A Teen’s First Skincare Routine: What to Use, How to Start
Your skin’s got bounce, glow, and a Wolverine-like ability to rejuvenate itself. It’s also seeing the first signs of bumps, pimples, and oiliness. So what to use (and what to avoid) and how to get started? Here, our guide to a teen’s first skincare routine.
When it comes to skincare in your teens, it’s a rollercoaster. In some ways, things are less complicated. Because young skin has that undeniable bounce and plumpness all of us old-heads are coveting, you needn’t worry about endless concoctions and serum cocktails chasing what comes naturally for teens. However, there are other battles you have to contend with as a newbie to skincare.
Adults generally have a pretty good idea which ingredients play nicely with our skin, which are just meh, and which evil little devils send it screaming. As a teenager you don’t have the benefit of years of experience; everything is new and therefore everything is a potential foe. On the bright side, everything is also a potential ally. This is your time to experiment, however, let’s make sure to experiment safely.
When it comes to a teen’s first skincare routine, keep it as mild and bare bones as possible. Korean beauty’s entire philosophy is framed around healthy, beautiful skin. A skin’s health is of utmost importance and achieving that through a multi-step routine is the way to go about it. However, gradual introduction of products is key here. Slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, slow and steady keeps the odds of identifying a potential irritant or allergy in your favor.
In general, here are the basics of a teen’s first skincare routine:
1. Double cleansing
2. Hydrating toner
3. Emulsion or cream
Now let’s get into the details one by one.
Sunscreen, your most important step
For a teen, a good sunscreen, one that you will actually wear and use, is of utmost importance. UVB rays can cause nasty burns and even cataracts. UVA rays are particularly nasty, messing with your DNA and potentially causing cancer and other diseases. From a vanity standpoint, it’s also the top cause of premature aging. Prevent cancer and photoaging by dedicating yourself to a lifetime of sunscreen.
Korean sunscreens are awesome, because many of them don’t smell like typical western sunscreens, and their formulas are elegant and a pleasure to wear. Buy several to find which one you like. (Read about one of our favorites here.) It won’t matter how awesome it is if you don’t actually wear it.
Oh, and makeup that has an SPF is no substitute for a dedicated sunscreen: You need to be applying at least a quarter sized dollop of sunscreen for it to work properly, and that is way too much product to use for foundation. When it comes to sunscreen, I myself apply a cherry sized amount to the face and neck. I would give anything to be able to go back in time and be as fastidious about sunscreen application back in my teens as I am now. I could have saved myself a terrifying time getting cancer removed from the tops of my ear and prevented a helluva lot of sun damage to my skin.
Double cleansing is a must, as it’s the only thing that can properly remove your makeup and sunscreen. (Read why and how here.) Double cleansing consists of first using an oil-based cleanser, and then following up with a regular foaming cleanser. Breakouts are always a concern with teenage skin and the proper removal of sunscreen and makeup will go a long way when it comes to prevention. Remember, you only need to double cleanse after wearing sunscreen or makeup; you don’t always need to do it. For the mornings, simply washing your face with your regular cleanser is all you need.
Now onto foaming cleansers. I urge you to read this story on why a low pH cleanser is the only way to go. Once you’re done reading up on the importance of selecting a low pH cleanser, it’s time to look for one that’s best for you. It is important to keep in mind that a “squeaky clean” face is not the goal here. That squeak is dryness and indicative of stripped skin. Keeping our moisture is the goal, always. Your skin should feel soft and hydrated after cleansing, never dry and squeaky, and a low pH cleanser will help ensure that.
Moms of teens will remember that back in their day, a toner was usually a high alcohol content, tingly, burning affair that was used in the hopes of sopping up excess oil. Not only is that completely not what you’re looking for here, it’s actually very harmful to teenage skin. Absorbing excess oil is fine, but it’s the burning and tingling you want to avoid. Tingling does not equal working; it equals irritation. Minimizing irritation is a must, as irritation can lead to acne and completely throw your skin’s health out of whack.
The aim of toners in Korean beauty is to soften, prepare the skin for treatment, and to hydrate. So if you change your way of thinking about toners and what they should be doing, you’ll understand why they are often referred to as “softeners” by Korean companies.
Acids, Acne & Exfoliation
I was asked if it was safe for teens to get into the world of acids, and I have to preface everything I say with I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I can give you my opinion, but I strongly urge you to visit with a dermatologist to get the lowdown on what they think is an appropriate course of treatment for a teenager. And even with derms, you’re going to get a variety of answers — I’ve heard it all over the years.
