Q&A on teenage girls with Alice Hart-Davis

Alice hartWe invited parents of teenage girls to put questions on spots and blackheads, difficult diets, make-up and more, to award-winning beauty journalist and writer Alice Hart-Davis in a Q&A in September 2012. 

Her latest book, 100 Ways for Every Girl to Look and Feel Fantastic was co-written with her daughter, Beth Hindhaugh, and offers friendly and detailed advice on everything from hair, skin, make-up and exercise along with easy-to-follow instructions and photos.  

Skin problems | Pressure and self-esteem issues | Focus on appearance | Other 


Skin problems

Q. Doinmummy: My 14-year-old teenage daugther has stretch marks on her thighs, and she hates them. She wants laser type treatment or skin dermabrasion. Will this help?

A. Alice: Yes, laser or dermaroller treatments can help stretch marks but I wouldn't advise treating her so young and most clinics will not treat anyone under the age of 18 for a cosmetic procedure like this. Stretch marks do often appear, especially on the thighs and on breasts, at this age when girls are growing fast. Try talking to her about how they are a very natural part of her, how they will fade with time, and how most women have stretch marks somewhere on their bodies; tell her you know how much they bother her but try to get her to see that they are not a major issue that affects who she is or how she lives her life.  

Q. Moomoo1967: My 12-year-old daughter has just started getting spots on her forehead. We cleanse her skin and use an overnight spot treatment but the problem is that she has started picking the spots, even when they are scabbed over and so they're not healing. 
We have also tried putting Savlon or moisturiser on them but they are starting to look a mess and I am worried about scarring.

A. Alice: Nnnngh, it is just SO hard to leave spots alone, isn't it? (Something I haven't entirely mastered, even at my age.) But yes, you're right, picking at spots and scabs will hugely increase the chances of the spots becoming infected and of the skin tissues not healing properly and hence of scarring. Have a talk to her about how important it is to let her face heal; spots are awful but having long-term scarring is worse.

"Picking at spots and scabs will hugely increase the chances of the spots becoming infected and of the skin tissues not healing properly and hence of scarring."

If the spot treatments aren't working, you could go and see your doctor, who can prescribe antibiotics to help reduce the infection, or who could refer you to a dermatologist.

In the meantime, would you be happy for her to wear mineral make-up to hide them? Brands like Bare Minerals and Youngblood that use pure ground minerals are good for the skin and have a healing effect on blemishes and help absorb excess oil, while providing good camouflage.

Q. QOD: My 13 year old won't pick her spots, even when they're oozing yellow slime. It's utterly gross, and ends up with us having a massive row every now and then.
 She also won't allow squeezing of black heads. Can you please confirm its OK to pick juicy spots and that you should get blackheads out?

Alice Hart

A. Alice: This is a tricky one so I'm sorry but you're going to get an 'on the one hand/ on the other hand' answer. Yes, it is OK to carefully tackle spots that have come to a head, but 'carefully' is the operative word. If you get overenthusiastic, or use your nails, or don't steam the skin to warm it up beforehand and make extraction easier, you risk doing more damage to the skin than by leaving it be, which is why most skincare experts advise leaving spots well alone (though I always think that perhaps these people have never actually had to live with vast spots on their faces).

If you want to show her an online link to an official skincare company showing how this is done, there's one here. The same site has a very thorough and helpful article on acne, too.

The same advice goes for extracting blackheads - prepare the skin by steaming, be gentle (if they won't move, leave them) and use something antiseptic on the skin afterwards. But - and it's a big but - it is your DD's face, and if she doesn't want to move in on her spots, you must restrain yourself and respect her wishes so you don't end up having rows about it.

Instead, talk to her instead about trying over-the-counter acne remedies, or going to see your doctor (see above) for help, and think about buying her some mineral make-up (see above) which will both hide the spots and help them heal up.

Q. Elephantscanwearorangeandgold: My 13 year old has acne, which is so bad that it's on her back, chest, arms, face and neck, with scars on her forehead. Our doctor has prescribed her antibiotics, but they've had no effect. What other treatments that we can try? Would Bio Oil work?

