SKIN CARE FOR TEENS – When to Start and How

So you have started to notice your skin is changing, and the first thing you do is try to find information online that could help you deal with it. Great idea, except that there are so many different opinions and suggestions out there that it becomes too overwhelming and not necessarily helpful. Who better to answer some of your questions than a skin expert? We spoke to Dr. Riddell Scott, a Board-Certified Dermatologist at Vitalogy Skincare, to provide some insight into teenage skin.

Q: What is a good age for a teenager to start a skin care routine?

A: Kids can start good habits at a fairly young age before they start to have acne. Most can handle washing their face morning and night starting at about age 9 or 10. Gentle face cleansers like CeraVe® Hydrating Cleanser or Vanicream™ Gentle Facial Cleanser are not harsh, but they do get the skin clean.  By starting this habit early, the acne won’t start quite as fast. And as a bonus, if acne does start to cause trouble, they already have good skin care habits and have an easier time starting prescription plans to get the acne clear. If they spend a lot of time outdoors, wearing a mineral sunscreen is also helpful for long-term skin health. Mineral sunscreens have a reputation for being chalky and pasty on the skin. If you haven’t liked mineral sunscreens in the past, try some new products. Every year more and more products come on the market, and there are some great ones that smear in well with no visible white hazy coating on the skin. 

Q: What are some good habits a teenager should start early to help keep their skin healthy?

A: There are some basic habits that will help keep your skin healthy for years to come:

  1. Wash your face twice a day (morning and night). How do you wash your face well? Use a gentle face cleanser like CeraVe® Hydrating Facial Cleanser or Vanicream™ Gentle Facial Cleanser. These products are not harsh, but they do get off the dirt and sweat. Use warm water and soap up the cleanser in your hands. Apply cleanser to your face while avoiding the eye area. Then use a warm wet washcloth to rinse off the soap without scrubbing your face.
  2. Wear sunscreen every day. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more and look for products that are “non-comedogenic” so they don’t block your pores. If you are planning on being outside for a long time, wear a wide-brimmed hat. Ball caps aren’t doing you any favors. In fact, it can expose a lot more skin to sun damage like when girls tuck their hair into the cap.
  3. Start a prevention plan early if you begin to have acne. About 85% of teens have acne, so if you see blackheads and pimples, you’re probably going to see a lot more in the coming years. Over-the-counter producs with benzoyl peroxide are helpful to prevent acne, as well as “retinoid” drugs like Differin®. Use benzoyl peroxide or the “retinoid” topical drug every night before bed (after you wash your face) for the best results. Make an appointment with a dermatologist if things don’t improve within about 6-8 weeks. 

Q: Let’s talk about teen acne – what are some basics they should know to help them manage it?

A: There are a lot of products available to help clear up acne as well as all the TikTok and YouTube channels that tell you what you need to do. Getting your skin clear doesn’t have to be as complicated as some of those channels say, and not as expensive either. I like to tell my patients that it doesn’t take very long to get their acne to clear up. Less than a minute a day should do it. 

Put in the time to wash your face twice a day. Definitely take off the makeup, sweat, or dirt that accumulates during the day (that’s the nighttime wash) and all the oils that your skin makes overnight (that’s the morning time wash). Gentle cleansers are best. The rough scrubs take off the surface dead skin, but they don’t clear up the clogged pores. Also, acne treatments are best at preventing new acne. I don’t have a good reason why people should use acne spot treatments. The main goal is to stop acne in the first place, then you don’t need a spot treatment.

Q:  Are there any extra steps a teenager who is active in sports should take?

A: Always wash your face after practice or a game. If you have acne on the chest, back or shoulders, wash there as well. For those times when it isn’t handy to wash up, you can keep rinse-free facial cleansing wipes in your sports bag to clean up that way. Just remember to do the real washing when you can.

Q: Is it important for a teenager to know their skin type?

