Recently, the internet has been buzzing about “Sephora kids.” Not familiar with the term? It refers to the growing number of tweens shopping the aisles of beauty retailers and often posting their hauls on social media. And while it may be surprising to see very young people so interested in skin care and cosmetics, it’s not a bad age to start paying attention to these things — particularly skin care.
“Many hormone changes are in fluctuation for the tween population,” says Dr. Heidi Prather, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas. “This can result in a span of very different skin types, from oily and acne-prone to dry and sensitive.” And, because of this, it’s never a bad idea for young people to get comfortable developing a skin care routine that will help promote a healthy complexion. With this in mind, we spoke to dermatologists about the most common skin concerns for tweens and what types of products can help, along with which ingredients should be avoided.
SKIP AHEAD What are the biggest skin concerns for tweens? | How we picked the best tween skin care products | The best tween skin care products of 2024
What is the biggest skin concern for tweens?
As mentioned, during the tween years (age 9 to 12), hormones start to fluctuate, which can cause acne. “There is a rise in sex hormones, which makes skin oily,” says Dr. Karan Lal, a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona. “This increase in oil can make tweens more prone to blackheads and whiteheads — this is how acne begins.”
Often, tweens and teens fall into a cycle of overtreating acne, which creates dry skin, says Prader. Then, when your skin feels dry, oil glands go into overdrive to create more moisture — leading to even more acne. Lal says that developing a skincare routine that helps with oil while keeping skin moisturized can be a good tool in fighting tween acne.
One other thing to note: In the excitement of starting a new skincare routine, it’s important not to overlook ingredient lists. Tween skin tends to be more sensitive and certain common ingredients are too harsh. Retinols, glycolic and lactic acids and vitamin C should be avoided. While all of those can be great for mature skin, they can strip and irritate youthful skin — plus, younger complexions simply don’t need them. Instead, focus on ingredients that hydrate or address acne.
How we picked the best tween skin care products
In speaking with dermatologists, it became clear that the tween years are ideal for setting up a steady skin care routine. They all recommended keeping it to two to three steps. Here are the products they recommended tweens start to use:
- Face wash: To wash their face, tweens who aren’t dealing with acne should use a gentle cleanser like the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser — it’s a great way to rid the skin of excess oil without disturbing the skin barrier, says Lal. Lal suggests a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid if a tween notices blemishes. We included both in the list below.
- Moisturizer: Tweens may be tempted to skip moisturizer if their skin feels oily — but that is a mistake. If breakouts are a concern, skip a heavy, emollient moisturizer, says Prader. Instead, she suggests going for a lightweight, non-comedogenic (this means it won’t clog pores) moisturizer. Sunscreen is another must for people of all ages. Since tweens may be more likely to forget extra steps, the dermatologists we spoke to suggest finding an AM moisturizer with an SPF in it.
- Spot treatment: It’s pretty much a given that pimples will pop up on tween skin. Lal suggests adding a spot treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to a tween’s skin care arsenal. Spot treatments are applied directly to the blemish, so they only dry out that spot — as opposed to something you slather all over that could overly dry areas that don’t need it.
The best tween skin care products of 2024
To find skin care products worth considering for tweens, we asked experts for their recommendations for face washes, moisturizers and spot treatments. We also used their guidance to find highly rated-products for younger skin.
The best face washes for tweens
Twiish Peachy Clean Gel Cleanser
This is a newer brand made specifically for younger skin. The cleanser has salicylic acid to reduce redness and swelling in acne and colloidal silver, which has antimicrobial benefits, says Lal. The cleanser is free of harsh chemicals which can often irritate young, sensitive skin and can be used morning and night to wash away dirt and oil, according to the brand.
A lightweight cleanser that can be used morning and night, this formula includes a tri-ceramide complex made up of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids to break down dirt, grime and makeup and wash it away, according to the brand. It comes out as a gel, but as soon as you start lathering it onto your face, it turns creamy and leaves behind soft skin once washed away, says Byoma.
If you wear contacts, you may know that sometimes when skincare gets close to your eyes, it can fog up or irritate your lenses. This cleanser, which has a 4.4-star average rating from over 300 reviews on Sephora, was tested by ophthalmologists to ensure it won’t do that, according to the brand. If you are wearing makeup, the brand suggests applying the cleanser to dry skin and washing away with water. No makeup? Wet skin and then apply the cleanser before rinsing it off.