A. Alice: Your poor daughter. I sympathise. If the antibiotics didn't do the trick, has your doctor suggested Roaccutane? It has a bad reputation due to scare stories that do the rounds about it, but it can be very effective in getting acne right under control (as long as she doesn't suffer from mood swings or depression).

Another thing your doctor could do (and don't jump down my throat for suggesting this, I'm just telling you because it is an option and because acne is at root a hormonal problem) is prescribe a contraceptive pill such as Dianette. This acts on the hormone (free testosterone) which is mainly responsible for acne, and can make a big improvement. But I appreciate that it may well not be a step you would want to take, I don't think I would do it for a 13 year old.

Your doctor could refer your daughter to a dermatologist, who could try something like blue light treatment, which kills the bacteria that make the acne flourish. There are now home-use blue light treatment devices such as Tria and Lustre, which can be used every day, though these are expensive - around £200.

I wouldn't use Bio-oil - it is largely mineral oil so may well make spots worse.


Pressure and self-esteem issues

Q. CouthymowwearingOrange: How do I reassure my 14 year old that her legs aren't 'ugly'? She is perfectly happy with the rest of her body, doesn't give a crap about dieting or using fashion as a way to fit in, but she has always - even at the age of five, and it's getting worse - hated her legs.
 They're lovely, long and normal, but she complains that her knees are too knobbly and she is covered in bruises (which is mostly because she constantly play fights with her mates and climbs trees.)

It actually affects her quite badly, to the point where she never wears a skirt, and will wear shorts only under duress when it is meltingly hot. 

I can't see anything 'wrong' with her legs - so how can I reassure her?

A. Alice: Really difficult. Try talking to her about how women seem to have an inbuilt tendency to find things wrong with themselves, which is, obviously, a bad thing as it makes us feel bad about ourselves when there's no need to. And talk about how hating anything, particularly about yourself, if a destructive thing, but that it is very possible to change the way we think, if we decide to think positively about ourselves and our bodies.

Plenty of the world's most beautiful models say they felt awkward as teens and disliked their (gorgeous) limbs - for no good reason other than they got the idea into their heads that they weren't 'right'. (Are you very critical of yourself and your body, too? I'm wondering why she started worrying about her legs at such a young age? Girls pick up on our neuroses very quickly.)

Can you persuade your daughter that her legs are brilliant, useful things not least because they help her climb trees and run fast? And keep telling her that her legs are gorgeous/enviably long. One day, it might sink in.

Q. Oatybeaty: I'm a bit surprised to see Mumsnet promoting a book which has the blurb, 'Every girl dreams of changing the way she looks'. Also, the advert on Mumsnet says: "Help your teenage girl to feel her best - Beauty Wellbeing Confidence", with the word 'beauty' in larger letters.

"My book isn't about girls dreaming of how to change the way they look, it's about how the teen years are a tricky enough to get through (hormones, puberty, friendship issues, exams) before they get round to asking all the questions that every girl comes up with about how to look after themselves and make the best of themselves."

The message I took from this is that helping your daughter to feel her best means helping her to look her best, because beauty is the key to wellbeing and confidence. 

Although that might be some modest part of how a mum might help her daughter's confidence, I hope that not every girl dreams about changing the way she looks, and I'd much prefer to tell any daughter of mine that beauty is not key to wellbeing and confidence.

A. Alice: Ouch, you're right, we must change that line. It's not in the book. My book isn't about girls dreaming of how to change the way they look, it's about how the teen years are a tricky enough to get through (hormones, puberty, friendship issues, exams) before they get round to asking all the questions that every girl comes up with about how to look after themselves and make the best of themselves. It's about helping them to find out who they are, to like who they are, and to develop confidence through this, through their looks and through what they do.

The book starts off with hair and make-up as it's something most girls have an interest in, but there is a lot in there about exercise, eating right, self-esteem and wellbeing, too - and yes, I do point out in the book that we need to remind our daughters that real beauty comes from within; it's who you are, not how you look.

So you are very right, looking good is not the only key to confidence, but it is one of them - along with being fit and healthy, developing your interests, bolstering your self-esteem and all that - and is it an acknowledgement of the fact that we live in a society that judges people by the way they look (no, we shouldn't do this, but it's an unfortunate fact). Go on telling your daughter how fab she is whenever you get the chance.

