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Let’s face it, navigating skincare at any age can feel a bit like a minefield, but once you’re in your 30s, the process can be downright overwhelming. Do you give in to the temptation to try that influencer-backed product that promises to eradicate your fine lines? What about specific ingredients like retinol or hyaluronic acid? Are they worth the hype and what do they even do? And can someone please tell us once and for all: How often should we really be exfoliating?

Alas, skincare shouldn’t be that complicated, nor should it be as intimidating as it is. Despite all the “guidelines” and “rules” that are thrown at us (especially as we get older), ultimately, it’s about what works best for your skin. (We know, shocking.)

We spoke to celebrity esthetician, Joshua Ross, a sought after skincare expert and founder of SKINLAB in Los Angeles to help us wade through all the B.S. and coach us through what our skincare routines should look like in our 30s—and it’s much simpler than you probably thought. Read on for the full rundown.

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How should a skincare routine for someone in their 30s vary from the routine they had previously?

You are not the same person you were in your teens and your 20s, and neither is your skin. Although you may experience some of the same concerns you did when you were younger (the three most common being the start of fine line and wrinkles, pigmentation and acne) the way you treat them in your 30s is different.

“The skin concerns many women see in their 30s, especially when it comes to acne, is more stress-related, hormonal and inflammatory,” He explains. “You must break the habit of going to CVS to get a benzoyl peroxide and salicylic wash and acne this, acne that because those will be way too harsh for thirty-year-old skin. Instead, focus on gently detoxifying the skin and reach for creamy cleansers, soothing mists instead of antiseptic toners, and nothing too fragrant, all of which will reduce inflammation within the skin, making treatment much more manageable and effective.”

Is it too late to start a skincare routine in your 30s?

It’s never too late to start taking better care of your skin. If you are a newbie, however, it’s important to go into things with reasonable expectations about what at-home products are truly capable of. “It really depends on the state of your skin when you start implementing new products,” says Ross. “If you haven’t begun to see signs of aging yet, you can definitely maintain the quality and function of your skin when you start a regimen. But if you already see damage, it probably won’t make that much of a difference, which is when it may be time to see a professional. It’s their job to vet different products and just because one thing works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. The pros can help you navigate that.”

Should our skincare routine change as we go from our early 30s to our later 30s?

Yes…and no. “What’s most important is addressing what your skin is presenting at a certain time, not delegating a set routine for certain years,” explains Ross. “No one is going to have a skin type that follows them through all phases of life, so if you are experiencing sensitive, dry skin for three months out of the year, that’s when you use gentler, more hydrating products. There are so many factors that can affect your skin, especially in your 30s: a change in environment, hormones, stress, lifestyle, and when those factors change, your skin can change, too, so you just need to alter your routine along with it.”

Do you have to keep a separate morning and night routine?

The short answer? Yes. “For your morning routine, you really want to focus on applying products that are heavy in antioxidants and UV protection,” says Ross. Read: Vitamin C serums and sunscreen. “In the evening, you want to focus on your hero ingredients, which target specific concerns, such as anti-aging, pigmentation and acne treatments.”

OK, so what is a good skincare routine for your 30s?

For the beginner:

If you’re new to skincare, suddenly slathering your skin in products that all target different problem areas is a major no-no. For example, introducing retinoids to skin that has never been exposed to it before, on top of other active treatments like glycolic acid can cause your skin to go haywire. “Before you focus on reversing signs of aging and treating active acne, you must focus on improving the overall health of your skin,” Ross states. This means gentle cleansers and moisturizers, and of course, sunscreen.

For the intermediate:

Since you’ve already been working on maintaining the health of your skin, now is the time to start introducing products that can aid in its overall appearance. Search for gentle toners that help rebalance the pH of your skin and treatments packed with peptides and antioxidants to firm and brighten the overall texture. “Peptides are amazing because they’re amino acids, which help protect the skin and stimulate collagen production, which leads to younger-looking skin,” says Ross. “Antioxidants, like vitamins A, C and E, help to increase cell turnover, protect the skin from free radicals and the sun, as well as protect the skin barrier from further damage.”

For the advanced:

If you have a firm grasp on your routine, it’s time to target specific areas of concern and rejuvenate your overall complexion. Add in an eye cream or an eye serum (Ross prefers the latter as a serum’s consistency is less likely to cause milia), a retinol, an exfoliator, and feel free to start experimenting with tools. If this is your first time using retinol, make sure you start with a lower dose—around .03 percent. This way, you can build up your skin’s tolerance and avoid causing irritation. Lastly, Ross’s strongest recommendation is to exfoliate with care. “By exfoliating daily, you’re regularly putting extra stress on your skin,” he says. “So, I don’t recommend using at-home chemical exfoliators that are too harsh for regular use. Instead, look for powder exfoliators that will softly scrub the skin or products with enzymes that break down and slough away dead skin and are gentle enough for daily use." Noted.

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