Lal recommends this gentle cleanser for those with acne who may also notice some dryness, saying it won’t further dry skin. It contains benzoyl peroxide, which acts as an antiseptic on the skin, according to the brand. The formula is non-comedogenic and is fragrance-free, which is best for sensitive skin, according to Cetaphil.
If acne is not an issue, consider this gentle cleanser from Neutrogena. It’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, a good option for sensitive skin and washes away dirt without drying skin, according to the brand. This cleanser has a 4.6-star average rating from over 5,300 reviews on Amazon.
The best moisturizers for tweens
CeraVe is often recommended to us by dermatologists for dry skin and repairing the skin barrier. This lotion, which has a 4.5-star average rating from over 85,000 reviews on Amazon, is a good option for younger skin because it is oil-free, has SPF 30 in it, absorbs quickly and is suitable for sensitive skin, according to the brand. It contains niacinamide, which can calm skin inflamed by blemishes, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize, according to CeraVe.
Another recommendation from Lal, this moisturizer has SPF 30 for sun protection and niacinamide to soothe redness and inflammation. The formula is oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog tween pores more than they already are. It is also allergy-tested and fragrance-free, making it a good option for sensitive skin, according to the brand.
Launched in 2020, Bubble was made specifically for younger skin. This moisturizer is best for normal to dry skin and is made with avocado oil, vitamin E and aloe leaf juice, according to the brand. Also fun for tweens: The lotion is dispensed through a pump at the top and comes out in a cute flower shape. This moisturizer has a 4.6-star average rating from over 1,700 reviews on Amazon.
This oil-free moisturizer is from Florence by Mills, Millie Bobby Brown’s (of Stranger Things fame) skin care line and it has a 4.7-star average rating from over 2,500 reviews on Amazon. The moisturizer has willow bark extract to calm skin, lotus flower to help control oil and vitamin B12 to soothe any inflammation from breakouts, according to the brand. It can be used morning and night after cleansing.
This oil-free gel moisturizer is for those with acne-prone skin. The main ingredients are squalene and ceramides to hydrate and niacinamide to calm irritation and redness from pimples. It has as subtle cotton candy scent and the brand instructs that two to three pumps should be used on your face post-cleansing, morning and night.
The best spot treatments for tweens
According to the brand, this quick-drying formula contains salicylic acid to fight acne and calamine to calm irritation. Simply dip a cotton swab into the pink sediment at the bottom of the bottle (don’t shake it up) and dab it directly onto your pimple, according to the brand. The lotion dries quickly but leaves a pink, chalky residue, so the brand recommends using this product at night.
A blend of turmeric, tea tree oil and ginger extract work together to reduce blemishes and lighten dark spots that acne may leave behind, according to the brand. This can be a good option for tweens with sensitive skin, as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are a bit harsher than the natural ingredients in this formula. The tube has a rollerball applicator, so all you need to do is glide it over blemishes to apply the product. This spot treatment has a 4.6-star average from over 1,600 reviews on Ulta.
This spot treatment has .55% salicylic acid, which is on the lower side — something that may be helpful for sensitive tween skin. It also contains centella asiatica extract, which helps reduce inflammation caused by pimples, according to the brand. I Dew Care recommends applying between one and three times a day to breakups to clear them up.
This spot treatment includes 2% salicylic acid, which Lal says can help tweens effectively diminish blemishes as they pop up by helping to unblock pores. Along with the salicylic acid, the formula includes witch hazel, a natural ingredient that can soothe inflammation, according to the brand. This spot treatment has a 4.6-star average rating from over 12,000 reviews on Amazon.
These pimple patches are available in packs of 20 and 60. The patches combine hydrocolloid and salicylic acid to help remove oil and debris from clogged pores, plus they contain aloe vera leaf extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe and calm redness, according to the brand. A tween can wear them overnight to try and reduce a pimple before school the next day.
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts with specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Heidi Prather is a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas
- Dr. Karan Lal is a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona
Why trust NBC Select?
Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two board-certified dermatologists to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for tween skin care.