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A Definitive Guide to Teen Skincare Straight From the Pros

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Photo by miljko/Getty Images

Whether you’re a preteen, eighteen, or anything in between, one thing we know for sure is that the teenage years can be a rough ride (especially when it comes to dealing with skin concerns). Between fluctuating hormones, stress of starting at new schools, figuring out who your besties are, or even just figuring out who you are, the teenage years are marked by endless change and loads of good (and not-so-good) skin days—and that’s totally ok. Yup, being a teen is quite a roller coaster ride, but it can be a pretty awesome one too. The good news? Just because things can often feel complicated, that doesn’t mean that you can’t grab the reins and take control of your skincare routine

While #skintok can be helpful in so many ways and some influencers often do have our best interest at heart, the reality is that lot of viral TikTok teen skincare trends are often focused less on real, results-driven advice and more on ASMR trends, pretty product packaging, and racking up views. This can make figuring out the right routine for your age group, let alone your skin type as a teen, super confusing. Trust us, we’ve all been there (some of us even survived the era of aggressively slathering gritty shard-like scrubs all over our faces). As it turns out, skincare routines for teens really shouldn’t be too complicated. Whether you have sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, oily skin, dry skin, or clear skin, it’s more about keeping things simple but effective with a gentle face wash, non-comedogenic moisturizers or lotions, and SPF 30. While that might seem a bit boring, you can totally still find skincare products that will help you put your best face forward (while they also look super cute on your bathroom shelf). We chatted with board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, and top esthetician Justine Kahn for the best skincare routine for teens. 


About the Experts: 
Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Justine Kahn is an herbalist, esthetician, and founder of BOTNIA SKINCARE.

Top Skin Concerns for Teens

What are some of the top skin concerns that tweens and teens face? Let’s break it down.

Acne

As we mentioned, being a teen involves lots of life changes with both internal and external factors that affect skin. “Teens are often dealing with fluctuations in hormones, the beginning signs of increased oil production, acne, and, many times, smaller blackheads,” says Dr. Nazarian. “By far the number one concern is acne. Whether people have just the beginning of mild acne and infrequent pimples or more severe, scarring acne, we see this often in the teenage years. This is also the time that we start to ensure people are educated on skincare basics that involve cleansing, moisturizing, and sunscreen,” Dr. Nazarian adds.

Texture

Because who doesn’t want baby-smooth, blemish-free skin? Uneven texture often happens as a result of these breakouts, along with blackheads. “The most common concerns for teenagers these days usually have to do with breakouts, and what teens lovingly refer to as textured skin—tiny bumps that cover a surface area, usually around the cheeks chin or on the forehead, and of course, blackheads that usually form on the nose, chin, and forehead as well. These can either be open or closed and can either be red and inflamed or flat,” says Kahn.

When Should Teens Start Using Skincare?

Let’s break it down by age and common concerns:

Preteens: Sensitive Skin

While teens of all age groups (even adults) can experience sensitive skin, it’s more commonly a concern if you’re a preteen. Why? “This age group still has very sensitive skin, and typically concerns arise surrounding dry, itchy, or irritated skin. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common sensitive skin condition that affects the preteen and younger crowd. Avoiding irritating ingredients and leaning toward skincare ingredients that strengthen skin should be the goal. I love ceramides, squalane, and hyaluronic acid, all of which are totally natural and helpful for this age group,” says Dr. Nazarian. “The focus at this age should be on gentle, safe ingredients, and learning to get into the habit of applying these basic skincare steps every single day, year-round,” Dr. Nazarian adds.

Ages 13-15: Cystic Acne, Excess Oil Production, and Body Breakouts

“For teens 13-15, they tend to be going through the first part of their hormonal shift from childhood into adulthood. This can include androgen hormones, which create more sebaceous secretions in the skin, and ultimately result in cystic acne. Teens will also notice that where they once had smooth, almost perfectly appearing skin, they now have blackheads, texture, and congestion. This is all very common, and a part of how our skin evolves to protect us, and nourish ourselves as we age. It’s important that teens understand what’s happening to them physiologically so they’re able to utilize the right ingredients to help nurture and nourish their skin through these changes,’ says Kahn. Kahn also adds that teens in this age group should keep their routines simple with a three-step routine using a gentle cleanser, pH-balancing toner, and simple moisturizer. Big on sports? “If this group is spending more time outdoors, either playing on sports teams, camps, etc., they should get in the habit of applying their own sunscreen to their body every two hours as needed. Experiencing face and body breakouts? Totally normal. “Because this group is starting to experience more acne, I also recommend incorporating some ingredients that help decrease excessive oil production, such as sulfur-based cleansers, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid,” advises Dr. Nazarian.

