Clean Skin-Care Routines for Tweens and Teens

Written by: the Editors of goop


Updated on: August 11, 2016

The mystery of exactly how hormones are going to change your child extends to practically every aspect of life, from the way they act, to how they look, to the way they sleep. How—and when—hormones are going to affect their skin is yet another unknowable factor. Childrens’ oil glands shut off at about six months of age, says New York dermatologist and psychologist Amy Wechsler, herself the parent of a teenager. “You know how infants get cradle cap? That’s the oil glands, activated by the mother’s hormones in the womb.” Inactive throughout childhood, the skin’s oil glands can be among the first changes stimulated by the hormones of puberty. “Acne and seborrheic dermatitis—dandruff—sadly, often comes before the rest of the signs of puberty, sometimes as early as eight or nine,” she says. Before that happens, kids’ skin doesn’t need much beyond clean SPF (more on that later), but once it does, it can show up as anything from mild oiliness to a severe breakout. “For the most part, it’s the T-zone, and for the most part, just blackheads and whiteheads,” says Wechsler.

New York dermatologist Robert Anolik points out that 85 percent of people between twelve and twenty-four experience problem skin: “Frustratingly, it often continues into adulthood.” As anyone who’s ever had even a single pimple knows, a bad skin day can be far worse than a bad hair day. “It’s so important to address—I always thank parents for bringing their kids in,” says Wechsler. “I tell them we can fix this, but it will take some time: No acne patient sees real changes for at least six weeks, so you’ve got to prepare everyone for that.”

Cleansers for Teens

Your moment to teach your child about daily cleansing—the most critical aspect of getting a routine started—is once you see signs of oily skin or breakouts. “It’s absolutely something you have to teach,” says Wechsler. “It’s uncomfortable and weird at first to have soap or cleanser all over your face. Just like you’d teach a kid to shave their underarms or legs, you have to show them how to do it.” (Or shaving for boys, which generally comes later, but Wechsler gives the tip that when the time does come, electric razors are much gentler on skin, easier to use, and harder to hurt yourself with than regular ones.)

Because an evening washing is much more strategic, focus on that first. If your child showers at night, take advantage of the fact that they’re already wet and cleansing, says Anolik. “To make cleansing a separate step at the sink can be difficult,” he says. “I often have them use a facial cleanser in the shower when they are already lathering up. Shampoo to hair, cleanser to face, body wash to body.”

“Unless a kid is a really sweaty sleeper, the morning is much less important,” agrees Wechsler. “And truly it’s just a lesson: Cleanse all the way up to the hairline, behind the ears, the shoulders, the back. And if there’s a gentle bar they already use for body, they can start by using the same thing for face.”

When considering skin care for kids, Anolik recommends cleansers as opposed to true soaps: “They can strip the skin of its surface natural barrier because they have a very high pH relative to a more neutral skin surface,” he says. “Cleansers are more neutral in pH and therefore much less irritating.”

True Botanicals Clear Hydrating Cleanser

True Botanicals Clear Hydrating Cleanser

goop, $48

Created specifically for those with problematic skin, this soothing cleanser gently removes impurities and dead skin cells. Black willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid, plus green and white tea extracts, tone and calm, leaving skin deeply cleansed, balanced, and nourished.

Goldfaden MD Pure Start

goop, $35

Made with spearmint and alfalfa, this gel clarifies, oxygenates, and energizes skin with natural extracts that calm congested, acne-prone skin. Good for oily skin types, and those prone to hyperpigmentation.

Binu Binu Shaman Black Charcoal Soap

Binu Binu Shaman Black Charcoal Soap

goop, $18

This detoxifying black body soap is inspired by the purification ceremonies of modern-day Korea’s female shamans, known as Mudang, revered for their wisdom as healers of both body and mind. It’s made with activated charcoal; essential oils of lavender, Himalayan cedarwood, and clary sage; shea and cocoa butters; coconut, castor, olive, and sweet almond oils, for a soothing but thorough and invigorating cleanse. It leaves your skin so soft, moisturized, nourished, and of course, deeply purified.

Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash

goop, $28

A brilliant combination of effective but gentle, this essential oil blend clarifies, brightens, soothes, and hydrates normal/combination/oily skin. The foaming gel wash has to be best-smelling on earth—it’s a mix of cedar, spearmint, lime, lemon, rosemary, black spruce, owyhee, vetiver, and lavender oils, among others, and it’s perfectly balanced to refresh skin, yet leave its protective mantle intact. You will love it, your significant other will steal it, any products you use afterward will absorb better. All in, everyone’s skin will be happier.

