A Dermatologist Shares the Products That Can (and Can't) Help With Teen Acne

teen acneteen acne

I’m currently the owner of a teenage son who loves clothes, but shows no interest in the skin on his face. Despite it needing some desperate attention, thanks to teen acne.

For me, it poses a parent’s eternal dilemma: When you can see how your kid’s life could vastly improve with your excellent advice, but imparting your wisdom may make them feel like they’re not good enough or are doing something wrong.

My kid can see the red, inflamed acne around his nose, but he also has a bajillion better things to think about, which I guess is a good thing. We all know someone whose high school years were marked by how they felt about their face. But then again, it’s my job as a parent to show my kid how to do better… isn’t it?

This internal struggle culminated in me sneaking into his room while he was fast asleep and applying a bit of one of my vitamin A moisturisers (I have many) over the congested areas. It brought down some of the redness in minutes... but then in a panic, I Googled whether I’d poisoned him or ruined his sperm or something. I hadn’t. Parenting nail.

Obviously, there has to be a better way. And if other parents are navigating the same thing, know you're not alone.

To find out exactly how to physically and emotionally address acne with my teen, I spoke to Sydney dermatologist Dr Anita Patel. Here's what she said.

What Causes Teen Acne?

"Acne doesn’t develop because a person is dirty - it's the result of the hormonal drive that comes in during the teen years, usually around age 13 or 14," Dr Patel said.

"The onslaught of hormones sets off a series of events in the skin. This results in a production of oil, and combining that with dead skin plugging pores, an increase in whiteheads, blackheads, and pus-filled pustules."

Teen Acne Side Effects - Are There Any?

"Scarring can indeed be a long-term consequence of acne. However, it really does depend on the age the acne started, the intensity, and the duration."

Best Skincare Ingredients for Teen Acne?

Dr Patel said there are three main ingredients useful in treating teenage acne:

  • AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) like lactic and glycolic acid.

  • BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid.

  • Over-the-counter retinols because of their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

You can learn more about exfoliation and exfoliating skincare ingredients in our YouTube video below.

What about professional acne skin treatments or expensive serums? Are these necessary for a teenager, or a waste of money?

"Don't bother spending money on a whole lot of treatments targeted at adults, without seeing a doctor first," she said.

"Any soft treatments for acne such as extractions, LED light and needling are unnecessary for teens."

Teenage Acne Skincare Routine.

According to Dr Patel, a simple routine consisting of four key steps is best when treating acne for teens:

  • An acne-friendly cleanser morning and night. No soap, no scrubs. And cleanse after any physical activity or if wearing makeup.

  • An oil-free moisturiser.

  • A chemical exfoliant one to two times a week, or a spot treatment.

  • An oil-free sunscreen, which is especially important considering there is a risk of some acne treatment ingredients triggering skin susceptibility in the sun.

But just as important as getting your teen using the right products is getting them to use them consistently. Godspeed.

Best Products for Teen Acne.

On that note, here are four of the best products for managing teen acne on Adore Beauty.

1. A Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser.


What: Skinstitut L-Lactic Cleanser - A gel cleanser that provides gentle chemical exfoliation thanks to one of the gentlest AHAs, lactic acid.

Why it's great for teen acne:

Using a chemical exfoliating cleanser like this one combines the steps of thoroughly cleansing the skin, and gently clearing congestion, without irritating the skin like a scrub might. This product won't strip the skin of moisture either, and bonus points, it can be used as a wash to manage body acne, too.

2. An Oil-Free Moisturiser.

clear start jellyclear start jelly

What: Dermalogica Cooling Aqua Jelly 59ml - A light jelly texture moisturiser containing hydrating humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid.

Why it's great for teen acne:

This jelly is especially good for teens because it has an oil-free texture with a novelty factor. Your teen can check out TikTok to see how popular jelly products are with their peers, rather than the heavy creams they think will make them greasy.

But don’t be fooled – the weightless formula locks in moisture to keep skin hydrated, but not oily, calms inflammation and leaves a dewy glow, without shine. This can also be used morning and night - no need for multiple day and night creams!

3. The Spot Treatment.

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What: Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Booster 30ml- A spot treatment that can kill breakout-causing bacteria within 15 minutes of application.

Why it's great for teen acne:

Encourage your teen to use a spot treatment just where they need it, rather than opting for harsh 'acne' products all over that tend to strip the skin (and bleach the towels).

This one contains niacinamide (vitamin B3) and salicylic acid (a BHA that can get down into the pores), and works fast. Perfect for a teen who doesn’t have time to worry about spots on their face.

4. An Everyday Sunscreen.


What: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ - An SPF50+ broad spectrum sunscreen that's fragrance-free and dermatologically tested for sensitive skin.

Why it's great for teen acne:

After the massive effort (LOL) of cleansing and moisturising their face, your teen probably won’t want to spend any time on sunscreen. A) Because it's just another step and B) because they won't want their face to look remotely oily.

This sunscreen has a light, watery fluid texture. The finish is neither matte nor dewy, but it isn’t shiny or greasy. It also comes in a small tube that's easy to stash in a bathroom cabinet or backpack, or both.

How to Speak to Your Teen About Acne.

Finally, I asked Dr Patel for advice on how to bring up the topic of acne in a way that sensitively addresses their and your concerns.

"I always take a general medical approach, explaining how the acne has been caused on a hormonal level - with no suggestion or accusation - and then offer the different treatments to address the issue."

*SPF is only one part of sun protection! Always seek shade, and wear sunnies, a hat and protective clothing. Use sufficient sunscreen for all unprotected areas and reapply sunscreen as directed. Always read the label.

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