Better Me

Dermatologist-Recommended Skin Care Tips for Teens and Young Adults

We all want to put our best face forward, but the teenage years, or adolescence, can leave some wanting to hide from the world.

Your teenager may not be tackling wrinkles just yet, but they may be facing zits, blackheads and even sensitive skin. During these formative years, standing out from the crowd with a major zit or red, irritated skin can be embarrassing and downright depressing. Things like acne can be especially challenging if your teen is being bullied or teased as a result.

“Acne often causes significant physical and psychological problems, such as permanent scarring, poor self-image, depression and anxiety,” said Rebecca Thiede, MD, a dermatologist with Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “In fact, within the first year of an acne diagnosis, those with acne are at a higher risk for developing major depression.”

Surging hormones and peer pressures are not always easy in this stage of life, but the good news is that clear, healthy skin is possible. Here are 10 dermatologist-approved skincare tips for keeping your teen’s skin glowing.

1. Keep your skincare routine simple.

Keep the skincare routine simple and consistent. A good routine can backfire when there are too many steps. “I like to tell my patients that a simple routine is twice a day, morning and night.”

Wash your face twice a day – when you wake up and before you go to bed. You’ll want to also wash your face after a sweaty activity.

To keep face washing top of mind, place your products next to your toothbrush and do it at the same time as brushing your teeth to be consistent.

As well, avoid using a washcloth, mesh sponge or anything else that can irritate the skin. Instead, use your fingertips to wash your face and apply product.

2. Use oil-free and non-comedogenic products.

Look for products that won’t block pores. These products will be labeled as “oil-free” or “noncomedogenic,” which won’t create comedones, the blackheads and whiteheads that clog pores. This is true not just for moisturizers but for makeup and sunscreen as well.

3. Wear sunscreen, even in the winter.

A good habit for life is to protect skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Rain, snow or shine, sunscreen is a must.

“Even if you’ll be wearing makeup, make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher,” Dr. Thiede said. “Dry and sun-damaged skin is irritated skin, and irritated skin can put you at greater risk for acne.”

4. Tackle acne head-on, early on.

Acne is common during puberty when hormones go into overdrive. If you start to have minor breakouts, start with one acne product at a time. If you don’t see improvement after four to six weeks, add a second acne product. This approach can help attack the different causes of acne, such as bacteria, clogged pores, oil and inflammation.

[Also read: Acne Care Dos and Don’ts.]

“For example, if an acne treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide, the second acne treatment should contain another acne-fighting ingredient,” Dr. Thiede said.

To help select another product, here’s what the different active ingredients work on:

  • Benzoyl peroxide decreases P. acnes bacteria
  • Retinoids, such as adapalene gel, unclogs pores and reduces oiliness
  • Salicylic acid eases inflammation and unclogs pores

Even if your acne is improving or clearing up, it’s important to continue with the regimen. “The regimen is working if you are clear and works better if you’re preventing acne instead of treating existing breakouts,” Dr. Thiede noted.

5. Don’t sleep in your makeup.

Make sure to remove makeup every night before bedtime.

“Even noncomedogenic makeup can cause acne if you sleep in it,” Dr. Thiede said. “If you’re too tired to wash your face, a makeup remover towelette works—just make sure it’s noncomedogenic.”

[Also read: Makeup Myths We Should Stop Believing.]

6. Wash your pillowcase and sheets.

Are you washing or changing the sheets and pillowcases once a week? If they aren’t laundered or changed regularly, a build of dirt or oil from the environment and your skin and hair is transferred back to your skin.

“By the end of one week, sheets and pillowcases are swarming with dead skin cells and bacteria,” Dr. Thiede said. “These can clog your pores, leading to breakouts.”

If you have oily hair or use oily products, you may need to change your sheets more often.

7. Avoid touching, picking, scrubbing and overdoing it with products.

Over-exfoliating, popping pimples, washing your face too frequently, trying new acne products weekly all feel great in the moment but can lead to irritation of the skin and more breakouts.

“Avoid doing too much too fast as it can irritate the skin, cause allergic reactions and worsen acne,” Dr. Thiede said. “Picking or popping pimples is also a big no-no. This can lead to scarring and also take the pimple longer to heal.”

8. Sensitive skin? Use the spot test.

Everyone’s skin is different. If you have sensitive skin, however, it can make locating products that won’t burn, sting or itch a bit more challenging. Try to look for products that are noncomedogenic and fragrance-free.

If your teen is prone to being sensitive to products, Dr. Thiede suggested the test spot approach:

  • Apply the product to a test spot twice daily for seven to 10 days. Choose a quarter-sized spot on your skin where the product won’t be rubbed or washed away, such as the underside of your arm or the bend of your elbow. Use the normal amount and thickness you would use as if you were applying the product regularly.
  • Leave the product on your skin for as long as you would normally. If you’re testing something you would usually wash off, like a cleanser, keep it on your skin for five minutes or as long as the instructions say.
  • If after seven to 10 days you don’t have a skin reaction, such as red, itchy or swollen skin, go ahead and use the product.
  • If a rash or burning develops, an allergic reaction could be occurring. If this happens, gently wash the product off as soon as possible and don’t use it again. Apply a cool compress or petroleum jelly to relieve skin. If your reaction is severe and not improving, see your health care provider or dermatologist.

“Some common ingredients for acne, such as retinol and glycolic acid, can irritate the skin, particularly if your skin is sensitive,” Dr. Thiede. “This is normal and temporary, until people’s skin gets used to the new product. It’s important to continue the product through this phase while also moisturizing.”

9. Eat a balanced diet.

Sugary drinks and treats with friends are tempting but may not help their skin.

“Emerging data suggests that high glycemic index diets (high levels of sugar) may be associated with acne,” Dr. Thiede said. “There’s some evidence as well that some dairy, particularly skim milk, may influence acne. Whey protein in protein shakes has been shown to influence acne.”

Whenever possible, eat fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and low-GI options of your favorite carb-rich foods. For example, opt for whole grain oatmeal versus a plain bagel or whole wheat bread versus white bread.

And don’t forget water. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Hydration is great for overall health and your skin.

10. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.

A dermatologist is happy to help every step of your skincare journey, especially the acne journey.

“Acne is really a journey,” Dr. Thiede said. “What works for you now might not work in a year. It’s important to see a dermatologist if your acne isn’t improving despite consistent over-the-counter treatment, significant flares or scarring is occurring or if it is affecting your self-esteem.”

Today, virtually all acne can be cleared. If you’re not seeing results on your own, a dermatologist can help find the right treatment and/or acne medication. For moderate to severe acne, you may be prescribed an oral or topical acne medication, such as antibiotics like sarecycline, isotretinoin or hormonal birth control.

Final word

Skin problems can put a damper on your teen living their best life (YOLO!). Help them put their best face forward by adopting skin-care habits that can keep zits at bay and prevent emotional and physical scarring. If necessary, work with your teen’s health care provider or a dermatologist.

“Studies show that teens do better when they take ownership of their acne and develop a good routine with their dermatologist,” Dr. Thiede said. “It can feel like nagging when it comes from parents.”

To discuss your teenager’s skincare needs with a dermatologist, find a provider near you at

Also read:

Children's Health Dermatology Parenting