Teen Skincare Routine Made Simple in Just Five Steps

Spa teen girl applying facial clay mask. Beauty treatments. Over blue background.

Key Points

  • A healthy teen skincare routine should consist of cleansing, moisturizing, skin treatment, and sunscreen. 

  • Teens are more likely to develop acne and body odor. 

  • Using topical and/or oral acne treatments as part of a teen skincare routine helps adolescents combat stubborn acne.   

Your teenage years, ages 13-19, are some of the hardest, yet memorable years of your life. As a teen, you’re juggling many responsibilities: school work, extracurriculars, a social life, family responsibilities, and maybe a part-time job. Despite your busy schedule, you can’t forget to take care of yourself. Skincare is a huge part of self-care. Taking care of your skin–the largest organ of your body–is one of the best ways to practice self-care. As a teen, your skin undergoes several changes that aren’t necessarily pleasant, but they are manageable.

Both sexes undergo puberty which includes changes to your skin. Girls usually begin puberty between 8 and 13 years of age while boys start between the ages of 9 and 14. Puberty lasts about two to five years. The changes that come with it are scary but totally normal, and there are ways to adapt to your growing body to make puberty a little less daunting. Building a teen skincare routine protects the skin and treats skin conditions that may arise during puberty. Develop healthy skincare habits that you can carry into your adulthood years. 

Since changes in your skin are one of the visible markers of puberty, it’s vital to take care of it to look and feel your best. If you’re a teen or parent of adolescents, read on to discover the skin changes and skin disorders that occur during adolescence, how to handle and treat them, and how to build a teen skincare routine to achieve happy, healthy skin. 

Teenagers chat during hula hoop class

How Does the Skin Change During Your Adolescent Years?

Your skin undergoes several changes as you enter your teenage years. Find out how the skin changes during puberty so you know what to expect and why these changes occur. 

You May Develop Acne

It is never too early to begin taking care of your skin. As a teen, you undergo hormonal changes that increase oil production in your skin. More oil production means more oily skin, which may cause breakouts. Hence, teenagers often suffer from acne vulgaris (acne). Acne occurs when your excess oils (sebum) mix with dead skin cells, plugging the hair follicles in your skin.  

Although it commonly appears on the face, acne may also develop on your chest, back, shoulders, and even on your rear end. This inflammatory skin condition tends to peak between the ages of 14 and 19. While girls usually start to experience acne earlier than their male counterparts, boys tend to develop the most severe forms of acne. And those with oily skin types may also have the worst acne cases. 

Hormones aren’t the only cause of acne. Your genes affect not only the likelihood of developing acne but also the severity of your outbreaks.

As a teen, these skin diseases may affect your self-esteem and make you feel embarrassed about your appearance. You might dread going to school with a huge, red pimple in the middle of your nose, afraid you’ll be made fun of by your friends or classmates. Try not to worry: Acne is a normal, common skin disorder among teens, which means that most people your age will be facing these conditions together. Acne is common even in adults. 

You Might Develop Stretch Marks

It’s normal for the skin to stretch during puberty. Stretch marks appear as purplish, reddish, or pinkish scars, but they turn white and fade over time. Although they might not disappear completely, they often become thinner and less visible. Rapid growth or rapid weight gain causes stretch marks. You may be genetically predisposed to stretch marks if they run in your family.

As stretch marks heal, your skin may start to itch, making you want to scratch for relief. Scratching too much can make your skin tear, making it more susceptible to cuts, bleeding, infections, and scarring. Try not to scratch your skin! Instead, invest in a body lotion that soothes itchiness and is suitable for your skin type.

You May Develop a Stronger Body Odor

Sweating is a normal bodily function, but it may produce a bad smell on your body once puberty hits. When puberty arrives, hormonal changes activate the apocrine sweat glands in your body. They are mainly present in the armpits and genital regions. They produce a thicker lipid- and protein-rich sweat that may cause an odor when it comes in contact with bacteria on the skin. 

As a teen, body odor is normal, and it shouldn't worry you. If you notice your body odor is pungent or worsening, it may be a sign of a skin infection. A common skin infection among teenagers is athlete's foot – a fungal skin disease. If you smell a strong stench on your body that seems out of the normal or persists after showering, it may be time to visit a dermatologist.

Teenager washes face during skincare routine

How to Build a Simple Skincare Routine 

As a teen, you don’t need as many skincare products as an adult might use. For example, you don’t need to use anti-aging treatments yet, as it's not common for teenagers to have wrinkles. Don’t risk irritating your skin or worsening your acne by using too many products or using them too often. 

Follow these five teen-tailored steps to build an easy-breezy skincare routine that protects, nourishes, and treats your skin:

Step 1: Cleanse the Skin

Cleansing is a vital step in any skincare routine. If you start to see an overproduction of oil on your skin, washing your face with a cleanser helps remove and control that greasiness and excess shine. Foaming cleansers are the best for oily and acne-prone skin types, as they reach into your pores. They deeply cleanse to remove makeup, dirt, excess oils, and other impurities on the surface of your skin. 

