How to build a skincare routine for teenagers with acne, oily and dry skin

We're taking it right back to basics, establishing a skincare routine that is quick, easy and effective.

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Being a teenager isn’t always a breeze… There's a lot going on. You’re getting through school, navigating changing friendships, and dealing with body changes — and on top of all of that, your skin is likely going wild and hormonal acne may be rearing its head.

Thanks to fluctuating hormones, teen and tween skin goes through it. If you’re dealing with skin concerns, it might be time to start a skincare routine.

Now, we’re not talking about a complicated 10-step routine that you’ve seen on TikTok — far from it actually. We’re taking it right back to basics, establishing a skincare routine that is quick, easy and effective.

We understand that starting a new skincare routine from scratch — or helping the teen in your life establish one — can be overwhelming; there is so much to choose from these days, but that’s why we’re here.

This article will outline a morning and evening skincare routine for teenagers for each skin type. Let's dive in!

What is happening to teenage skin?

Before going into the routine, let’s first look into what’s happening to skin during the teenage years. Once people hit puberty, hormones ramp up which causes a bunch of changes. When it comes to the skin, the hormone responsible for pesky breakouts and an oily complexion is androgens.  

This hormone is responsible for oil regulation and during puberty, androgens increase oil gland production [1][2].

This leads to an increase in sebum (oil) created by the sebaceous glands, which in turn, leads to an oily complexion, congestion, blemishes and even acne.

When should teenagers start using skincare products?

Typically people go through puberty between the ages of 10 and 16, with girls often entering puberty a couple of years before boys [3]. However, everyone goes through puberty at different rates so there’s not a clear answer when it comes to starting a teenage skincare routine.

That said, getting into good skin habits early is never a bad thing.

Many experts recommend children wash their face with water and a washcloth during their bedtime routine, along with brushing their teeth. Between the ages of 10 and 14 is when many parents help their pre-teens and teens introduce a very basic skincare routine — three steps AM and PM is a great starting point.

Skincare products for a teenager's morning routine

When it comes to a morning teenage skincare routine, the aim of the game is a quick cleanse and broad-spectrum protection from the sun — no matter the weather.

Step 1: Cleanse with either water or a gentle cream or foam cleanser.

If your skin is on the drier end, you might prefer to simply splash some water on your face to wash off any sweat from the night. If you’re more oily or acne-prone, it helps to give your skin a quick cleanse with a product. Don’t over-cleanse the skin though, this can strip the complexion of its natural oils, which you need — even if you’re oily.

Step 2: Moisturise using a product formulated for your skin type.

The next step is about giving your skin some much-needed hydration. Aim for a richer product if you have dry skin or something more lightweight if you're oily. However, you can skip this step if you’re really oily and you find your sunscreen provides enough hydration.

Step 3: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

This step is non-negotiable, regardless of your skin type or the weather conditions outside — you should be using sunscreen every day. All skin types need protection from harmful UV rays, even when it’s cloudy out. The key is finding a formula that you actually like using.

There are two types of SPF: chemical and mineral. Neither is better than the other but typically acne-prone skins prefer mineral sunscreens (though they can leave a white cast) and drier skin types prefer chemical formulas.

It’s very much a trial and error until you find the one that’s right for you. It’s worth putting the effort in to protect your skin from sun damage, as well as worsening any skin conditions.

Skincare products for a teenager's evening routine

The focus of a nighttime routine is to remove grime from the day and apply treatments that get hard to work overnight while you sleep.

Step 1: Cleanse

Always start by cleansing the skin so that you have a clean canvas to work with. Washing off grime, dirt and dead skin cells after a busy day is the key to happy skin. Cleansing also helps to remove excess oil.

This is especially important if you’re wearing makeup, which can lead to clogged pores, dryness and breakouts. You might find that you need to double cleanse — which means cleansing your skin with product, washing it off and then repeating the process again — to ensure all leftover makeup is removed.

Step 2: Treatment

This is where you can apply a treatment specifically designed for your skin concern. For example, if you have acne you may apply a benzoyl peroxide (which kills acne-causing bacteria) or salicylic acid (reduces oil production) treatment.

For dry skin, you may want to use a hydrating serum like hyaluronic acid. This is also where you will apply any custom prescription treatments that target specific concerns.

If you don’t feel like you have problematic skin, you can skip this step and move straight to moisturiser.

