Lessons Of My 30s I Wish I’d Known In My 20s: Beauty
I remember, about a decade ago, thinking of my 30s as “old” and far off. Though of course I understood I would get older and age, time felt more like a friend than a foe then. It felt like I had all the time in the world to waste and to make mistakes.
Getting older as a woman in an exceptionally looks and youth-obsessed culture is an interesting experience. (Don’t even get me started on doing so as a reality TV “personality”.) I distinctly remember a time when, when asked my age, the response was a general "Oh, you're so young!". Over some time (though it feels overnight), that response has become more along the lines of, "Oh, well you look young" or "You don't look your age." Whether or not these responses are honest, I know they're meant as compliments. And of course, I'm not above wanting to look as good as I can, whatever my age. But truthfully, though I’m now the age I once naively thought I’d hate being, I’m increasingly alright with it. In fact, as clichéd as it sounds, I’m happier and more confident in my skin than I’ve ever been. I’ve experienced and accomplished a lot in the years that brought me here, and I’m proud of that. Thus, there’s a bit of a sting every time someone suggests that my age isn’t something one would want to “look”. As though, as a woman in her 30s, I’ve crossed some threshold where I should forever attempt to appear younger than I am.
For years now (yes, years!) I’ve been wanting to do a huge series of Lessons Of My 30s I Wish I’d Known In My 20s posts. My desire to do these posts came from what I’ve realized is a common theme in my feedback from you guys. First, I consistently get messages that many (though not all!) of you are younger and see me as some sort of surrogate, online “big sister”. (This is THE ULTIMATE compliment and I couldn’t be more honored and flattered!) The second theme tends to be asking for advice. I’ve received hundreds of (beautifully written!) emails over the years asking for advice about your hair, skin, relationships, nails, fitness, diets, boyfriends, confidence, and more. It got me thinking about the person I was 10-15 years ago and made me really want to write the sort of articles I would have wanted to read then.
So without further ado, here is the Beauty edition of Lessons Of My 30s I Wish I’d Known In My 20s. If you like this post, please let me know in the comments below, and if you have requests for other editions (I’m already mulling over Food/Diet and Relationships), let me know there as well!
The Rules Do Apply To You (Yes, You)
You—yes, YOU—are not invincible. It's not that being a drinker, smoker, or sun-worshipper can take their toll on you—they will take their toll on you. You see less of it these days, especially in NYC, but whenever I see a young person puffing away on a cigarette with abandon, my heart sinks a little. Even if you miraculously don't get very sick from those habits, their consequences will age you.
I remember, in my early 20s, planning to meet a then-boyfriend on vacation and going to a tanning bed in preparation. My justification to myself was that I wanted to "prepare" my skin for a tan so I didn't burn… or some other nonsense about getting vitamin D. But deep down I knew I was lying to myself. The real reason was, plain and simple, vanity: I wanted a tan so I looked better in a bathing suit. (For the record, I happily use self tanners now. My fave for quite some time has been Sephora’s Tinted Self-tanning Mist, though lately I’ve really been loving the travel-friendly L’Oréal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelettes.)
For the most part, I've really looked after myself. I've been wearing eye cream and sunscreen for as long as I can remember. Being a dentist’s daughter, I floss religiously (twice a day, to be precise). I've never smoked a cigarette. I’m pretty good about eating well and not drinking much. Now that I can see and feel the subtle changes in my body, I'm very grateful I had the foresight to make some wise decisions. But thinking of the dozen or so times I ever laid in a tanning bed, or the times I drank way too much, way too often, makes me cringe.
You constantly hear about the damaging effects of all these bad habits, but with youth comes a sort of invincibility complex. (I’ve been there—I know!) The sooner you accept that you are the rule and not the exception, the better.
Listen To Your Skin
I’ve always been into skincare and am on an endless quest to assemble that perfect bathroom “shelfie”: my personal best, tried-and-true, most effective collection of Holy Grail skincare products. I’ve tried countless toners, serums, scrubs, treatments, over-the-counter and prescription products. Some have done plenty for me, some have done zilch, some have done more harm than good.
My intention in including this is not to say to not try intriguing, promising products. It’s to say not one size fits all, and it ultimately serves you far more to notice the subtleties in your skin rather than trusting what’s on the side of a bottle, what you read online (even from me!), or even what comes out of your doctor’s mouth.
My personal example: I’ve spent a good 8 or 9 years using Retin-A, probably the most well-known prescription tretinoin. I don’t have sensitive skin, so I listened to my doctor that a 0.1% tretinoin would be a good fit. I gave it a good 6 or so years before finally realizing it just wasn’t for me. My skin was in a state of constant peeling, irritation, and general unhappiness. I’d read countless articles about the wonders of prescription retinol, so of course I wanted in on that. But I could never really make it over that elusive “hump”, to the point where my skin accepted what I was trying to force on it, arriving at the Promised Land of flawless, acne and wrinkle free skin.
I finally made the switch to 0.05% tretinoin a few years back, in a cream (versus a gel), which promised less drying and irritation. I’ve had more success with that, using it only 2-3 times a week, or every 3 nights or so. My skin has been MUCH happier. Further, the few times I’ve run out, I’ve dipped into an over-the-counter retinol I’d been hearing a ton about—further research must be done before I start recommending it!—and my skin was even happier. In short, despite my doctor’s recommendation, my skin’s happier with the milder stuff.
Another example is realizing my P50 + retinol is probably a bit too hardcore. I felt like my skin was pretty good, but when a facialist told me I was over-exfoliating, I’ve been cutting back on using the two at the same time. Just because my skin doesn’t completely freak out doesn’t mean it’s happy either.
Will I completely switch to OTC retinoids? I’m not sure yet. Do I have it all figured out? Hell, no. But I’m realizing that not being able to handle the most powerful or hyped products doesn’t make me or my skin a failure, or even mean I’m missing out on miracles. It just means I’m listening to what my body’s telling me. We tend to notice how our bodies react to the foods we consume, and with time and experience I’ve realized our skin should be no different with the products we apply.
Wash Your Hair Less
I spent my teens and early to mid twenties washing my hair every day, or nearly every day. I remember reading everywhere and being told to wash it less, but I shrugged it off as my hair already felt greasy on Day 2. (I couldn’t even fathom there being a Day 3 or 4!) When I finally gave into the hype and tried washing my hair less, it was tough for a month or so. But after finally getting past the phase where I felt disgusting, I realized my hair was distinctly less dry-feeling, arguably thicker, and had far less breakage. (Switching to a Wet Brush for wet hair also helped!) Further, this change finally got my formerly perpetually dry scalp under control. I’d thought washing often was keeping flakes at bay when it was actually just making things worse.
Obviously, dry shampoo is a must, and you WILL need it. My current favorites are Got2b’s “Rockin It” dry shampoo for texture and volume, and Klorane’s oat milk dry shampoo for a clean, non-residue feeling.
PS—For those of you who have mentioned to me in the past that you do a lot of cardio, sweat a lot, and therefore can’t imagine not washing your hair: I can’t speak from experience because I don’t really do the sorts of workouts which get me that sweaty (I’m more of a barre class girl, myself), but I’ve read up on this a lot and asked enough stylists to know that your new best friend just may be apple cider vinegar. Apparently you can use an ACV rinse (like this or this, or you can make your own) on your off days. If you do try this, let me know in the comments how it goes!
Lash Extensions Are Not Your Friend
I have a true love/hate relationship with lash extensions. The first time I tried them was at age 25 and I was immediately obsessed with them. I felt soooo beautiful. I justified the time, money, and considerable effort in maintaining them with the argument that, if something makes me feel so beautiful, isn't it worth it? But as I crossed the 2 week mark, even with diligent lash-babying, I felt myself get uglier and uglier as each lash felt out. My need to refill them eerily resembled desperation; it took precedence over everything else. After about 7 months of this cycle, of feeling and behaving like an addict needing a bimonthly fix, I forced myself to quit.
My argument for avoiding lash extensions is this: I was perfectly OK with my appearance before getting them, so why dedicate so much time, money, and energy to maintain something that, ultimately, makes me feel far less beautiful? After all, that lash extension “high” lasts about a day or two. Then, that high fades as this new standard of beauty just becomes your norm. But it’s only an illusion. After a mere 10-14 days, you feel downright terrible about yourself as those lashes begin to fall one by one. I clearly remember looking at my reflection and hating it. I remember thinking, “I was fine with my reflection before. Why am I doing this to myself?”
Perhaps my biggest gripe of all: Extensions really do negatively impact your natural lashes. Their growth gets stunted, they gradually become stubbier and sparser. So, not only do you feel less beautiful sans Bambi lashes, but there’s the double whammy of having worse natural lashes than you had to begin with. This is why I also have issues with any beauty procedure that actually worsens your natural situation, such as acrylic nails or hair extensions (which do damage your natural nails and hair), because it traps you in a vicious cycle of dependence.
Since quitting, I’ve explored and experimented with different lash serums. It took awhile—probably 6 or so months—for my natural lashes to bounce back to their original length and quantity. Now, with dedicated serum use, they’re better than they were to begin with. I’ll never have extension-like natural lashes, but I think I’m finally OK with that.