Extra Cleansing for Teens

A child involved in athletics is going to need more. “If you know you’re going to be sitting on a bus for an hour after a game in sweaty clothes, bring an extra sports bra, and extra t-shirt,” says Wechsler. “Think about shoulder pads, and make sure helmets and chin straps are clean, too.” Face wipes can be incredibly helpful after exercise—and for cleansing-resistant tweens and teens, can stand in for cleansing, especially if they have salicylic acid in them (Ursa Major’s do, and they’re individually wrapped, making them especially amazing for travel; RMS’s individually-wrapped wipes take advantage of the soothing caprylic acid in coconuts). The nice thing about the salicylic acid in wipes is it stays on the skin, helping to cleanse pores. *It’s important to note that going clean with wipes is especially important—conventional wipes contain preservatives, not to mention skin-irritating fragrance in most cases.

Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes

goop, $24

The company’s miracle 4-1 Face Tonic formula is infused into each individually-wrapped bamboo-cloth face wipe—use as a pH-balancing cleanser, gentle-but-powerful exfoliant, potent skin-healer, and firming hydrator, for all skin types. The wipes smell subtly of orange, fir, and lavender—refreshing after the gym, beautiful for taking off makeup, life-changing for the breakout-prone.

RMS Beauty Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipe – 20 Pack

goop, $16

These easy-to-use, easy-to-transport cleansing cloths are stealth skincare treatments. Made with cold-centrifuged organic coconut oil, which contains rare lauric and caprillic acids—found mostly in breast milk and destroyed by heat, including typical “cold-pressed” processes—these have powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. They are ultra-moisturizing, yet don’t cause breakouts (and can actually help treat them), and are gentle enough around the delicate eye area to smooth away mascara. Brilliant for all skin types, from sensitive to blemish-prone to super-dry.

Topical Treatments for Teens

If your child is actively experiencing breakouts, the next thing to add in is a topical treatment—used daily all over the face, as opposed to typically harsher “spot treatments”. “The spot treatments don’t work all that well,” says Wechsler. “Acne takes time to clear up either way, and a harsh, drying product often makes it worse.” Start with a gentle salicylic acid treatment that’s mildly exfoliating yet not drying. Alternately, there are breakout-targeting face oils like Herbivore’s Blue Tansy that’s infused with skin-calming azulene. Wechsler says she likes to use a retinoid like Differin (a gel form of which just became available over the counter) in the evening after cleansing, and topical clindamicin in the morning if needed. While not necessarily toxic, benzoyl peroxide is irritating, especially to more-sensitive tween and teen skin. “It’s not uncommon to have a irritation to benzoyl peroxide products—but they are very effective,” says Anolik. “If it’s well tolerated and someone has inflamed, cystic types of acne, I do recommend it. A few things to note: Low-concentration benzoyl peroxide can work very well, so typically I don’t jump to recommending higher, more irritating concentrations.” Wechsler says she uses it most for cases of body acne, and even then likes it in wash form. “Benzoyl peroxide bleaches fabric—clothing, sheets—so it’s better to wash it off,” she says.

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch

goop, $13

These semi-sheer, basically-invisible patches are game-changing when you have a blemish. Place the tiny round sticker over a spot and it doubles as an intense hydrocolloid treatment and as a cover that makes zits less noticeable. They are so discreet that we wear them out running errands, overnight, and around the goop office.

True Botanicals Clear Pure Radiance Oil

True Botanicals Clear Pure Radiance Oil

goop, $110

Created specifically for people with problem skin, this face oil works in place of a moisturizer and feels amazing on skin. Helichrysum combines with hemp, pumpkin, and grape-seed oils to soothe and hydrate skin, leaving it balanced and glowy. Essential fatty acids from algae extract and astaxanthin support the skin’s natural barrier to help it stay hydrated.

The problem of irritation is a significant one, says Wechsler. “People tend to want to throw the book at a breakout, and they’ll layer on drying thing after irritating thing, benzoyl peroxide on top of a really strong clay mask, on top a harsh scrub, etc. Inflammation makes acne worse. Slow and steady treats even serious breakouts.” A calming mask, however, can be a fun and slightly silly ritual that really engages a kid.

Clark’s Botanicals Dual Charcoal Detox

Clark’s Botanicals Dual Charcoal Detox

goop, $45

This powerful yet gentle exfoliant works brilliantly as a mask and a cleanser to leave your skin fresh, smooth, and practically poreless. Two types of charcoal (Japanese binchotan charcoal and activated charcoal powder) work with mango, pineapple, and mango fruit extracts to gently exfoliate and absorb impurities, while a unique species of jasmine—found in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains—moisturizes and brightens, leaving skin glowy. The detox works for all skin types but is especially great for dull or problem skin. To cleanse, massage gently onto damp skin and rinse off. To use as a mask, apply a thick layer for five to fifteen minutes, then gently wash off with warm water. Either way, it leaves your skin purified, luminous, and totally detoxified.

