Skin care can be complicated for anyone — no matter the age or skin concern. When it comes to skin care for teens, this topic can sometimes feel like an Olympic challenge that gets forgotten when dealing with the other stressors of this age — like puberty, first kisses, periods and anything school related. If you’re already overwhelmed by the endless skin care products for teens just know you’re not alone and that’s where we come in to help.
A skin care routine doesn’t have to be time-consuming once you’ve got the basics down. And it’s important to note that how you treat your skin now may play a role in how your skin looks and feels in the future. Creating a routine can help you build the foundation for a long life of healthy skin. Besides, things like hormones and acne are probably making your skin change in (sometimes) painful and awkward ways; you might as well target these issues right away.
To start you off in the right direction, we’re sharing all the research we’ve done with insight from Michelle Henry, MD FAAD, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant. Ahead, learn how to build the best skin care routine for teenage skin, along with affordable (and effective) product recommendations.
When Should a Teenager Start a Skin Care Routine?
There is no specific age for when young people should start a skin care routine as everyone is different. According to Dr. Henry, “as soon as a teenager is starting to wash their face on their own, that’s the time to start a nice gentle skin care regimen.” A good rule of thumb is to always wash your face and apply sunscreen as these skin care steps are necessary for the health of your skin at any age. Dr. Henry says skin care should be a part of young people's overall healthcare. The age you begin to develop a more specific routine will depend on your specific needs.
What Should a Teenager Use for Skin Care?Allow us to make something clear right away; healthy skin does not always mean clear skin — things like acne, post-acne marks and enlarged pores are normal and there are ways to treat them. Your teenage years are sure to be full of mistakes and success as you discover the things you like and what works for you. With skin care this also rings true, but you can eliminate all that trial and error with our recommendations and steps for simplified skin care for teens.
Step 1. Wash Your Face
Developing a skin care routine as a teenager starts with this very important step. As we’ve stated before, all skin care regimens should include a face cleanser to eliminate dirt and impurities that can adhere to the skin through sweaty gym classes, after-school sports or dance practices and the many other aspects of teenage life. According to the Cleveland Clinic, oily or acne-prone skin is prevalent in teenagers, so it’s important to wash your face daily — once in the morning and once before you go to bed — to help keep pores from getting clogged with buildup that can lead to breakouts.
Formulated for all skin types, this foaming gel can gently remove makeup and other impurities like sweat, oil and dirt without leaving any tightness or residue behind. Always start your skin care application with clean hands; the last thing you want is to add bacteria from dirty hands onto your face that you’re trying to clean. Wet your face and hands before adding a small amount of cleanser to your fingertips and lather the gel to a foam consistency. Massage the cleanser on your face in gentle and circular motions and rinse with warm water and pat dripping water off your face with a clean towel. You’ll want the skin to be slightly damp before applying serums for the best product absorption.
Step 2. Add a Serum for Skin Concerns
Targeting skin concerns with serums can help soothe painful acne and inflamed skin. Applying serum to your skin care routine is also helpful to even it’s complexion, which can equate to a healthier skin barrier per the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI). “We always want to treat and prevent,” says Dr. Henry, “I prefer all-over treatments and then spot treatments if you have something that breaks through your all-over treatment.”
To help treat acne, you’ll want to start introducing acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, she explains. These ingredients have been studied in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology to target blemishes, reduce their appearance and improve skin texture that may be affected by acne. Resist the temptation to pick and poke at acne as this can lead to more uncomfortable blemishes and an uneven skin tone. Acne can be a big stress point for teenage skin and serums can help with that.
Correct uneven skin tone and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores with this multi-ingredient serum. It’s also a good serum to use as a preventative step to reduce premature signs of aging. Infused with vitamin C, vitamin E and salicylic acid, these hero ingredients are known to help brighten and smooth dull skin by refining skin tone, reducing the appearance of enlarged pores and protecting the collagen network of skin that naturally reduces as we age, leading to fine lines.
You’re probably not concerned with wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of aging that seem so far away. But it’s crucial to add preventative measures to your skin care routine so you can get in the habit of doing them — trust us, your future self will thank you.
This serum helps visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots like post-acne marks from blemishes and sun spots from too much UV exposure. Niacinamide is added to the serum to improve the barrier of the skin for a smoother complexion. Don’t let the “acid” part of ferulic acid and amino sulfonic acid scare you away from using this product. They help gently exfoliate and brighten the skin without clogging pores.
After washing your face — making sure to leave skin damp with a little water — add three to four drops of this serum to your skin and allow it to absorb before using any other serums. Layering serums is very normal and sometimes recommended to get the added benefits of the specific product. Apply skin care based on consistency, with the thinnest formulations going first.
Step 3. Apply Moisturizer
No matter your skin type, you should apply a moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and nourished. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne treatments (that many teenagers use) contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid which can be extremely drying to the skin. Combat this with a hydrating moisturizer that’ll keep skin soft without irritating skin or clogging pores. Per the Cleveland Clinic, clogged pores may lead to more pimples and blemishes.
You may be tempted to skip this step — especially if your skin already seems hydrated with natural oils — but you really shouldn’t. Instead of using a thick moisturizer that may clog pores, reach for an oil-free moisturizer or a lightweight option.
This moisturizer can be used by teenagers with all skin concerns and skin types as it’s light enough to not clog pores and full of nourishing ingredients for even the driest skin. After any serums or acne spot treatments, follow up with this moisturizer formulated with hyaluronic acid and ceramides that help skin attract and lock in moisture.
Step 4. Finish With Sunscreen
If you’ve never been told to put on sunscreen before, then we’ll be the ones to tell you. Not only should you be wearing sunscreen daily, but per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) you should reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours — especially if you’re out in the sun often.
There are a lot of sunscreens products to choose from, but make sure you’re using a broad-spectrum sunscreen. According to the AAD, you’ll want to use sunscreen with (at least) an SPF 30, as this blocks 97 percent of the sun's rays UVB rays — no sunscreen can protect you from 100 percent of the sun's rays.
After applying this sunscreen to your face, your skin will be protected from the damaging UVA and UVB rays that can lead to sunburns, premature signs of aging and (more dangerously) certain types of skin cancer. This sunscreen features a lightweight formula that won’t leave behind an ashy white cast that may create a white or blue film on darker skin tones. You can use this product every day (and reapply as needed) without worry of it clogging your pores or leaving behind a greasy texture. Throw this SPF in your backpack, practice bag or purse for reapplication.
Is Skin Care a Form of Self Care?
Self care is essential at every age, especially as a teenager when there are so many new stresses and life experiences happening every day. While self care does not begin and end with a single skin care product, it can be a joyful experience that adds a bit of stress relief to your day. Once a week (or as needed) add a face mask to your routine to decompress from your busy life. This fun slumber party activity is also enjoyable with friends, so pull out a sheet mask or clay mask the next time you hang out with your friends to introduce them to the wonders of skin care.
Give your skin the spa treatment it deserves with this face mask that’ll have you wanting to add cucumbers to your eyes like a movie character. Pure clays and charcoal are formulated together to create this 10-minute mask that’ll clean out pores and absorb deep impurities like dirt and oil.
After washing your face (and before any serums or moisturizers) apply a layer of this black charcoal mask to your skin and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Use that time to recharge while the ingredients address any dull and tired-looking skin. Gently rinse off the mask with lukewarm water to reveal a fresher and more even-looking complexion.
In general, creating and executing a skin care routine can absolutely be a form of self care since you’re literally taking care of yourself in this act.
Photo Design: Sarah Duvivier
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