Teen Acne: Effective solutions

Tackling teen acne begins with an effective skin care routine, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. We know having acne can cause some hard feelings, but experiencing blemishes is completely normal! In fact, about 85% of young adults aged 12-25 experience acne.

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 to help tackle breakouts. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman adds, “In resistant cases, a topical retinoid may also be necessary.”

We’re here to walk you through how your morning and evening anti-breakout skin care routines should look. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised at how fast your breakouts and bumps subside—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 (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 BHA 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! BHA is oil soluble, meaning it can get into pores and help remove clogs.
  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. Note: “A small subset of patients, particularly those with darker skin tones, can be intolerant to benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr. Hartman. “If the skin burns immediately after application and redness develops, perhaps benzoyl peroxide is not for you.”
  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 or dark spot 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 factors 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 skin care. The only way to clearer skin is to follow a consistent, effective skin care routine. Consistency and patience are essential. “The best products in the world are useless if they aren’t used consistently,” says Dr. Hartman.
  • 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.

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