8 Big Skin Mistakes I Made In My 20s

When I turned 32 last year, I panicked got serious about nailing down an effective anti-aging skin care routine. I did a lot of research, pored over tons of product reviews, and discovered a handful of really helpful resources online that helped me make sense of overwhelming beauty aisles and identify the holes in my daily routine.

In the process, I discovered that despite having some good established habits (like never forgetting sunscreen) I had plenty of bad ones, too. For years I thought my skin was sensitive and dry, but it turns out, it was just stressed, irritated and unbalanced. When I stopped committing these 10 skin care sins last year, it was exciting to see visible results and watch my skin improve; it’s much more even in texture and tone, it’s balanced and hydrated, and I have way fewer breakouts that heal more quickly than before.

I’m working on posts about my complete AM and PM skin care routines with all my favorite products, but in the meantime, let’s go through the big skin mistakes I made in my 20s and learn together from the error of my ways.

1. Washing my face in the shower.

I washed my face in the shower for years in an attempt to shave some time off my AM routine. (We all know how I feel about mornings.) My face was always bright red and tight/itchy afterward, which should’ve been a sign to quit it, but I just threw on some moisturizer and called it good. It was not good.

What I didn’t know: hot water dehydrates skin and dilates blood vessels and capillaries, which can cause redness and aggravate conditions like sensitivity and rosacea. As if that wasn’t bad enough, harsh detergents in your shampoo can also slide down onto your face and cause more dryness and irritation.

Now I do what Caroline Hirons says: “Stand with your back to the shower and your chin raised – like the shower has greatly offended you,” and I save my face washing for after the shower, at my bathroom sink, as the good Lord intended.

2. Skipping cleanser in the morning.

Once upon a time, I read that Gwyneth Paltrow just splashes her face with water in the morning, so I figured anything good enough for Gwen had to be good enough for me.

Here’s what: we sweat and shed skin cells in our sleep, and that junk needs to be properly washed off in the morning before we pile makeup and other products on top of it. I am reformed, and now I stick to gentle milk and gel cleansers in the AM; this cleansing gel is my current favorite.

3. Not double-cleansing at night.

I talked a bit about double cleansing in this post, but here’s the gist: sunscreen, makeup primers, and long-wearing foundations are formulated to stay put on our skin, and a quick swipe with a makeup wipe is not enough to get your face clean. If you think you’re allergic to sunscreen because it’s causing breakouts, it may be that you’re not removing it properly and it’s taking up residence in your pores.

Double-cleansing ensures that every trace of SPF and makeup are gone, leaving your skin balanced, hydrated, and better able to absorb the next steps in your routine. Step 1: Use a good cleansing balm, cleansing oil or micellar water to break down SPF and makeup, and towel it off with a clean washcloth and warm water. Step 2: Follow up with a second [non-foaming!] cleanser to remove any remaining debris and get your skin balanced and prepped for your treatment products.

I love rich plant-based balms and cleansing oils for my second cleanse; they leave my face squeaky-clean and hydrated, and feel like a spa treatment at the end of a long day. I find that the more my skin care ritual feels like a luxurious pampering session, the more likely I am to stick to it every day.

4. Skipping chemical exfoliants.

Learning about chemical exfoliators was, by far, the biggest game-changer in my good skin game.  These are alpha-hydroxy (AHA) and beta-hydroxy (BHA) acid products that contain glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids, and are most often applied after cleansing in the form of a toner or serum that you don’t rinse off. They’re your glow-getting BFFs.

The most helpful explanation I read about exfoliating acids goes something like this: dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of the skin and mingle with sebum to form a cement-like layer that leaves the complexion dull, flaky and uneven; acids go in and break up the gluey dead skin cells and slough them away to reveal radiant skin and promote healthy cell regeneration. One of my favorite YouTubers, Stephanie Nicole, made a comprehensive video about exfoliating acids that explains the science behind AHAs and BHAs and how using them can give you better skin.

If you’re a beginner in your 20s or 30s, I think these glycolic pads from Target are a great place to start. But be warned: when you first start using acids, the pore purge is real.

5. Over-exfoliating with aggressive scrubs.

Since I didn’t know about chemical exfoliators, I relied on physical exfoliation in the form of scrubs. I shudder to think of all the mornings I spent in a scalding shower pummeling my face with a drugstore apricot scrub filled with walnut shells to try to improve my dry, dull skin. *Palm to forehead*

Harsh scrubs create micro-scratches on the surface of the skin that are vulnerable to bacteria, which can lead to breakouts. Newer iterations of exfoliating scrubs contain tiny plastic microbeads that are gentler on the skin but a nightmare for the environment, so I try to avoid them and let my AHA and BHA products do all the work.

The only scrubbing I do now is on my bod, and I stick to natural sugar scrubs and this skin-clarifying body wash with exfoliating jojoba beads for that job.

6. Using heavily-fragranced products.

See: Why fragrance-free products are best for everyone.

