Creating a Healthy Skincare Routine for Teens and Preteens

A few weeks ago, I was organizing my skincare cabinet and found an expired Benzoyl Peroxide face wash that had been there for YEARS untouched. It reminded me of my days as a 13 and 14 year old, using harsh, stripping products in an attempt to clear my acne and severe texture caused by raging hormones.

Now, not only do I know that acne as a teenager (and even adult) is 100% normal and expected, but I also know that I was only exacerbating my concerns by using products like the Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Scrub or the Oxy 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Wash. Or using baking soda as an exfoliant and mask and toothpaste to spot treat. Yes, your skincare fav actually did that once. Then, I thought that if my skin has no oils and I remove EVERYTHING from it…then that means I’m removing my acne, too. Right? Wrong. As hell.

Today, I am fortunate to be equipped with accurate and safe skincare knowledge. And I’m here to save your teenagers face. Or, if you’re a teenager reading this, I’ve been where you’re at, and I’m here to help. First, throw out any of your cleansers that claim “oil-free” and “oily skin”. These are only dehydrating your skin by removing it’s natural and healthy oil content. This mostly applies to cleansers and toners.

When you dehydrate your skin, you force it to overproduce oil in order to trap in moisture. That’s what your skin uses oils for. To trap in water since they help create a barrier that prevents water from leaving. Begin to embrace oils now, not fear them. Oils will help to balance your skin and help repair it, which is why oil cleansers are king when it comes to cleansing. They don’t disrupt your skin’s pH and worsen it. Not all oils are made equally, though. Avoid oils that are likely to clog your pores and cause acne such as coconut oil.

I made a few tweets about cleansers dehydrating your skin recently, and the number of people who responded saying that those cleansers damaged their skin was eye-opening. Which inspired this post.

I’ve also found that majority of these products are marketed to teenagers. I see it often from the brands and misinformed skincare enthusiasts, too.

A healthy routine consists of at least the following steps:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Exfoliate
  3. Hydrate
  4. Moisturize
  5. Protect

The extra steps come in if you have concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, texture, etc. But those 5 steps are what you need to, at the very least, have healthy skin. The holidays are approaching and the seasons are changing (so is your skin), and of course you want to step in to fall with your best skin forward so you can stunt, right?! So let’s create a basic (but highly effective) routine with all the necessary steps for healthy skin, while keeping your wallet in mind, of course.

Best Cleansers for Teenagers:

Best Toners for Teenagers

This list includes hydrating, exfoliating, and super gentle toners. All of which will help to remove traces of makeup, dirt, excess oil, and dead skin cells without stripping your skin of the oils it needs. For sensitive skin types, I would suggest the Neutrogena Alcohol Free Toner or the L’Oreal Hydra Fresh toner. The L’Oreal will exfoliate with BHAs to help unclog your pores, hydrate, and soothe. Exfoliation is crucial because it promotes cell turnover, which is necessary for your pores to remain unclogged which also helps with product absorption. So, you make your routine more effective when you regularly (and safely) exfoliate.

For those with more severe texture, acne, or hyper pigmentation, the Pixi Glow Tonic has 5% glycolic acid. Out of all chemical exfoliants, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size, meaning it is able to penetrate the deepest. At a 5% concentration, it’s potent enough to exfoliate your skin on a much deeper level, and yield great and visible results, but not result in much irritation, which is great for teenagers.

Best Hydrators for Teenagers

The number 1 concern I see during consultations, both in adults and teens, is dehydration. For some reason, most brands don’t emphasize how crucial hydrating your skin properly is. They mislabel their moisturizers and use “hydrator” and “moisturizer” interchangeably. Which leads to confusion and consumers thinking they are hydrating their skin because their moisturizer says “hydrator” or “hydrating”. It’s tiring. Hydrators are very lightweight, water based products in the form of serums. Emphasis on water based. Oils cannot hydrate. They only promote hydration by preventing moisture loss. Hydrators are made of humectants, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, that work by attracting water from the air into your skin. Hyaluronic acid, specifically, can hold 1000x it’s weight in water.

A product I like to use as an example to show how confusing the market is when it comes to hydrators vs. moisturizers, is one of my holy grail products. The Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel. It has silicones and other emollients, making it a moisturizer, but Neutrogena has heavily marketed it to seem as though it hydrates. Now, I absolutely love the product and the brand, but this is wrong and leads to consumers being mislead. Here are some hydrators.

Best Moisturizers For Teenagers

Moisturizers are essential for maintaining a healthy moisture barrier. If you don’t do anything else to your skin, the least you should do is protect your barrier. When your moisture barrier is compromised, your skin really struggles to retain moisture. Which means its damaged. Damaged skin only continues to worsen until you treat it properly and repair the damage, by repairing your barrier. Hydrating and moisturizing, separately and consistently, are the best and only ways to maintain a healthy moisture barrier. The two go together.

You cannot hydrate without moisturizing, and cannot moisturize without hydrating. This is because to hydrate, you need to give your skin water. So if you moisturize without hydrating, you haven’t given your skin any water and are, therefore, not sealing anything in when you moisturize. When you hydrate without moisturizing, you don’t seal the water in so your skin experiences transepidermal water loss rapidly and you’re right back to dehydration and damaged skin. Yes, dehydrated skin is always damaged.

For hyper pigmentation, I strongly suggest the Formula 10.0.6 P.M. Perfector. It has tyrosinase inhibitors which help treat hyper pigmentation. For acne, the grapeseed oil would be best because it is high in linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that oily skin lacks (and cannot produce internally) which makes your sebum thicker and stickier, and more likely to clog your pores.

Best Skin Protectors for Teenagers

Protecting your skin is also crucial to maintaining a healthy barrier. Protecting can mean using an oil nightly to form an occlusive barrier and prevent nearly all moisture loss. Or, it can mean protecting it from UVA and UVB rays and free radicals by using SPF and antioxidants during the day. Both forms of protection are essential for healthy skin. Since your skin *needs* oils, it’s important to incorporate an oil into some part of your routine. The most effective way to incorporate an oil is at the absolute end of your night routine. At night is when your skin focuses greatly on repairing itself, so it’s best to focus on using oils then.

For acne, the grapeseed oil would be best because it is high in linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that oily skin lacks (and cannot produce internally) which makes your sebum thicker and stickier, and more likely to clog your pores. Typically, you get linoleic acid from fats in your diet, but it’s always best to apply things topically because that means your skin gets them directly, and your body doesn’t first disperse them to other more important organs. Your body thinks the largest organ it has isn’t (your skin) as important as, like, your liver, so all the nutrients you consume first go to other ~more important~ organs. Yes, even water. The skincare enthusiast in me is shaking. No one sees my inner organs. Everyone sees my skin! Hopefully in the next lifetime our bodies prioritize our skin more. LOL.

Hey, teen! Are you going to be changing your routine? Let me know in the comments below.

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