Skincare Routines: Teen Acne Treatments for 2021

June 11, 2021 (updated July 17, 2021)

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.

round up of skincare for acne

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:

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?


Teen acne skincare routine infographic

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




RELATED: Check out my guide to the best skincare for men and my guide to the best skincare routine for your skin type.



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?

TOG Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TOG uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TOG stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

By Emily Barth Isler

Emily Barth Isler lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two kids. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film and TV. Emily writes about sustainable, eco-friendly beauty and skincare for magazines and websites such as Organic Spa and Allure, and also writes novels for kids and families. Her debut Middle Grade novel, AfterMath, will be published in September 2021 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Books, and she has also written web sitcoms, parenting columns and personal essays. She has a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, and really, really loves television. Find her at www.emilybarthisler.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @emilybarthisler.

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