, typically appear in our 30s. However, research shows that our skin has the potential to look and perform young well into our 60s, as long as we have taken steps to protect it from photodamage in earlier years. Not sure if it's time to start using anti-aging skincare products for you? This article can help you make an informed decision.
When does skin start to show first signs of aging?
According to studies, our skin starts to lose thickness in our 30s and 40s. This process is slow (we don’t lose much each year) and only accelerates a lot after the age of 70 for people of both biological sexes. Women though see an additional rapid decline of collagen and skin thickness in the first 5 years after the menopause.
The more sun damage we have, the earlier the loss of thickness begins. It also starts earlier in areas of the skin that are open to sunlight, like the face, neck, and back of the hands. Skin tends to thin less quickly in people with naturally darker skin compared to those with less naturally melanated skin.
As for elasticity, most studies show that our skin starts becoming stiffer (and less elastic) around age 25, and then gets stiffer more quickly as we age. Again, as with the skin thickness, women after menopause can see a rapid decline in skin elasticity right after it.
Both skin thickness and elasticity start to decline quicker around the age of 60. This is when the forces of the so-called “intrinsic” aging show their power (“intrinsic” aging is a term dermatologists used to describe the aging processes that seem to come from “within”, independently from the environment we live in. Simply put, this is the effect of time that we have almost no control over - at least so far).
It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that our skin only starts aging in our 30s (or 60s). These are the ages when we start seeing physical signs of aging, like wrinkles, fine lines, sagging, and changes in the skin mechanics. As all of our bodies, the skin aging process starts at birth. The good news is that our skin is great at repairing itself and is capable to look young until late in life - if not for one big “but”. This “but” is the influence of sun damage and pollution.
The signs of aging we start seeing before our sixth decade (apart from the impact of the post-menopausal hormonal change) are, for the most part, the signs of photoaging, or more correctly put, signs of extrinsic aging (caused from outside). Since most humans get some sun radiation and are exposed to some air pollution, most humans see signs of photoaging way before the signs of chronological and post-menopausal skin aging.
What impacts the speed of developing signs of skin aging?
Sun exposure is the most important factor in the timing of the first signs of skin aging. When we're exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun for a long time, it can cause a breakdown of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in our skin. This can lead to a breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps keep our skin strong, and the buildup of abnormal elastic fibers. This leads to wrinkling and increases the risk of skin cancer. Even short-term sun exposure is harmful. It can cause inflammation, changes in skin color, and damage to the connective tissue in our skin. For example, a study done with young males in ☀️ Brazil found that people who didn’t use sunscreen got the signs of skin aging already between 18 and 28 years of age.
Not surprisingly, the climate we live in plays a role in skin aging. The sunnier the environment, the more photodamage our skin gets. Hot climates also increase the rate of skin aging. On the other hand, high humidity has an anti-aging effect, while dry environments make our skin age faster.
Individual genetics, of course, plays a huge role, too. If your biological relatives have young-looking skin late in life, the chances are you’ve got lucky in the genetics lottery too and will get the first aging signs later than the less fortunate of us.
When does it make sense to start using anti-aging skincare products?
First and foremost, if you care about skin aging, start using sunscreen daily as early as possible.
Then, consider the individual factors of your environment, habits, and lifestyle. If you have been diligent about your sun protection and live in a less sunny climate, there may be no need to introduce potent anti-aging actives beyond sunscreen earlier than your 30s.
If you get a lot of sunlight or haven't used sunscreen regularly in the past, you may notice the first signs of aging earlier. In this case, it may make sense to start using strong anti-aging actives (like Retinoids, Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide) in your mid-20s.
The same applies to your lifestyle. If you eat a diverse, nutritionally balanced diet most of the time and get enough physical activity, you may be able to delay the introduction of anti-aging skincare without risking early signs of aging (assuming you are using daily sunscreen).
The good news is that there is no downside to using actives like Retinoids, Niacinamide, Ascorbic Acid, and other anti-oxidants earlier than you are about to develop the first signs of skin aging. Starting early can most likely delay the aging process. Just consider the benefits of enjoying a simple, quick skincare routine in your teens and 20s - free of worries about anti-aging actives (you might have other great things to focus on 😉).
Finally, please remember that you don't need to use anti-aging skincare products if you don't want to (but your doctor would still probably recommend you to use a daily sunscreen for overall health reasons). Don't feel pressured by the beauty industry or social media to start using these products at a certain age. If you do decide to use anti-aging skincare early, it is a good option too. Just remember not to overload your skin with too many irritating ingredients and take it easy on exfoliation.
Biomarkers, oxidative stress and autophagy in skin aging https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S156816371930474X
Skin aging and menopause: implications for treatment. https://europepmc.org/article/med/12762829
Age-dependent biomechanical properties of the skin https://www.termedia.pl/Review-papers-Age-dependent-biomechanical-properties-of-the-skin,7,21579,1,1.html
Age-related mechanical properties of human skin: An in vivo study https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022202X89900584
Biotribology of the ageing skin—Why we should care https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352573818300684
Skin photoaging in young men: A clinical study by skin imaging techniques https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12701
The environment and skin aging https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0738081X97001934
Climate and Skin Function: An Overview https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/srt.12043