Teenage Kicks: How To Help Teen Skin

Ahhh, the teen years. Problem skin, heartache, study stress and the all-encompassing feeling of not belonging… I’d take it all back if I got fresh collagen with it! There is no doubting that the teen years are a tumultuous time. You are finding your bearings in the world as a near adult, getting used to having to do hard work and figuring out who you are as a person.

On top of that, and to use a cliché, your body is changing. You are essentially a big ball of hormones, walking around and trying to keep up appearances.

Why do teens get acne & congestion?

The misconception about teens and acne is that they aren’t showering enough or that they aren’t eating well. Of course, hygiene and cleansing your face is key to helping to regulate oil from the inside and nutrients (or anti-nutrients like sugar and hydrogenated fats) affect your skin’s health. It cannot be denied, however, that teenagers are battling against a tide and that tide is hormones, something that is difficult to control in the adolescent years.

With the flooding of androgens (sex hormones) that occur from approximately 12 years old onwards, your skin is going through the wars. Androgens, specifically testosterone in teenagers of all genders, prompt your skin to overproduce sebum or oil. Sebum (oil) encourages the dead skin cells that your skin is constantly shedding off and debris within the pore to stick together and form a plug.

This plug forms a spot. If there is no head on the spot and it just looks like a little black dot in the pore, this is known as an open comedone or blackhead. If this plug has a covering of skin, it is known as a closed comedone which refers to small lumps and bumps, usually colourless but may have a tint of pink to them. 

The type of spot most commonly associated with teenagers is the pustule. These are the gooey whiteheads filled with yellow or white pus with a ring of red inflammation. You may be able to feel a pustule develop on your face – not pleasant at all – and if you hit against something, it may hurt a bit.

These happen when infection occurs in the skin and P. acnes (Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that lives in our skin’s sebum and does primarily good things) moves in – the infection causes inflammation in the pore which means that the walls of the pore break and thus the spot becomes larger.

Beyond pustules, there are cysts and nodules. Cysts are often much larger than pustules and exist deeper in the skin. They are red, rounded and boil-like and occur due to the infection spreading into other pores. They are soft due to the fact that they are filled with pus.

Nodules are like cysts except they are hard bumps, skin-coloured or red, and they do not contain pus so they won’t have a head and are likely to be the same colour all over. Both cysts and nodules can be incredibly painful and difficult to camouflage compared to other forms of acne - they are also the type most likely to cause scarring.

When it comes to cysts and nodules, your first port of call should always be the GP or a medical professional – skin therapists and cosmeceutical skincare can still help along with the medical advice.

How to help teenage skin: the products

I feel like teenagers may be some of the most susceptible to marketing when it comes to skincare. Beauty brands make bold and frankly ludicrous claims – “Our cleanser literally pulls blackheads from the pore”. If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

I remember the products touted for people my age when I was a teen and nowadays they are not much different. It’s all foaming cleansers and astringent washes that contain ingredients far too harsh and stripping for teenage skin, especially if hydration isn’t being given to the skin afterwards…

The appeal to teens is that they smell like a citrus fruit or that they can “feel it working” due to the inclusion of menthol (an ingredient that in most circumstances dehydrates the skin). There is no one product that will assist in teen skin problems – no, I cannot recommend one affordable face mask that will fix you or your teen’s woes.

What IS required is a nice, basic core skincare routine that will work to reduce sebum production over time, to cleanse the skin, to ensure it is hydrated and to protect it from damage. Here’s a refresher on the core 4, if you haven’t come across it before:

  • Cleanser – this means a thorough double-cleanse that includes a makeup & oil removal step and an additional traditional cleanser to address skin concerns
  • Serum – a serum is like a concentrated moisturiser that can get into the skin, where a moisturiser usually sits on top of the skin and softens only the uppermost layers
  • Supplement – supplements like probiotics and omegas can improve general skin health and help with acne and skin hydration
  • SPF your SPF protects skin from sunlight (aka UVA rays and UVB rays) that can make scarring worse and accelerate how quickly your skin ages – we need this year round as UVA rays exist year round.

Cleansers for teenage skin

Let’s start with cleansers – the cornerstone of a skincare regime, for all intents and purposes. You are looking to avoid cleansers that you see in supermarkets for the most part as many cleansers from these brands often strip the skin of all oils, making the overproduction of sebum and congestion worst. Sorry to break it to you!

First things first, you need a pre-cleanse. This can be coconut oil (although I’d be weary of introducing this to oily teen skin), a pre-cleansing balm or, my personal favourite, the Cleanse Off Mitt (€5.95). All you need to do is wet the Cleanse Off Mitt and allow the fine microfibre loops to remove makeup and debris from the skin – much more skin-friendly than dastardly wipes and micellar water, which contain drying alcohols and sensitising fragrances that can contribute to breakouts.

What you need in your life as a teenager is salicylic acid, a safe, exfoliating ingredient that dissolves dead skin cells and sebum within the pore to prevent spots and blackheads from forming. You can get this through IMAGE Clear Cell Clarifying Cleanser (€36.00) – it is a little pricier but hold on, I will explain further. You will only want to use this salicylic cleanser maybe twice a week (ie. once every three days) as teenage skin is still delicate. The other days, you need to use something that nourishes the skin and cleans it without stripping it of all the goodness that it produces itself.