Ages 16 and up: Hyperpigmentation and Acne Scarring

Teens who are 16 and older sometimes tend to see their acne start to clear up, as skin can start to produce less excess oil and become more balanced over time. On the flip side, teens in this age group can also commonly deal with acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, and large pores. “I like to incorporate retinoids at this point. Retinoids can help regulate skin cells that can improve texture and tone, along with treating acne, which is still a common problem in the 16+ age group. Because this group tends to have increased oil production, they can typically handle the mild drying effect of many retinoids. I also hear about concerns of pore size typically in this age group, and reminding them that the retinoid will decrease the appearance of pores and improve overall skin appearance is a good motivator,” says Dr. Nazarian.

The Best Skincare for Teens

Ready to give your skincare routine the glow up you deserve? Here are some tried-and-true products that’ll help you achieve your skincare goals.

1. Most Hydrating Cleanser:

INNBEAUTY PROJECT Keep it Clean Hydrating Gel Cleanser

INNBEAUTY PROJECT Keep it Clean Hydrating Gel Cleanser

Consider this a cleanser that feeds your skin. We love that this formula is not only gentle but also packed chock-full of good-for-skin ingredients like ceramides and amino acids to help protect and repair your skin barrier. It’s great for removing makeup, dirt, and excess oil, and it's ophthalmologist tested, so it won't irritate your eyes (even for contact wearers).

2. Best Lightweight Moisturizer:

NEUTROGENA Hydro Boost Water Gel

NEUTROGENA Hydro Boost Water Gel
Courtesy of NEUTROGENA

This seriously hydrating moisturizer is oil-free, non-greasy, and super hydrating—an immediate green flag. “This is a great product because it is a great quality hyaluronic acid, and it’s also incredibly affordable. Teens can use this to improve hydration without clogging pores,” says Dr. Nazarian. Plus, the lightweight formula is super comfy on skin.

3. Cutest Skin Clearing Face Mask:

SOO'AE Charcoal Clay Bubble Mask

SOO'AE Charcoal Clay Bubble Mask

Come on, who doesn’t love a good face mask sesh. What we love so much about this baby (besides the super fun bubbling texture), is that it’s made to suit all skin types, even the most sensitive kinds, and promises to help clear up congestion when used once a week. Even better, it helps give your skin a deep clean without over-drying.

4. Most Calming Pimple Patch:

STARFACE Hydro-Stars

STARFACE Hydro-Stars

One word: OBSESSED. When it comes to breakouts, we’re so tired of hiding, which is why we love this brand's message. These adorable hydrocolloid pimple patches help calm inflammation, draw out impurities, and speed up healing all while looking too cute for words.

5. Best Breakout Clearing Toner:

BEST FACE FORWARD Clarifying Toner

BEST FACE FORWARD Clarifying Toner

The combo of ingredients in this formula promises to help give breakouts and blackheads the boot. The major players include salicylic acid, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C to help clear up pores, brighten skin and help prevent future breakouts. We love to sprinkle it onto our palms and press it gently on our skin.

6. Best Lightweight SPF:

LA ROCHE POSAY Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

LA ROCHE POSAY Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Courtesy of LA ROCHE POSAY

One thing we look for in a good SPF is a non-greasy feel and a good blend, and this formula does it all. Dr. Nazarian adds that “It has broad-spectrum activity, is very lightweight, and absorbs matte to help offset any oiliness that teens may have.”

Want more skincare advice from the pros? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own IPSY beauty subscription. Already an IPSY member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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About the author
Runa Rhattacharya
Runa Bhattacharya
Runa is an NYC-based writer and Registered Nurse with over 8 years of experience covering beauty and wellness. She’s worked for publications like SELF, Cosmopolitan, and more. She’s passionate about beauty, science, and two careers that she loves!
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Article Last Updated February 29, 2024 12:00 AM