Dedicated teen skincare brands promise to take the guesswork out of choosing the best products for teens and tweens. Are they the answer for fussy kids and cynical parents?
After skincare designed for menopausal women and skin of colour, teens offer the latest skin subset for the cosmetics market to home in on with a flurry of dedicated product ranges. And as far as many switched-on, social media-savvy young people are concerned, it’s about time.
Like all of us, “teens hear about great products all the time but struggle with misinformation and confusion”, says Reena Hammer, co-founder and CEO of just-launched teen cosmetics brand Indu. “They have barely any way of knowing whether these products are actually suitable for them, and they want products that openly say they’re formulated for teen skin.”
She would say that, of course, but her brand is built on the feedback of over 150 adolescents from a wide variety of backgrounds, who also taught her that strong sustainability values and the endorsement of authentic teen voices, among other things, are key for the teen skincare consumer.
Dermatologists such as Dr Alexis Granite can see the point of teen-specific skin ranges as well: “they will be accessible and very clear in their messaging,” she says. “It’s no bad thing for teens to have that reassurance that a product is appropriate for their skin. In my practice, I see how these kids are drawn to brands such as Drunk Elephant and while that’s not a bad brand, plenty of their formulations should not be used on teen skin. Dedicated ranges with teen appeal will help them make the right choices.”
What do teenagers look for in skincare?
Importantly, “don’t patronise and try to be cool,” says Sam Farmer, creator of Samfarmer professional skin, hair and body care for teenagers and, in his capacity as Immediate past president of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, an advocate of no-nonsense but clinically backed formulas. “Teens will find you.” His focus is firmly on helping adolescents and “solving issues they are having to contend with for the first time: oily skin and spots, body odour and greasy hair.”
Charlotte-Anne Fidler, founder of teen and tween skin, hair and bath brand Spots & Stripes, agrees: “Gen Z and Gen Alphas who use our products can spot a brand that's faking ‘cool’ a mile off. It needs to look good and fun and smell great. For girls who want a skincare 'routine', it needs to fulfil that ritual. For boys, who often really can't be bothered, it needs to be quick and simple. And it needs to work fast.” Lastly, she says these kids are magpies who love fun packaging and are turned off by “boring white tubes.”
Hammer emphasises the importance of the ‘experience’ of a product for teens, “and that includes smell. Without it, you lose a key factor and some emotional and psychological connections,” she says. But her teen focus group was also aware that some perfumes have allergens, so those are best avoided.
The other experiential key is texture: “teens want to avoid anything oily,” says Hammer. Products, she says, need to absorb quickly without residue or stickiness. And adolescents appear to be just as swayed by sophisticated textures as grown-ups: “they are very into ‘whipped’ or silky textures.”
What do parents of teenagers want from teen skincare?
Trust, quality and safety are key for parents, as is price: “I think they would baulk at a £20 cleanser or a £30 moisturiser for a teen,” says Fidler.
She adds “I think the new generation of parents are also veering toward natural and safe products, because that's what they like for themselves.” For her brand and for a number of other teen brands, that includes “no 'nasties': parabens and phthalates act as endocrine disruptors which you don’t need for teen bodies that are already a total maelstrom of hormones.”
Such claims draw short shrift from Farmer, however: “all cosmetic products reach exactly the same safety standard in the UK,” he says. “Using terms such as ‘nasties‘ or ‘toxic’ is a marketing strategy and not based in the scientific facts; it, quite frankly, treats the consumer with contempt.”
Parents (who are most probably funding their teen’s skincare) will probably want to know that the brand’s imagery, messaging and social media hits the right note too, with supportive messaging that doesn’t undermine their teen’s confidence. Generally teen-specific brands will have though this through; Indu even has a psychologist on board to help. Lush, which almost all children under ten fall in love with during their ‘bath bomb’ years, has gone so far as to take itself off social media platforms entirely ‘until they provide a safer environment for users’.
“Allowing teenagers to have the confidence to understand they are good enough, exactly as they are, is an essential message,” says Farmer. Hammer adds that “we should make it normal to value prevention over cure, to take care – as a form of self-care, not to be perfect.”
