Once you’re in your 40s, you generally have a solid grasp on things like the shade of lipstick that best complements your complexion, the outfit that makes you feel most like yourself or the hairstyle that works best for your face shape. You’ve probably also left most of your beauty fails in the past. But as it turns out, dermatologists say there are dozens of skin care mistakes that people over 40 still make — and they’re harder to recover from than they were 20 years ago.
Sure, there are the common traps you can fall into at any age, like popping pimples that you know you shouldn’t touch, layering ingredients that don’t play nicely together or not drinking enough water. But some skin care oversights are specific to a more mature demographic. Ahead, find the top mistakes derms see people over 40 still making, plus the best ways to fix them.
Not using sunscreen
Many millennials and Gen Xers spent their childhoods with nary a sunscreen bottle in sight — but now, there’s no excuse not to lather up, even if you’re not planning to spend a ton of time outside.
“Sun exposure is one of the biggest reasons women see changes in their skin as they get older,” says Dr. Bruce Katz of Juva Skin & Laser Center in New York City. “Sun exposure causes fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, hyperpigmentation — all things that my patients are not happy with. While you can’t turn back the clock, you can wear sunscreen each day to prevent future damage.”
Two other leading dermatologists — Dr. Kathleen S. Viscusi, co-founder and partner of Dermatology & Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta, as well as New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Doris Day — both named a lack of diligent sun protection as their number one skin care mistake.
“It’s an age where women start to think that sunscreen is less important, but in reality, as hormones start to wane, existing collagen needs to be protected and supported more than ever,” says Day. “Exposure to UV rays is toxic to collagen so it’s important to use proper sunscreen every day all year round and to also use ingredients that help with collagen production and repair — like retinol and antioxidants.”
Look for one that has broad-spectrum protection of SPF 30 or more, which guards against both types of harmful UV rays. And remember to cover commonly forgotten areas, like your ears, belly button and hands.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 PA +++ ($34; sephora.com)
This broad-spectrum sunscreen goes on clear — and stays that way. Experts say it’s one of the best sunscreens for people of color too.
Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42 Sunscreen ($35; dermstore.com)
A water-resistant sunscreen that won’t cause breakouts or irritation? Sign us up.
Vacation Classic Lotion SPF 30 ($20; vacation.inc)
This sunscreen has become a cult favorite of editors and influencers alike. Even better: It really works (and smells great, too).
Katz says both physical and chemical over-exfoliation can do more harm than good, especially on those with mature skin. “There are so many exfoliating products on the market. I see many women come into my practice and their skin is irritated, sensitive and oftentimes they are trying to make their skin look younger by using chemical exfoliators, or aggressively scrubbing their face,” he says. “Too much exfoliation can actually make the skin look worse — red and irritated. Even using a washcloth and scrubbing your face each day can aggravate your skin.”
Instead, Katz says to exfoliate your skin once or twice weekly rather than every night — and be sure not to mix exfoliating products on top of each other. “If you’re taking off your makeup at the end of the day and washing your skin, most people only need to exfoliate periodically to remove dead skin cells, oil and debris.”
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant ($59; sephora.com)
This rice-powder-based formula is gentle enough to use in place of your cleanser a couple times per week.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($29.50; sephora.com)
Paula’s Choice’s go-to chemical exfoliant relies on salicylic acid and green tea to gently slough off dead skin cells.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA ($6.50; ulta.com)
This lactic-acid-based chemical exfoliator works through the top layer of dull skin to reveal brighter, more even-toned skin over time.
Leaving your makeup on
If you thought you left this problem in your college years, think again. Viscusi says that skin often gets more sensitive with age, so “leaving makeup on can irritate already sensitive skin” — leading to more than just the breakouts you dealt with in your twenties.
Even more, Day reminds us that “makeup can attract and hold pollution, and this is toxic if left on the skin for extended periods of time, like overnight.” Instead, it’s important to properly clean the skin and remove all makeup and pollution accumulated from the day, without over-stripping the skin or drying it out, says Day. Look for a cleanser that’s suitable for your makeup — and don’t be afraid to double-cleanse. The extra step can take stress off your skin.
Simple Kind To Skin Micellar Cleansing Water ($4.99; target.com)
This simple micellar water takes off makeup and skin care products with ease.
Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm ($64; ulta.com)
This cleansing balm melts off makeup with nine essential oils.
PCA Skin Daily Cleansing Oil ($39; dermstore.com)
This cleansing oil relies on grapeseed and sweet almond oils to melt off makeup and debris.
Not taking advantage of technology
There have been myriad advancements in skin care technology, both in the form of dermal injectables and at-home devices. Oftentimes, these at-home devices offer treatments that were previously only available at a doctor’s office, like microdermabrasion or microcurrent treatments.
“Skin care isn’t a ‘once every so often’ type thing so incorporating tools into your at-home routine is a no-brainer,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara. “Ideally when I look for at-home skin care tools, they should be simple, not complex, compact and quick. No one has time for a four-hour treatment all the time.”
While Katz assures us that it’s never a mistake to not use injectables, it’s important to talk to your dermatologist about the options available.
“It’s easier to start to reduce fine lines and wrinkles with injectables and other in-office treatments in your 40s, or when you first start to notice them,” he says. “I even have patients come in their 20s and 30s before they see the signs of damage to use injectables preventatively. A good board-certified dermatologist will help you look like you on your best day and that can be through a combination of injectables, other non-invasive cosmetic in-office procedures like laser treatments and establishing a good skin care routine.”
Skin Gym High Frequency Wand ($95; urbanoutfitters.com)
This easy-to-use tool emits a small electrical current that generates oxygen when applied to the skin, leaving your complexion brighter and more lifted.
Trophy Skin RejuvatoneMD ($199; trophyskin.com)
“For instant lifting, microcurrent is a great option,” says Gohara, who works with Trophy Skin. “This can be used on the face and neck to stimulate facial muscles for an instant lifting effect. It’s a touch screen with various levels based on preference so it is customizable.”
NuFace Mini ($209; dermstore.com)
This at-home tool is on the shelves of just about every beauty editor out there. It subtly lifts and tones — and comes in a cute travel size.
Getting in a routine rut
It’s important to evolve your skin care routine as you age, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology. “Over the age of 40, the skin tends to get drier because the skin barrier weakens. Look for products that contain a combination of emollient and occlusive ingredients to form a protective seal over the skin.”
Gohara agrees, saying that using a combination of products that isn’t optimal for one’s skin is one of the biggest mistakes she sees in her practice. It might be time to incorporate a prescription-grade retinol, or you may find that the cleanser you used for your previously oily skin is leaving you dry. Be sure to work with your dermatologist to take stock of your skin care routine every few years, even if it’s been working for you.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream ($74; ulta.com)
This retinol fuses vitamin A with three peptides, which help strengthen and bolster the skin.
SkinCeuticals Emollience ($63; dermstore.com)
This lightweight moisturizer is formulated with lipids, marine extracts, mango seed butter and lavender to nourish and soothe the skin.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($24.99; ulta.com)
A more budget-friendly retinol, this cream comes highly recommended by multiple derms, including Zeichner.