It is no secret that when you hit 40, the skin develops a whole different set of concerns. Hopefully, by this age, you’ve conquered the breakouts that may have plagued your 20s and 30s (although some women continue to experience acne beyond that, experts say), but now you’re probably noticing deeper-set lines, dark spots, and a general loss of plumpness.
New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, tells Health that skin begins to lose about 10% of its collagen once we turn 30—which means that by 40, complexions can be dull-looking and uneven. “Wrinkles may be more predominant,” she adds, “and because of hormonal changes, dryness and discoloration can become an issue.”
Another concern? Skin that’s 40-plus doesn’t bounce back as easily as it once did. “In our 40s, our skin’s turnover rate has slowed down,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. “It takes longer to heal.”
As a result, you may find yourself grappling with aftereffects of years spent in the sun, such as hyperpigmentation and fine lines. “We have most likely spent plenty of time in the sun [by 40], which has broken down our collagen levels faster than we can replace them,” says Dr. Jaliman.
When you enter your late 30s and early 40s, skincare starts to take on a bit more importance, even if it was something you always valued. While some women start to be concerned or uncomfortable with the idea of visibly aging, for others, developing and sticking to a healthy skincare routine in your 40s is more about aging as gracefully as you possibly can and keeping your body’s largest organ as healthy as possible, rather than trying to stubbornly prevent aging entirely.
There are many things you can do beginning in your 40s (or even earlier in some cases) to keep your skin healthy for the rest of your life. If you’re looking for more ideas about how to take care of your skin during your 40s, here’s what you need to know.
Skincare routine in your 40s
Establishing a skincare routine that works for you is especially important in your 40s, experts say. “Consistency with your regimen is key,” says Anna Guanche, MD, a dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert based in Calabasas, California. “Great skin takes discipline.”
In the morning, gently cleanse before putting on moisturizer and sunscreen (wearing it every day is crucial, Dr. Guanche stresses). As you apply your products, start using the thinnest first (such as an essence), then work your way up to heavier formulas. In general, you may want to incorporate products that deliver more moisture at this age, experts add.
Proven anti-agers like retinol, antioxidants such as vitamin C, and gentle exfoliators can help keep 40-plus skin healthy and hydrated. As for ingredients you can scale back on? “If you’re not really suffering from acne anymore, you can stop using harsh astringent toners and salicylic acid,” says Dr. Guanche.
Boost collagen and elastin production
While the skin on your face likely looks full and plump rather than thin and sunken, as it can while you’re aging, in your 40s your body’s production of elastin and collagen starts to slow. “Therefore, we need to boost collagen and elastin production with peptides as well as antioxidants that can increase collagen production, which gives our skin that supple tone,” Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a dermatologist, told me.
“Our skin cell turnover dramatically reduces as well, resulting in dullness, dryness as well as fine lines and wrinkles. Retinols are critical to help speed up the process once again and brighten the complexion,” Nussbaum continued. “Due to the extra layers of dead skin cells, we are also less hydrated and losing moisture. Therefore, it may be time, depending on your skin type, to switch over from oil-free products to creamier, thicker humectants and occlusives with ceramides and hyaluronic acids to rehydrate and plump the skin.”
Consciously adding thicker hydrating creams and retinol can help keep your skin looking healthy, dewy, and refreshed, which is what women of all ages want, after all.
To help keep your skin glowing in your 40s, you likely need to exfoliate more regularly than you did in your 20s and 30s because skin cell turnover happens slower than in earlier decades.
“Regular peels and exfoliation products help, Retin-A, peptides, and vitamin C are great in the anti-aging arsenal at this time,” said Celebrity Esthetician Angela Caglia. “It’s also a time when fillers can take back years.” Using scrubs and other exfoliators can help in between professional peels.
Drink lots of water
Drinking plenty of water each and every day is exceptionally important for your overall health. It’s good for your organs, your energy levels, and — you guessed it — your skin. According to Jean Rossolillo, a medical aesthetician and laser technician with Full Circle Health, drinking plenty of water is important because “hydrating internally can help our skin hold on to moisture.” That is important as you get older and your skin does not automatically retain as much moisture as it did in previous decades.
Take care of your neck
When you’re thinking about how to go about developing your skincare routine in your 40s, don’t focus solely on your face at the expense of your neck. “Don’t overlook your neck — do put sunscreen on it every day as well as moisturize it,” said Maricela Lewis Watson, a cosmetic specialist at The Shoreditch Spa.
