One of the universal truths of being a parent — and especially of being a mom — is that for many years, you can barely go to the bathroom alone. (With two young daughters, one very pushy dog, and two cats that are legit capable of opening doors, I’m used to an audience.)
And guess what? The kids stick around for all the other stuff, too: tooth brushing, face washing, and skincare application. So it only makes sense that they pick up a bit of what is happening or are curious about what you do to take care of your skin. Or, at the very least, they steal your favorite lip products for some, ahem, creative expression.
Meet the Experts
Rachel Nazarian, MD is a dermatologist in New York City.
Jody Comstock, MD is a dermatologist in Tuscon, Arizona.
Whatever they’re doing, teaching your kids how to care for their largest organ is as essential as teaching them good nutritional habits and other hygiene basics — although sometimes it’s an overlooked area that gets pushed aside as vanity when in fact, matters of skin health are as vital as any other health issue. Here are some of the things I’ve been trying to teach my kids and that experts say are worth talking about:
Keep it simple
While it can be tempting to throw a lot of stuff at your skin — especially for tweens who have watched a few too many 10-step skincare TikToks or enviable shopping hauls — for most young people (and for most adults, too!), simpler is better. Most kids only need “the basics of skincare, which is to cleanse, moisturize, and protect with sunscreen,” says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD. (EverEden has a Kids Daily 1-2-3 Skin Routine that covers all the bases.)
While products with the latest and greatest skincare ingredients — such as certain acids or other exfoliants — may be suitable for more mature skin, “with the younger demographic, multiple active ingredients are rarely ever necessary.” Look for a cleanser that is simple and gentle (such as Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser), a moisturizer that is calming and hydrating (such as Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizing Cream), and always follow with an SPF during the day (like Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen).
That’s it! You’re done! Hit the road!
There’s clean skin… and then there’s OVERclean skin
Washing your face with lukewarm water — not super hot or cold, since extremes of temperatures can traumatize the skin — morning and night, with a gentle cleanser is always good. But, washing your face more often than that and using a cleanser with too many harsh chemicals: not so good, says dermatologist Jody Comstock, MD. Here’s a good way to explain it to the tween in your life: “Our skin is an organ, and just as delicate and sensitive as any other. We would never scrub and rub our eyeballs!” says Dr. Nazarian. “The natural oils of our skin keep it healthy and happy and keep us comfortable. Over cleaning, over scrubbing, and harsh cleansers can destroy the natural oil barrier, leading to inflammation and irritation.” Try Sunday Riley Blue Moon Clean Rinse Cleansing Balm, which thoroughly cleanses while calming and soothing dry skin.
Learn the facts (not the myths) about acne
We may have come a long way in skincare, but often, old myths about acne persist — and it’s important to teach tweens and teens exactly why acne happens and what to do about it. For starters, getting pimples doesn’t mean you’re dirty! Hygiene and acne? Not related.
“It always saddens me when I hear that children judge each other (and their own!) hygiene and cleanliness when it comes to pimples because you cannot clean your way to acne-free skin,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Acne is a predominantly hormonal condition. This is the first lesson that I teach my younger patients! It’s a wonderful time to teach them the basics of taking care of their skin, including gentle cleansing to clear the surface oils and allow the active ingredients to penetrate better. Understanding that acne is caused by a mix of oils and dead skin cells offers many adolescents a great deal of relief.” Some top acne-fighting ingredients are salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alpha-hydroxy acids, and sulfur.
Acne is a predominantly hormonal condition. This is the first lesson that I teach my younger patients.
To help cut down on any feelings of embarrassment because of blemishes, Nazarian often references notable people in the media and celebrities who have spoken about their skincare struggles to ensure them that acne is something that most people struggle with at some point in their lives, and that clear skin is very much achievable. While it’s not necessary to bring your tween to the dermatologist the moment they get a pimple or two, Dr. Comstock suggests that they see a specialist if their skin has not improved with some simple OTC topical products within two months.
Sun protection is LIT!
Whatever it takes to get your tween’s attention about the importance of sun protection — be it the cringe-worthy use of Gen Z-speak or simply buying them whatever new sunscreen floats their boat — it will be worth it. (My 12.5-year-old daughter insists on Sun Bum these days.) “It can be hard to fathom that the sun creates problems down the road,” says Dr. Comstock. Even one blistering sunburn in your youth can double your chance of developing melanoma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
And lest kids think that what they do as kids doesn’t matter, according to a study published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology, about 25 percent of sun damage occurs before the age of 18, and 10 percent more accrues every 10 years after that. Oh, and cloudy days require sun protection; hit them with this stat: 80 percent of the sun’s rays can pass through light cloud cover, according to the WHO.
The best way to address this topic, says Dr. Nazarian, is much the “same way as you might address other topics of health, such as smoking,” says Nazarian. “I talk to them often about sunburns, how uncomfortable they are, and how easy they are to get when you’re outdoors without sun protection.”
Work with your child to find sunscreens they like, says Dr. Comstock — whether it’s because it smells amazing, leaves a shimmer or glow, or just feels like a “cool” brand, as long it’s got broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) coverage, has an SPF of 30 or higher, and gets reapplied according to the product’s directions, it will work.
Hands off your face
Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up, picking at blemishes can be SO tempting, but the damage can be much more than you’ve bargained for. “Once your fingers enter the narrative, you can increase the level of tissue damage and inflammation to the point that it now leaves a permanent scar or long-term mark,” says Dr. Nazarian. To train tweens not to pick their skin, give them tools to be proactive and address the issue without causing further injuries, such as pimple patches or spot treatments — try Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Masks. This can give someone “a sense of control” and help them keep their fingers off, says Dr. Nazarian.
Take off makeup before you nod off
If your tween wears makeup, give them the facts on why sleeping with makeup on can be detrimental to their skin since it may not seem obvious (beyond the dirtying of their pillowcases, which I find annoying enough). “Explain that the makeup they wore all day mixes with environmental pollutants, bacteria, and oil. Skin renews itself best at night and can engage in many repair mechanisms that keep it looking healthy and youthful. By skipping out on the one step of cleansing their face before bedtime, they’re interfering with the skin’s effectiveness in repairing itself, causing premature aging. “Once people realize that sleeping in their make-up can lead to more wrinkles, sagging skin, and enlarged pores (along with a higher risk of eye infections and skin infections), I find the frequency for cleansing before bedtime increases dramatically.”
Don’t believe all the images you see
What kids see online, on social media, and in certain magazines can be problematic — lookin’ at your FaceTune and #GlassSkin. The images may be altered (it’s tough to know sometimes) or a product of a lot of cosmetic enhancements; they may not be representative of reality or at all-inclusive of the many types of beauty in the world. Not to be a killjoy, but talking through all this with tweens is a good idea — even if they groan a bit (like my own kids) when I bring it up. “I discuss with my young patients that we want to make them the most beautiful, healthy version of themselves,” says Dr. Nazarian. The goal is never to look like somebody else. “Like any other part of our body, the skin needs maintenance to look and feel its best. Remember the quote: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’” Keep the focus on health, says Dr. Comstock: “Healthy skin wins every best look at every age.” The Dove Self Esteem project has some good info and resources about this topic.
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