Natural Skincare for Teens

The teen years are often a time of anguish and theatrics. Break ups, report cards, driver’s licenses and worst of all— problem skin. When teens are plagued with dry skin, puffy eyes or pimples, they want products that offer immediate gratification and your store can be the go-to spot for essential information and effective products.

As teens are becoming more curious about natural products, it is the duty of a retailer to provide them with information on safe skincare options. As the “natural” fad grows, so too does the definition of the word. So, it’s imperative that teens understand the ins and outs of natural skincare, meaning that all ingredients come directly from nature. According to Myra Michelle Eby, author of Return To Beautiful Skin, the term “natural” should encompass several key areas: nontoxic and non-estrogenic, cruelty-free and environmentally safe (1).

For more on these important topics, see sidebar "The Big Three."

Teen Skin Scene
There are countless skin conditions that teens and tweens might possess, yet there are several core issues that are especially prevalent.

Dryness. The key to eliminating dry skin can be as easy as finding the right moisturizer for one’s complexion. Applying moisturizer should always be the foundation of a teenager’s skincare routine, even those with oily skin. When choosing a nourishing cream, it is important to focus on hydration, antioxidant activity and collagen production.

Hyaluronic acid, nicknamed “Nature’s Sponge,” is an essential molecule for hydrating tissues because it can maintain up to 1,000 times its weight in water (2). A recent addition to the list of exceptional skincare ingredients, it is now available in multiple skincare formulas that help maintain the collagen fibers in skin that are essential to hydrated and healthy skin.

Squalane is a popular lipid derived from Spanish olives that is used in natural skincare product for its moisturizing and lubricating properties. Cactus flower extract is another natural product often used for moisturizing (1). EGCG, a component of green tea, is a powerful antioxidant that offers some anti-inflammatory benefits when used topically. This, in turn, may help defend the skin against oxidative stress and nourish the skin. Vitamin E is known to help the skin maintain hydration by locking in moisture that is lost through aging or environmental issues such as wind and sun exposure. Topical vitamin E moisturizers are popular due to deep hydration properties and their ability to keep skin soft (3). Products containing collagen defend against fine lines, while resveratrol and retinol help fight free-radical damage (1).

Dark circles. Various reasons such as genetics, exhaustion, nutrition and medications cause the skin below the eyes to become thin and dry, allowing the veins underneath to show through the skin and give off a dark shadow (1).

Antioxidant-rich treatments are often helpful for eliminating the fluid buildup under the eyes, which leads to dark circles. Vitamin C and certain peptides are useful for strengthening the blood vessels under the eyes, which reduces their proliferation and allows teens to go to school in the morning without looking like they are in desperate need of a good night’s sleep.

Acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85% of U.S. teenagers will have acne each year (1). It’s part of life to have a pimple or two during your teenage years, yet this is no consolation to a teen with a red blistering blemish on the tip of his or her nose. During puberty, both girls and boys face blemish battles due to the natural hormonal changes occurring in their bodies. Oily skin and clogged pores are often a leading cause for acne.

A safe acne regimen is to gently exfoliate, stabilize oil production and neutralize bacteria. Tea tree oil has been popular since the 1920s for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It is regarded by many aestheticians as a great way to address acne. When used simultaneously with an exfoliant called glycolic acid, tea tree oil can prevent the bacteria that causes breakouts (4).

After an exfoliating cleanse, it is helpful to apply a healing toner with ingredients such as salicylic acid, natural retinol and cranberry in order to reduce blackheads and pore size and to alleviate inflammation. It also is useful to apply mud masks, exfoliating fruit pulp peels and renewal creams.

While there are countless natural remedies to address acne, there are just as many effective yet hazardous options. Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient in acne medications that has been repeatedly proven to bleach hair, clothing and sheets. Acetone is another ingredient in anti-acne products with a dirty track record. It’s known as a cleaning agent and preservative that is often found in nail polish remover and gasoline (1). Be sure to tell teen shoppers the benefits that natural products have over these chemical-based methods.

Sun block versus sunscreen. Using sunscreen in one’s teen years may prevent skin cancers or delay the onset of wrinkles later in life. It is important to understand the differences between sun block and sunscreen in order to avoid the damaging effects of the sun. Sunscreen penetrates the skin, but absorbs ultraviolet rays for only a short duration of time. Sunblock on the other hand, remains on the surface of the skin and creates a physical shield that protects from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun protection factor (SPF) represents how long you can stay in the sunlight without burning from UVB rays. The number also symbolizes the amount of chemicals that it contains (1).