Step 3: Moisturise

The last step is sealing all of that in with a good dose of hydration to create a protective barrier for your skin. It’s important not to skip this step if you have acne or oily skin because you think your skin already has enough moisture — this is a myth.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to add moisture, your skin still needs it. The key is to find an oil-free or lightweight formula.  

Building a routine based on your skin type

Putting together an effective teen skincare routine starts with identifying your skin type. The main skin types are dry, oily, acne-prone and combination skin.

This is how each category is classed and there are a few tests you can do to help identify which one you have. There are lots of products targeted at teenage skin but you don't actually need to look for specific teenage skin care products.

In fact, for a lot of teens, these can be a little harsh. You're better off looking for products that work for your skin type instead.

Dry skin

Dry skin is categorised by an uncomfortable, flaky and rough complexion. Your skin may peel, crack or be slightly inflamed. It’s common to have dry skin on your body if you experience it on your face so this may be an indicator.

Dry skin occurs due to a lack of oil in the skin. You’re more likely to experience skin conditions like eczema and sensitivity, which is why sensitive skin is often added into this category too.

There is a simple test to help determine this. Wash your face with a regular facial cleanser, pat your skin dry and then wait 30 minutes — how does your skin feel? If it feels tight, dry and uncomfortable, you likely have a dry skin type.

Oily skin

Oily skin makes your complexion feel greasy and shiny, as well as having visible pores and being more prone to breakouts.  

You can also use the wash and wait test for this. Wash your face, pat it dry and then wait 30 minutes. If your skin appears shiny and oily, you likely have an oily skin type.

Another way to determine this is by using a blotting paper, seeing how much oil your skin soaks up over the course of 30 minutes to one hour.

Acne-prone skin

Teen acne is incredibly common — in fact, it affects 1 in 3 Australian teenagers — and there are various types of acne, including whiteheads, pustules, papules and cysts [4]. Whilst there is no universal grading system for acne, typically blemishes are classed as acne if you have ongoing pimples versus the odd zit.

Combination skin

Now, this is where things get a little tricky because, as the name suggests, this can be a combination of a few aspects of the above skin types. As a general rule, though, combination skin types will be dry in the cheek areas but oily in the T-zone.

You can use the blotting test to see which areas of your face are oily (and soak up sebum on the paper) and which are dry. This can help you target where you might need more moisturiser than other areas.

Skincare routine for teenagers

There are a few products that everyone needs to use, regardless of their skin type.

The first is a cleanser because you need to get the bad stuff out in order to get the good stuff in. And the second is sunscreen. No matter the weather, sunscreen is important to protect the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Sunscreen can help keep blemishes at bay. You’d be forgiven for thinking the sun clears up acne, but sadly, sun exposure can increase sebum levels and in turn, clog pores [5].  On top of that, pimples can turn into dark marks if exposed to the sun. So, keep that SPF topped up!

Below, we’ve put together a simple skincare routine for each skin type.

Dry skin routine

AM: Gentle cream cleanser, rich moisturiser, broad-spectrum sunscreen.

PM: Oil cleanser, hydration serum, rich moisturiser.

Oily skin routine

AM: Foaming cleanser, lightweight moisturiser (look for non-comedogenic, which means non-clogging), oil-free sunscreen.

PM: Jelly or foaming cleanser, treatment, oil-free moisturiser.

Acne-prone skin routine

AM: Gentle cleanser, non-comedogenic moisturiser, oil-free sunscreen.

PM: Foaming cleanser, targeted spot treatment, lightweight or oil-free moisturiser.

If you're finding this is still overwhelming, Software's prescription acne treatment takes the guesswork out for you, as it contains prescription ingredients — like retinoids — formulated to work effectively with minimal effort on your part.

Simply take our online consult and a Software health practitioner will create a formula based on your individual skin needs. This formula will then be compounded just for you and sent straight to your home. And, you can access ongoing, follow-up support as you use your treatment.

Combination skin routine

AM: Gentle or foaming cleanser, moisturiser, sunscreen.

PM: Oil cleanser, treatment (you might want to try spot treating this, meaning applying the treatment to only the areas of the face that needs it, like the T-zone), lightweight moisturiser.

Teenage skin conditions

Skin conditions — such as psoriasis, rosacea and eczema — require extra care and attention and may need medical intervention, including oral medications, depending on the severity of the skin concerns.

If you think you have a skin condition, it’s best to seek out professional help as soon as you can, otherwise your condition may worsen. It’s difficult to treat a lot of these conditions without advice from an expert.

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