Q. Moments: What advice would you give to a mother who is advising her daughter to accept she doesn't need make-up and isn't a sex object, whilst guiding her on how to use make-up effectively, and teaching her that as a woman she does have sexual choices and control? I want her to know that she doesn't need to make herself into a sex object to be desirable to the 'right' sort of boy?

A. Alice: Show her the basics of what make-up does (you could start with my book, where even Louise, the make-up artist points out that just because you have two eyes, you don't have to wear eye shadow; it's more about working out what suits you). Also, point out that make-up is used both to enhance what nature gave you (which some people think is cheating) or to disguise what nature gave you (ditto).

So, while girls generally think they need to wear make-up to make themselves look their best for boys, most boys prefer girls to look normal and natural, or at least not overtly made-up. But remind your daughter of the old truism that real beauty is found on the inside. And when she tells you that you are contradicting yourself, tell her that's just the way of the world and talk with her about the bonkers-ness of it all: how girls are really beautiful, each in their own way, just by themselves, without make-up; yet we prefer to use make-up to make ourselves feel better about the way we look; and yet how we need to know that our true value really doesn't lie in our looks.


Focus on appearance

Q. Poster: My 13 year old is obsessed with foundation and mascara. All the girls in her year are the same and all have a uniformed look, and I wish, wish the school would ban it until at least third year. I have always brought my daughter to think it's what is on the inside, and that she is beautiful. But she doesn't feel beautiful without her make-up, I feel I've failed her in some way. Sure, she's just trying to fit in but it's hard to see her seeming so insecure.

A. Alice: Ooh, sympathies! But first, you haven't failed her at all, you're telling her exactly the right stuff and, yes, she is just doing her best to fit in with her peer group, which is a lot of what being a teen is about.

"When you catch your daughter without make-up on, give her a small specific compliment about how fresh her skin looks, or how pretty her eyes look, just to reinforce the message that she's lovely as she is, without any adornment."

Let her do it, and don't moan and snipe about it (I know it's difficult, my eldest used to go off to school wearing tons and tons of eye make-up at this age, but grew out of it after a couple of years). And if you get a chance, when you catch her without foundation/mascara, give her a small specific compliment about how fresh her skin looks, or how clear/pretty her eyes look, just to reinforce the message that she's lovely as she is, without any adornment.  

Q. Choccoluvva: Do you have any tips for to get my 15 year old to groom herself a bit quicker in the morning? 
She showers, washes and conditions her long hair, blow dries it (fairly quickly), applies approximately one ton of mascara, concealer and hand cream every morning.

A. Alice: Can you find a time when she's not so busy, to talk about this: why does she feel she needs to look so groomed every single day? Is it because everyone else is doing it? Is it because she feels she needs to measure up to some magic standard of perfection? There's an awful lot of pressure on teenage girls, ramped up by all the pictures they see in ads and magazines, and the way they all compare themselves to each other's pictures on Facebook, and it all makes them feel inadequate and it's all so wrong.

Try talking to your daughter about all this, and discuss whether she could cut back on the grooming a bit. Could she settle for washing her hair every other day, maybe? Does she really need to wear mascara every day? (I think I know the answer to that one.) Try complimenting her on specific things (see above) to let her know she's gorgeous.

Q. Dolllookslikeatourist: My 15-year-old daughter would rather do her hair and make-up than eat her breakfast. She might have a mouthful of squash, but that is all. Is this normal? She won't eat any veg apart from sweetcorn, some broccoli or cauliflower cheese, and her bedroom is so untidy that I refuse to go in it. Is she spoilt or are all teenage girls like this? 

A. Alice: It is increasingly normal, but it is a really bad thing. Breakfast is the most vital meal of the day and there are endless studies showing that none of us can concentrate properly if our blood-sugar levels are way down because we haven't eaten anything.

Dig out some of those, or the ones that show that people who eat breakfast are less likely to over-indulge in junk food, or over-eat for the rest of the day, and stick them on the fridge where she will see them. Would she think about taking something like a healthy smoothie (one you've added a handful of ground-up porridge oats and walnuts to, so it's not just fruit juice) with her on her way to school? Or even grab a piece of toast and peanut butter as she goes out of the door?