With that being said, in my opinion, salicylic acid, BHA, and mild AHA use is just fine for teens. BHAs and AHAs are the best topical treatments for most mild acne. It’s not recommended that topical salicylic acid be applied before the age of 2, and well, you’re clearly in the safe zone by your teens. What’s really handy in Korean beauty is there is a variety of naturally derived AHAs and BHAs that are milder than many over-the-counter western acne products. COSRX comes to mind here as they have willow bark derived BHAs in their BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which is an excellent choice to fights blackheads and mild acne in sensitive skin.
Keeping your skin well-hydrated and moisturized is your first line of defense when it comes to acne, so let’s avoid harsh products that will dry the skin out too much. When it comes to acids you want to start out as mild as possible and work your way up to stronger. And honestly, in your teen years, if you’re in need of a strong acid you’re probably better under a dermatologist’s care.
In general, teenage skin does a pretty good job of exfoliating itself, so you most likely do not need a manual exfoliator. If you see flakes, that’s a sign that you need hydration, not a scrub. It’s easy to overdo it when it comes to scrubs, as refreshing as they can feel. If you really, really want to use one, make sure you do it no more than once a week, or more like twice a month. Again, I’m speaking in terms of normal to mild acneic skin; more complicated cases need to consult a dermatologist.
Depending on if your skin is oily or on the normal to dry side, either a cream or an emulsion is on the table. For oily skin, an emulsion is probably going to be enough hydration. There are also gel creams, which offer the best of both worlds and are especially refreshing in the summer time. A typical face cream may feel entirely too heavy and probably should be avoided except in intensely dry and cold weather conditions. (I say that as someone who regularly deals with winter temps of -40, so unless that’s your reality or you’re an avid skier, you can probably do without.)
Korean beauty has some really awesome emulsions and lotions that offer light hydration. Remember, oily doesn’t mean hydrated; those are two different things, so don’t avoid lotion altogether just because you’re oily. You can, however, avoid application on your T-zone, which is well-lubricated by sebum if you’re oily. For normal to dry skin types, you have the option of just a cream or an emulsion and cream combo if you really need the moisture (think winter and dry climates).
How to start your routine
Now that I’ve laid out all the steps, let’s talk introduction, as in when to introduce each product. With every new product, use it for at least three weeks before introducing a new one. That may sound like an overly cautious approach, but it’s a sound one. We do it this way so that if you do have a bad or even allergic reaction to a product, we know exactly who the culprit was. Otherwise you’re just throwing a dart in the dark at five products and just guessing at who the bad guy was.
If you notice a negative reaction to a product, immediately discontinue use and do not continue on for the remaining time. After a bad reaction, a great tip is to then look up the product on the COSDNA website. There you can find a breakdown of each ingredient and its likelihood to cause irritation or acne. This is an excellent resource when you’re just starting out and are trying to find out what your skin dislikes. You can’t know for sure without allergy testing, but you can get a pretty good idea what the likely culprit was this way. You can also have the information on hand to show a dermatologist what exactly you were using so that they can know which allergies to test for if needed.
Keeping it simple
This doesn’t always hold true, but keeping it simple, ingredients-wise, is usually a safe approach if for no other reason than minimizing the exposure to potential bad reactions. It’s also easier if you’re not dealing with 30 ingredients when you need to whittle down what might be the cause of something. It’s also easier to identify things that you love. For instance, I love camellia oil and all of its offshoots, so I actively seek products with that ingredient in mind.
Form good habits
There are little things teenagers can get in the habit of that will go a long way to preventing acne and keeping the skin in excellent shape. Something as simple as changing your pillowcase once a week can help prevent breakouts. Cleaning your phone’s screen is another thing. Think of all the oily fingerprints and gunk that builds up on the surface of a phone. That stuff transfers onto your fingers, which end up on your face throughout the course of the day. It’s especially nasty if you use it for a phone call, pressing all of those oil and germs into the side of your face. So keep your hands and phone clean and keep both away from your face as much as possible.
Finally, get into the habit of always doing your entire skincare routine, even if you’re exhausted. The sooner you start, the happier your skin will be and the easier it will be for it to become second nature to you.
Forming good skincare habits now will go a long way when it comes to a lifetime of beautiful, healthy skin, and there is no better way to do that than with a Korean beauty based philosophy and routine.