The Most Affordable Skin Care Routine for Your 30s

Ah, the Dirty Thirties. Our 30s call for a targeted skin care routine. If you haven’t followed a skin care routine, the time to start is now, in your 30s. Why? The chaos of our twenties is (hopefully) over, but the effects of previous bad decisions are becoming visible now. So follow this affordable skin care routine to help improve your skin.

Hello, acne scars and giant pores! Our 30s are a time of increased stress. Excess cortisol can trigger gnarly inflammation responses in skin. Oh, and did I mention the hormones? They’re going wack and slowing down! Hormonal disruptions can lead to acne and pigmentation issues. The slowing of growth hormones means skin isn’t repairing itself as easily (so skin issues are more visible, for longer). These are the years when fine lines and wrinkles start appearing, too. Our 30s are like the perfect storm for skin issues.

But don’t despair! Skin can still be repaired, growth hormones quickened, and fine lines (somewhat) smoothed. If that’s something that interests you, read on to discover (what I consider to be) the best skin care routine for our 30s.

affordable skin care routine 30s

What Should I Do to My Skin in My 30s?

We all know that skin care is a necessity, but it can be difficult to navigate what products are best for your skin type when you’re in your 30s. It’s important to look at the ingredients of each product and find out if there are any harmful chemicals in them that could disrupt hormones or cause irritation.

Along with picking out the right products, it’s also important to pay attention to your diet and lifestyle habits. Eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and being mindful about how much alcohol you drink will help maintain healthy levels of collagen production which helps keep skin looking youthful.

Skin Care Routine Order

First, there are two routines: morning and night. And they should be different. Well, the same order, but different products (and if you’re removing make-up, slightly more steps in the evening). The basic order of a daily 30’s skin care routine is:

  • Wash
  • Tone
  • Serum (including eye serum*)
  • Moisturizer (including eye cream*)

*eye skin care products should always be applied with the ring finger, as it provides the least amount of pressure for such a delicate area.

Mind you, I don’t use just one serum and moisturizer. I do more of a 10-Step Korean Beauty Routine, with (slightly) fewer products. Skin care products like serum and moisturizer should be applied in order from thinnest to thickest.

I’m not particularly loyal when it comes to face soap. I’ll use whatever came free in a gift set or a gentle drugstore brand (like CeraVe). I’ve been using Clinique toner for years, but, truthfully, I don’t like the amount of denatured alcohol in this product. I’ll soon be switching to the PH Toner from Inkey List. Ingredients, not brand names, are what inspire my loyalty in regards to moisturizers and serums.

Skin  Care Routine 30s face
Bare faced and proud.

What Does Toner Do for Your Face?

Toner doesn’t get enough love and is seen as a throw-away step. It’s absolutely not.

Toner can be both a moisturizing and an exfoliating product. Toners that add moisture or antioxidants are for the morning. Ones that strip away dead skin cells, pollutants, and debris are for the evening.

Morning Skin Care Routine in Your 30s

I’ve seen recommendations to just splash water on your face in the morning. Sure, if you’re eighteen. In our 30s, we’re often using night time products that encourage skin cell turnover and regeneration. It’s important to wash those ingredients (and the dead skin cells that accompany them) off.

In the mornings, I wash my face with (clean!) hands. These are the products I use to wash and tone in the morning:

These are the morning skin treatment products I use, in order:

  • Ultimate Hydration Essence in Energizing Vitamin C & Bergamot from Olay
  • Advanced Genifique Youth Activating Concentrate from Lancôme (serum)
  • Advanced Genifique Yeux Light Pearl Eye and Lash Concentrate from Lancôme (eye serum)
  • Hydrolific Serum from QRx Labs
  • Moisture Surge Eye 96-Hour Hydro-Filler Concentrate from Clinique (eye serum)
  • Clinique ID (I use the orange cartridge) Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly from Clinique
  • Advanced Genifique Yeux from Lancôme (eye cream)
  • Beach Defense Water+Sun Protection Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 70 from Neutrogena (but I’m looking to switch, leave your suggestions in the comments)

Star Ingredient: Vitamin C (A and E are great, too)

best skin care products for 30s
Masking it up, yo.

Almost any skin ailment can be improved by the potent antioxidant Vitamin C. Uneven skin tone, fine lines, rough texture, acne scars, and/or general dullness? Slap some Vitamin C on it! Vitamin C neutralizes the free radicals that damage skin. As dermatologist Patricia Wexler explains, “Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin’s natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells.” Vitamin C is the perfect super ingredient for stressed and more easily damaged 30’s skin.

Evening Skin Care Routine in Your 30s

The focus in the evening are cleansing and repairing. If you’re a regular make-up wearer, I cannot stress the importance of cleansing enough. Have you heard of double cleansing? Well, honey, I triple cleanse. It’s imperative to get all the make-up off.

