Ask a Beauty Editor: What Is the Best Skincare Routine for Your 40s?

Plus the best anti-aging products to use through the decade.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

A woman applying skincare on her face
Getty Images

Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our weekly series, Ask a Beauty Editor, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, haircare, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers. Tune in every Tuesday and submit your own burning beauty questions here for a chance to be featured.

What's the best skincare routine as I'm about to turn 40! I definitely use sunscreen...anything else? Thanks! - @aliciamarie_z

I've talked about preventative skincare in your 30s and a rigorous anti-aging routine in your 50s. Now it's time to talk about the sweet spot in between.

Derms say we lose 1 percent of our collagen every year from the age of 20, which means that by the time we reach our 40s, our collagen supply is running really low. In fact, I'll make the case that your 40s is actually the most important decade for anti-aging because it's when your face hits the aging tipping point.

"This is when aging appears the most dramatically, becoming thin, wrinkled, dry, and dull," says Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "As estrogen production declines during perimenopause, the skin's fibroblasts produce less collagen and elastin. This leads to a thinner epidermis, reduced hydration, compromised barrier function, and loss of elasticity."

In other words, your skincare routine has some work to do. I'm super happy to hear you're already using sunscreen, not just because that means you're covered on that front, but also because I can finally skip that familiar lecture. Let's shift our focus towards promoting collagen and elastin, the mighty duo of proteins that keeps your complexion plump.

I'm going to simplify things by tackling the side effects of aging in your 40s one by one: thinness, wrinkles, dryness, and dullness.

The good news: Thin skin and wrinkles are two birds that can be taken down with one stone, and that stone is retinol. Retinol, a vitamin A derivative that acts directly on the DNA in skin cells, is an anti-aging powerhouse. When applied topically, it can increase skin cell turnover and collagen production.

Dryness can be combated with hyaluronic acid, a substance that naturally occurs in our bodies and works to both attract and seal water into the skin. Dr. King adds that it's important to use ceramides and emollients in your moisturizer, which will help make your skin baby butt-smooth.

And last but not least, shed away dullness with regular exfoliation two to three times a week. Though it's important to note that skin naturally sheds on its own, this cycle can vary greatly depending on your age. And unfortunately, it's not working so well in your 40s. Stimulating the skin renewal process by getting rid of dead skin—either by physical or chemical (i.e., glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid) exfoliation—will help you get your glow going again.

Now that we have the building blocks for a stellar skincare routine, let's hone in on the specifics. Keep scrolling to see which products you should be using.

Cleanser (morning and night)

Fresh Soy Face Cleanser


You don't want to strip your skin of its natural oils, as they help to keep your complexion soft and plump. The key is using a cleanser that has calming ingredients such as aloe, cucumber, or soy, and sticking to textures that are milky or creamy. I highly recommend Fresh Soy Face Wash; not only is it pH-balanced, it also has cucumber, rosewater, and amino acid–rich soy proteins that gently melt away makeup and grime. Although it's a beauty editor sin to say any skincare product is truly universal, I will say that I've recommended it to sensitive, acne-prone, and combination skinned people, and they all got hooked.

Light exfoliator (2-3 times a week)

Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder


It's a bit pricey, I know, but Tatcha's Rice Polish is honestly worth the price tag. The water-activated exfoliant is made with nourishing Japanese rice bran that magically transforms to a creamy foam when combined with water. Most importantly, it doesn't contain damaging microbeads that cause tiny tears in your skin. However, if that's too high of a price point, a more affordable alternative is La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub ($20;, which provides just the right amount of grit without feeling scratchy.

Serum (at night)

Ponds Rejuveness Skin Tightening Serum


A serum is the best way to get your share of targeted skincare ingredients, and the main one here is retinol. Dr. King recommends Pond's Rejuveness Skin Tightening Serum, which is formulated with vitamin B3 and pro-ceramides alongside retinol to help counteract any potentially irritating side effects. If your skin still has a hard time tolerating the ingredient, try some hacks to combat retinol irritation.

Eye cream (morning and/or night)

CeraVe Eye Repair Cream


Your undereyes are the thinnest part of your face—and the place that usually starts showing signs of aging first. Look for emollient formulas or one with ceramides, like this affordable pick from CeraVe. It was developed in conjunction with dermatologists (so you know it's the real deal), and contains three essential ceramides—along with HA—to repair and restore your protective skin barrier.

Face cream/night mask (at night)

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask


You should be applying a lightweight moisturizer in the morning, but at night, thicker consistencies can play to your benefit. The products you work into your bedtime routine play a pivotal role, acting as a support system for your skin as it regenerates. In other words, this is your chance to get your hydration fix. A thick night cream loaded with hyaluronic acid will help seal in that moisture. If you really want to kick it up a notch, consider swapping your go-to night cream for an overnight mask a few times per week. More concentrated with skin-loving, youth-boosting ingredients, it's a choice way to really make the most of those precious hours of shut-eye.

True to the name, this Laneige pick uses a special mineral-rich water to quench parched skin, and works effectively on all skin types. Bonus points for the special scent—a mix of orange flower, rose, and sandalwood—that's meant to help you relax and drift off to sleep.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles