The most important skincare products for every age

The most important skincare product to use by age, recommended by a dermatologist . (Getty/File)

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You’re at the checkout counter with your basket of skincare products, excited to go home and stock up your bathroom cabinet when the total price of your purchase appears on the screen. Ouch. That’s going to hurt the bank account.

Effective skincare does not have to cost a fortune but when money is tight, priorities begin to shift. We want to make sure we’re spending on the products that truly matter.

We spoke to Dr. Renita Ahluwalia, Medical and Cosmetic Dermatology Lecturer at the University of Toronto and Lead Dermatologist at the Canadian Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Centre to get her advice on the essential skincare products to focus on by decade. For everyone, no matter their age, she says that the basics of a good skincare routine include cleansing, moisturizing and wearing sunscreen – but where to prioritize your dollars or invest in add-on products will differ as you age.

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Here are the essential skincare products to use by age, plus budget-friendly and splurge-worthy products to choose from.

In Your Teens

During these early years, it’s important to establish a good routine to care for your skin. This means getting in the habit of cleansing, moisturizing and wearing sunscreen. Setting this foundation will reap benefits years down the road so that your skin in your twenties and beyond will thank you. If you’re more prone to acne, as is common among teens, or have oily skin related to hormonal changes, Ahluwalia recommends using a cleanser that has an active ingredient in it like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or a product with a little bit of benzol peroxide to help manage and prevent breakouts.



A great fragrance-free non-drying cleanser for young skin that helps clear pimples, prevent breakouts while containing beneficial ceramides to help maintain the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
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A targeted, exfoliating fragrance-free cleanser that’s formulated to help remove excess oils, decongest pores while helping to reduce pigmentation and create smoother skin.


In Your 20s

In your twenties is the time to invest in high-quality sunscreen. Sun damage is a major extrinsic aging factor and the effects of more time spent outdoors may start to develop at this age. To prevent sun-related pigmentation, Ahluwalia recommends using mineral-tinted sunscreen. The tint, made of iron oxide, is a visible light filter, which can help prevent discolouration of the skin. “Investing in a high-quality SPF now can really pay off in the future,” says Ahluwalia.



A sunscreen that can soften the look of blemishes and hyperpigmentation while protecting against UVA and UVB rays and blue light. Available in a universal tint that, according to LaRoche Posay, can match most skin tones.
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A powerful sunscreen that’s hypoallergenic, water resistant, antioxidant-rich, free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, oil, dyes and fragrances – and can protect against environmental aggressors such as UVA and UVB rays, blue light, infrared radiation and pollution.


In Your 30s

“I would definitely add a retinol in your thirties” says Ahluwalia. Retinol can help with skin cell turnover and the synthesis of collagen, reducing pigmentation, fine lines and can also help manage breakouts, which can continue into your thirties and forties. If you have a drug benefit plan, you can ask your dermatologist to prescribe a high-quality prescription-grade retinol, which can help save costs.

Ahluwalia also recommends using an antioxidant serum, such as a vitamin C, in your thirties. Many of these products are sold at a higher price point due to the quality of the ingredients and their efficacy – meaning, this is one item that is necessary to splurge on. If you find a cheap vitamin C serum, chances are it won’t be effective. “You want one that actually absorbs into the skin and that’s actually going to neutralize the free radicals from your environment,” says Ahluwalia.

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A retinol cream serum that is gentle on the skin and contains added ingredients for soothing hydration and to lock in moisture.



A vitamin C serum with advanced protection against environmental pollution and helps to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, increase firmness and brightens skin complexion.

In Your 40s

Through your forties, hydration starts to decrease so adding more hydrating products to your skincare routine can benefit. These include moisturizers and serums with hyaluronic acid and ceramide, which can help mimic the skin’s protective barrier to maintain hydration. Particularly in the winter when the air is dry, hydrating products with potent ingredients can help combat dryness and dullness and keep skin looking plump and fresh.

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Luckily, there are many options for hydrating products to choose from and at many different price points.

This refreshing gel-cream facial cream helps replenish hydration, providing up to 24 hours of hydration. It contains three essential ceramides to hep lock in skin moisture and restore the skin’s protective barrier.
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A luxe serum that contains a multitude of hydrating ingredients, plus a host of benefits including targeting pigment issues, evening skin tone, repairing the skin barrier, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, offering defense against environmental damage and enhancing skin radiance.


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In Your 50s

Similar to your forties, in your fifties, the focus will be on hydration – as well as watching for skin concerns and adding products to target issues as needed. For example, if you’re noticing more redness in your skin, then you could try a product with azelaic acid to calm the skin, says Ahluwalia. If you’re noticing more browns in the skin, then you may want to try a product with tranexamic acid, or a prescription product with hydroquinone, to help reduce pigmentation, she says.

Using retinol in your fifties will continue to be beneficial to help with collagen stimulation and pro-aging benefits. Products with exosomes, a new pro-aging technology that has only recently become available in Canada, may also improve the look of skin, says Ahluwalia. It’s best to talk to your dermatologist to get specific recommendations for your skin.


An affordable gel serum that helps visibly reduces redness, while helping soothe the skin, reduce irritation and leaving a more even complexion.
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A daily dark spot corrector clinically proven to reduce the appearance of skin discolouration, including stubborn brown patches, to create more even skin tone.


In Your 60s and Older

In your sixties, seventies and older, the skin’s ability to hold moisturize decreases dramatically. Your skin may become very dry, cracked and brittle because the skin barrier’s ability to hold moisture is less effective. The skin may also not be able to tolerate retinol, which can dry out the skin further. Through your sixties and older, Ahluwalia recommends maximizing hydration with moisturizers. This may involve using the skin flooding technique where you’re layering the skin with different types of moisturizers – humectants, emollients and occlusives – to “flood” the skin with added hydration.


When layering moisturizers, add this thick healing ointment on the face and neck last before bedtime to lock in moisturizing and wake up with more supple skin by morning.
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A product that was designed to aid in pre- and post-skin rejuvenating procedures, it’s gentle enough to use in daily skincare to help calm damaged skin and reduce redness, while strengthening the skin’s natural ability to produce new, healthy elastin and collagen.

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