How to Treat Teen Acne

How to Treat Teen Acne

Tackling teen acne begins with an effective skin care routine, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. For most, it only takes four products: a cleanser, a leave-on exfoliant that contains salicylic acid (BHA), a benzoyl peroxide product, and, for daytime, a super-light broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Here’s how the morning and evening skin care routines would look—once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised at how fast it goes—clear skin will be its own reward.

Morning Skin Care Routine for Teens

  1. Cleanse with a face wash suitable for acne-prone skin. Choose a soap-free, water-soluble formula designed to be gentle (because not being gentle to skin can increase acne breakouts), but cleanse thoroughly. Use a soft washcloth or soft-bristle cleansing brush to make sure you remove excess oil.
  2. Exfoliate to help unclog pores with a gentle, leave-on liquid exfoliant for acne. You’ll be amazed at the difference a product like this makes—much better for acne than a harsh face scrub!
  3. Apply a benzoyl peroxide treatment to all breakout-prone areas. Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard acne-fighting ingredient because it immediately targets the source of acne breakouts. Begin with a lower strength (2.5%) and see how your skin responds before moving to the higher strength (5%) option.
  4. Sun damage can make post-acne marks worse, so daily sun protection is the “secret weapon” in caring for acne-prone skin. Skipping this step can cause the redness left behind from a breakout to linger. If you’ve tried sunscreens, but found them too heavy or thick-feeling, a featherlight, oil-free sunscreen is likely to change your mind.

Nighttime Skin Care for Teenagers

The evening routine is the same as the morning routine, minus the sunscreen. If your skin is dry or you notice some mild flaking, apply a thin layer of a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer over those areas. You can dab it around the eyes, too.

Hidden Acne Triggers

The changes that occur during puberty aren’t the only factor behind teen acne. Other things that can trigger or make existing acne breakouts worse include:

  • Not washing the face gently twice daily. Dirty skin does not cause acne, but not washing your face enough can lead to a buildup of oil and dead skin. This combo creates the perfect environment for acne and clogged pores.

  • Not being gentle. Overdoing cleansing with abrasive scrubs, stiff-bristle cleansing brushes, or products with skin-aggravating ingredients (such as SD or denatured alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, essential oils, and citrus oils) damage skin’s surface. If it hurts or tingles, that means it’s bad for skin! Putting your skin in this weakened state means more pimples and oil production can occur, and post-acne marks will probably stay around longer too.

  • Not removing your makeup at night. Many teens cover up acne with makeup, but if you don’t remove all of your makeup every night, your acne treatments won’t work, and your clogged pores will only 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 hair that falls on your face can cause breakouts in those areas. The solution: Keep hair off your face and use lighter hair-styling products.

Learn more about acne.

References for this information:
Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 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 about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!