Clearing Up Teen Skincare


In This Article:

It’s so unfair: Just when teens are hypersensitive about their appearance, acne shows up, wreaking havoc on their self-esteem and confidence. In fact, the American Association of Dermatology estimates that 85% of teenagers will have acne at some point as they mature into adults—but your teen’s complexion doesn’t have to suffer in angry red, white-bumped frustration! Following the facts will change everything.

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Recommended Skin-Care for Teens

Why Do Teens Break Out?

Teens breakout for the same reasons as adults. It almost always related to hormone fluctuations that directly affect the skin. The difference for teens is the sudden onset and intensity of the physical changes as puberty happens. These changes can take a toll on a teen’s skin, resulting in a wide range of breakouts, from mild to severe.

Changes that occur during puberty aren’t the only factor, though! Other factors to be aware that can either cause acne or make matters worse include:

  • Not washing the face gently twice daily. Dirty skin doesn’t cause acne, but infrequent cleansing can lead to a buildup of oil and dead skin that create a perfect environment for acne and clogged pores to flourish.
  • Not being gentle. Overdoing cleansing, using abrasive scrubs, stiff-bristled cleansing brushes, or products with skin- aggravating ingredients damage skin’s surface. In this weakened state, more pimples and oil production can occur and make post-acne marks stay around longer than they othwewise would.
  • Using skincare that contains harsh ingredients. Check your teen’s products for ingredients like SD or denatured alcohol, menthol, witch hazel, eucalyptus, and citrus oils. All of these can cause acne to linger longer and possibly lead to more breakouts, not to mention side effects like dry, flaky skin along with too much oil!
  • Not using products that contain anti-acne ingredients: The two gold standard ingredients for acne are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The decades of research showing how brilliant these are for skin is unquestionable. They are considered the first line of defense before needing to see a medical professional for other options.
  • Not removing all your makeup at night. It’s tempting to cover up acne with a thick layer of makeup, but if you don’t get all makeup off at night, your acne treatments won’t work and clogged pores will get worse!
  • Inconsistent skincare: The only way to clearer skin is to follow a consistent, effective skincare routine. Consistency and patience are essential!
  • Hairstyling products: Any creamy, waxy, or oily leave-on products applied to the hair that falls on your face can cause breakouts in those areas. Keeping the hair off your face and using lighter styling products can help a great deal.

Use an Effective Skincare Routine

Helping your teen put together a skincare routine that keeps their acne under control doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, for most it will only take four products: Cleanser, leave-on exfoliant that contains salicylic acid (BHA), a benzoyl peroxide product, and, for daytime, a super-light broad spectrum sunscreen.

Daily sun protection is a great habit for teens to begin, plus keeping skin shielded from daylight can helps the look of post-acne marks fade faster!

Here’s how the morning and evening skincare routine would look—and you can tell your teen that it can go pretty fast once they get the hang of it. Tell them it will be worth it as they begin to see their skin clear up and take on a smoother, more even appearance that others will notice, too!


  1. Cleanse with a soap-free water soluble formula designed to be gentle yet cleanse thoroughly, like Paula’s Choice Skincare CLEAR Normalizing Cleanser. Adding a soft washcloth or soft- bristled cleansing brush can help make sure all makeup, debris, and oil are removed.
  2. Exfoliate and help unclog pores with a leave-on, completely non-abrasive 2% salicylic acid product designed for acne-prone skin. The trick is to find one that doesn’t contain sensitizing ingredients like alcohol and menthol. Paula’s Choice Skincare CLEAR Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution is perfect; you will be amazed at the difference a product like this can make! Choose our Regular Strength version for mild to moderate breakouts; Extra Strength for more stubborn acne and clogged pores.
  3. Apply a benzoyl peroxide treatment to all breakout-prone areas. Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard acne-fighting ingredient and is brilliant when combined with soothing, exfoliating salicylic acid. Paula’s Choice Skincare CLEAR Daily Skin-Clearing Treatment comes in two strengths: 2.5% or 5% benzoyl peroxide. Begin with the lower strength and see how your teen’s skin responds before trying the higher strength option.
  4. Protect skin every day with an oil-free, lightweight, broad spectrum sunscreen. If your teen has objected to the feel of other facial sunscreens, Paula’s Choice Skincare CLEAR Ultra-Light Daily Mattifying Fluid SPF 30 is likely to change their mind!

The evening routine is the same as the morning routine, minus the sunscreen. If your teen’s skin begins to look or feel a bit dry, they can apply a thin layer of a light, gel-type moisturizer over those areas. Paula’s Choice Skincare SKIN BALANCING Invisible Finish Moisture Gel hydrates and smooths skin texture without feeling the least bit slick or greasy.

Should You Pop a Pimple?

It's almost impossible to leave bothersome blemishes alone, but over-squeezing or picking can make matters worse, possibly causing permanent damage. Check out our article on how to do this the right way and remember, if the blemish doesn’t respond after one or two gentle attempts, STOP!

For more important information to share with your teen, check out our article on Acne Myths.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.

References for this information:

  • Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Veneregology, June 2014, pages 733-740
  • Current Opinion in Pediatrics, August 2008, pages 436-440
  • Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, August 2008, pages 171-176
  • Journal of Cosmetic Science, January/February 2004, pages 65-80

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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