You've sworn off sunbathing (OK, by 90%). You've said no to partying. You've even upped your veggie consumption, all in the name of making your skin as ageless as possible. Smart moves. "Preventing skin aging is the best strategy for keeping your complexion looking its best," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. While there's no way to completely stave off lines, the following game plans—targeted to your age—will protect and repair your complexion, setting you up for healthy skin year after year.
2 of 10Getty Images
Lucky you: Not only can you still kill it at CrossFit after a night out with friends, but you're also probably not seeing signs of aging just yet. "Wrinkles don't really start to show in your 20s, unless you've had a lot of sun exposure or frequented tanning beds," says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey. If you do have fine lines, they'll likely be around your eyes, as a result of too much squinting.
3 of 10Getty Images
Your smooth-skin plan in your 20s
Swear by sunscreen. Wear SPF 30 or higher "every day, rain or shine, from January to December," says Dr. Downie. Blocking UV rays prevents collagen—the network of tissue deep within the skin that keeps the surface plump and line-free—from breaking down and creating deeper lines. Dr. Zeichner agrees: "Sunscreen is the number-one treatment to avoid developing lines and aging skin." One study showed that wearing SPF not only wards off UV damage but also improves skin's texture. Got sensitive skin? Look for products with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which are gentler than their chemical counterparts.
Add glycolic acid or salicylic acid to your routine. "These ingredients exfoliate the skin, keeping it smooth," says Dr. Downie. Swipe your skin with a presaturated pad after you cleanse and before you put on sunscreen. One to try: Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix ($13 for 60 pads; target.com).
Wear your sunnies. If you shield your eyes from the sun now, you can save yourself from squinting-induced fine lines later.
4 of 10Getty Images
You may start to see fine lines around your eyes. "The skin there is extremely thin, making it more vulnerable to damage from the sun and repetitive expressions," says Dr. Zeichner. You might also spot "11s"—that pair of vertical lines between the brows. "Initially, these go away when your face is at rest, but over time, the lines begin to set in," he notes. People with lighter skin tend to see lines earlier than those with darker complexions, possibly because more melanin in skin equals more wrinkle protection.
5 of 10Getty Images
Your smooth-skin plan in your 30s
Add a retinoid. "This ingredient works by creating cellular turnover to exfoliate the skin and repair DNA, which reverses sun damage and reduces the appearance of wrinkles," says Ava Shamban, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. Over-the-counter creams with retinol, like Eve Lom Time Retreat Intensive Night Cream ($140; evelom.com), are gentler than prescription retinoids (like Retin-A), so they're good for those with sensitive skin. To minimize irritation, begin applying every other night (not during the day, because the sun diminishes the effectiveness of some formulas), working up to nightly use.
Beware of pore cloggers. Mineral and other oils tend to plug up pores. This triggers acne and stretches out pore walls, leading to lines and sagging. "Find the cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen that work for your skin, then stick with them," advises Dr. Downie.
Don't rub your eyes. This habit causes discoloration (by increasing melanin production) and may also exacerbate wrinkles. Next time you're tired or itchy, try Dr. Downie's fix: Apply an ice pack.
6 of 10Getty Images
You're coming into your own now and likely have your career and relationships in place. But this decade might also bring more pronounced wrinkles. "If you don't start to treat fine lines around your eyes in your 30s, they will most likely start to stick in your 40s," says Dr. Zeichner. Also evident: horizontal lines on your forehead and maybe some fine creases on your neck.
7 of 10Getty Images
Your smooth-skin plan in your 40s
Don't skip SPF and retinoid. Applying them consistently can keep your 40-something skin looking a decade younger. Still using an OTC retinoid? Ask your dermatologist for a stronger, Rx version, says Dr. Shamban.
Opt for a serum with growth factors. Not to be confused with growth hormones, growth factors are produced naturally by the skin and help repair free-radical damage and maintain smoothness. As we age, our skin produces less of these substances. But using a serum with growth factors, like PCA Skin Rejuvenating Serum ($85; dermstore.com), nets you fewer wrinkles and creases, according to research.
Think antioxidants. "Add a serum containing vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, and phloretin to your morning routine," says Dr. Zeichner. Applying it before SPF enhances its effectiveness and prevents free-radical damage. "This is especially important," he says, "as your skin's natural antioxidant defenses start to decline in your 40s."
Lather on moisturizer. Look for a cream with ingredients that plump the skin, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
8 of 10Getty Images
You may notice that forehead lines become deeper, 11s and crow's-feet are more prominent, and creases—so lovingly (not!) called marionette lines—start to form at the corners of the mouth. Plus, during menopause, the change in estrogen levels can reduce collagen production, leaving skin dry. With the right moves, though, you can improve your complexion.
9 of 10Getty Images
Your smooth-skin plan in your 50s
Find a derm you trust. She can make sure you're using the right products and tweak your nightly retinoid dose, if needed, so you get the best results.
Switch to a rich moisturizer. It's crucial to move to a thick emollient moisturizer loaded with hydrating ingredients, says Dr. Shamban. Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture ($75; sephora.com) packs hyaluronic acid and shea butter for a smoothing effect.
Hit the gym. Weight tends to creep up during menopause; yo-yo dieting weakens skin, causing it to sag. Dr. Downie's advice? Work out at least four days a week. Bonus: Exercise brings blood to the skin's surface, giving you an instant glow.
10 of 10Getty Images
Should you consider fillers?
So you've taken lifestyle tips as far as they can go. If you want more dramatic results, these fixes are just a needle away.
Botulinum Toxin. Dispensed under the names Botox, Dysport, and Xeomin, this neuromodulator turns off the signals that tell your facial muscles to tense and squint (it doesn't actually paralyze the muscles themselves, despite what you may have heard). A couple of shots in key areas (forehead, crow's-feet) will, after about a week, soften wrinkles by preventing you from making the movements that cause them. Your derm may apply a numbing cream first; some people get a tiny bruise or two afterward. You need a treatment every three to six months, but over time, your lines may become more shallow even when it wears off. Cost: about $300 and up per treatment.
Fillers. Hyaluronic-acid dermal fillers—sold as Juvéderm, Perlane, and Restylane—differ from Botox. While neuromodulators prevent you from making wrinkle-causing expressions, dermal fillers actually fill in existing wrinkles. They can also add volume to sagging cheeks and plump up undereye hollows. Your derm numbs the skin first, then injects filler where it's needed. Results are immediate and last one to two years. (If you're not happy, your MD can dissolve most of these fillers.) Over time, the fillers may stimulate collagen production, softening wrinkles. Cost: $800 and up per treated area.