The Best Beginner Skin-Care Routine for Your Kid (or Yourself) to Start With

Photo: Getty Images/ Blend Images - Jack Hollingsworth
Like pretty much everything in your early teens—your first crush, your first period, your first bra purchase—navigating your first skin-care routine can be particularly confusing. It's as if all of a sudden, your hormones have all teamed up and decided to hit you with a one-two punch of oily skin and acne, and you've got to figure out how to deal. My own personal introduction to skin care came at the ripe age of 13 by way of a mail-order skin-care kit that Jessica Simpson swore cleared up her acne. In other words, I had no idea what I was doing.

Experts In This Article
  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
  • Mona Gohara, MD, board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University

Allow me to make things easier for future generations of skin-concerned teenagers. Besides helping deal with whatever skin concerns are looming from hyperactive sebaceous glands (damn you, adolescent acne), the products we use as teenagers actually help set up our skin for later on in life.  "Think of your youthful skin as the foundation that your skin starts from as cell turnover slows down after the age of 30," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. "When you are young, your cellular machinery is functioning optimally so you want to enhance that activity the best you can." In other words, taking care of your skin the right way early in life means you won't be making up for lost time when wrinkles and age spots set in down the road.

While we grownups can't exactly do anything about, say, the plastic beads we may have used as exfoliants in our youth, we can help teens know better than to spot treat their zits with toothpaste. The basic thing to keep in mind? Teenage skin needs exactly the same type of TLC that adult skin does—read on to find out what that means.


The golden rule for cleansers, at any age, is to keep it simple—gentle washes tend to be best for any skin type since they're the least likely to strip the skin barrier. Dr. Zeichner suggests looking for a foaming cleanser, which helps with oiliness, or something with salicylic acid to fend off acne. And if you're wearing makeup, board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, is a fan of micellar water as a great grime-clearing, pre-cleanse step in your routine.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O
Bioderma Sensibio H2O — $15.00

Micellar water is gentle enough to be used on even the most sensitive, and it can be used both as a cleanser or a makeup remover. It has no oil, alcohol, or parabens, and cleanses the skin without irritating or drying it out. It’s also conveniently rinse-free—just apply to a cotton pad and wipe your face, and you’re good to go.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser — $14.00

The hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic formula is free of fragrances, parabens, and sulfates, and was clinically tested on sensitive skin. It gently cleans while hydrating (and provides 48 hours of hydration when wiped off) to keep skin feeling fresh and soft.

Dove Beauty Bar
Dove Beauty Bar — $10.00

You’re probably no stranger to Dove products in your bathroom cabinets, and this bar is a classic for a reason. Not only is it sulfate-free and pH-balanced, but it gently and effectively cleans the skin. Unlike typical bar soaps, it also has a moisturizing cream to leave your skin feeling hydrated afterward.


Teenage skin needs the same sort of environmental protection as adult skin does, which means antioxidants are key. Dr. Zeichner suggests vitamin C, which will fend off pollution and help brighten skin. "I like this to bring out a glow, help with collagen production to reduce acne marking post breakout, and keep the skin protected against UV light and pollutants, which is something we should be doing at all ages," says Dr. Gohara. Opt for something without vitamin E, though, which can be clogging to pores.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum — $78.00

With 15 percent vitamin C, this Drunk Elephant serum can help brighten and even out skin texture. The ingredients are all clean, and include an antioxidant complex to brighten and minimize photoaging from environmental stressors, pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract to minimize the appearance of pores, and chronocyclin to help maintain youthful skin.

VICHY LiftActiv Vitamin C Skin Brightening Corrector
VICHY LiftActiv Vitamin C Skin Brightening Corrector

This serum only has 11 ingredients, including both vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to help brighten, hydrate, and protect the skin. It’s non-greasy, non-sticky, fragrance-free, and dermatologist-tested, too. It can be used daily (put on sunscreen for the daytime), and you need to store the bottle in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation.

