Teenagers Are Spending More Time on Their Beauty Routine Than You Are. But What Does That Mean for Their Skin?

Photo Credits: De Repente/ Shutterstock | Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only

Zac Mathias is diligent with his skin-care routine: Microdermabrasion every four weeks, HydraFacials frequently and “all the other kinds of” facials about once a month. He has a preference for natural lines—Indie Lee is a current favorite—but he also researches and purchases a lot of products and actives online and at his derm’s office in Westport, CT, which he frequents often. 

When it comes to body care, he’s equally as focused with moisturizing, exfoliating and dry-brushing regularly (he refers to it as “the whole run down”); he recently got into derma-rolling and just finished reading The Beauty Geek's Guide to Skincare: 1,000 Definitions of the Most Common Ingredients.

He’s also 16.

You May Also Like: The Best Beauty Gifts for the Teen in Your Life

While other teenagers may need to be wrangled to wash their face every night, Mathias, who says he does get a “breakout from time to time,” is in-tune with the whole prevention message so many skin-care brands preach. (He’s also a design-based blogger who sometimes receives beauty products to test and review.) 

“People, like my classmates, always tell me I’m too young to get wrinkles. But if I wait until I’m 50 to start moisturizing, there’s not much I can do then to fix everything—except maybe get a facelift,” he says. “I’m all about doing all this stuff while I’m young.”

New York dermatologist Jared Jagdeo, MD is 100-percent behind the prejuvenation push—so much so that he recommends SkinCeutical’s C E Ferulic Serum for children and uses it on his own kids, as well as himself. “If you care about your skin, it's never too early for skin care. Skin care has evolved past rejuvenation and ‘fixing’ to prejuvenation and prevention—especially with millennial and Gen Z. Everyone wants to look their best for as long as possible, and they should.”

While every dermatologist we spoke to emphasized the importance of sun protection—Laguna Hills, CA Jennifer Channual, MD points to the scary stat that 23 percent of sun damage occurs before the age of 18—Washington, D.C. dermatologist Agnes Ju Chang, MD specifically stresses the benefits of starting a solid routine in the younger years, when recommended by the right person.

“Our kids are educated early about other parts of the body that will keep your heart healthy, i.e. food and exercise, and habits that will keep your skin healthy for life is no exception. I think learning to properly cleanse, moisturize and protect the skin is good at any age,” she says, but adds that she feels strongly that the lesson should be taught by a board-certified dermatologist. “Board-certified dermatologists can help teenagers cut through the noise and use products that will make an impact on their skin to emphasize natural beauty.”

Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD also strongly stresses the board-certified dermatologist recommendation route and looks at it this way: “I think there is difference here in the U.S. versus our colleagues overseas. Skin care here is considered a luxury; in France, both males and females look at skin care at a very young age look as health and wellness. But there is no ‘right’ age to start taking good and appropriate care of your particular skin type. Even in childhood, using appropriate gentle cleansers and moisturizers and photo-protection is essential. This is especially true if someone has eczema, acne prone skin, or just needs to know what to use on their skin. I think receiving this information from a board-certified dermatologist can be quite helpful and help guide them.”

“You don't need to spend a lot of money on your skin care, but you do not to see and speak to someone with the appropriate knowledge.”

Like Mathias, Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD was taught at a very young age to take care of her skin, long before she knew she was going to be a doctor, let alone a dermatologist. And for that reason, she knows her skin is healthier and younger-looking for it.

“As a dermatologist, I have access to every aesthetic treatment or procedure, but I believe that no single office treatment can equal effective skin care to maximize the quality of skin. It’s definitely never too early, or too late, to start skin care. It is like flossing or brushing your teeth. Daily cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection are the basic building blocks for healthy skin. Investing the time and energy into good skin-care habits established at a young age will allow you to reap the benefits of healthy, youthful, resilient skin lifelong. Consistency and compliance can literally improve the quality of skin drastically.”

Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD also backs the sunscreen-basic cleanser-moisturizer trifecta for teens, but thinks anything that goes well beyond that can begin to teeter in wasteful territory.

“It surprises me when teens ask me about eye wrinkles and show me the products they are using. At that stage, it’s a waste of money for them to spend on anything other than sunscreen, basic cleanser and moisturizer and whatever they need to treat any underlying dermatologic conditions like acne or eczema,” she says.

Dr. Waldorf does have an exception for select teens, in particular what she refers to as “pickers and those who obsess” about their skin. “They are investing in a Clarisonic brush for daily cleaning and spending on medical-grade facials like HydraFacial or salicylic acid peels. These may help speed the progress of topical and oral acne therapy and reduce the appearance of pores and acne. While retinoids improve the course of aging, I don’t see a reason for a teen without acne to use it—their lives are busy and stressful enough.”

Mathias' experience, outside his own personal routine, ironically backs that theory. “I think maybe the movement is just starting. None of my friends really use skin care and they moisturize maybe once a week if they remember. I do still think it will catch on, but it hasn’t really yet. There’s a lot of people on Instagram who are really into makeup who are my age, but they don’t really focus on skin care."

“I’m all about skin care first, makeup second," he says. "That seems like a good formula for healthy skin.”

The Hit List: Derm Dos for Teen Skin Care

Sun Protection Is Cool: “The most important thing we can teach our young people to do to take the absolute best care of their skin at ANY age is to regularly use sunscreen, hats and sunglasses and to avoid tanning beds,” says Greensboro, NC dermatologist Christina Haverstock, MD. “I agree that face washing and some gentle exfoliants are a good idea for pubescent, acne-prone skin, but at the end of the day, the most important thing we can teach them is how to protect their skin from the harmful effects of the sun.” 

Less Might Be More: Sensitive-skin types take note: Hard-hitting actives can sometimes make your skin worse if you can’t tolerate them, according to Brookline, MA dermatologist Papri Sarkar. “A big danger is doing a lot of things and [using] irritating products together. That often damages the skin barrier, which can just lead to more acne, inflammation, blotchiness and dryness. So start gentle and slow and add in products as needed and only if you can tolerate them. I recommend waiting two weeks after trying something new to consider adding something else to your regimen. I don't always do that myself, but I do think that's best!”

Baby Steps: Las Vegas dermatologist Dr. Alison Tam says that great skin care starts when you’re a baby with gentle skin care, which she defines as a mild cleanser and a good moisturizer. "When you’re a child, gentle skin care continues on with the addition of sunblock, hats and UV protective clothing. As a teenager, acne may or may not be a problem not gentle skin care continues to be a theme. Adolescents with acne may have more regimens in their daily routine but teens without acne should still take care of their skin with a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, sunblock, and remembering to eat a healthy diet.”

Application, Application, Application: Germantown, TN dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD makes an important point: “We used to recommend gentle skin products in preteens, but now we have preteens and teens at earlier ages thanks to hormones in foods.” Her Rx: “If a child is starting to get clogged pores and pimples at age 9–10, then I recommend starting good skin-care practice, as in washing your face twice a day with a facial cleanser versus soap/shampoo. Salicylic acid and facial exfoliants help here, and so does drinking enough water, decreasing milk intake, taking a a probiotic and washing before and after sports activities. Using too many products and not knowing how and when is when you get issues with contact irritant reactions."

Slow Down the Scrub:Most kids just need to learn proper hygiene, and that skin doesn’t necessarily need to be scrubbed in order to be clean,” New York dermatologist Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, MD says. “Many times I see teens over-washing and scrubbing because they falsely believe acne and eczema are caused by dirt. Gentle cleansing and the importance of SPF are good to know at a young age.”