In-office blue light treatments soothe skin; both Wechsler and Anolik use them with tween and teen patients. For more severe cases, medications like antibiotics and Accutane can be used starting at age 12. Wechsler always emphasizes that if a patient ever has a pimple that’s large enough to inject with cortisone that’s really bothering them, she’ll always make the time to see them that day. If you feel it’s merited, never hesitate to drag even a reluctant sufferer to the dermatologist: it’s a problem worth fixing.

Clean SPF for Teens

As tough as it is to get your child to cleanse, put at least as much effort into getting them to use sun protection. “So many teens and tweens don’t worry about sun tans or burns—many like being tan, and don’t worry about the harm it causes,” says Anolik. “It’s part of their feeling of immortality at that age. Sun damage is cumulative, and the more you get in childhood and tween years, the more evidence of it—looking older than you are, getting skin cancers—you’ll have later in life.” Girls experiencing breakouts may already be interested in makeup to help cover it up, and since many tinted moisturizers and foundations have SPF in them, this can be a brilliant synergy. “Step it up in terms of quality,” says Wechsler, who skips the drugstore entirely when shopping for a tween/teen tint or foundation. “You want formulas made with skin care ingredients.”

Clean mineral makeup, made with titanium dioxide has a soothing effect on skin. That said, covering up fresh, youthful skin with full-on makeup is crazy: More translucent SPFs like the one from Vive Sana or Beautycounter are ideal; Rituel de Fille and RMS Beauty both make concealers infused with calming ingredients. For boys or girls who want no tint Ursa Major’s SPF 18 is weightless and rubs in incredibly easily.

Vive Sana Daily Protezione SPF30

Vive Sana Daily Protezione SPF30

goop, $55

This isn’t just a clean SPF 30. Zinc oxide combines with deeply hydrating argan oil, antioxidant raspberry seed and green tea, along with soothing licorice root to protect and nourish skin, all in one light cream. It sinks in beautifully, blurring imperfections and leaving the healthiest-looking glow.

Beautycounter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20

goop, $45

This glowy, translucent, instantly perfecting SPF 20 has to be the ultimate no makeup-makeup of all time. It’s less about masking flaws, and more about looking and feeling like you—but better. The delicate, deeply hydrating formula smoothes in like a dream; zinc oxide soothes and protects all day; black currant, peony-root extract, and vitamin C address age spots and enhance brightness, and hyaluronic acid promotes firmer, smoother-looking skin. If you’re looking for coverage, this is not your product—but we guarantee it makes anyone’s skin look instantly more beautiful. It’s so sheer that different shades work for many different skins; if you’re in doubt, try No. 2, which works for practically everyone who tries it.

Force Field Daily Defense Lotion with SPF 18

goop, $54

This lightweight, ultra-hydrating all-mineral SPF blends in so beautifully it’s truly unbelievable. Unscented and packed with skin-perfecting vitamins, it treats your skin while leaving it smooth and protected. Sinks into skin in seconds, feels incredible—this lotion is seriously the ultimate (easy) daily anti-ager.

All Good Kid’s Sunscreen Lotion SPF 33

goop, $16

Organic coconut oil makes this easier to apply than most non-toxic formulas—only one of the reasons we’re obsessed with this broad-spectrum, hypo-allergenic, gluten- and gmo-free, vegan, biodegradable formula. Serious, totally safe sun protection for kids that feels amazing going on—a total breakthrough.

Rituel de Fille Ethereal Veil Conceal & Cover

Rituel de Fille Ethereal Veil Conceal & Cover

goop, $34

This easy-to-use pot concealer is super creamy and blends seamlessly into skin, leaving it even-looking and radiant. It’s thick and pigmented enough to really do the job, and the soft matte finish is incredibly natural-looking. Made with jojoba oil, frankincense, castor oil, and lanolin, it hydrates and soothes as it (brilliantly) erases spots, dark circles, and anything else you’d like to minimize. The shade range is fantastic, it travels brilliantly in a makeup bag, and whether applied with a brush or fingers, it’s truly genius.

RMS “Un” Cover-Up

goop, $36

While the natural mineral pigments and stay-put consistency are potent enough to stand on their own, this soothing, antioxidant-packed concealer stick blends beautifully with Vapour’s Soft Focus foundation—just match up the numbers to get the ideal shade pairing.

Above all, don’t ignore changes in your tween or teen’s skin. ”The psychological impact of problem skin is real,” says Wechsler. “Knowing that, and bearing in mind that everyone has to be patient at first—that no treatment is going to give you immediate changes—is important.” Sleep levels, stress levels, and a high-glycemic (lots of sugar) diet (Anolik mentions low- and non-fat milk specifically) can intensify or even trigger breakouts, depending on the person; family history plays a role, too. It takes a little time, but we’ll get there.