Is it bad to have a skincare routine at a young age?

The day you've been dreaming about for months has arrived: You finally saved up enough babysitting bucks to head to Sephora and upgrade your skincare routine. In your tote? TikTok's current "cool girl" lineup, from exfoliating scrubs to brightening serums to anti-aging moisturizers.

Look, we're not here to judge anyone for jumping on a social media bandwagon or wanting to fit in with their friends (been there), but if that's your sitch, you're better off spending your hard-earned dough on fuzzy slippers or hair bows. Because the current skincare trend isn't just harmless fun—it could be hurting your face permanently.

Wash your face (no fancy cleansers, pls), then read closely as we dish on what to ditch and what to do to save your complexion *and* your cash.

But everyone on TikTok says I need a better skincare routine.

Stating the obvious here: Everyone's skin is unique, mostly thanks to genetics along with diet, lifestyle, hormones and any other health conditions. (That's why, despite using the same products, you break out every time you hit the gym/have your period/wear a full face of makeup all day, and somehow your BFF stays crystal clear. Not fair, we know.)

Related: 4 smart skincare habits that reduce acne breakouts

But one thing you and your besties *do* have in common when it comes to skincare? Your age.

It's fab to look up to your older cousin who's slaying her graduate STEM program or that TikToker who's basically living your dream life in New York City. Go ahead and get inspired by their study skills and style choices, but when it comes to your GRWM, Don't! Get! Influenced!

Yes, anti-aging cream is bad for young skin. Here's why.

Why? Quick science lesson: Collagen is a protein (found throughout your body) that works to keep your bones, joints, muscles and skin tough and strong. Around age 20, your collagen protection starts to drop—a natural process that accelerates after you turn 30 and continues for the rest of your life.

The reduction in collagen means your skin is less elastic as you get older, leading to common complexion concerns like wrinkles, dark spots and dullness. Enter wrinkle-reducing retinol, vitamin C-saturated moisturizers and peptide-packed serums.

Bored? You should be! Despite the snazzy packaging, an anti-aging skincare routine isn't exactly supposed to be fun. Sure, it may be a worthwhile topic to read up on for the future, but it's not the kind of thing you should be stressing about rn...or anytime soon.

Why is retinol bad for teens?

Teenage skin tends to be more sensitive, especially when it interacts with chemicals like retinol, peptides, glycolic acid and vitamin C, which are found in certain products. (Note: Retinol is sometimes used to treat acne, but that should be under the guidance of a dermatologist, not DIY.)

Related: Should I just accept the fact that I have bad acne? Real girls open up about skincare struggles 

"Overdoing it with any active ingredient can cause redness, itching, burning, irritation and flaking," warns dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Jow Libby. Chemicals can also trigger allergic reactions and make your skin more prone to sun damage.

Are skincare smoothies a good idea? 

That's not to say you have to avoid these ingredients completely. Just make sure you're not mixing them, over-exfoliating or layering products that aren't meant to go together, which can hurt your skin barrier (your natural system to keep good things in and bad things out) and lead to breakouts... or worse.

"I used retinol and vitamin C together for a few months because I saw it on TikTok," says Lillian G., 14. "My skin started to peel and felt dry and scaly. I ended up having to see a doctor for a prescription cream... when I never even had skin problems to begin with."

If there's a certain issue you'd like to fix (like dry or oily skin or acne), talk to a dermatologist about a routine that's right for you—not for the first skinfluencer you see on your FYP.

So what is a good skincare routine for a 13-year-old?

So you're not struggling with a major issue, but you still want to take care of your skin? Skip the 10-step routine and grab three things instead: cleanser (try Cetaphil Gentle Clear Clarifying Acne Cream Cleanser, $10, to clear pores and smooth your complexion), moisturizer (we like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, $17, which is light and hydrating without making you greasy) and SPF (we heart e.l.f. Cosmetics Suntouchable! Invisible Sunscreen SPF 35, $14). And yes, the SPF is probably the most important thing on that list, says Dr. Libby. "A lot of your skin's UV damage occurs in the years before adulthood."

Related: The simplest skincare routine for the busiest girls 

So give the expensive eye cream to your mom (Mother's Day present? Check!), and instead focus on self-care habits to get glowing for good: sleeping at least eight hours at night, saying no to vaping/drinking/smoking, staying sun smart, managing stress, moving your body and eating food that makes you feel strong inside and out.

Oops, I overdid it on the products. Can I save my skin?

The GRWM regret is real: "I did basically every skincare trend on TikTok in the past year," admits Hayley J., 14. "My face looks fine, but did I destroy my skin forever?!"

The truth? You can create damage anytime (and, ugh, skin barrier slip-ups may not be immediately visible), but you can also begin repairing it anytime. Start simplifying your routine right now by washing with lukewarm water, skipping exfoliation and applying one or two calming, fragrance-free, hydrating lotions.

Olivia L., 12, has a different problem. "I don't even care about the skincare part," she explains. "I just like having fun with my friends—this is what we're into."

You could fake it 'til you make it ("Yes, I have filled a Drunk Elephant container with CeraVe," confesses Emi E., 13) or scour TikTok for dupes. But consider this: By speaking up about the skincare science and spreading honestly helpful info, you might just be starting the next clean girl aesthetic.

Need more beauty advice? We got you, boo: 
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Additional reporting by Erin Reimel.


by Katherine Hammer | 4/12/2024