Full disclosure, since I know you guys appreciate candor: In exchange for social posts, I could never have to pay for eyelash extensions again. Thus, my argument isn’t even about cost. It’s about accepting and embracing your bare face. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not above curling my lashes and wearing mascara most days. I’m not above trying out microblading. I’m not above exploring things I’m curious about or that make me feel pretty. I don’t mean to sound like I’m on some high horse about the pursuit of beauty. And it’d be one thing if lash extensions lasted a year. But why voluntarily pay to FREQUENTLY put yourself on such a rollercoaster of loving and hating the reflection of your naked face?
For the record, I am in no way judging those who do get extensions. A good third or so of my girlfriends get them on the regular, so I know full well how engrained in women’s regimens they can be. To some, the beauty is worth the rollercoaster. As for me, the last time I got a set of extensions was just before my wedding day. I knew no lash strip or individual falsies would look as natural as extensions. When they began to fall out post-wedding, I consciously restricted myself from going back for more, from getting re-addicted, even though I did indeed feel tempted.
My rule for eyelash extensions is not: “They’re the devil, never do it.” Rather, it’s: “Save them for a special occasion, then quit while you’re ahead.”
Sleep On Your Back
There are actually many health reasons to re-think (and re-train!) the position in which you sleep, and when it comes to beauty, the case is indisputable: If you sleep on your side or your front, with your face squished in a similar fashion for 7-8 hours a night, creases can and will form. And not only that, but such creases will end up asymmetrical since it’s unlikely you sleep with your face squished in the same way evenly on each side, for the same number of hours on each side. You should be sleeping on your back. Period.
I was a side-sleeper for most of my 20s. When I started dating Andy I began observing how naturally and peacefully (and adorably, I might add) he sleeps on his back with his hands up over his head. I began mimicking the position, wondering if it would help keep me on my back. And lo and behold, it did! When my arms are down, I’m more likely to roll over onto my side. Even when just one arm is up, I remain on my back for most of the night. Another trick is to have a second pillow under your knees, keeping them in a natural, bent position. Not only does it help prevent any sleeping position-caused back pain, it works wonders for keeping me on my back.
As for accessories, I have tried a silk pillow case and liked it, though I didn’t consider it life-changing or anything. (I opted for this dupe over the well-known but expensive option out there right now.) I haven’t gone so far where I’ve bought a special pillow or anything, though I have heard good things about the Nurse Jamie pillow. (If anyone has used it I’d love your review in the comments!)
Less Is More
We’ve all heard this on repeat, but seriously, expressions like this tend to be famous because they’re true.
There was a time when I wouldn’t leave the house without my “face” on. I felt every aspect of my skincare and makeup regimen was indispensable, as though I would somehow be less beautiful for having forgotten eyeliner that morning. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that, beyond the time and effort that can be saved, very few people look better with a full face of makeup. Sure, for a special occasion or night out, it’s fun to go all out. And some days, you just really want to do a smoky eye or a bold lip, and trust me, I’m all about that! But it shouldn’t be your default. I genuinely don’t think one needs to contour every damn day.
This rule also applies to the extra lengths to which we’ll go for beauty. When I heard of a girlfriend’s experience with breast augmentation, where her doctor changed her mind on smaller, more proportionate implants in favor of the “Go Big Or Go Home” adage, I was horrified. I’m about as live-and-let-live about this stuff as it gets. (Seriously, whatever makes you happy.) BUT, I truly believe less is more. If you do want to “Go Big Or Go Home”, make sure it’s your decision. But for the most part, if you’re changing your appearance in any way, rarely will you regret veering on the light side. If a doc tells you you “need” Botox or filler, or encourages more than you’d had in mind, RUN. Too many, in the pursuit of physical beauty, become stereotypes of those in the pursuit of physical beauty. I’m not saying not to experiment or explore your options, but there’s a fine line between subtle tweaking and becoming the person people whisper has gone too far.
Finally, not only does it automatically ooze confidence to go with less, the bonus is you legitimately look younger. That’s the funny thing about makeup and injectables; somewhere along the way, people begin to look older rather than younger, insecure rather than confident, effortful rather than effortless. I’m a total proponent of YOLO and having fun with beauty, but it’s all about enhancing what we’ve got, not transforming it completely.
SHOP THE POST
That’s it for the beauty rules I wish I’d known sooner!
I’ve shared mine, so please share yours with me in the comments below…
Finally, let me know if there are other topics for Lessons Of My 30s I Wish I’d Known In My 20s you’d like to see here!