Although teens are more likely to have oily skin, some may still experience dry skin. Thus, choosing the correct cleanser for your face and body depends on your skin type. If you have certain skin conditions, try picking a cleanser that won’t aggravate those symptoms. Gentle, non-foaming cleansers work best for dry skin. 

Over-cleansing is not a good idea, as stripping all of your skin’s natural, nourishing oils dries out your skin. It may also leave your skin barrier more exposed to free radicals and environmental stressors like pollution.

A good rule of thumb is to cleanse your face every morning and night, but there are exceptions, as everyone’s skin is different. As a teen, your skin might be oily but it may be sensitive too, and cleansing too often may do more harm than good. If your skin is on the drier side, over-cleansing strips your skin of its natural oils, leaving your skin hungry for hydration. That’s why it's important to get to know your skin and how much cleansing you actually need.

Regardless of your skin type, it's best to cleanse at least once a day before you go to bed. Cleansing at night washes away all the dirt, grime, sweat, or impurities your skin accumulates throughout the day. If you go to bed with a clean face at night, you may not need to cleanse in the morning. If you sweat, drool, or develop eye crust during the night, consider washing your face in the morning too. 

Consider at least rinsing your face with water to remove the gunk that builds up during the night. Rinsing your face removes residue from your evening skincare products. In other words, skip the cleanser and use water for a morning cleanse. 

This water-only face wash doesn't work for everyone. If your skin is too oily, a gentle foaming cleanser is a better option – especially if you want to remove excess oils and shine from your skin.

Make sure to use clean hands to wash or rinse your face to avoid transferring bacteria and germs to your face. Your skin will thank you for it, as good hand hygiene prevents your acne and skin infections from becoming worse.

Wash or rinse your skin in circular motions using lukewarm water. Be very gentle and don’t rub too hard to prevent aggravating acne or other skin conditions. Rubbing too harshly also contributes to premature aging. After rinsing, dry your face by patting it gently with a clean towel or letting it air dry. Make sure to leave your face a little damp to help your skin better absorb your skincare products that come next. 

Step 2: Exfoliate (Optional)

Exfoliation involves physically or chemically removing pore-clogging dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Mechanical exfoliation involves using a face scrub, brush, or other tools to slough away dead skin build-up, while chemical exfoliation involves using acids to break down debris and impurities. If you have acne, exfoliating helps soften and brighten your skin while minimizing the appearance of pores. 

Counterintuitively, it may also irritate your skin and worsen acne, especially if you overdo it or don’t properly exfoliate. Over-exfoliating can mess with your skin’s oil production, causing it to produce more oil, which may lead to more breakouts. Other symptoms of over-exfoliating include redness, inflammation, burning, and skin barrier damage. Only exfoliate if your skin tolerates it well and limit this practice to one or two times per week. Avoid mechanical or physical exfoliants, as they may be too harsh on the skin. 

Teenager examines pimple in mirror during skincare routine

Step 3: Apply an Acne Spot Treatment

Apart from cleansing and exfoliating, spot treatments complement your acne-fighting routine. Your local drugstore carries many different forms of topical acne treatments, including gels, creams, serums, and lotions. 

Over-the-counter treatments include retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid (exfoliant), azelaic acid, and salicylic acid. Each of these ingredients helps address acne symptoms, but some may be drying or irritating. 

You don’t have to include all of them in your skincare routine, but try looking for one or two of these ingredients when shopping for your skincare products. The Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment is an elite over-the-counter topical retinoid recommended by dermatologists. 

If topical acne treatments don’t work, your dermatologist might also prescribe oral medications to complement or boost your acne-fighting regimen. You may see better results when you pair topical and oral treatments together. Oral medications work best for those with moderate, severe, stubborn, or persistent acne. 

It might be challenging to apply topical treatments to other parts of your body (such as your back) that have acne. Oral medications may help those with acne on other parts of their body other than their face. You can’t find oral medications for acne in a store; they are prescription-only drugs. These types of oral acne treatments include antibiotics, birth control pills, and Accutane (isotretinoin). 

No acne treatment comes without risk. Both topical and oral acne treatments are known to cause side effects, like peeling, dryness, irritation, flakiness, and more. Side effects are usually temporary. Topical treatments sometimes make your skin worse before it gets better. For example, it takes time for the skin to adjust to retinoids. Some oral medications might even temporarily worsen your acne.

Ask your dermatologist about all the potential side effects of your acne treatment. In case you start experiencing more serious or adverse reactions, which are rare, stop using the treatment and seek medical attention right away. The key to seeing visible results involves sticking to the treatment and trying not to get discouraged if you don’t see instant results. 

If you have a few pimples, consider using pimple patches. These small stickers are popular spot treatments for superficial pimples. They absorb the pimple’s contents such as pus, bacteria, and oil while shielding it from external skin-damaging culprits. Plus, they help heal the skin faster.  

Step 4: Hydrate and Moisturize the Skin

Oily skin doesn’t equal hydrated skin. Dehydration may also cause more oil production as the skin will try to make up for the lack of water. It is sometimes hard to tell if your skin is dehydrated when you have oily skin. 