Pixi Vitamin-C Serum
Pixi Vitamin-C Serum

Formulated with lemon, orange and grapefruit extracts, this bottle is packed with vitamin C goodness. It also has ferulic acid, an antioxidant to help protect from free radicals, and aloe vera to soothe and moisturize. It’s suitable for all skin types.


We often talk about how retinoids should become a part of anyone's skin-care routine by the time they hit their late twenties, but the vitamin A derivative can be ultra-effective for teens, too. "Using ingredients like retinoids on young skin may in fact work better than when you use it with older skin because collagen production is in its prime," says Dr. Zeichner. Plus, retinol also helps with acne, so consider this step to be a helpful one in both the short and  long-term health of your skin.

Differin Acne Treatment
Differin Acne Treatment — $15.00

Zap zits at their source—in the pores. This acne treatment has adapalene gel 0.1% and can be used daily. It’s water-based, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic. Note it does require some patience; some reviewers noted that their acne got worse before it got better.

ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1%
ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1% — $36.00

Previously only available by prescription, this ProactiveMD gel is now OTC and can be used by anyone 12 and older. It’s dermatologist developed and tested, and it may take a few weeks before you start seeing positive results.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1%
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% — $30.00

Another topical retinoid, La Roche-Posay’s acne treatment is fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin (for extra sensitive skin, you may want to start with using the product a few times a week and gradually work up to daily). Apply a thin layer to your entire face and let it go to work on your blackheads and whiteheads.


On the moisturizing front, opt for a lighter lotion instead of a heavy cream. Oil-free options will likely be your best bet (whether you're dry, oily, or a little bit of both) and there are plenty of great picks right there in the drugstore aisle.

CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 — $19.00

Don’t let your moisturizer weigh you down. This ultra-light lotion, made for normal to oil skin, is oil-free and leaves your face hydrated and with a matte finish. It has hyaluronic acid and ceramides to nourish the skin and help retain moisture, and as a bonus, it also has broad spectrum SPF 30 so you don’t have to add on a separate sunscreen.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Face Moisturizer
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Face Moisturizer — $32.00

If you have oily skin, you know the struggle of finding a moisturizer that doesn’t make you look even shinier. This moisturizer is oil-free, non-comedogenic, and mattifying, with ingredients that help both decrease shine and pores. You can use it morning and evening, and it’s also suitable for sensitive skin.

Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture — $9.00

For anyone who has combination skin, finding the right moisturizer is a bit of a Goldilocks dilemma. You want something moisturizing, but not so much that it leaves your face greasy. This Neutrogena moisturizer is oil-free, and actually absorbs oil to keep your skin shine-free. It’s also fragrance-free, alcohol-free and hypoallergenic to minimize any possible skin irritation.


A good SPF is a non-negotiable at any age. Slather an SPF 30 on every morning as the final step in your routine for sun and blue light protection, which skin will be thanking you for later (trust us).

Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Lotion
Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Lotion — $22.00

Say goodbye to white lotion streaks with this lightweight Supergoop! sunscreen. It’s lightweight and made with clean ingredients to give you broad spectrum SPF 50 protection without any of the sticky residue or strong “sunscreen-y” scent. You can use it for both your face and body and it’s water and sweat resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30
Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30 — $19.00

Made for and by people of color, this SPF 30 sunscreen is ultra sheer and fragrance-free. It’s made with natural ingredients like avocado, jojoba, cacao, carrot juice, and sunflower oil that make you feel good about what you’re putting on your skin.

Glossier Invisible Shield
Glossier Invisible Shield — $25.00

Glossier’s Invisible Shield is SPF 35 and has a water-gel formula so it absorbs easily without leaving behind white marks. It’s formulated with antioxidants to help combat free radicals, a fermented yeast and vegetal extract to protect your skin from pollution, and sweet orange peel oil to give you a light scent.

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