'Retinol on repeat': A dermatologist on the 7 ways to age-proof your skin in your 20s.

Gen Z has blessed us with so many cultural revelations: accentuated under-eye bags, Euphoria, the demise of the side part - need I go on? But my favourite trend by far is the rise of science-based skincare gurus (think derms, chemists and aestheticians) who have a no bullsh*t approach to skincare products and the ingredients we’re putting on our skin. 

Among them is Brisbane-based derm Dr Davin Lim, one of the world’s leading experts for laser-treated skin disorders. And after bingeing his IG tips and reels for months, I decided to hit Dr Lim up to find out what your skincare routine should look like in your mid-20s and beyond.

Behold, 7 derm-approved tips to ensure you’re giving your skin the best protection possible.

Watch: 7 Ways To Improve Your Skin While Sleeping. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

1. Make SPF your ride or die.

Fun fact: sun exposure is the main culprit of premature ageing (read: sun spots, fine lines, uneven texture and tone - you know the drill) and is responsible for 90 per cent of visible signs of ageing in Australians. According to Dr Lim, one of the most common mistakes people in their 20s make is forgoing sunscreen. 

READ: I reviewed over 40 sunscreens in 2020. Here are 10 things I learned.

Apply and reapply UVA- and UVB-blocking sunscreen even if you’re not going outside - the incidental sun damage from sitting near a window or running a quick errand adds up over time! You’ll need half a teaspoon to your face, neck and décolletage combined. 

Sunscreen has had a major glow-up recently and there are so many variants on the market, but it’s best to opt for a cream applied after your moisturiser and before your makeup every morning then top it up throughout the day with a cream or mist (steer clear of aerosols!). 

READ: Sunscreen has had a glow-up. Here's 10 that are more than just SPF.

And although the effects of blue light are a controversially hot topic amongst skin experts, sunscreens containing zinc oxide, iron oxide or titanium oxide could help protect your skin from any potential harm blue light may cause. 


2. Stick to a minimalist skincare routine.

“The fewer products you can use, the better,” said Dr Lim. “Many products interact with each other, which can change their effectiveness and what they are actively doing to your skin.”

READ: 'I swapped my 13-step skincare routine for just 3 products. It changed my skin completely.'

When I say minimalist, I’m not talking “skincare smoothie” (mixing all your products in your hand then slathering them on your face) lazy; I’m talking the basic cleanser, toner (if you use one), actives, serum, moisturiser, oil and SPF in the AM. And if you use multiple actives, make sure you stick to a weekly routine to ensure the ingredient combos are beneficial for your skin.

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Dr Lim suggests keeping the cost minimal, too. “Many people in their 20s don’t use sunscreen or retinol, but spend money on too many other expensive products,” he explained. 

“Don’t overspend on vitamin C, moisturiser, or sunscreen. It’s unnecessary, as formulations don’t really matter with vitamin C or sunscreen, and moisturiser performs basic and few functions.” 

His top skincare picks? La Roche Posay, Obagi, Aspect DR, and The Ordinary.

3. Retinol on repeat.

ICYMI retinol, aka vitamin A, is THE age-proof active you need to be using in your 20s. 

READ: Literally every question you've ever had about retinol, answered.

It’s a targeted ingredient that’s designed to resurface the skin, so you’ll need to build up your skin’s tolerance over time.

SPF is particularly important when you’re using retinol, as the newly regenerated skin is more sensitive and prone to sunburn. But keep in mind that it does have the potential to cause chemical irritations when you use it with some other actives! 


“You can combine with niacinamide to reduce irritation and boost effects,” suggested Dr Lim. “If you have sensitive skin, start with a patch test, and opt for a low percentage retinol.” 

Hot tip from skin queen Kate Somerville: use your vitamin A according to the decade you’re in - twice a week in your 20s, three times in your 30s, and build up from there.

4. The stuff that goes in will show up on your skin.

Bright, hydrated skin starts from the inside out. If your diet isn’t balanced, you can’t expect your skin to be either. 

“Minimize your alcohol intake, stop smoking, start using retinol, and avoid excessive sugar intake,” said Dr Lim. “Your skin will reflect what you put in your body.” 

A big night out can take your body up to three days to recover from, as alcohol dehydrates your skin and causes inflammation. Cue: puffy eyes, blotchy complexion and skin that looks worse than you feel.  

When it comes to caring for your body and your skin, there’s one cardinal rule: water really is your BFF.

5. Eye creams aren’t worth the hype.

Hate to break it to you, but that $70 pot of eye cream that’s small enough to be sample size is about as effective as toner in the modern skincare routine - controversial, I know.

Eye cream basically works to hydrate the skin around your eyes, so while it may look smoother and plumper immediately after applying, there’s a reason why you won’t notice a huge difference the next morning. Although if the skin around your eyes, like mine, is looking a little worse for wear (I blame the late night TikTok rabbit hole) you may need a little extra boost.


READ: From fighting puffiness to banishing dark circles, these 11 eye creams legitimately work.

Derm-approved skin hack alert! “You can get the same effect using one quarter face cream, and three quarters moisturiser (yep, there’s a difference!),” said Dr Lim. 

“Eye creams contain very similar active ingredients as your face cream, but at a lower concentration, and they cost more.”

6. Leave the pimple popping and pore clearing to the professionals.

There’s something oddly satisfying about watching Dr Pimple Popper’s blackhead extraction videos (if you can stomach them), but they really should have a “DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME” disclaimer. Picking and popping your pimples can cause scarring, and besides, there’s a whole #acnepositivity movement right now. Embrace your spots and invest in some pimple patches instead.

READ: 17 celebrities who've openly shared their struggles with acne.

The same goes for at-home or DIY pore clearing, like those viral charcoal face masks and pore strips (big yikes). 

These literally rip off a layer of your skin, so obvi it’ll feel soft underneath, but they also strip your skin of natural oils and can cause serious damage. As a general rule, if your skincare tingles, burns or rips at your skin, it’s not for you sis.

“I wish people would stop ripping ‘pore clearing’ masks off their face,” said Dr Lim. “And leave the active and acidic ingredients to professionals.”

7. Your skin changes over time, and your routine should too!

“Listen to your skin,” said Dr Lim. “It changes as you age, so your skincare actives should too.” 

As your skin loses elasticity and becomes less hydrated, Dr Lim suggests swapping lightweight gel moisturisers for thicker creams, and decreasing your actives if your skin becomes irritated (as it often does with age). 

Here, Dr Lim’s skincare essentials, according to your age:

In your 20s & 30s: salicylic acid, ascorbic acid, niacinamide, filler or Botox if you want, chemical peels that your derm recommends periodically, laser resurfacing every few years.

In your 40s: laser resurfacing periodically, less Botox, more HA filler if you want.

In your 50s: lasers for texture and sun damage, less Botox but your face can still support filler if you want.

In your 60s: ablative lasers, and reduce your use of Botox/filler if you have been as your skin can no longer support it.

“If you take care of your skin and body in your younger years, ageing should be a breeze,” said Dr Lim. 

“If everyone used sunscreen and retinol from their 20s, I’d be out of a job!”

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

Georgia is a twenty-something freelance journalist who has been beauty-obsessed since the days of Lip Smackers and roll-on glitter. You can follow her on Instagram