Does your complexion have you twinning with your teen? Clear up skin and keep it looking smooth with these expert tips.

By Melissa Matthews Brown
Photo by Paul Westlake

You’ve finally found it—the thing that puts you and your teenager on equal footing! Unfortunately, it’s acne, which they’ve just grown into and you seemingly will never outgrow. As you may have noticed, though, your kid’s blemishes don’t exactly look like yours: Teens often have active sebaceous glands that clog easily, resulting in zits all over their face (or back...or chest). Adult acne, however, tends to appear around the mouth, chin or jawline—even if skin in other areas is dry. Thankfully, a few tweaks and easy-to-adopt habits can keep you in the clear. 

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Upgrade Your Skin Care

For decades, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid have been killing it on the acne-fighting front (the former gets rid of bacteria on the skin; the latter gets dirt and oil out of pores). Your kid probably has some zit-zapper with one of those ingredients, which works well for a teen’s oily skin. However, “it will have some benefits for you but won’t address all your grown-up concerns,” says NYC dermatologist Josh Zeichner, MD. That’s why you should look for products with glycolic acid, which gently sloughs away pore-clogging dead skin and stimulates collagen (the magical stuff that keeps your skin looking plumped up and youthful). Similarly, a retinol or retinoid (both are vitamin A derivatives, just in prescription or OTC concentrations) will be tough on acne while building collagen and minimizing fine lines. 

Take a Probiotic

Better skin for you and your teen can start deep in the belly. Foods that are high in sugar and dairy may trigger inflammation, which exacerbates acne in skin that’s already prone to it. Nip this in the gut by taking a daily probiotic containing acidophilus or lactobacillus. Try Tula Daily Probiotic & Skin Health Complex (tula.com, $39). Zeichner also suggests kombucha and sauerkraut; both are rich in natural probiotics that will help your complexion. 

Embrace Oil

Yes, follow that instinct that tells you to never put petroleum jelly on your acne-prone face. But according to Zeichner, it’s a myth that people with acne can’t use oil at all. Actually, an oil cleanser is great for attracting and removing unwanted oil from skin at any age. We especially like Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Oil (burtsbees.com, $16). It contains coconut oil to gently hydrate and balance skin.

Stay Active

Photo by Peter Ardito

Of course a yoga class or jogging with a friend feels great—when you manage to get around to it. Let this motivate you to actually do it: Exercise helps keep acne in check. “It improves circulation, sending oxygen to your skin cells and clearing away toxins,” Zeichner explains. Just remember (and remind your teen too!), after your sweat session, do a quick cleanse to whisk away pore-clogging bacteria. We love Clean & Clear Lemon Cleansing Wipes (walmart.com, $6).

Stress Less

We know, this is easier said than done because, well, just look at your to-do list. Still, stress does cause your adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a hormone that kicks your sebaceous glands into oil-making mode, causing acne to become inflamed. The solution? Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. This goes for your teen as well. Overnight is when your skin is exposed to fewer pollutants and has time to repair and regenerate.

Fight Back Against Acne

Photo by Peter Ardito

The three steps to clear skin for you and your teen are cleanse, spot treat and moisturize. (And, OK, the fourth step: Pray that the zits don’t come back.) Here are products you and your teenager can share. Just pick one from each category (the only picking you’re allowed to do with acne!). 

Step 1: Cleanse

There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to cleansing: You need to start and end your day by washing your face. “Bacteria builds up on skin as you sleep,” says NYC dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD. Clearing away dirt and oil in the morning gives skin a fresh start, while a nightly cleanse removes makeup and any debris your skin picks up (and, unfortunately, holds on to) throughout the day, Jaliman explains. Most important: Do not over-scrub your skin. “Physically scrubbing can inflame existing pimples and cause them to turn into deeper cysts,” says Kenneth Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC. He suggests switching out your daily gentle cleanser at least three days a week for one that uses chemical exfoliants such as glycolic or salicylic acid to clear your skin.

  • Mario Badescu Skin Care Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, mariobadescu.com, $16
  • Bioré Baking Soda Acne Cleansing Foam, target.com, $6.50

Step 2: Spot Treat

Jaliman recommends using a spot treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid at night to help heal blemishes. “To make these ingredients even more effective, combine them with a retinol,” she says. Yes, we are giving you license to be vengeful against those zits, but do so with a light hand, Howe says. Dowsing your blemishes with a spot treatment can cause excessive dryness or increase the risk of hyperpigmentation after the pimples are gone. If skin starts to become dry, skip a day between applications. 

Step 3: Moisturize

Just like cleansing, it’s important to use a facial moisturizer at least twice a day. Howe suggests adjusting the amount you use based on your skin type: If you’re oily, hydrate less, and vice versa. He also suggests selecting a moisturizer that doesn’t try to do too much. “It shouldn’t contain acne medication; its job should be to moisturize,” he says. But your day cream should have SPF, since acne treatments make skin light-sensitive, Jaliman says. 

Daytime

  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15, neutrogena.com, $20
  • Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30, target.com, $19

Nighttime

TIPS: 

  • Acne-causing bacteria builds up along the crevices of your phone. Try switching to a headset or regularly cleaning your phone with alcohol swabs or electronic wipes.
  • Keep hair off your face on days you don’t shampoo, and swap out your pillowcase often.
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