How to Build a Skin-Care Routine for Your Tween

Within those buckets, preteens can experiment with textures such as gels, creams, and lotions. “When you get into trouble is when you start incorporating things like an oil and emollients that are thick and heavy like an ointment, because if you do have acne, then you’re going to have issues,” says Corey L. Hartman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL. For preteens with acne, Dr. Scott recommends a salicylic acid cleanser and, if that doesn’t help, consider potentially adding a topical retinol treatment like Differin into their routine.

The Inkey List

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser


Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Should tweens use active ingredients?

While active ingredients like retinoids, acids, and antioxidants may be seen as essential in adult skin-care routines, it’s a completely different story when it comes to preteens. Adults use these potent ingredients to help their skin act younger by shedding dead skin cells, promoting cellular regeneration, and boosting collagen and elastin production, says Dr. Gohara. Children don’t need them because their skin is already functioning at its optimal efficiency.

“I don’t think an eight-year-old should be using a retinoid or salicylic acid or glycolic acid if they don’t have acne,” Dr. Gohara says. “I would tell a 40-year-old to do that because their skin isn’t exfoliating as much and isn’t producing as much collagen, so there’s a reason to boost those biological functions. But in a young person, their skin is exfoliating itself, their fibroblasts — which make collagen — are in overdrive and [their skin] is happy and plump, so they don’t need that.”

Some collagen-boosting ingredients, like peptides, won’t hurt the skin of preteens, but they won’t have a benefit that justifies the price tag. Other ingredients aren’t just superfluous, but can actually cause trouble. Using vitamin C, for instance, runs the risk of causing increased sensitivity in preteen skin, says Dr. Mariwalla. “I can’t imagine there’s some eight-year-old running around that needs that degree of antioxidant on their skin,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “Their skin does not have so much free radical or pollution exposure. Skin that is in the eight to 11-year-old range is perfectly functioning and healthy.”

Ultimately, for preteens, “there’s no need for a lot of extra ingredients,” says Dr. Hartman. “They just need hydration.” He points to ceramides (“good to restore the skin barrier”), hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide as ingredients to look for.


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