I sometimes think mothers worry as much about teenage skin as girls do themselves. Will she develop bad beauty habits, will falling into bed with her make-up on damage her complexion – and above all, what to do about those spots…? No question: spots and breakouts can seriously zap confidence and self-esteem – I have many a young woman in my ‘circle’ who have been badly affected, not wanting to meet with friends, rock up for family get-togethers or take ‘selfies’ – and generally feeling very isolated despite this being an incredibly common problem.
The temptation is to blitz spots with really strong, alcohol-based products which dry the oil – but confuse the skin, which then works overtime to replace oil and sebum, at an even quicker rate, leading to more blockages, more shine, more spots. My Beauty Bible co-author Sarah Stacey and I once did a round-Britain book tour in Superdrug (oh, we get all the glamorous jobs!) and half our time was spent blocking the acne treatment fixture, explaining to young women (and some boys) that the products on sale could take off nail polish…! So: there are some definite Dos and Don’ts when it comes to looking after teenage skin.
The watchword is ‘gentle’. Banish the harshness from a teenage skincare regime, and look for products which instead allow the skin to settle down. That means avoiding alcohol-based toners and ‘spot-drying’ products, and instead switching to a gentle face wash (for boys, too). Ideally, these will feature active botanicals which in some cases can work anti-bacterially, to help prevent flare-ups. Cetaphil Skin Cleanser ticks all the boxes, here, as does the Derma E Purifying Gel Cleanser. (The whole Derma E Purifying range is just brilliant for problem skins.) Slightly more luxuriously, there’s the cooling, refreshing Temple Spa Way to Go Cleansing Gel Wash, which is packed with natural antiseptic ingredients from the Mediterranean, and just lovely to use. The bottom line is that learning to cleanse scrupulously is the best possible foundation for a lifetime’s regime. One tip, though: always, always wash hands thoroughly before cleansing your face, to avoid transferring dirt and bacteria to the skin.
Face wipes are OK. I’d never recommend them every single night – not because they’re not effective, but the temptation is to give a quick swipe, and think you’re done. Be thorough, especially around the nose and in the cleft of the chin. They’re much, much better than falling into bed after a party with your make-up on, though.
Even if you have oily skin, you still need moisturiser. Oil and moisture are different. Skin needs some oil for lubrication (which is why you don’t want to blitz every last molecule away), but it definitely also needs light moisture, for comfort and healthy cell communication. Go for something very, very lightweight such as GOW Daily Hydrator, or Cetaphil Moisturising Cream, from that great-for-tricky-skins range.
Leave spots well alone. Don’t pick. Don’t squeeze – or rather, don’t squeeze ‘in the wrong way’. ‘The problem is that most people come in from work, drop their bags, rush to the mirror and start pawing at their face,’ superfacialist Eve Lom once told me. ‘You have to prepare skin, first, by cleansing, then warming it. Ensure hands are clean, too. Take a piece of cotton wool and soak it in hot water, then hold over the spot for around six seconds, repeating five or six times before squeezing. Never try to squeeze just a red lump; unless there’s a “head” on it, you’ll just spread the infection and make matters worse.’ Beauty emergencies are one thing, however, declares Lom. ‘But on a daily basis,’ she warns, ‘squeezing can damage and scar skin.’ (Don’t be shy about pore strips, though, for blackheads.)
Use an occasional mask. Not something that dries rock-solid, but which still feels comfortable on the skin, while it’s on, such as Derma E Purifying 2-in-1 Charcoal Mask, Temple Spa Purification Deep Cleansing Face Mask (a brilliant, decongesting treat, that).
Above all, though, I try to reassure teenagers who feel self-conscious about their skin that when someone looks at you, they mostly don’t even notice your complexion. They’re looking into your eyes, noticing your clothes, hearing your laugh. It’s hard to get your head round when you’re staring in a magnifying mirror at skin that looks like the moon’s surface – but (like many annoying things grown-ups like to say) does, actually, happen to be true…
PS If you want to share an excellent book with a teenager on how to take care of herself from top to toe – and feel more confident, too – I recommend 100 Ways for Every Girl to Look & Feel Fantastic, written by beauty editor Alice Hart-Davis and her daughter Beth Hindhaugh (Walker Books, £6.99), which is as down-to-earth and helpful as it gets.