I still have the picture. My third grade class photo, the one in which I wore my Snoopy necklace and cowl neck sweater, the one that plainly displays my first run-in with a chin pimple gone wild. I love that photo and hate it all at once, even now over 40 years later.
I don’t know if skincare was even a thing when I was nine years old. By the time the term “skin care” popped across my radar, I was a 15- or 16-year-old who dabbled with drug store astringents and masks praying something would help me get a peaches and cream complexion. When nothing seemed to help, I dreamed of the day I would have enough of my own money so I could walk right up to the Clinique counter at the mall and take home magic potions that would grant me the skin of my dreams.
My journey was a real struggle. What I thought was bad acne in my teens exploded into cystic adult acne by the time I was 20. Absolutely nothing I tried worked and I finally saw a doctor who prescribed highly aggressive drugs to get my skin to heal. The drugs came with their own side effects, but eventually, everything settled down for the most part. But throughout my adult life, acne has been my number one skin care concern. And struggling with skin issues is what led me to become an esthetician.
So, when a mom schedules an appointment with me for a teen facial for her son or daughter, I know the need, I feel the concern, and I do my best to help.
But the most often asked question I hear from clients with preteens is, “When should my child start a skincare routine?” This question can be answered from two perspectives or goals. One perspective focuses on training and habit-forming before there is a real need; the other is to address a skin concern when a need arises.
Forming Healthy Habits
The old adage says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This would be the philosophy of those choosing to start their child on a skin care routine sooner than later.
For those desiring to get ahead of the game, I like to suggest introducing some simple habits around the age of 10. It is important to keep in mind that not all children will even have an interest in caring for their skin at this age, and that’s OK. Remember, there is not a real need at this point. The goal is to begin creating awareness that caring for your skin is something that people do as they grow up.
Whether or not they are interested at this age, the most you should do is simply introduce a mild, gentle cleanser into their routine. I’ve seen the best success when the cleanser is in a pump bottle and kept in the shower. That way, they use soap for their body, shampoo for their hair, and cleanser for their face. The addition of a face cleanser this way becomes a slight extension of an already established routine.
Starting When the Need Arises
Somewhere around the age of 12 to 14, the first signs of acne may appear. This usually presents in the form of blackheads on the nose, chin, and forehead. However, it may arrive earlier or later or present in a different way. Puberty and genetics are the driving factors here, and everyone is unique. But whenever it shows up and however it shows up, if your child wasn’t interested in skin care before, they are more likely to have an interest now.
Again, I think keeping routines as simple as possible is important, so I like to create a three-step plan: cleanse, treat, and protect. If the habit of cleansing has been established, the second two steps should be easily added in. And if the cleansing step has not yet been started, just follow the suggestions above. Adding it to an established routine works at any age.
The mild cleanser that is being used may need to be changed for one that has more acne-fighting key ingredients, like salicylic acid or tea tree oil. When acne is a concern, removing dirt and excess oil is essential, but it is also important to target acne bacteria.
After the skin is clean, a treatment product that targets acne should be applied. These products come in the form of serums, gels, or toners that have a more concentrated form of an active ingredient and will stay on the skin rather than rinse away like a cleanser. Again, keep it simple. A toner applied with a clean cotton round may be all that is needed.
Lastly, a moisturizer should be applied. This is the step that often feels unnecessary for those with oily skin. However, the goal of a healthy complexion is balance. What is it that we are trying to balance? It’s oil and water. Everyone’s skin needs both oil and water, but issues arise when the skin is lacking or having an abundance of either one.
Teens with acne generally are not looking for more oil, but they can become dehydrated, and this is why moisturizer is so important. When skin becomes dehydrated and needs water, it begins to produce more oil trying to alleviate the problem. Take note that there are different types of moisturizers. They can be in the form of lotion or oil, gel-type, or water-based. A water-based moisturizer that does not clog pores can help skin retain the water content it needs. When the skin is hydrated, it tends to normalize the oil production also.
So, the fear that a moisturizer will make oily skin even more oily is not true if the appropriate water-based, lightweight moisturizer is used. Instead, it actually helps the skin to balance itself by retaining the water it needs to stay healthy.
More Than Just Skin Care Products
There are other habits that can have a big impact too. Changing pillowcases frequently and disinfecting helmets, hats, goggles, or any other sports gear that comes in contact with the skin helps to control the bacteria that causes acne. Washing hands and keeping them away from the face and keeping cell phones disinfected helps as well. Choosing shampoos and conditioners and other hair products that won’t aggravate acne is important, especially if the breakout is around the hairline.
Most everything we have discussed addresses what to use or not use on the skin. But other factors like diet, stress, and sleep can impact skin as well. The key here is to have a diet with as many anti-inflammatory foods as possible while keeping inflammatory foods like sugar and processed foods to a minimum. Stress impacts hormones and hormones impact acne. As your child enters those teenage years, be mindful of their stress load and factor in some unscheduled time to rest and play.
So much of our jobs as moms involve equipping our children with the skills and habits they need to live happy and healthy lives when they are on their own. Good skin care habits are an essential piece of that equipping. Starting out gradually with a doable skin care routine when your child shows an interest or when a need arises is always a great approach.
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