A: I think that categorizing skin types is a little tricky. It can give the message that you have one problem and there is one solution to fix it. The reality is that most people have some variation of combination skin, meaning the skin is oilier in the “t-zone” (forehead and down through the nose and chin area) and drier at the cheeks. We might also see or feel a lot of oil when we are hotter, sweatier, or when it’s later in the day. Sometimes seasons affect our skin as well, with drier winter skin and oilier summer skin.

I think most of us can work on understanding “intuitive skin care”. For example, if I feel dry, I apply lotion to the dry areas. If I am feeling or seeing oil more than usual, I can work on reducing the oil with a benzoyl peroxide product. Instead of having one plan to take care of your skin all of the time, being in tune with your body can help you adjust to your skin’s needs.

Q: When should a teenager go see a dermatologist?

A: Teens should see a dermatologist when their over-the-counter routines are not clearing up their skin. I recommend calling for an appointment early in the process because acne can cause scarring, which is permanent. If we start treatment early on, most people will see better results. I have a cousin who had severe acne as a teen, and her mom regrets not taking her to the dermatologist earlier. She says she just thought things would get better. By the time she realized that a dermatologist was necessary, there was already a lot of scarring. We get it – we were teens once too. As Dermatologists, we want to help you achieve your acne-free goals.

Q: Are there dermatology treatments that are helpful for teenage skin?

Have I said enough already about washing your face twice a day with warm soapy water and a gentle wash cloth? Yes? Probably so. Once you have that habit mastered, you can also use lotions, sunscreens and oil reducers when and where you need them. 

If your skin is oily, most likely that is in the “t-zone” across the forehead and down through the nose and chin area. Topical over the counter benzoyl peroxide treatments are helpful to reduce oil production. I like the leave-on products more than the cleansers. You can focus the treatment on the oily areas that way, and let the drier cheeks stay more moisturized with your usual cleanser.

And always, always, sunscreen. 

Q: Will my acne clear up if I change my diet?

A: This is a hard one because my answer is both yes and no. There are some studies that indicate high consumption of cow’s milk (but not cheese) is associated with a higher rate of acne. Cutting cow’s milk out of the diet may help reduce acne. There is also evidence from some small studies that consuming a low glycemic index diet can help acne. That means cutting out simple sugars and starches, like sweets, colas, white rice, white bread, white flower pasta, and others. 

If you are considering using diet changes to help acne, the most important thing is making sure you get all the nutrients you need. We build bones much better when we are young, so our bodies need lots of calcium. Since milk is a prominent source of calcium, if you intend to stop taking milk, you need to make sure to get enough calcium from other sources. That’s not impossible, but it takes work. For some, stopping milk is not the answer.

Low-glycemic diets are a trickier issue for me. Websites or books that help you create a low-glycemic diet are restrictive and intended to help people lose weight. Most teens don’t need dietary restrictions. If you aren’t growing in height, you are growing in bone, muscle mass, and brain development. Nutrients and calories are really important during this time of life. Teens can grow well and be healthy on a low-glycemic diet, but it’s not easy to get enough nutrition by using the most popular guides.

So, yes and no.  I tend to say no, a teen should not try to control their acne by cutting foods out of their diet. The foods you eat can help the acne, but it can be hard to do it well. Plus, you won’t see results quickly. It can take six months to see any improvements in acne by changing your diet.

About the Medical Provider

Dr. Riddell Scott is a Board-Certified Dermatologist with nearly 20 years experience and is new to Central Texas. She and her husband moved to the area last summer and enjoy good food, great friends, and a long float on the Blanco River.  She sees patients of all ages and specializes in medical dermatology, which means all the rashes, itches, acne, and skin cancers.

Since 2007, we have served our Central Texas community’s dermatological needs with best-in-class experts, including Board-Certified Dermatologists, Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeons, and Licensed Aestheticians. Visit to learn more about our medical, cosmetic, and surgical services. We offer online appointment booking for your convenience, and our team of Patient Coordinators can also help with your dermatology appointments by calling 512.930.3909

(Dec 7, 2022) Edible Austin