She also emphasises the importance of normalising real skin: “teen skin is perfect as it is, but life throws challenges at it and the message is that we have ways to keep it in balance.”
That means being responsible with your visuals: “seeing images of perfect skin online only perpetuates the cycle of feeling inferior,” says Dermalogica education manager Victoria Evans. “When marketing to teens, it’s important to show how the product works on real skin, so they can understand what realistic results look like. We also need to show real skin on models, not retouching their photos or airbrushing away their imperfections.”
“Healthier skin is going to be better for teens’ confidence and well-being, and that's super-important when you look at the levels of depression and anxiety in this age-group,” says Fidler. “We believe that promoting a skincare regime will help teens achieve skin health.”
What should a 14-year-old’s skincare routine be?
Most experts and brand owners agree that teens aged 13 to 17 need just three essentials: cleanser twice a day, moisturiser and sunscreen. Although the latter may be a stretch for teens, muses Farmer: “the issue for them is to actually remember to apply a sunscreen. Just getting out the door can be a major achievement.” He lists deodorant as another key are for kids newly grappling with body odour (if you are looking for the best natural deodorants , our 16-year-old male tester swears by Akt London).
· A gentle cleanser
“Cleansers and other products need to focus on anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients: they have to be incredibly gentle so as to leave the skin balanced but not stripped,” says Fidler. “It’s the opposite of the spot-blasting, alcohol-laden 'old-school' teen brands: hello, Clean & Clear!” It’s a good point: many teen skins may be angry and oily, but that doesn’t mean they’re not very delicate – aggressing it is the worst thing you can do.
An efficacious yet gentle cleanser will remove sebum, sweat, dirt, make-up and pollution while adding some hydration, Fidler says. “It's hard to do all this if the cleanser foams, so in my opinion a lotion cleanser or cream or milk is best.” Very gentle milk-to-foam cleansers, which are a relatively new texture, are a good option as well.
· Oil-free moisturiser
Dr Granite points out that light, oil-free moisturisers or gels will be the right option for most teens, but to not cut out hydration altogether, even if skin is oily. Fidler disagrees: “if their cleanser isn’t stripping the skin, they might not need a moisturiser at all until they start wearing makeup or shaving, which can dry skin out,” she says. A hydrating mist would be a good alternative, she says, conceding that teens skins do need moisture.
· Daily sunscreen
Daily sunscreen is important to make a habit of from as early as your early teens onwards, which is why several teen brands offer their own or have one in the making. But experts like Dr Granite and Farmer are not fussed about selecting a ‘teen’ one. “There are plenty of great broad-spectrum sun protection products already on the market,” says Farmer. Granite agrees and tips funky-yet-serious sun care brand Ultra Violette’s Queen Screen SPF50+ Luminising Serum Sunscreen, £36. If they are buying from their allowance, Bondi Sands Sunscreen Lotion SPF50 comes in at £6.99 at Sephora.
· Spot control
Beyond the three absolute basics, the later teenage years for many will need to involve a level of treatment for intermittent breakouts or acne. “A two per cent salicylic acid serum, gel or cleanser is the effective gold standard for keeping pores purified and blemishes under control,” says Granite. Dermalogica’s Victoria Evans also points to niacinamide and ingredients to soothe and balance the microbiome.
Somewhat controversially (as our other experts finger it as ‘too much’), Dr Granite says that a retinol can also be a good option if acne is persistent. “As long as it’s formulated for blemish-prone, not ageing, skin,” she says, recommending Cerave resurfacing Retinol Serum for Blemish-Prone Skin, £21. If the issue is quite serious, seek the help of a dermatologist, though.
A milder (non teen-specific) spot-busting option, recommended by Dr Marine Vincent of The French Pharmacy, is Gallinée Vinegar Gelée Anti-Blemish Serum, £35
What skincare should a 12-year-old use?
Pre-teens or tweens, who are between the ages of nine and twelve, need an even more basic skincare approach than teens. “Acne will in most cases not yet be an issue, and building hygiene practices is all they really need,” says Dr Granite.
