Skin Care Tips for Teens

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 24, 2024
9 min read

Got acne? Then you know there's no shortage of tips or products out there to help you control it. But sometimes they backfire and make your skin worse. The trick is to learn what type of skin you have, the best way to clean it, and how to choose products that won't trigger a breakout.

The four main types are normal, dry, oily, and combination:

1. Normal Skin Care

Normal skin has an even, smooth skin tone; soft texture; and no visible blemishes, red spots, or flaky patches. Pores are barely visible, and the skin surface is neither greasy nor dry. Normal skin has few imperfections because of the balanced amount of water and oil and good blood circulation.

 If your skin is normal, wash your face two to three times each day, with mild cleanser or plain soap and water, to remove dirt and sweat.

 2. Dry Skin Care

 Dry skin is dull, rough, scaly, and itchy, with almost invisible pores. Dry skin is usually caused by an abnormal shedding of cells from the skin's outer layer. In normal situations, lubrication from the body's natural oils helps to prevent water loss from the skin.

 If you have dry skin, wash your face daily with a mild cleanser. This will help prevent your skin from becoming drier. Moisturize with a nonperfumed, nonalcohol-containing cream after washing.

 Also, limit very hot showers, high temperatures, and low humidity, which rob your skin of moisture. Even using soap and excessive washing or scrubbing of the skin increases dryness. Many teens have drier skin during the winter months, when humidity is low and heaters force hot, dry air into enclosed rooms.

 If your skin is very dry, take a warm bath for about 20 minutes. Avoid using soap or other drying products. When you get out of the tub, pat your body dry, then rub mineral oil (found at most supermarkets and drugstores) or a nonperfumed, nonalcohol cream or ointment all over your skin. Pat your skin dry again. The oil or cream helps to lock in healing moisture, keeping skin supple and soft.

 3. Oily Skin Care

 Oily skin is acne-prone skin with open pores, a shiny complexion, blackheads, and pimples. Because hormones affect oil production, anything that affects your hormone levels may influence your skin. Some experts believe that stress, such as from exams, may trigger outbreaks of acne. Many teens know that acne in itself creates added stress!

 To keep oily skin clean, wash your face three times a day with plain soap and water. If you need to cleanse your face at school, use an over-the-counter cleansing pad that helps dissolve oil and remove excess dirt from the skin surface.

 If you have pimples, never pop or squeeze them, which can spread the inflammation and worsen acne.

 Use cosmetics and other facial products that are "noncomedogenic," meaning they do not clog pores. Keep your hair off your face, and wash your hair daily to reduce oil. While it may seem illogical, using a light lotion on your skin will help it better tolerate the drying effect of acne medications.

Wash your pillowcases frequently.

 4. Normal/Combination Skin Care

 With normal/combination skin, you might have an oily "T-Zone" (forehead, nose, and chin) and dry skin elsewhere. The pores on your face are large, and the skin tends to have blackheads.

 Normal/combination skin can be either overly dry or excessively oily, while cheeks may appear rough. Depending on the time of year, the oiliness and dryness can change, too. The skin is usually drier when the weather is cold.

 If you have normal/combination skin, wash your face two or three times a day with plain soap and water to remove the excess oil. Moisturize dry areas but not oily areas.

Here are the four simple steps to healthy skin:

1. Cleanse

It's important to cleanse your skin daily to remove dirt, oil, and dead skin flakes. Washing your skin also rids the skin of excess oil, which can prevent acne.

If you have oily or normal/combination skin, use a daily cleanser that contains salicylic acid. This ingredient is used in many popular "acne washes" such as the Neutrogena products. Salicylic acid controls oil production and increases hydration. 

nother active ingredient is benzoyl peroxide which is antibacterial and comedolytic


You can also use sulfur cleansers and masks to dry out the skin/exfoliate. They tend to be gentler on the skin than salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide washes, creams, foams and gels are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and are very helpful in acne treatment (but may bleach your sheets and clothes and even your hair).

A cleanser containing glycolic acid can help rid skin of dead cells. It's useful for teens who can't tolerate prescription retinoid creams (like Tretinoin, Renova, and Retin-A). Read the label to see if your cleanser contains these ingredients.

To remove eye make-up, especially waterproof mascara, there are products specifically formulated for the eye area. But some gentle facial cleansers can effectively remove eye and facial makeup, as well as cleanse the skin. Choose products that are fragrance-free to avoid irritating the eye area.

