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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Saskia Kemsley

Best skincare products for teens: from moisture-barrier boosters to oily skin saviours

Being a teenager in the 21st century is a tough gig. With the ever-present power of social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, the pressure to look and act in a certain way is more overwhelming than ever before.

Despite the advent of wonderfully confidence-boosting trends such as the #SkinPositive movement, as well as the increased representation of all kinds of bodies across the board – the ups and downs of teenage life are an inevitable, confusing and gruelling rite of passage.

When it comes to teenage skin, the ups and downs are just as intense. According to the NHS at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, as many as 85 per cent of teens and young adults experience acne breakouts, which can have an incredibly negative effect on self-esteem.

The hormonal changes we go through during our teenage years can result in breakouts, clogged pores, and oiliness. This is because hormones called androgens increase the production of oil (or sebum) from the sebaceous gland. Dead skin cells stick to this oil and block the pores leading to those pesky breakouts.

Skincare, however, is a science. In fact, the skin is the largest organ of the body. With a base understanding of what goes on under the surface during those all-important and fluctuating years can make a world of a difference to the management of teenage, acne-prone skin.

Thankfully, Grace Day is here to… well, save the day. We spoke to the beauty expert and licensed esthetician for some advice on how to treat and manage your skin as a teen.

What active ingredients should teens be looking for in their skincare products?

  • Salicylic acid - This is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) which helps promote the skin’s natural exfoliation process. In doing so, it’s able to move dead skin cells and excess oil from pores. Salicylic acid is the best chemical exfoliant for oily and breakout prone skin because it’s oil soluble so can penetrate quite deeply into the skin. It’s also an anti-inflammatory so helps to decrease redness and swelling. You’ll find it in many targeted spot treatments, as well as cleansers, serums, and face masks.
  • Benzoyl peroxide - This is ingredient isn’t as widely available in the U.K. as it is in the U.S. Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic, so it kills bacteria. It also helps to reduce inflammation and unclog pores. It’s most often found in targeted spot treatments and face masks.
  • Niacinamide - This is a great multitasking ingredient which offers a more sensitive skin-friendly approach to clearing pores. It helps to control skin’s oil production levels, but also helps to reduce redness, and keep skin hydrated. You’ll typically find it in serums and moisturisers.
  • Hyaluronic acid - It’s important to keep skin well hydrated, even if you’re experiencing oiliness and breakouts. Hydrated skin is healthy skin and is better able to defend itself against bacteria and heal breakouts. This is a powerful hydrating ingredient which works by drawing moisture into the skin. Again, you’ll find it in most serums and moisturisers.

What ingredients should teenagers avoid in their skincare regime?

As a general rule, I’d recommend avoiding anything with excessive amounts of alcohol, fragrance and essential oils. Take a look at the ingredients list on the back of the product and make sure that those ingredients aren’t within the first half of the ingredients mentioned. Alcohol can be quite harsh and drying on teen skin, and fragrance and essential oils can cause irritation. In small amounts it’s much less of an issue, but to be on the safe side, I’d avoid if your skin is particularly reactive.

How do you deal with hormonal acne in teenagers?

A less is more approach and an emphasis on consistency. These days teens are bombarded with product recommendations and “acne cures” on social media, but it’s best to stick with what you know works for you. It takes time to see results from skincare - nothing is going to miraculously clear breakouts overnight - so patience and consistency always pays off. When advising teen clients on homeware I always recommend just sticking to the basics - a good cleanser, serum, moisturiser, and SPF.

Face masks and exfoliants shouldn’t be used too frequently because they may end up causing more harm than good if overused. In treatments, I like to use a technique known as short contact therapy - this is where a powerful active ingredient (like benzoyl peroxide) is applied to skin for just a short amount of time. That way you don’t experience the potential irritation and sensitivity that comes with leaving it on for prolonged periods.

What’s the one thing that you wish people would understand about teenage skin?

I experienced acne as a teenager myself and know first-hand how tempting it can be to go in hard with the face scrubs, masks, and peels. Unfortunately, this approach only does more harm than good as it strips the skin’s moisture barrier, exposing skin to bacteria and allowing moisture to escape - skin then becomes dehydrated and responds by producing even more oil.