Apply your nighttime serum, moisturizer, and any other products that you’d apply to your face to your neck as well. If you only take care of the skin on your face, your neck will give away not only your age, but also how much time you spent in the sun in your younger years and any other skincare mistakes you may have made. Don’t neglect your neck.
Sleep is always important for your overall health and wellbeing — mental, physical, and emotional — but it’s even more important in regards to skincare in your 40s. “Even a late night or too much alcohol can show up more on our face in our 40s, so it’s more important to get a full night’s rest, eat well, and exercise to stimulate blood flow and keep our skin glowing,” said Caglia. Make sure you get your full seven to nine hours of sleep. Your skin will thank you. You will wake up feeling more refreshed, but also looking visibly
The Ultimate Skincare Routine for Your 40s:
Step 1. Cleanse
The start of any great skincare regime begins with double cleansing – our fave K-Beauty ritual, where you first cleanse with a cleansing oil, followed by a milk, foam, or water-based cleanser. By cleansing twice, you’ll ensure that all of the dirt, bacteria, and oil is removed from your skin. As your skin is now producing a lot less oil, you can actually cleanse twice with hydrating cleansing oils. Alternatively, Dr. Timm Golueke recommends, “A cleansing balm, as it doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils.” Just make sure you’re super gentle when you’re cleansing – don’t tug at your skin, instead gently massage the oil into a lather, as this will help stimulate collagen while the soft fluid movements upwards and outwards will help boost lymphatic drainage.
Our go-to products: We need the Deep Cleansing Oil, which is enriched with vitamin E and olive oil, so it’s super hydrating. Another favorite of ours is the Oil, which also has vitamin E, plus vitamin A to boost radiance and fight free radicals that cause premature aging. We then follow the cream to it encourages skin cell renewal, which naturally slows down with age.
Step 2. Tone
In your 40s you want to use a toner that’ll hydrate and rebalance your skin, so look for toners infused with rich moisturizing ingredients like natural botanicals and peptides. Peptides are amazing for aging skin as they’re made up of chains of amino acids that can help with cell renewal and tissue repair.
Step 3. Exfoliate
Exfoliation is an essential step in all skin care regimes, but it’s especially important for mature skin as it helps increase skin renewal. By using a gentle chemical exfoliator twice a week with AHAs like moisturizing lactic acid, you’ll boost cell turnover and your glow. Gentle exfoliation can also help reduce the appearance of sunspots and age spots, which typically occur due to sun exposure and hormonal changes. Like we said exfoliation = essential!
Step 4. Antioxidant serum
If you haven’t already invested in a serum, now is the time. Serums have a lightweight formula with a smaller molecular structure, which means they can penetrate further and repair and hydrate the skin at a much deeper level. Both Dr. Jessica Wu and Timm Goueleke recommend serums containing antioxidants, “Vitamin C and E, which will brighten and improve skin tone, leaving it with a radiant glow.” A peptide and growth factor-based serum is also ideal for mature skin as peptides are made up of amino acids, which help rebuild the skin’s epidermis and also stimulate collagen.
Use a brightening agent (daytime)
Dr. Timm Goueleke explains that he often sees “Patients experiencing hyperpigmentation in their 40s,” which is an inconsistency in color, resulting in dark patches and areas of uneven skin tone. To help combat hyperpigmentation, you can use a brightening ingredient, like antioxidant powerhouse vitamin C (check out our guide to treating hyperpigmentation here). We like to use vitamin C in the morning to fight against pollution and protect our skin during the daytime, and then use retinol in the evening.
“In your 40s, your skin starts to get thinner from a loss of collagen, which leads to fine lines and smile creases. This is why you need to boost your skin’s natural collagen by using a retinoid. Start with an over-the-counter strength if you’re new to retinol, and work up to a prescription-strength one, as tolerated. Ask your dermatologist about Renova, a prescription-strength retinoid which is also extremely moisturizing,” Dr. Jessica Wu suggests. You should also use retinol on your neck and décolletage as these areas show early signs of aging. You should only use retinol in your nighttime routine, after your toned but before your moisturizer.
Step 6. Eye cream
Your eyes are one of the first places to show signs of aging as the skin around the eye is super delicate, so you should be using an eye cream day and night. Look for a formula that has antioxidants as well as retinol, as these will deliver the best results. Hydrolyzed collagen will also help smooth and strengthen the skin around the eye. Dr. Timm Goueleke advises looking for an eye cream that contains “Vitamin C, green tea, and chamomile as these are great for puffiness and reducing dark circles.”
Step 7. Moisturize
By now you’re probably a moisturizing pro, and you know you need to use it both morning and night. But you also need to make sure that it’s the correct formula, enriched with anti-aging ingredients. Dr. Timm Gouleke says to “Look for niacinamide and hyaluronic acid for brightening and moisturization.”