2. Hydrate/Moisturize

When you hydrate your skin, you simply add water, such as when washing your face or taking a bath. To moisturize your skin, you add water, oil, or both.

For most skin types, you should moisturize skin morning and evening, using a moisturizer that does not aggravate a skin problem.

For instance, never put heavy cream on oily skin that is prone to breakouts. For oily skin, the moisturizer should be oil-free, but have hydrating qualities. Always apply moisturizers after cleansing and hydrating your skin.

3. Treat

Many teens need to treat skin conditions such as acne, which occurs when pores on the surface of skin become clogged. This happens when oil glands produce too much oil and pores get blocked with dirt, bacteria, and debris. Sometimes, moisturizers and greasy cosmetics contribute to the development of acne. Oils or dyes in hair products can worsen acne by blocking pores.

While soaps and astringents remove oil from the skin, they don't alter the oil production. Scrubbing the skin sometimes causes irritation, which triggers acne instead of resolving it.

Skin products containing benzoyl peroxide may help to treat mild acne if you use them sparingly (once daily in the evening). The goal is to treat all oily areas of the face -- forehead, chin, nose, and cheeks -- not just where you notice pimples. Treating the areas that tend to break out may help prevent future pimples. 

Some of these products can cause the skin to become too dry if overused. If you feel stinging or burning, rinse your skin with mild soap and water. Try the topical benzoyl peroxide again the next day.

Some over-the-counter acne products can cause rare but serious allergic reactions or severe irritation. Seek emergency medical attention if you have symptoms such as throat tightness, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, or swelling of the face or tongue. Also stop using the product if you develop hives or itching. Symptoms can appear anywhere from minutes to a day or longer after use. 

Be aware that you must use benzoyl peroxide daily for at least a month before you'll see the full effect. You have to be a bit patient.

4. Protect

After cleansing your skin, protect it daily from the sun and other environmental factors. Use a moisturizing sunscreen with zinc oxide (at least 7%) and a SPF of 30 or higher (depending on your skin pigmentation or color) for UVA and UVB coverage year-round.

Wearing sunscreen with protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats, while avoiding the sun's peak ultraviolet B (burning) rays (from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.), may provide some protection against premature aging and skin cancer.

Water is an essential part of healthy skin. Normally, hydration moves from the inside of the skin to the outer layer. When skin lacks hydration, it becomes dry and flaky. Without adequate moisture, skin looks dry and dull. During winter, the icy outdoor air and blasts of heat from the furnace make things worse. You can compensate for these "moisture robbers" by using over-the-counter moisturizers and drinking plenty of water.

A moisturizer is a product that functions to increase the water content of the skin's top layer. Choose a moisturizer that includes a broad-spectrum sunscreen to help protect your skin from the sun's rays. If you have sensitive skin, avoid moisturizers with added fragrance.

No matter what your skin type, if you are unsure how to treat acne or other skin problems, talk to your primary health care provider or a dermatologist. Contact a doctor when:

  • Your acne is severe. A dermatologist can help get this under control.
  • Over-the-counter treatments don’t clear up your acne. Using a nonprescription treatment such as a topical retinoid gel or those containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid for a couple of months should help. If not, it’s time to see an expert.
  • The acne appeared after you started taking a medication. Some drugs for anxiety, depression, and other conditions can cause acne or similar symptoms. Your doctor might be able to change your prescription.
  • You notice acne scars. Your dermatologist will get your skin condition under control and then treat the scars.
  • It affects your self-esteem. Having clearer skin could make you feel more confident and less self-conscious.

You can start with your pediatrician or the family doctor. Or you could go right to a dermatologist.

The doctor will probably want some information from you, such as:

  • When did the acne start?
  • Has it stayed about the same, or has it gotten better or worse?
  • What treatments have you tried and for how long? How well did they work?
  • Does the acne affect your self-esteem or social life?

You should also bring a list of any medications or supplements you take.

You’ll want to ask some questions, too. Good ones include:

  • Are over-the-counter treatments enough? What do you recommend?
  • What habits would help me?
  • What’s the best way to cleanse and take care of my skin?
  • What can we do to make acne scars less likely?
  • What kind of makeup will cover up acne - and not aggravate it?

If the doctor recommends a prescription cream or medicine, ask them:

  • What’s the name of this medicine, and why do you recommend it?
  • What are the side effects?
  • How should I use it?
  • How long will I need it?
  • How soon should I expect to see results?
  • When should we schedule a follow-up appointment?

Treating your skin properly each day is the key to avoiding more serious skin problems.