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The teenage years are a whirlwind of emotions, growth, and transitions — and for many teens, one physical manifestation of change occurs in their skin. With the hormones of puberty in full force, their skin can react with congestion, textural changes, and possibly acne. This stage is the ideal time to teach your teen about the importance of skin health and to instill hygiene habits and practices that can benefit them for a lifetime.

Joee Nelson, master esthetician at LifeSpa in Eden Prairie, Minn., works with teens to get them on track with effective skincare routines. “I do customized teen facials that help clear up acne and educate teens on their skin,” Nelson says. “I always listen to the client to help them feel confident in their skin. The facial I do is then based on the client’s skin type and concerns.”

Nelson starts each facial by double cleansing the skin, then she exfoliates and steams the skin before extracting existing pimples and blackheads. She finishes with a customized treatment mask. Throughout, she shares a wealth of dos and don’ts that teens can incorporate at-home to prevent breakouts.

“The top three things that every teen needs to do to help keep their skin clear is wash their face twice a day, use a moisturizer, and apply SPF. It’s these three habits that promote healthy skin and hygiene forever,” Nelson emphasizes.

One at-home skincare activity teens need to stop doing, however, is over exfoliating. “Too often, I see the negative results of teens over exfoliating,” Nelson says. “Using a scrub depending on acne type can cause lesions in the skin and spread the acne, making your skin that much worse.”

For teens with severe flare-ups, Nelson suggests visiting a dermatologist or nutritionist to evaluate the teen’s diet, as certain types of foods can have negative effects on the skin. “Easy things to add to their diet that can help the skin look its best are fresh fruits and vegetables, and good proteins like salmon with omega-3 fatty acids. A doctor can help determine which foods, if any, they should eliminate as they may be causing the acne.”

The Secrets to Cleansing

Cleansing the face twice a day is a must, Nelson stresses, though the timing will depend on the teen. “They should always wash in the morning with a gentle cleanser. Then follow with a moisturizer and SPF,” Nelson says. “The second wash depends on if your teen is in sports or does an activity that causes them to sweat. If they are, then it’s ideal that they wash just after the activity is complete. If that is not an immediate option, using cleansing wipes — kept in their gym bag — is best, until they can get home to shower.”

There’s no need to wash again before bed, says Nelson, because over cleansing can cause irritation and strip the face of some needed oils.

Doing a double cleanse at home is only recommended for teens who wear a lot of makeup. “I love the Eminence Stone Crop Cleansing Oil as a first cleanse to break up the makeup and release it from the face,” Nelson says. “Then they can do a second cleanse with their regular gentle cleanser.”

Product Knowledge

A cleanser that Nelson always recommends is the IS Clinical Complex Cleanser. “This is good for all skin types and is gentle enough for sensitive, problematic skin. I also suggest teens with acne use a PanOxyl cleanser a few nights a week, which can be found at any drug store.”

After cleansing, Nelson suggests applying the IS Clinical Active Serum — it’s good on all skin types and is an antibacterial that also helps brighten the skin. After the serum, follow with a moisturizer.

“I know teens with acne often feel they need to dry out the skin, however moisturizing promotes healing so it’s important to still moisturize the face,” Nelson stresses. “I love IS Clinical Moisturizing Complex, used twice a day. Otherwise, Cetaphil or CeraVe moisturizers are great budget-friendly options for problematic skin.”

Be wary of skincare products that are heavily fragrant. They may smell yummy, but if your teen is dealing with acne, the heavy fragrance can cause inflammation and irritation. It’s important to also avoid skincare products that have alcohol listed within the first three ingredients; alcohol is drying and won’t provide an immediate benefit to the skin.

Simple Skin Steps

Nelson suggests these easy steps teens can take to help them along their journey to beautiful skin.

  • Change pillowcases regularly so you’re always sleeping on a clean surface.
  • For teens who are in sports, carry alcohol wipes in your gym bag so you can clean athletic gear. Helmets, chin straps, hats, or any other equipment that sit on the face collect bacteria. These need to be wiped down after each game and practice, so they are clean for the next use.
  • Clean cell phones regularly to avoid bacteria touching the skin on the face or transferring from your fingers.
  • Apply hair products an inch back from the hairline so these ingredients don’t seep onto the skin.

The Earlier, The Better

Jasmine Martinez, LifeSpa esthetician at Life Time Happy Valley in Peoria, Ariz., points out that the earlier one addresses changing skin, the better the results. Martinez noticed her daughter’s skin changing at the age of 12 and immediately implemented a skincare routine.

“The first thing I noticed was changes in her skin’s texture,” Martinez says. “Recognizing the impact of hormonal shifts, environmental influences, and lifestyle choices, I focused on creating a preventive regimen to avoid acne. We emphasized cleansing, exfoliation, replenishment, and protection.”

And SPF is an absolute must. This not only helps to preserve the skin’s beauty, but, importantly, it protects against cancer-causing UV rays. “Teens should get in the habit early of using SPF on a daily basis,” Martinez stresses.

Starting a complete skincare routine early — and being consistent with it — is what Martinez considers the keys to success for healthy skin. “By starting early, prioritizing effective routines, and nurturing our skin with the care it deserves, we set the foundation for a future where confidence and radiance know no bounds.”

Nelson concurs: “Confidence is everything, and I always remind my teens that having good hygiene is key to promoting healthy skin. Their acne and skin struggles are just a ‘season in life,’ and I will help them along with this season. Know that teen acne is normal and with time, this will go away.”

Jolene Turner
Jolene Turner

Jolene Turner is a beauty writer and social media strategist focusing on the salon, spa, and professional hair care industries. She currently works with the Life Time LifeSpa team on social media marketing and content development. Turner’s background includes working as the senior editor for American Salon, as a head writer for beauty blogs, and as a communications and consumer engagement professional for a global beauty brand. She’s worked with leading beauty brands including Aveda, Hotheads Hair Extensions, HiBar, Wella, and more.

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