In your 30s, make-up remover wipes simply don’t cut it. Sleeping with a lick of make-up remaining on the face is a cardinal sin. The longer gunk (dead skin cells, sweat, pollutants, and makeup) is on skin, the bigger the pore. And crater pores are a sign of aging no one thinks about until it’s too late. During sleep, skin is attempting to repair itself. Gunk covered skin struggles to repair. And anti-aging products cannot penetrate dirty skin.

In the evenings, I wash my face with a brush. These are the products I use to wash and tone in the evening:

  • Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser from Clinique (make-up removing soap)
  • Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush from Clinique (to cleanse face)
  • Creme-Mousse Confort Comforting Cleansing Creamy-Foam with Rose Extracts from Lancôme
  • 2-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths from Equate Beauty (triple cleansing all star)
  • Clarifying Lotion Twice A Day Exfoliator 4 from Clinique (exfoliating toner)

These are the evening skin treatment products I use, in order:

  • Peptide Complex Serum from QRx Labs
  • Eye Reboot Serum from QRx Labs
  • Differin Gel (over the counter retinol gel)
  • Retinol eye cream from Equate Beauty (generic version of RoC Retinol Correction eye cream), only on under-eyes
  • Anti-Wrinkle and Firming Eye Cream from Equate Beauty, only on upper eyelids
  • Neck Firming Cream from QRx Labs
  • Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator from Clinique
  • Cils Booster XL from Lancôme, on eyelashes and eyebrows

Star Skin Care Ingredient: Retinol

differin gel anti aging skin care routine 30s
I swear by this stuff.

Retinol (and retinoids) is literally the only skin care ingredient proven to reverse sun damage and signs of aging. Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that decreases fine lines, evens skin color, improves texture, tightens pores, and stimulates blood flow and collagen production. These properties are desperately needed in 30+ skin.

You can go hardcore and get a retinoid prescription from a dermatologist. But its weaker counterpart, retinol, can be found in many affordable and accessible over the counter products. Differin Gel was previously available only by prescription. Now it can be found at Wal-Mart. RoC, Neutrogena, and Olay are other drugstore lines that include retinol.

Retinol can irritate the skin. At first, I used waaay too much. The correct amount is pea-sized or less. Rub it lightly on your fingertips, and bounce the product on forehead, cheeks, and chin. Avoid the eye area. To build tolerance, use retinol every third night, then every other night, and finally, every night.

Weekly Skin Treatments

I do weekly nourishing and exfoliating skin treatments. In my book, these treatments count as self care. I use sheet masks for nourishing treatments. My exfoliating treatments consist of chemical exfoliation, home microneedling, and shaving my face.

Why Is Exfoliating Important for the Skin?

I’m a bit obsessed with exfoliating treatments, and for good reason. Regular exfoliation:

  • unclogs pores
  • stimulates collagen synthesis
  • prevents acne
  • evens skin tone
  • helps other skin care products penetrate more deeply
  • increases cell turnover
  • boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage

I’ve already talked about how growth hormones and cell turnover slow as we age. But I want to stress it again. Removing dead skin cells is super important as we age. Skin appears to look more uniform and fine lines are less obvious without a bunch of dead skin cells in the way.

I only use chemical, as opposed to manual, exfoliators. Chemical exfoliators are often peels, relying on, uh, chemicals. Manual exfoliators are usually scrubs. These scrubs tear up skin. Unless the scrub contains perfectly round spheres (and most don’t). Manual scrubs leave microscopic cuts on skin’s surface. These tiny cuts are the perfect gateways for bacteria. It’s just a no, ok?

QRx Labs makes a great chemical exfoliator. I love their Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel. This product can be irritating, especially in the beginning. The QRx Labs Chemical Peel Neutralizer spray takes the sting right out.

skin care routine for 30s
Skin needling it up, yo.

Affordable Skin Care

Anti-aging skin care doesn’t have to expensive. Wanna know a secret? Luxury and drug store skin care brands are often made in the same lab. So what are you paying for when purchasing luxury skin care items? More often than not, a name, an accompanying sense of prestige/superiority, and unnecessary fragrance.

Save your money for the skin treatments that may be needed/desired in later middle age. The big guns, if you will. Like Botox, laser treatments, and expensive facials. Treatments that require the professionals.

With a bit of research, it’s easy to find perfectly effective drug store priced items. QRx Labs is a great example. Their products deliver clinical results at insanely low prices (uh, not sponsored).

revitalift-skincare very affordable skincare product
I love firming eye cream

This was a monster of an article. As you can tell, I take skin care pretty seriously. And I think that’s a big reason why I’m commonly mistaken to be a decade younger. Good genes and clean living (less sugar/preservatives, more sleep, and no smoking/tanning) help. But nothing can replace clean skin, rock star skin care ingredients, and dead skin cell removal.

Tell me about your skin care routine! Leave recommendations in the comments, too. Share this article so you don’t forget the products and ingredients you want to check out.

Happy Anti-aging!


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Picture of Megan


Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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