7. Missing an antioxidant-rich vitamin C serum.

Like sunscreen, vitamin C is a never-too-early-to-start skin care staple. Its antioxidant properties shield your skin from pollution and the elements, and a well-formulated ascorbic acid can also help brighten skin tone, diminish spots, and increase firmness.

This is a place in your daily routine that’s worthy of investment because the results are worth every penny; I’m on my second bottle of the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum and I recommend it to all my girlfriends IRL when they ask about my favorite skin care products.

Vitamin C gets an extra benefit boost when it’s paired with other antioxidants, so I like to follow up my C-Firma with a light moisturizer and an antioxidant-rich sunscreen.

8. Not knowing that packaging matters.

Most antioxidants and beneficial skin care ingredients are sensitive to heat, light and air; when exposed to these elements, they break down and lose their effectiveness. If you buy a $100 serum that’s housed in a clear glass bottle with a dropper, or a vitamin C moisturizer in a jar, it loses effectiveness every time you open it.

Now I look for products that are packaged in opaque tubes, air-restrictive bottles, or pump containers that help the ingredients remain stable; and as an extra precaution, I store all my skin care products in a drawer instead of leaving them out on the counter.

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  1. 2.21.18
    UnderTheMakeup said:

    To be fair, you’ve just lifted most of these, almost word for word from Caroline Hirons website……

    • 4.16.18

      I’m sorry for the delayed response; I missed this comment somehow. I’ve definitely learned a LOT from Caroline — I linked to her site in this post as well as my double-cleanse post that I referenced here — as well as others mentioned in this post like Beautypedia.com, Stephanie Nicole (on YouTube) and lots of other beauty blogs and vlogs. I’d never want to give the impression that I stole content from another blogger without giving credit where credit is due, and any similarities in wording are purely unintentional.

      Thank you for pointing this out to me so I can be more aware of how I present this kind of info in the future.

  2. 1.29.18
    Carolina Jenkins said:

    Great Information ! I learn so much from your blogs!

  3. 10.13.17

    I read this yesterday and realized after I read I was doing everything wrong too! Being a beauty blogger and getting sent tons of products weekly you would think I would know.. especially washing my face in the hot shower in the morning. my face would always be red and dry and my breakouts would be red and irritated. This morning I washed my face with cool water and it seemed to help. I also think its because I test so many products my face breaks out so I am trying to limit it down to just a few products I like. Thanks for the tips!

  4. 8.27.17
    Erica said:

    This is great. I’m 31 and need to get on the ball with a good skin care program. I have very fair skin with freckles, which I love- but I’ve been hesitant to try a vitamin c serum for fear it will lighten my freckles! My freckles are part of my identity and I don’t want to lose them. Have you noticed this?

  5. 6.12.17

    It’s funny because I just turned 20 this year and I’m literally guilty of ALL of these! I opened this post thinking I would only relate to a couple of points but I didn’t realize I was such a sinner.

  6. 6.10.17

    I’ve been doing some of these no-no’s 😱 Thanks for the info!

  7. 6.9.17
    Carolina said:

    So much I learn from you,thanks for sending this great information !

  8. 6.9.17

    Very helpful and straight to the point!

  9. 6.8.17
    Paige T said:

    I’ve been violating a few of these….thanks for the info!

  10. 6.8.17
    Alex said:

    How do you handle re-applying sunscreen throughout the day?

    • 6.12.17

      I’m honestly kind of bad it at in my day-to-day. When I know I’ll be in the sun for stretches of time, I usually skip makeup and just reapply sunscreen as needed throughout the day. But on most days when I know I’ll be indoors, I apply it in the AM as a last step in my skin care routine.

      There are new sprays and portable refillable powder brushes with SPF for touch-ups throughout the day that I’d like to try from brands like Dr. Dennis Gross and Peter Thomas Roth. I’ll do some research and try them out and report back!

  11. 6.7.17
    Anonymous said:

    This is so helpful, thank you! I am guilty of almost all of that! I look forward to your upcoming routine posts.

  12. 6.7.17
    Hattie B said:

    Good tips! Thankfully I have already started avoiding a few of these :-) H x

  13. 6.7.17

    very useful

  14. 6.7.17

    Great post! I’m in my 50’s and I have to admit, a lot of skin aging also has to do with genetics. Like my mother when she was in her 50’s, my skin doesn’t look its age. Of course, good skin care regimen is also important and will make your skin even nicer.

  15. 6.7.17

    Thank you for these tips! I have been trying to be better about my face this year and even though I already see results, I know that it could always be better. I thank you!

  16. 6.7.17
    ctangfl said:

    thanks for this Keira :)

  17. 6.6.17

    Ok. I love skincare and I work at a skincare company, and, shamefully, so much of this was news to me. But, this is such a great post! Thank you for the extensive info; I can’t wait for your posts on your full AM and PM routines. Bookmarked! :)

  18. 6.6.17

    Thanks for this.
    I’m in my last year of my 20s [crying face], and am still guilty of a few things you have mentioned. Never too late to pick up some good habits though.

  19. 6.6.17

    Very helpful!

  20. 6.6.17
    Lee said:

    Thanks for sharing these tips!