Acne SOS: What are the best products to use for teenage skin breakouts?

Breakouts can be seen as a teenage rite of passage but they shouldn’t be

Breakouts can be seen as a teenage rite of passage, but they shouldn’t be. When I was in my teens, kids around me whose confidence was felled by bad breakouts were seen as the unlucky ones, and more or less left to it until their skin cleared up, often taking years and leaving scarring. What topical products there were generally made things worse. Harsh, stripping alcohols dehydrated the surface of the skin, sending sebum production into overdrive and exacerbating the problem further.

While there is a burgeoning “acne positivity” movement online, in which those with acne aim to destigmatise it, as a former sufferer, I’m all for minimising acne and breakouts as much as possible. No one should be made to feel worse about their acne than the simple fact of it existing will already, but it’s painful. In severe cases, it causes lasting scarring and pigmentation scarring. Tackling and managing breakouts leads to more comfortable skin, which also looks clearer and healthier. If you or your teen suffers with chronic breakouts, see your GP or a dermatologist. Over the counter products will help with hormonal breakouts and symptom management, but a medical condition requires medical advice.

For those who want to tackle the hormonal breakouts that every young person struggles with from time to time, Cerave SA Smoothing Cleanser and SA Smoothing Cream (€12.50 each at pharmacies nationwide) are a great teen skin combination. Though I would generally warn you off a foaming cleanser, this one isn't stripping. It doesn't leave skin feeling tight or stimulate sebum production, and the salicylic acid in it decongests and exfoliates. If breakouts aren't located solely on your face (bacne, anyone?), you can use it on the body too. While the cream looks like a body cream, you can use it on the face as an effective night time cream – it might be a little heavy for day wear and isn't ideal under makeup.

The Inkey List Zinc (€9.99 at Arnotts) is a good moisturiser to have to hand when skin gets angry. Zinc helps to reduce sebum and control shine, but is also legitimately soothing as an anti-inflammatory.

For something that contains both salicylic acid (which is oil-soluble, allowing it to penetrate congested pores) and zinc to calm angry breakouts and temper shine, try La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo Plus (€19.99 at Boots). It also contains an ingredient called Procerad to diminish pigmentation marks, as well as glycerine for non-congesting moisturisation. If you buy a teenager with breakouts just one product, it should be this. Try to limit use to once a day, however, as twice may cause mild dryness.

Although Plenaire Droplet Lightweight Moisture Gel (€41 at is on the pricey side, it is a beautifully light hydrator in a new range specifically for teens and younger skin. The savvy beauty buyers at Liberty in London have stocked the brand and with its gender-neutral Gen Z friendly packaging, it is a nice skincare gift for someone who wants hydration without oil.