As a child of the 80s/90s, I’m well aware of anti-acne system Proactiv. Who among us didn’t give into the temptation of teen acne treatments in three easy steps? The promise of flawless skin was too much of a draw to resist, especially in my teens, when I already felt incredibly vulnerable, insecure and exposed.
By: Emily Barth Isler
Long before I was aware of what we now call “green beauty”—before I knew to even wonder what was in my products, let alone to vet the ingredients or look for plant-based origins—I tried the beauty line Proactiv. I was far from alone. The anti-acne system debuted via infomercial in 1995 and became endlessly popular in the late 90s and early 2000s thanks to celebrity endorsements, impressive “before and afters” and ubiquitous television commercials.
If you’re a regular reader of TOG, I probably don’t have to tell you the truth of what’s in Proactiv and other similarly harsh acne “solutions.” I first became wary of Proactiv when I read reports that it wasn’t recommended for use during pregnancy, which led me to the question, “If it’s not safe then, is it really safe for people in general?”
IN THIS POST:
- The importance of routine in teen acne treatments
- For the eco-savvy teen
- For the beauty vlogger/TikTok-er in training
- For the outdoorsy mover + shaker
- For the minimalist
- For any teen
A lot has changed since I was a teen (thank goodness!). TikTok offers kids reality checks about advertising. Instagram gives beauty recommendations more varied than the simple TV-or-magazines choice we had. YouTube is the starting point of so many wonderful rabbit holes where you can learn anything from makeup application to cosmetic chemistry basics.
But one thing has not changed: teens still get acne!
Despite all the hype about elimination diets and cleanses, teen acne is often genetically predetermined and hormonally driven. While things like diet can certainly help, the reality is that, for most people, some acne at some point is inevitable.
So. What can you do about it?
The importance of routine in teen acne treatments
I did take away one really helpful tip from my Proactiv days: routine. It turns out that, for a lot of people who try Proactiv or other solutions like it, the thing that actually helps their skin is the consistency of having a skincare routine at all!
Most teens don’t—kids are unlikely to start regularly washing, cleansing, toning, and moisturizing their faces before acne makes it a necessity—and so the first step in treating teen acne is establishing a routine that said teen will actually do! (The “will actually do” is often the hard part!)
But it doesn’t have to be hard, and it certainly doesn’t have to be toxic, dangerous, expensive, time-consuming, towel-bleaching, and/or unpleasant! It could actually be…. wait for it… fun! Those of us who have had to teach ourselves self-care well into adulthood know that starting a skincare routine early on can be beneficial on many levels!
But that whole “what a teen will actually do” challenge is real, which means it can’t have too many steps, and teens need choices—not everyone loves fun scents and extravagant textures, and on the other hand, some people don’t want medicinal simplicity. Luckily, there is truly something for everyone, especially in the green beauty space.
Teen acne treatments they’ll actually use
I love Osmia for teen acne for myriad reasons. For starters, Osmia was founded by and is formulated by an actual doctor (take that, skeptical teens and grown-ups alike!). Dr. Sarah Villafranco has written and researched extensively about all sorts of skin conditions, from perioral dermatitis to eczema to acne, and her simple-yet-effective skincare line is great for all genders and identities.
With its clean, elegant packaging and its unscented and lightly-scented options, Osmia is a wonderful starting point for most teens. Even better yet, Osmia has started creating skincare kits, which allow customers to sample the routines before investing longer-term, and make it really easy to figure out what your skin needs.
There’s a skin quiz you can take, or kits to choose from, and either way, whatever you get is going to be guaranteed clean, effective, and safe, which makes sampling that much less intimidating.
We Recommend: The Breakout Kit, which you can get as a trial size for just $26!
I first discovered Indie Lee at a very chic shop in New York City, nestled among other luxury brands that were both cutting-edge in green beauty and setting new standards for skincare across the board. It was love at first sight with this simple-yet-luxe brand, and Indie Lee has only gotten more sophisticated and beloved in the intervening almost-decade since.
Indie Lee has something for everyone, but the brand’s acne line can compete with any conventional set in efficacy and in glamour. It looks good on your (or your teen’s) bathroom vanity and on display wherever. The CoQ-10 Toner is one of the brand’s most popular and beloved products, and you’ll find it as part of this easy, fun-to-use kit.
Like these other recommendations, Ursa Major has unscented or low-scented products that truly work, packaged in utilitarian, kid-friendly packages, with science-backed green beauty. But what it offers that the others don’t is THE FOUR-IN-ONE TOWELETTE!
Oh, how I wish I’d had this when I was a teen! It’s strange to admit this now, as a beauty writer who takes very good care of her skin, but as a teen, I went to bed without washing my face SO many nights. Like, probably most of them. I know! Eek!
It was not helpful for my acne, nor for my pillow cases, and I just wish I’d had access to this 4-in-1 wipe back then. It removes makeup, cleanses, tones and hydrates, plus they’re individually wrapped which makes them perfect for sports, sleepovers, school, anything!
And if that wasn’t enough, Ursa Major makes deodorant, which is, you know, really key for your teen, too!!
We Recommend: The 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic, The Fantastic Face Wash and the Fortifying Face Balm.
If you like the idea of brands made by doctors, we’ve got another one for you. For anyone who’s ever come home from the dermatologist with a laundry list of expensive, questionably safe, medical-sales-rep-pushed products to try, wouldn’t you love if a doctor made her own line that has everything you need in it?
I was impressed by Doctor Rogers’ Founder Dr. Heather D. Rogers when she posted an Instagram series about using less products at the beginning of this year. How often do you get a dermatologist telling you to simplify?
It was very refreshing, both figuratively and literally when I tried her advice, and my skin really loved the simplicity. Like we all learned from Proactiv, half the battle is consistency! Doctor Rogers makes products that have few ingredients and are incredibly simple to use. They are common-sense in bottles, and unscented to boot, making them perfect for the teen in your life.
Availability is key for many teens—like, if they can’t find it at the local store, they’re just not going to go for it. This is why Cocokind is one of my top picks for teens, along with the fact that it’s top-notch, effective skincare at affordable price points! I see it all the time at Target and Whole Foods, which makes it really easy to grab whatever product I’m running out of.
Cocokind is such a fun brand—they use interesting and effective ingredients and put it all in colorful, easy-to-use packaging, perfect for the teen who wants to try new things all the time and share with friends. With Cocokind, there’s truly something for everyone, and at every price point.
Other tips for teen acne treatments
The key to surviving teen acne is often acceptance. As parents, we can model skin acceptance and self care, and hope that our kids can skip some of the trials and tribulations we went through as teens…including that Proactiv phase!
- Remember it’s temporary. Changing hormones mean that some blemishes are inevitable (and if your teen can learn that, they’ll be on their way to acceptance faster than we were!).
- Stop picking. I know that it’s hard not to pick at pimples or be overzealous with treatments, but estheticians agree: the less you touch or disrupt your breakouts, the better. Leave extractions to the pros, no matter how much you want to pick!
- Try to focus on embracing your skin. If you consider your teen acne treatments as part of a routine for self-care, you’ll learn to embrace your skin, and be gentle with it. Choosing high-quality products and sticking to your routine will keep acne as minimal as possible!
What products or better beauty lines does your teen love?
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