Youth Lab Daily Cleanser for Combination/Oily Skin (€13.50) is perfect as it contains sodium PCA and urea, two ingredients that the skin uses naturally to keep itself hydrated. All in all, this cleansing routine comes out at around €60 – HOWEVER, it will last six months due to the two cleansers and the two Cleanse Off Mitts (we recommend that you replace your Cleanse Off Mitt every 3 months). If this is out of your price range, stick with just the Youth Lab cleanser and Cleanse Off Mitt.

Serum for teenage skin

If I were to recommend a single serum to anyone, it’s always a vitamin A serum. For teen skin, it may be best to start out with a lower dosage of vitamin A, like in Environ’s SkinEssentiA Vita-Antioxidant AVST Gel (€54.00, available with Nerd Network Membership).

Vitamin A is an all-rounder for skin health – it aids the skin in helping to heal itself which means spots will clear up faster and you are less likely to be left with scarring, it protects your skin from external damage such as that caused by pollution and it helps the skin to make its own collagen, which is a protein that exists in the skin that helps to make up its plumpness and structure.

More collagen = stronger skin and less likelihood of textural scarring. AVST Gel will last for about 3 months. 

If a vitamin A serum is slightly out of the price range you’re looking at, opt for a hydrating serum that contains hyaluronic acid as it is a non-oily hydrator that draws moisture into the skin – teens have too much oil but there’s no such thing as too much hydration. Caudalíe Vinosource S.O.S Thirst Quenching Serum (€30.00) contains hyaluronic acid, squalane and potent antioxidants to hydrate and protect the skin on a daily basis. Once again, it will last about 3 months – when it comes to serums, a little goes a long way and moisturisers tend to run out much faster.

Supplements for teenage skin

Supplements like omegas can help for those who experience dry or dehydrated skin with spots, as they help to hydrate the skin and feed it. Probiotics are a key supplement for all as many believe that what’s going on with the gut affects the skin!


SPF for teenage skin

Avène’s Very High Protection Cleanance Sunscreen SPF30 (€19.99) is ideal for teen skin for a number of reasons…
  • It feels light
  • It’s mattifying so it works as a primer and doesn’t leave a slick of shine
  • When applied properly, it doesn’t look like you’re wearing anything
  • It contains sebum-regulating and anti-irritation ingredients
  • It protects from both UVA and UVB light

Wearing an SPF is so important for teens suffering from acne as it can help to prevent any pigmentation (ie. dark patches of skin where spots once were) from getting darker due to exposure to UV rays. It also sets teens up for life-long daily SPF usage – wehoo! My own teen has been wearing daily SPF since he was only knee high to a grasshopper.

Spot treatments for teenage skin

If you didn’t spend your teen years slathered in spot treatments, were you ever a teen?! I believe having a core routine is key but boosting it with on-the-spot treatments can help greatly. There is one and nearly only one thing I recommend as a spot treatment for teen skin (and adult skin, for that matter): Acne Out Active Lotion (€26.00).

It’s a highly active lotion, the ingredients of which are kept under wraps, and it only need be applied directly on to spots with a cotton swab to prevent dryness in other areas. I use it myself, my teenage son uses it and members of Team Nerd use it – suitable for nearly everyone, even during pregnancy.

Shaving for teenage skin

I find that when it comes to teenage boys, their skin often worsens when they start to shave. This is sometimes down to technique – always shave with the grain! However, there is something else that impacts their skin and I’m nearly certain that it is traditional shaving creams. Have you ever sniffed a shaving foam? The majority of shaving foams, especially those that teen boys like to use, smell like they were manufactured in a garage.

They are pumped with drying alcohols (often written as SD alcohol or denatured alcohol), fragrances and unnecessarily harsh preservatives to make them last as long as possible on shelves and give them a foamy texture.

Teen boys need to use something much gentler than this on their already irritated skin. When I first came across Académie Scientifique de Beauté, I adored the fact that they have a men’s range especially when I found out that they have a two-in-one cleanser and shaving gel called Easy Shaving Even On A Three Day’s Stubble (€29.60). This moisturising, soothing cleanser can be used in lieu of a shaving foam and will be much more respectful to the skin!

Makeup for teenage skin

When teens get a spot or multiple spots, the first thing they do is reach for the thickest, heaviest cosmetic makeup they can – this just makes the problem worse. Focus on using the right skincare and camouflage using pure mineral makeup such as Jane Iredale or Bellápierre which will help to soothe any redness in the skin and will not clog pores as cosmetic makeup does.

A final nerdie note

Your skin or your teen’s skin will be better than it is right now, so long as you are proactive about it. It will not be like this forever and although it feels like people cannot see past your skin, they certainly can and they will. Remember that if people are cruel to you because of your skin, something that you have little control over, they are the problem, not you.

If you are or have a teen that is conscious of their skin and has tried everything, we would love to speak to them through the Nerd Network. We can have video skin consultations with those over 12 so long as their parent or guardian is with them throughout the entire process (including signing their consultation form on behalf of the minor).