Your Foolproof Skin Insurance Plan

It doesn't take much to look your best, no matter your number. Here's a concise (yet comprehensive) skin-care syllabus.

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Photo by Paul Westlake

Your complexion is at its most cooperative during this decade. You've probably (mostly) outgrown pesky teen pimples and are not yet shouldering the stress or hormonal imbalances (due to pregnancy or perimenopause) that can trigger adult acne in your 30s or 40s. You are also producing plenty of collagen, so your skin is plump and smooth, and any sun damage that you've suffered is probably still concealed well beneath your skin's surface. But this is the time to lay the groundwork for the future. "Being proactive about your anti-aging regimen can help delay the wrinkles written into your DNA by a decade or more," says Schultz. And remember: What you don't do in your 20s is as important as what you do do, says Gervaise Gerstner, a Manhattan dermatologist. That means no sunning, no smoking, and no falling into bed without washing your face.

Your Simple Skin-Care Strategy

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Exfoliating Cleanser
Although persistent acne may have subsided, your skin still has active oil glands, says Susan Taylor, a Philadelphia dermatologist, who recommends picking a cleanser with a chemical exfoliant, such as salicylic or glycolic acid, to clear away excess sebum and prevent clogged pores. Try Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam ($20, clinique.com).

Oil-Free Sunscreen
Daily application is a must. It is the single most effective way to prevent sun spots, says Gerstner—and preventing them is far easier (and cheaper) than removing them. To ensure that you're getting adequate protection, most dermatologists recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. And a friendly reminder: Reapply frequently if you're in direct sunlight, such as at the beach. Try Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42 ($32, shiseido.com).

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Gentle Cleanser
To avoid stripping skin of too much oil, which could actually trigger breakouts as well as irritation, Taylor suggests a hydroxy acid–free gel cleanser. Try Neutrogena Extra Gentle Cleanser ($7, amazon.com).

Exfoliating Treatment
Look for a serum or a night cream with skin-sloughing ingredients to continue to promote collagen production and help keep pores clear and your complexion radiant. Try SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream ($46, dermstore.com), BeautyRx Daily Exfoliating Therapy Serum with glycolic acid ($65, dermstore.com), or a prescription retinoid, such as Retin-A.