Clean Skin Care Routines
for Tweens and Teens
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/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% of people between 12 and 24 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.”
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.”
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.”
Countercontrol Clear Pore Cleansergoop, $26
A gentle but deep cleanse with organic lemon, cherry and aloe juice.
Goldfaden MD Pure Startgoop, $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.
Leland Francis Black Rose Bargoop, $22
An amazing anti-ager as well as potent (but incredibly gentle) breakout fighter, this bar combines the healing, detoxifying power of charcoal with antioxidant African black soap—brilliant for treating acne, eczema, and psoriasis—plus rose and bergamot essential oils to hydrate, soothe, fight sunspots, and combat other signs of aging. The results are clear, radiant skin with a refined, clarified texture. The handmade-in-the-U.S.A., hand-cut, small-batch bars lather beautifully and gently exfoliate while leaving the skin’s lipid barrier intact, so it stays smooth and soft.
Ursa Major Fantastic Face Washgoop, $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.
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.” 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 Wipesgoop, $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 Packgoop, $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.
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.
Countercontrol All Over Acne Treatmentgoop, $38
Salicylic acid and vitamin C combine to reduce breakouts, unclog pores, and even treat skin tone issues. Super-gentle and hydrating, so it’s easy to use everyday.
Herbivore Botanicals Lapis Facial Oilgoop, $72
Without a doubt the most gorgeous, luxurious breakout/troubled or combination skin treatment ever: This ultra-soothing, anti-inflammatory skin solution gets its name from the Egyptian gemstone lapis lazuli, and its color from precious blue tansy oil made with azulene, a powerful anti-inflammatory/antibacterial compound that reduces redness and clarifies skin. Combination, oily, blemish-prone, or irritated complexions of any sort need this drop-dead-beautiful bottle in the medicine chest.
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; goop staffers have had amazing results doing May Lindstrom’s paint-on The Problem Solver mud/charcoal mask together with their kids.
May Lindstrom The Problem Solver Correcting Masquegoop, $90
It starts out as a powder (a blend of raw cacao, bamboo charcoal, soil nutrients, and spices), only releasing its potent healing elements once mixed with water. The resulting mousse heals blemishes, fights inflammation, encourages circulation, and visibly tightens pores pretty much instantly. Use Lindstrom’s facial treatment bowl and brush to mix the paste.
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.
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 Naturopathica 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 SPF30goop, $55
Coola’s Matte Tint SPF 30 has the freakiest (and coolest) feel ever: It goes on like foam dust, leaving nary a trace behind. It has a very sheer universal tint and matte finish that hides imperfections and evens skin tone, too, meaning it’s kind of magic in a bottle.
Beautycounter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20goop, $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 18goop, $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 Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF 33goop, $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.
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Perfecting Concealergoop, $24
An easy-to-use miracle skin perfector, this creamy, highly pigmented formula conceals imperfections and dark circles like nothing else, allowing you to wear much less makeup overall. The buildable full coverage blends like a dream for a flawless, utterly natural look. Hydrating and smoothing, it works to visibly reduce fine lines as it seamlessly erases dark circles, blemishes, and discolorations.
RMS “Un” Cover-Upgoop, $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.