“From a young age, you want to educate kids on personal hygiene and help them be confident and feel good about themselves. It’s not a game, it’s important,” says Farmer.
Can a 13-year-old use glycolic acid?
So what does teen skin definitely NOT need? Too many products, for starters, agree the experts – think multi-step routines with several serums and a double-cleansing habit. Specifically, the following are mentioned:
Skincare that teens should avoid
· No scrubs!
“Avoid scrubs like the plague,” says Fidler. “They are the last thing blemish-prone young skin needs; they can make spots worse.”
· Swerve acid toners and peels
Acid exfoliators are a no-no as well, says Granite, especially high percentages of AHAs such as glycolic acid. These peel away dead skin that simply isn’t there yet, and can be very irritating. The only exception is salicylic acid, which purifies congested pores.
‘Regular’ toners are to be avoided as well: “an unnecessary step, often containing alcohol,” says Fidler
· Avoid vitamin C serums
Young skin simply doesn’t need brightening, anti-ageing vitamin C, and high percentages can be irritating,” says Granite. Other primarily anti-ageing ingredients such as peptides and growth factors are equally unnecessary.
· No-go for hyaluronic acid serums
They are trendy on Tiktok but really not needed, says Fidler. “Too much can actually have the reverse effect and dry or irritate teen skin,” she says
· Skip face oils
“A definite no for teens,” says Granite, who doesn’t even like them for adult skin. “They can overload and clog pores and don’t add anything to the equation.”
What we can learn from the French approach to teen skin
Just like menopause skincare ranges, you can get everything required for teen skin from existing skincare offerings. But it requires some skincare knowledge, which is why in France your teen years are often marked by a trip to the pharmacist for advice.
“Teen-specific skincare isn’t trendy in France, and that’s probably due to the overall French skincare approach being one of simplicity, prevention and education,” says doctor in pharmacy Marine Vincent of London’s French Pharmacy, “A French teenager’s skincare journey will always start at the pharmacy, where brands such as Avène, La Roche Posay, Uriage or Bioderma are the norm, and they are suitable for young skin anyway. It means age-specific products aren’t necessary.”
Of course, a French pharmacy has the benefit of French pharmacists with extensive dermatological nous, who can help young customers make the right selections. Granite agrees that French pharmacy ranges pretty much cover teen needs (she also recommends US brand Cerave for its many teen-appropriate products), but as they are so wide-ranging, some expert hand-holding is often required.
Do teens want genderless products?
Most teen brands are for boys as well as girls and therefore ‘genderless’, but it’s not so much so as to make a statement, but rather because their creators feel kids just want to buy products that work and aren’t particularly interested in gender-specific packaging or marketing.
“There are definitely products that are more likely to be used by either girls or boys, but our focus group never expressed ‘we need a boy and girl version’, says Hammer. “We just create products for all teens taking everyone’s needs into account.”
Farmer, for his part, feels it doesn’t make sense when creating formulations based on cosmetic science to segregate them into ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ products. “I solve needs based on skin and hair issues, not gender divisions – that is just marketing,” he says.
The best skincare ranges and products for teenagers
Our top product picks from our favourite teen and teen-appropriate teen ranges
Created with a panel of teens to hit the spot for kids, but of a quality that’ll reassure their parents, it’s refillablea and reasonably priced, with skin-friendly makeup to come.
Best gentle moisturiser for teens: Indu Universal Soft Cream Moisturiser, £20
A velvety texture that belies its lightness and ability to sink in quickly, this moisture-locking cream leaves teen skin soft but never greasy. A blend of humectants, lipids, and pre, pro and postbiotics works together to balance skin and fortify its barrier. Like every product by this brand-new brand created with teen input, it has a sophisticated figgy scent that at even grown-ups will gravitate to.
Spots & Stripes
A natural ‘teen and tween’ range created by a mum and former glossy magazine beauty director, with mildly different-looking products for boys and girls.