The key ingredients in a nontoxic sun block may include agents such as caprylic acid from coconut oil, d-alpha tocopherol, aloe extract and allantoin from comfrey. Zinc oxide is another natural ingredient known to effectively shield against both UVA and UVB radiation. It also is said to offer anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent skin irritations. Together, these components work to fight against inflammation, while soothing and hydrating the skin.

Teens often forget that it is equally important to protect their eyes and lips. Sun damage to your eyes can increase the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and eyelid cancers. If adolescents don’t protect their eyes when they are young, they jeopardize their sight over time. Nontoxic lip balms that contain titanium dioxide, antioxidants, and Melissa extract protect against the UVA and UVB rays (1).

Despite the copious amounts of knowledge a teen may possess on the dangers of sun damage, it most likely will not deter them from spending a day at the beach or playing sports outside. There is no way to reverse sun burn, but it is possible to alleviate the pain and damage. It is suggested that antioxidants such as green tea extract and vitamin A, C and E all protect against free radical sun damage. HA will also help maintain hydration and reduce scaring (5). Aloe vera, a common post-sun remedy, also is used for its healing and cooling properties.

Skin complications are a major battle for teenagers, but with safe and natural products they don’t have to be scarring. With this information, you can market your store as a natural skincare haven for teens. WF


1. M. Eby and K.A. Gazella, Return To Beautiful Skin, (Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2008).

2. Wholefoods Magazine, “Rehydrate for Younger Looking Skin with Hyaluronic Acid,” 33 (3), 65 (2010).

3. derma e Nautral Bodycare, “The Original Antioxidant: Vitamin E,” www dermae. net, accessed July 26, 2010.

4. WebMD, “Tea Tree Oil Treats Skin Problems,” and-treatments/acne/features/tea-tree-oil-treats-skin-problems, accessed July 26, 2010.

5. Natural Cosmetic News, “Rejuvenate Your Skin With Green Tea,” www. naturalcosmeticnews. com, accessed July 27, 2010.


The Big Three

In order to uphold your reputation as a natural store, it is imperative to stock only nontoxic and non-estrogenic products. Such products are nontoxic because they only contain botanical and other natural ingredients. It is important not only to look at the front label of a product, but also to meticulously examine the ingredient list on the back. A long list full of seven-syllable words may be intimidating, yet it is necessary to examine in order to ensure it is natural. Many products are certified “natural” by groups such as the Natural Products Association, which makes sure that all ingredients are extracted from and/or are created by renewable resources found in the environment (2).

An easy way to help ensure you are stocking only nontoxic skincare products is to avoid all ingredients on Eby’s list of the “Dirty Dozen”: Ethylenediaminetretraacetic acid (EDTA); FD&C and D&C synthetic colorings; Nitrosamines produced by DEA,TEA, MEA, or sodium sauryl/laureth sulfate; nonylphenols produced by polyvinyl chloride; parabens; phenylenediamine; phthalates; propylene glycol; sodium lauryl sulfate; synthetic fragrances; talc; and urea (1).

Aside from wanting clean products for their own bodies, many teen shoppers want to ensure the best for animals as well. Buying natural also means investing in cruelty-free soaps, cosmetics and lotions that avoid animal testing. According to the U.K. nonprofit organization Research Defense Society, Understanding Animal Research in Medicine, approximately 50 million animals are used in research worldwide. Out of this number, 15 million are performed in the United States (1).

While animals have previously played necessary roles in discovering vaccines such as penicillin, there are even more instances when animals face unnecessary cruelty such as in the development of beauty care products. According to the idea of researchers William Russell, Ph.D., and Rex Burch, Ph.D., we should strive to alleviate the suffering of animals by implementing three guidelines: “Replace animals with alternatives, reduce the number of animals used, and refine experiments to include less pain” (1).

Retailers searching for cruelty-free products should check with their manufacturers or look for items certified as cruelty free. For example, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics has created the Leaping Bunny Program to certify that cosmetic and personal care products with its logo were made without animal testing in any phase of product development (3).

Environmentally Safe
It is best to offer products that are safe not only for adolescents’ growing bodies, but also for the environment in which the ingredients are found and created in. Natural products come from the earth and are extracted in a way that does not harm the source. Ingredients on the dirty dozen list are often synthetic formulas created by toxic combinations.

According to the Environmental Working Group, nearly 90% of cosmetics and skincare ingredients have not been reviewed for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other publicly accountable institution (1).

Also, check with your personal manufacturers to make sure their processing and packaging techniques are as sustainable as possible, as being green is important to many teens and tweens.

1. M. Eby and K.A. Gazella, Return To Beautiful Skin, (Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2008).
2. National Products Association, “NPA Natural Standard,”, accessed July 19, 2010.



Published in WholeFoods Magazine Online, September 2010