Instead, focus on soothing and hydrating your skin with lightweight serums and gel-cream moisturisers to ensure your skin is comfortable and supported. Incorporate the ingredients above, always remove your makeup at the end of the day, and wear SPF to prevent hyperpigmentation. Even if you don’t experience oily skin or breakouts, this guidance still rings true and will set you up for good skincare practice.

Keep scrolling for a round-up of the best skincare products on the market for teenage skin.

Youth to the People Strengthen Your Way

Our top pick has to be this wonderfully simple and wholly effective three-piece skincare essentials set from Youth to the People. Spurred on by a 40-year family history in professional esthetics, Youth to the People delivers unparalleled high-performance skincare formulated in sunny California.

The set contains the brand’s cult-favourite and 100 per cent vegan Superfood Cleanser, which is essentially a daily green juice cleanse for your face. Its key ingredients include vitamin C and E-rich kale, spinach, and anti-inflammatory green tea. Targeting skin concerns such as enlarged pores, dullness and blemishes, the rich gel formula leaves your skin feeling ultra clean without drying it out.

Also included in the set is the Triple Peptide + Cactus Oasis Serum to revitalize and plump the skin and the Polypeptide-121 Future Cream – which includes plant proteins from flax, pea and rice for strengthening and firming, as well as those essential ceramides to protect and strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier.

Buy now £82.44, Youth to the People

Tula best sellers kit (full size)

This good-looking skincare packs a punch with a range of high-powered ingredients including probiotic extracts and peptides. The four-piece set of skincare essentials particularly helps with skin texture and dull complexions. We’re big fans of the Brightening Treatment Drops with vitamin C, which currently has almost 800 five-star reviews from Tula fans. It is non-comedogenic and contains 10 per cent vitamin C complex, which is a far higher concentration than most high-street brands, and helps to even the skin tone while restoring overall radiance.

Buy now £124.00, Tula

Liz Earle Your Daily Routine Bundle

Liz Earle has been in the skincare game since 1995. The eponymous co-founder was already an accomplished author and botanical beauty authority before she teamed up with skincare industry expert Kim Buckland to change the cleansing game. Inspired by the potent power of natural botanicals, the two set off to create their very own ingredient-rich, environmentally conscious and gentle skincare.

First to arrive onto the scene was the skincare icon and winner of over 130 awards in the UK, the Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser – which is included in this three-piece set. Suitable for all ages and skin types, this two-phase cleanser works to gently lift away dead skin for a brighter glow. It is enriched with cocoa butter, rosemary, chamomile and eucalyptus.

Also included is the Instant Boost Skin Tonic, which is packed full of soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, calendula and cucumber. You can choose between the Skin Repair Light Cream or the Superskin Moisturiser to complete the set.

If you’re looking to maintain your skin with a simple, ethical, effective and nutrient-rich set – this is the one for you.

Buy now £69.50, Liz Earle

Inur Skin Barrier Protection Set

If you’re guilty of having engaged in all those skin-barrier damaging exfoliators and peels (St Ives, we’re looking at you) – fear not, for Inur is here to rescue your skin. Powered by a combination of pre and probiotics alongside aloe vera, the Purity Cleanser works to balance, purify and protect your skin by working in sync with its natural rhythm. Follow up with the Breathe Day Cream, which has added matcha, for a supple gel-like plumping.

Buy now £90.75, Inur

CeraVe Blemish Control Face Cleanser with 2% Salicylic Acid & Niacinamide for Blemish-Prone Skin

CeraVe is perhaps the sole exception to the viral skincare rule – it actually works. Of their vast and varied range, our top pick for teenage skin is this Blemish Control Face Cleanser, which contains 2 per cent salicylic acid – the all-important pore-de-clogging prompter – and niacinamide for oil control and hydration at the same time.

Formulated with oil-absorbing Hectorite Clay, this cleanser helps to remove dirt and excess sebum to minimise shine while ensuring your skin’s natural moisture barrier remains intact.

Buy now £13.00, Boots

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Wash

A gentler option for those with slightly more reactive skin, Cetaphil’s daily face and body cleanser removes dirt, makeup and impurities while defending against skin sensitivity. If you suffer with dry spots and painful eczema, this wash will be your saviour. It is soap and fragrance free and formulated with micellar technology, meaning you can use it with or without water.