A couple of signs to look out for to determine if your skin lacks sufficient hydration include dullness, tightness, itchiness, dark under-eye circles, and increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

If you have oily skin, opt for a lighter, oil-free moisturizer for acne-prone skin. A lightweight moisturizer helps keep the moisture in your skin. Remember to look for a moisturizer that will also increase the water content or hydration in your skin. Moisturizers with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin should do the trick. 

Teenager dabs face during skincare routine

Step 5: Wear SPF Daily 

Applying sunscreen to the face and body daily is a vital skincare habit. Exposure to the sun’s UV radiation leads to skin damage, premature aging, sunburn, and skin cancer. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that protects against both UVB and UVA rays ensures your skin gets a rich amount of protection against the sun. 

For ultimate protection, wear tight-knit clothing, and stay out of the sun when its rays are at their strongest. The sun's rays are strongest between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, but the exact times vary depending on location, season, altitude, and other factors. 

Body Skincare Tips

Taking care of your body’s skin is just as important as caring for your face. Regular baths or showers are the best way to combat the body odor that may arise from your changing hormones. It’s best to wash your body with lukewarm water to avoid over-stripping your natural oils or drying out your skin. If you have oily skin, select a body wash suitable for oily and acne-prone skin. 

After cleansing, hydrate, moisturize, and apply sunscreen. Wearing deodorant with antiperspirant every day also helps to eliminate and control body odor. Deodorants help mask underarm odor while antiperspirants temporarily reduce armpit sweat. Again, make sure to choose skincare products according to your skin type and needs.

Teenager smiles with hands together

Teen Skincare Routine: Do’s and Don'ts for ALL Skin Types  

No matter what skin type you have, there are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when taking care of your skin. Consider the following tips as you embark on your journey to happy, healthy skin:

Don’t Pick at Your Skin

Don’t touch or pick at your skin – especially if you have acne. Although it's tempting, and many fall into this temptation, do not pop your pimples! Squeezing or popping your pimples pushes bacteria, pus, and dead skin cells deeper into your skin. This leads to infection, permanent scars, redness, and more inflammation in those areas. It also worsens your acne, making it more visible and painful. 

The bacteria and pus can also spread to other pores on your face, causing more unwanted pimples. Just leave your pimples alone! They usually disappear on their own in three to seven days. However, some may take a few weeks or even longer, depending on how deep your pimples are. 

Don’t Wait Until Your Skin Conditions Turn Severe

If you’re starting to see acne develop on your skin, start an acne treatment right away – especially if severe forms of this condition run in your family. If you’re an adolescent with eczema, avoid flare-ups or worsening rashes by treating it as soon as you can. 

Be Consistent With Your Acne Treatment

It takes several weeks to see visible improvements in acne, which is why you must use your over-the-counter or prescribed acne treatment as directed by your dermatologist or the product label. If your personal skincare habits and acne treatments are not helping clear up your acne, it may be time to visit a dermatologist. Board-certified dermatologists prescribe stronger prescription medications to help fight your acne. 

Visit a Dermatologist If You Can

Teen acne often lasts between 5 to 10 years and, in most cases, clears on its own after puberty. Unfortunately for some, it persists into adulthood. If your pimples or blemishes bother you, visit a dermatologist to confirm an acne diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate medication. If treatment fails, they can also safely extract your blackheads and whiteheads using sterile equipment.

Teenagers lie on trampoline laughing

Think Twice Before Wearing Makeup

As a teen, you are at the age where you may want to start experimenting with makeup. While no one can tell you what you should and should not put on your face, think twice before applying makeup to your skin. You might be tempted to cover up your acne or blemishes with makeup. Makeup itself isn’t bad, but it can worsen your skin conditions. Certain makeup products clog your pores and cause new breakouts or inflame your acne. 

If you opt to start wearing makeup, use small amounts of it, or don’t wear it every day. Another option is using makeup only on some parts of your face instead of doing a full face of makeup to minimize the risk of developing new breakouts. Make sure to choose the right cosmetic products for your skin. That means selecting makeup products suitable for your skin type that won’t clog your pores. 

Bad makeup habits can cause premature aging of the skin, so make sure not to roughly apply your makeup products and always avoid sleeping with makeup on. Another tip: Avoid makeup wipes as they don’t always remove all the makeup from the skin. Instead, remove makeup with cotton pads and micellar water, which is an excellent makeup remover that is safe for most skin types. Always remove your makeup before cleansing.  

Final Takeaways

Developing a skincare routine as you enter your teenage years protects the skin while managing the inevitable skin changes that occur with puberty. You don’t need a ton of skincare products. Just stick to these easy-peasy skincare basics: cleanse, moisturize, and slather sunscreen. Affordable skincare products are widely available, so it is easier than ever to start a skincare routine while you are young. 

If you begin to develop skin conditions common during puberty, incorporating a skin treatment will help to boost your skin’s health and repair the damage. When in doubt, visit a dermatologist to help manage your skin changes and help create healthy skincare habits you can take with you into adulthood.

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