At some point in my mid-30s, my skin started to looking as dull and listless as a wet weekend. I was using Sheisido products, which I didn't blame, and was smoking, which I did. My French tutor (who puffed fairly incessantly on Gauloises) would say that she could always spot another smoker. "Nous sommes gris". Knowing that we were all a head-to-toe washed out gray, like some abandoned population of ghosts, haunted me until I finally gave up cigarettes at the age of 40. Anyhow, I was reminded of all of this the other day when I was visited by a 36-year old friend who suddenly said, "I'm gray". And she didn't mean her hair.

Basically, being well under 40 and in good health doesn't count for much if you are not taking care of your skin. So I presumed (well, she did ask) to give Ms. 36 a few tips. First off, start cleansing properly. Even if everything else seems too daunting and expensive, or you are just in plain denial, do yourself a favor and invest in a Clarisonic brush (it is currently selling for about $169). It gently, but thoroughly lifts off dead cells and debris from your skin. That's a good thing in itself, but it also prepares the skin to make the most of whatever you do next.

Which would be to cleanse. I don't put my facial cleanser on the Clarisonic brush head; I use the brush on my dry face and then wash my face. Just to confuse you, I will admit that in the shower I use the brush head for body with Japanese charcoal cleanser to keep my shoulders and chest free from breakouts (it works a treat, too). I recommended that Ms. 36 get Tracie Martyn's Amla cleanser for a few reasons. First, I really think it helps to brighten and freshen the skin. Secondly, it has so many good things in it that it is virtually a treatment in its own right. So, for a skin care novice who can't contemplate restocking the entire bathroom cabinet at this stage, it is the stone that swipes two birds.

Ms. 36 was't going to get off that lightly though. She was right, she was gray. In fact, I ran (literally) to my bathroom and came back with my half-empty bottle of IMAGE Skincare's Ageless, urging her to take it home and start using it immediately. She looked at me as if I was slightly nuts, but I wasn't put off. IMAGE's Ageless is the best brightener that I have come across so far with its glycolic acids. It even has some Matrixyl to get her set on the anti-aging path. Click here for more information on IMAGE and our Five Best brightener picks. NB: YBF's Restore isn't on the Five Best list because I am still testing it. But based on results so far, I think that this would also be good for a 30-something in need of skin tone refinement.

"What about a lotion", asked Ms. 36 in a follow up email. I suggested a Jurlique cream with calendula (marigold), vitamin C and carrot. She certainly doesn't need heavy gun antioxidants at this stage, but all that vitamin C and betacarotenoid will do her the power of good. Jurlique is not a brand I associate with repairing fine lines and wrinkles, but its gentle and well-chosen botanicals all perform useful roles making it a great choice for 30-somethings. I would also, especially if budget conscious, look at the Yes to Carrots range. The Moisturizing Day Cream is brilliant value at $14.99 with carrot and avocado oil as well as some niacinamide (a vitamin B). Meanwhile, Stephanie's review of Yves Rocher Recovery Moisturizer suggests that it would be a good choice for early-30-somethings.

Abella's Colorshade tinted sunscreens (in four shades to match skin tone would also be worth thinking about - especially, if you'd like to cut down on make up as well as protect from the sun. It gives great protection without lathering on the harsh chemicals and parabens and it even has moisturizers, vitamins and antioxidants.

30-something is when those first crow's feet can appear, accompanied perhaps by a little crepiness under the eye or on the lid. Derma Radiant Ageless Eyes ($39) is a good choice. This has a good anti-aging ingredient, Matrixyl 3000, and Eyeliss (a flavonoid and peptide combo), which is very effective against puffy bags and dark circles. There are also some useful botanicals, including a plant called eyebright. The only thing not to like is a couple of parabens. I would also use Stem Organics Intensive Eye Serum as an excuse to get to know the entire Stem range. These are lovely products that hail all the way from Australia, where organic has a level of meaning that shames the rest of us. The signature ingredient is the vit C packed (and I mean packed) kakadu plant.

Finally, if you are thinking about a treatment, you could find a salon in your area that gives microcurrent facials. This entirely painless - in fact, amazingly relaxing - procedure sends little microcurrents of electricity to your facial muscles. It kind of perks them and gives them a little workout. Sustained use will mean that you will prevent sagging jaws, chin, neck and maintain an apple-cheeked youthfulness into the decades ahead of you.

Ingredients in Yes To Carrots:

Spring Water (Aqua), Cucumis Sativa (Cucumber) water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Daucus Carota (Carrot) Juice, Dead Sea Water (Maris Aqua), Daucus Carota (Carrot) Seed Oil, Isopropyl Myristate, Propylene Glycol, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyeride, PEG 40 Stearate, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Sorbitan Tristearate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Parfum (Fragrance), Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Benzophenone 3, Salicylic Acid, Hamamelis Virginia Flower (Witch Hazel) Water, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange Peel) Oil, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil, Silt (Maris Limus), Imidazolidinyl Urea, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Peel Extract.

Ingredients in Derma Radiant Ageless Eyes:

Deionized water, ceteraryl alcohol, ceterearyl glucoside, glycerin, hesperidin methyl chalcone, montmorillonite, steareth 20, dipeptide-2, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3, caprilyc/capric triglyceride, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloydimethyl taurate copolymer, squalane, polysorbate 60, butylene glycol, palmitoyl oligopeptide, polysorbate 20, carbomer, sodium hyaluronate, retinol, lavender extract, licorice extract, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, centella asiatica, euphrasia officinalis, biotin, hops extract, L-tyrosine, rosa canina fruit extract, citric acid, propylene glycol, diazolidinyl urea, methylparaben, propylparaben.

Ingredients in Stem:

Organic Aloe Barbadensis, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Rosehip Oil, Vegetable Emulsifying Wax, Cucumber Distillate, Organe Blossom Water, Glyceryl Monostearate, Organic Ginseng Extract, D-alpha Tocopherol (Vit. E), Guar Gum, Hydrolyzed Hibiscus Esculentus Extract, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vit. C), Kakadu Plum Extract, Raspberry Seed Oil, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Collagen, Organic Seabuckthorn Berry Oil, Organic Pomegranate Extract, Organic Evening Primrose Oil, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate

See also:

A skin care regime for 20-somethings
A skin care regime for 40-somethings (part one: treatments)
A skin care regime for 40-somethings (part two: potions & lotions)
A skin care regime for 50-somethings