Buy now £9.99, Boots

Farmacy Cleanse + Treat Duo

Don’t be put off by the delicious blueberry scent in these products, for Farmacy is committed to producing great-smelling skincare without synthetic fragrances. The signature yummy blueberry aroma is instead achieved with upcycled blueberry seed oil and natural leaf extracts.

This wonderful duo includes a cleansing balm which effortlessly removes makeup and rids you of excess oils without stripping your skin. The fan-favourite leave-on Niacinamide Night Mask renews your skin overnight, serving as a perfect PM solution for waking up with immediately fresh skin.

Buy now £37.92, Space NK

Glossier The 3-Step Skincare Routine

These wonderfully creamy and buildable products from Glossier are incredibly gentle on the skin and suitable for all skin types. The Milk Jelly Cleanser is a pH balanced gel face wash which is made from a blend of five skin conditioners including rose water, comfrey root extract, aquaxyl and pro-vitamin B5. It goes on like butter and leaves your skin feeling super clean. However, if you’re in the market for an acne-busting cleanser, we’d give this one a skip.

The Priming Moisturiser is lightweight and has an anti-redness complex that leaves your skin looking fresh and balanced. We love that you can layer this moisturiser to suit your daily needs, making it particularly great for unpredictable, combination skin. Its ingredients include hydrating hyaluronic acid and an antioxidant blend of vitamins A, C, E and radish root.

Buy now £39.00, Glossier

The Elements Daily Detox Bundle

Essentials combines science with nature to create specialist skincare formulations. Born during the pandemic, when our skin was at its absolute worst, the clear skin collection is a range of targeted skincare treatments that have been designed to help remedy unbalanced and unhappy skin to improve its clarity and health.

This four-product detox bundle targets congestion, breakouts, redness, blemishes, stress and irritations, the products are fo­rmulated with four key active ingredients – activated charcoal, salicylic acid, niacinamide and azelaic acid. All the products are entirely natural, cruelty free and even vegan friendly. Win, win and win again.

Buy now £35.00, The Elements

Skin Accumax

This is a supplement specifically created for breakout prone skin. It combines vitamins A, C, and E with a phytonutrient known as DIM which helps to balance hormones and decrease oil production. It’s important to note that it can take around three months to see results from using supplements, so consistency and patience is really important.

Buy now £83.00, Sephora

Zitsticka Killa Kit

“I really wish spot patches had been around when I was a teen,” says Day. “Whether you opt for the subtle translucent ones or the bright fun-shaped ones they’re a way to cover up a spot without relying on makeup,” she adds.

Breakout patches help to protect the brewing spot, creating an environment in which it can heal by keeping out bacteria and preventing you from picking or squeezing. These wonders from Zitsticka are fantastic for stubborn under-the-skin spots. They work by dissolving active ingredients into the spot with tiny micro darts.

Buy now £21.60, Beauty Bay

Acnecide Face Wash

Acnecide Face Wash contains 5 per cent benzoyl peroxide, which is the highest strength you’ll find on the shelf in the UK. It leaves skin feeling super clean and you can leave it on skin for a few minutes like a mask if you fancy trying out short contact therapy at home.

Buy now £6.50, Boots

Beauty Bay spot treatment

This targeted spot treatment has a creamy, hydrating formula to prevent your skin from drying out beyond the breakout itself. Salicylic acid and zinc target the inflammation and congestion while niacinamide and squalane help to soothe and hydrate.

Buy now £6.50, Beauty Bay

Clinisoothe Skin Purifier

This wonderful face mist uses an ingredient called hypochlorous acid, which is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It works to disinfect your pores by killing bacteria, soothing redness, and repairing damaged skin by replicating the actions of white blood cells.

Buy now £14.95, Sephora

Bondi Sands SPF

Wearing sun cream daily is essential to maintaining healthy skin both now and in the future. This is because protecting your skin from a young age will prevent UV damage from coming to the surface later on in life. This particular SPF by Bondi Sands is light and bouncy, doesn’t feel greasy and sinks speedily into the skin. What’s more, it’s one of the more affordable skin-friendly SPFs on the market right now.

Buy now £11.00, Beauty Bay

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