Step 8. Face oil (nighttime)
In your 40s your skincare regime is all about hydration and locking in as much moisture as possible. Adding a face oil is a must. Oils are lipophilic, which means they have a smaller molecular structure so they can penetrate further into your dermis, allowing your skin to retain hydration at a much deeper level. They’ll also repair and protect the skin’s barrier while nourishing the skin. Plus, as you’re using a lot of anti-aging ingredients like retinol and AHAs, which can be quite drying, an oil will rebalance hydration levels.
Step 9. Wear sunscreen
As a board-certified physician assistant, Neekan Rivera works with patients on developing a skincare routine. She said her first goal is to make sure that they consistently apply sunscreen every day before moving on to other goals.
“The better we are with sunblock, the more our skin will just improve over time,” Rivera said. “Even though we can’t reverse the sunspots that are showing from ten or 20 years ago, at least we can protect it from getting worse over the next five, ten years.” Sunscreen is important for prevention, but it’s also important when it comes to minimizing sunspots and changing pigmentation and sensitivity associated with the use of retinol.
said Rivera. “So I always make sure women understand that sunblock is key because otherwise, everything else we want to do to continue maintaining our skin and keep it looking youthful and healthy will make you sensitive.”
Step 10. Sleeping mask (nighttime only)
During the night our skin loses the most moisture, which is why Timm Goueleke recommends “Incorporating a hydrating mask once or twice a week.” More specifically, we’d suggest using a sleeping mask as they create a layer of protection, allowing the active ingredients to penetrate while you get your beauty sleep.
Treatments you could also consider:
Laser: The Isolaz laser is an effective treatment if you’re still facing hormonal breakouts as it can penetrate and cleanse deep into your pores, improving the texture of your skin. Similarly, if you have hyperpigmentation, dark spots, or uneven tone, you could consider the Fraxel 1927 Laser as it can help reduce sun damage, which can also help lower the risk of skin cancer. The fractional CO2 lasers will also help to rejuvenate the skin while radio frequency devices will help tone and tighten the skin.
You may not be interested in getting laser treatments to prevent visible signs of aging or to otherwise take care of your skin as you get older, but Diane Gillin, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Couture Med Spa recommended that you consider them.
“In your 40s I recommend a one-two punch of IPL and Fractional Skin Resurfacing treatments,” said Gillin. “IPL stands for intense pulsed light therapy and gets rid of anything pigmented on the skin such as sun damage, rosacea, broken capillaries, and melasma. Fractional laser treatments minimize fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores, acne scars, and stimulate collagen causing skin tightening. The combination of these laser treatments will take years off your skin and help prevent further aging.”
If those are the kinds of results you’re looking for, you may want to do a little research to see if laser treatments are right for you.
A monthly peel: A monthly peel is a great idea as it’ll encourage skin cell renewal to brighten your skin and gradually fade hyperpigmentation from acne.
Botox: If you’ve always wondered about Botox, be sure to discuss your options with an expert. Botox can be very discreet and can help prevent existing or future lines from deepening.
Fillers: If you’re thinking about fillers, be sure to check out New York’s leading dermatologist, Dr. Doris Day’s guide on how to use fillers and injectables for the most natural look here.
In your 40s, you might need to incorporate some skin rejuvenating procedures into your overall skincare routine. Rivera said she often recommends micro-needling.
“I recommend it for almost everyone because it’s so safe, anyone can do it,” said Rivera. “And what micro-needling does, is it causes these little micro-injuries to our skin which then stimulates our skin repair system and therefore gives us this huge boost of collagen, which, over time… we don’t produce collagen as quickly as we did in our 20s and 30s, so that’s usually what women are complaining of, they’re complaining of collagen-related changes. They are like, ‘you know, my skin is looser, I’m getting some loose skin, I’m getting fine lines and wrinkles.’ So by doing the micro-needling or doing a series or just kind of doing it for maintenance, it just kind of keeps that building over time.”
Finally, stay consistent with your skincare habits
One of the most important things you can do to take care of your skin in your 40s is to consistently employ every piece of your skincare routine. “Good skin care habits should begin in our early 20s to ensure that we will be looking better in our 40s,” Caglia said. “This means regular facials, removing makeup at night, sun protection, and a healthy lifestyle.”
It can be tempting to skip bits and pieces of your skincare routine because you’re busy, tired, or just plain old lazy, but you’ll likely end up regretting it if you do. Stay the course, you’ll be grateful.