Best weightless moisture hit for teens and tweens: Spots & Stripes Skin Goals Hydrating Face Mist, £18
A real solution for young skins that crave hydration but despise the feeling of a cream, this is an aloe and hyaluronic acid-based mist with calming, bacteria-fighting and vitamin-rich botanicals (think cucumber, witch hazel, camomile…). It works morning and night as a ‘moisturiser’ or anytime as a refresher to perk up skin and grumpy moods - the plant extracts lend it an uplifting scent.
Formulated by a cosmetic scientist with first-hand knowledge of the skin and hair issues teens struggle with.
Best teen spot zapper: Samfarmer Intensiveplus Spot Gel, £20
This on-the-spot gel has everything adolescent skin needs to nuke blemishes safely and efficiently. Salicylic acid will hoover out pores and calm inflammation, lactic acid will remove a build-up of cells, seaweed extract soothes and glycerin hydrates - just smooth a little directly onto breakouts and watch them settle. Fragrance-free and, like anything in this problem-solving range, presented in straight-talking, non-nonsense packaging, this is a gimmick-free solution for one of teen skin’s greatest scourges.
Dermalogica Clear Start
A problem-solving range for teen and young adult skin,focused on breakout-busting.
Best daily facial sunscreen for teens: Dermalogica ClearStart Clearing Defense SPF30, £29
Breakout-prone skin in particular is susceptible to permanent pigmentation marks when exposed to UV, so daily SPF is important from a health as well as a vanity point of view. Convincing teens to wear sunscreen won’t be easy, but this ultra-lightweight, matte-finish lotion created just for their age group might sway them. Oil-free, broad-spectrum and with added antioxidants, this offers 360* protection from UV light and pollution and can double as a moisturiser.
Not a teen brand, but it’s one of your safest overall bets for formulations suitable for teens if you’re not convinced by the targeted brands.
Best face wash for teens: Cerave Hydrating Cream-To-Foam Cleanser, £14
An amino acid-based cleanser that start as a milk but foams lightly when massaged into skin, it combines the gentleness of nourishing cream cleansers with the purifying feel of a wash-off foaming cleanser, but without any damaging barrier-stripping or dryness. Best of all, this type of cleanser (Indu does one as well), is really good at removing even eye makeup alongside sebum, dirt and pollution, all in one go. It’s for normal to dry skin: not all teens suffer from excess oil and spots.
Targeted at young adults, Skinproud is nonetheless coveted by teens, with attractive smells sand textures and has good products on offer for them (as well as ones to avoid, see above).
Best oil-free moisturiser for young skin: Skinproud Sorbet Skin Everyday Jelly Moisturiser, £13.95
This gel-cream presses all the buttons for teens: weightless, quenching, sweet-smelling and fun. A blend of water-trapping humectants and silicones for a silky-feeling, not-too-shiny finish, this is simple hydration suitable for all skin types that can be used day and night and will leave skin attractively dewy.
Another brand for young adults whose multi-coloured, tactile packaging attracts teens like honey to a bee. Everything is skin barrier-focused and fragrance-free - a good choice for skin of all ages.
Best balancing treatment for blemish-prone skin: Byoma Clarifying Serum, £12.99
This serum can be used in place of a moisturiser for oily skin, and will tackle the oil, inflammation and redness of breakouts at their inception with skin-clearing polyhydroxy acids (PHA), healing ceramides and soothing blue tansy. Fun to use as well as effective.
Young people adore this brand for its sense of fun, emphasis on natural ingredients and iron-clad green credentials. Plenty of their simple, near home-made skin formulations can benefit teen skin without causing it any bother.
Most-loved-by-teens soothing face mask: Lush Catastrophe Cosmetic Face Mask, £10
This blueberry-rich 15-minute mask balances oiliness with clay and irritation with chamomile, calamine and seaweed extracts. It also infuses skin with fortifying antioxidants. As Lush’s facial skincare category lead Milly Ahlquist points out: "we've pioneered ways to formulate entirely self-preserving formulas (products that stay fresh and effective without synthetic preservatives) because we have always been conscious that the skin is an ecosystem and preservatives have the potential to upset this delicate environment, causing conditions such as acne."