"In teen minds it's very simple: I have bad skin if I have acne; I have good skin if I don't have acne," says Leala McInerney, senior educator for Dermalogica skincare. "Teens rank facial skin appearance above having fun and enjoying life," she adds. Whoa. Thankfully, a good combination of routine and ingredients can reduce breakouts and redirect teen focus from their faces to good times (which hopefully include decent grades -- hah!). And maybe these expert tips from McInerney and dermatologist Dr. Paul Cohen can help in time for great family holiday photos.
how to have awesome teen skin: lifestyle matters
Problem skin sucks. There is no simple cure, only a range of lifestyle options from getting enough sleep to keeping an eye on your diet to finding products to help control breakouts if not eliminate them. For some, awesome teen skin is all about management. And it starts with overall lifestyle.
Stress, lack of sleep and what teens eat can show up on their skin. According to Dr. Cohen, a noted Toronto-based dermatologist and regular "Canada AM" guest expert, dairy products can trigger breakouts, especially for females; sugar and high-glycemic foods can spike insulin levels to throw pesky hormones out of whack. Not good -- Dr. Cohen blames teen breakouts on raging hormones.
set a routine now
Establishing a solid routine of cleansing, treating, moisturizing and protecting skin in the teen years is crucial, whether or not blemishes are an issue. "Good habits teens establish today will help keep their skin healthy for the rest of their lives," says Dr. Cohen.
know your ingredients
With daily use, doctor-approved topical ingredients minimize mild to moderate periodic teen breakouts. At the top of the list are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria that causes acne inflammation and evicts dead cells before they can clog pores. Dr. Cohen stresses benzoyl peroxide as the key ingredient in managing breakouts. "It needs to touch the skin at some point," he says, adding that benzoyl peroxide seems to make the whole regimen more effective. Whether you look for benzyol peroxide in a cleanser or a topical treatment, just use it. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cleanser/Mask: contains benzoyl peroxide as well as salicylic acid. $9.99 at well.ca; formula available as Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask, $6.79 at ulta.com.
Derived from willow bark (like asprin), salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that helps prevent clogged pores, too. It's attracted to oil, so it's especially good for oily teen skin. Burt's Bees Anti-Blemish Solution Targeted Spot Treatment: contains natural salicylic acid via willow bark extract that is gentle yet effective. (It's a Beautygeeks favourite.) $14.99 at well.ca and called Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions Spot Treatment $29 (includes cleanser and toner) at ulta.com.
"Glycolic acid, which is derived from sugarcane, is an alpha hydroxy acid and an exfoliant," says Dr. Cohen. "It treats acne by helping to remove dead skin cells and helping to reduce inflammation. Alpha hydroxy acids also stimulate the growth of new, smoother skin, which helps reduce the appearance of acne scars." Although Dr. Cohen tends to recommend glycolic acid to adult-acne patients, it's a useful ingredient for smoothing rough, bumpy skin. Neostrata Toning Solution Level 1: an 8% glycolic-acid solution designed for use as a toner after cleansing, before any serum and moisturizer. (Another Beautygeeks favourite.) $27 at well.ca and, known in the US as Neostrata Oily Skin Solution, $30 at skinstore.com.
Tea tree oil may be of some assistance; it has antibacterial properties that some people find effective for chasing away really mild breakouts. The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil: works gently without drying out skin. (It's yet another Beautygeeks favourite.) $10 at thebodyshop.ca and $9 at ulta.com.
Oil control is obviously an issue for teen skin. Charcoal and clay (often kaolin, which is used in some makeup, too) help to absorb excess sebum; they're used in cleansers and masks to help grease-prone skin feel clean yet soft. Consonant DHE Mask: a cleanser that can also be used as a mask; contains absorbent Manicougan clay from Quebec as well as willow bark and tea-tree extracts. $45 at consonantskincare.com.
Silica, a mineral, also absorbs excess oil and is usually found in makeup that helps keep shiny complexions feeling comfortable rather than sticky. Cover FX Blotting Powder: contains kaolin clay and silica to soak up oil and keep skin looking dewy rather than slick. $22 at sephora.ca and $24 at sephora.com.
be gentle with skin
Resist the urge to dry out acne-affected areas, which forces skin to heal itself as it recovers from the inflammation of a breakout, too. Treating the complexion gently means it doesn't have to work so hard to bounce back from zits. "Keep skin well hydrated," advises McInerney. "And don't pick or squeeze blemishes!" Look for oil-free moisturizers, and, if necessary, formulas that contain hyaluronic acid (HA), an ingredient that helps skin retain moisture effectively. Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Daytime Treatment: contains benzoyl peroxide as well as glycerin and conditioning sunflower seed and calming niacinamide. $28 at dermalogica.ca and $24 at ulta.com.
step up your regimen
A consistent, multi-step program is the most efficient way to deliver small doses of ingredients gently to the skin. Mild cleanser removes grime and excess sebum to prep without stripping. Medicated toner helps ingredients penetrate the top layer of skin because it's liquid and thus easy to absorb. Light, oil-free moisturizer provides essential hydration. Applied over medication, it forms a barrier to keep anti-blemish ingredients in contact with skin to prevent eruptions. (Moisturizer formulated with medicated ingredients works the same way, but with an extra kick of meds.)
Note: Cleansing-brush systems have become immensely popular; choose carefully based on skin type, advises Dr. Cohen. "Those with oilier skin find they work well; teens with sensitive skin may experience irritation." Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush: very soft bristles overall; the green tip is for oilier parts of the face and fits into awkward spots beside the base of the nose. $95 via thebay.com and $89.50 via nordstrom.com.
stick with sunscreen
UV rays on blemished skin can result in stubborn dark spots teens will regret later. Worse, "burns and sun damage that occurs before the age of 18 significantly raises the risk of skin cancer later in life," stresses Dr. Cohen. Use broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher, and remember: a 7am application needs a re-up if you want to sit out at lunchtime. Aveeno Clear Complexion BB Cream SPF 30: offers a hint of coverage as well as high-SPF protection. $25.99 at well.ca and $17.49 at ulta.com.
How many of these skin-management suggestions are already part of your teen's skincare regimen?
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A version of this story appeared in the Metro News. Opening photo: model, Karla Spetic; lipstick, Napoleon Perdis Devine Goddess Hara; photography, Wendell Teodoro.