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Tween Skincare Routine

A Skincare Routine for Tweens

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

Long, looooooong-time reader here, hoping you’ll be willing to go a little old-school Advice Smackdown for me. I have boy/girl twins who are the same age as your oldest child, Noah, (I found your blog when we were both pregnant!) and well, puberty is happening all over the place. Including their faces.

I really, really want to get them both set up with good, proper skincare routines and teach them how to take care of their skin, since nobody really did that for me. But considering how long it took me to figure out what works/doesn’t work for my own skin (Philosophy! In my 30s!), I’m not really sure what to recommend for 12 year olds. I don’t want them using anything too harsh or expensive, but it’s definitely time for them to move past using whatever soap or body wash they happen to grab in the shower. (If they even do that, TBH.) 

For what it’s worth, my husband and I have skin that leans towards the normal/dry side, but both definitely struggled with acne/clogged pores during our teen years. He doesn’t remember using anything other than bar soap and maybe some astringent (that totally didn’t help) and I remember spending way too much money on anything and everything that promised clear skin and then just using a ton of cover-up makeup. I’m definitely noticing some white bumps and oily shine on my kids’ faces so I assume they’re both going to have to deal with some crappy hormonal skin as well.

So where do I start? Can they use the same stuff or do we need his-and-hers routines? Do I have to share my pricey Philosophy or can I get them something cheap? We’re pretty good about using sunscreen but don’t use a consistent brand…should I use something in particular? And how do I stress the importance of taking care of their skin without making them self-conscious about it? 




Your question could not have been timed any better, because we’re dealing with the exact same thing. So I have thoughts. Many thoughts!

Face Wash for Tweens

We kicked things off with a bottle of good ol’ original Cetaphil. This is a really great, gentle face wash and I especially like it for kids who mayyyyyyybe aren’t super great about washing their faces on their own, since it’s okay if they leave some on their skin. (It basically can double as a moisturizer if you don’t rinse it off.) It’s also a good starting point to see if just the simple act of twice-daily face washing (as opposed to just when they shower, IF THAT OFTEN) is enough to make a difference.

For us, it DEFINITELY did. I saw improvement within a couple days, and better yet, so did my kid! He’d been prepared for “skin changes” thanks to some of the books we bought him (It’s Perfectly Normal, The Manual To Middle School, etc.) and health class, so we just framed it as a positive, small thing he could do that would help. Wash your face whenever you wash your teeth. Just like using deodorant and showering a bit more often. It took about a week of reminding before it became a pretty regular habit. (Though I wish I could say the same about leaving the &#(@ washcloth in the sink every day.)

Now that the weather is getting warmer and sweating is a factor, we’ve stepped up to a classic Liquid Neutrogena. This one has a touch more ooomph for cleaning out pores and managing breakouts, but still isn’t harsh or drying. (It’s actually what my husband swears by these days, and it’s a lot cheaper than Philosophy, sooooo. ) I think too many teens decide to go right for the nuclear options (the acids, astringents, the expensive five-step systems, etc.) when it comes to fighting acne, when a lot of them would benefit from a gentler, more balanced approach. (I used Noxema and Clinique for most of my adolescence, which are both fine,  but whenever I had a breakout I’d lose my mind and go nuts and use every anti-acne product I could find at the same time, up to and including STRAIGHT RUBBING ALCOHOL. My pores have never recovered.)

Spot-Treatments for Tweens

So it is probably a good idea to stress that while washing their faces will help, there’s really nothing in the world that will 100% all-the-time-with-zero-exceptions guarantee no pimples. They happen, they’re normal, everyone gets them (yes, everyone), and most importantly, they are temporary and will go away. (We haven’t had to venture into spot-treatment territory for our kid yet, but my top three faves in that category are: Neutrogena On-the-Spot, Philosophy Clear Days Ahead and Murad Rapid Relief.)

Make-up Remover for Tweens

Once (or if) your daughter starts wearing makeup, make sure she gets the importance of WASHING IT OFF. Like, really well. I’d probably go with something like Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser for this, since again, it’s super gentle and doesn’t cost a fortune. Plus, it really works! I have a jar in my medicine cabinet right now and love how it just melts everything off and leaves my skin feeling tingly clean.

Other than that, I don’t think you need to do separate his/hers routines just yet, unless it’s clear that their skin is super fundamentally different or somebody really needs something super specialized/targeted. Right now focus on getting them to develop good self-care habits and routines using some very basic products, and adjust as-needed from there. Especially for your son: boys can and should take care of their skin! We should all have watched enough Queer Eye by now to know that there’s nothing feminine or shameful about self-care and taking pride in how you look. (I mean, they show a dude in his 60s applying a face mask for the first time in his life and I’m reduced to a weepy mess because yaaaasssss so empowering you look so gooood.)

Pore Cleansers for Tweens

If you find that washing alone isn’t doing quite enough to keep their pores clean or blemishes at bay, Sephora sells a low-priced little “Cleansing Water & Milk” with charcoal that I totally impulse-bought a couple months ago because I needed to spend $4 more to qualify for free shipping online. I love it!! You apply it with a cotton ball like a toner/astringent, and while it admittedly smells a little funky it is so, so awesome on my t-zone and pores. Very deep cleansing but not too drying. And it’s only $4 a bottle!!! I can’t think of anything in the drugstore aisle that can beat it.

Facial Sunscreen for Tweens

Finally, sunscreen. So important! One of the few skincare products that was stressed as super essential to me my entire life (lots of skin cancer in my pale Irish family) and for that I am so grateful. But I also have skin that really, REALLY doesn’t like most sunscreens and SPF products and I’ll get full-body breakouts if I’m not careful. That said, I don’t use anything super crazy — my all-time favorite is anything Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch.  I use the regular lotion stuff on my body and the lighter liquid on my face. Works great, isn’t greasy and doesn’t make me break out. And now, thanks to your letter, I realize I better buy a second bottle for my son so I don’t have to share.

Photo source: Depositphotos/VikaKhalabuzar

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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