As for vegetables, that's not a bad start. There's always Jamie Oliver's trick of putting masses of veg into a pasta sauce. Or offering her raw carrot sticks with dips. With all the hair-and-make-up before school, find a time when she's not so busy to talk about it - why does she feel she needs to look so groomed every single day? Or can you insist that if she wants to do all that, she gets up 10 minutes earlier and eats breakfast first, before embarking on the prettification?

Regarding her bedroom, much like you, I despair. I asked my friend Karen Doherty, who is a parenting expert, co-author of Seven Secrets of Successful Parenting and whose next book will be on teenagers, for her view: this is what she said.

"Your best bet to get your children to clear up their bedroom is whenever they do do something helpful in this way - if you notice that they've organised their books or picked stuff up off the floor - say something nice about it. 'I notice you picked up your stuff and the room looks so much nicer,' is fine. Nothing condescending or sarcastic, so that you're not being annoying. If you do say something along the lines of, 'Would you mind tidying up?' and they come up with every reason why they shouldn't do it - they've got to do homework, they know where everything is - instead of arguing, listen to their reasons.

"Whether or not you agree with their answers isn't the point, take on board what they are saying. Don't be confrontational, but just say, 'You like having your books on the floor,' or whatever was their reason. Then they can rethink the issue for themselves. If you tell them to do it your way, it just doesn't work. You need to be more subtle."  



Q. WofflingOn: I can't ask questions on this thread as I have a teenage boy.
 So his skin, diet, self-esteem issues and clothing choices are irrelevant, it is merely the concern of girls wishing to attract him who need to worry about these things?

A. Alice: Of course his choices in all these areas aren't irrelevant, they're every bit as important to boys as they are to girls, and I wish more people would talk about these issues and how they affect teen boys. There is still a lingering idea that discussing all this stuff isn't 'manly' but, thankfully, most teen boys seem to be much more up for talking about grooming and self-esteem than their dads are or were. I know the make-up (or less make-up) advice isn't relevant to you or him, but I hope some of the other answers might be useful.

Q. Gettingeasier: I'd like advice on how to get my 13 year old to see appearance in some kind of perspective. 

A huge row ensued last night because she wasn't allowed to shoot off to her Dad's (some 30 minutes walk away at 9pm) to get a hairbrush.

A. Alice: What can I say? We all end up having rows about stuff that doesn't really matter. Couldn't she borrow a hairbrush from you instead? Was it all about the hairbrush or was there other stuff simmering that prompted the row? But seriously, some time when you're both not about to erupt, you need to have a chat with her about how of course her appearance matters, and you know how important it is to her, but there are limits to how much she needs to worry about it.

Q. ProudNeathGirl: How can you get your teenage daughter to talk to you without them  simultaneously chatting to someone else on Twitter or Facebook?

A. Alice: Just say, 'I need to talk to you, could you please put your phone down for a minute?' (You never know, it might work.) My husband is planning to put a 'phone box' at the end of the table in which we all have to put our phones before we sit down for supper together, so that there's no stray texting under the table.

Q. Roseformeplease: What do you do when your daughter is clearly a little overweight? Do you confront it with her, ignore it or try to be subtle?

A. Alice: You've got to be subtle. The last thing you want is to push her into strenuous dieting. Is her size something that is bothering her or is she blissfully unconcerned about it?

Try to engage in a neutral discussion with her about size and shape and the health issues that result from being overweight, and see what you pick up. Can you help her by providing healthier food options at home (lots of lean protein, vegetables and wholegrains; less sugar, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, junk food, processed meals, fizzy drinks) and making sure she eats plenty of good, nutritious food before moving on to biscuits or crisps?

I asked parenting expert Karen Doherty for her perspective on this question and she said:

"When it comes to a child being overweight, the fact is that it is up to the parent not the child to do something about it. But you won't suddenly get them to start eating tons of fish and vegetables and so on if they haven't been eating them before. Cooperation is vital. Instead of saying, 'You need to lose weight, your skirt is too tight', you should try saying, 'We as a family should be eating healthier food, do you have any idea of what changes we could make?' So that she feel like she is part of the plan. Or 'We should be getting a bit more exercise. At the weekend, shall we go for a walk or a swim together?' 

Last updated: 7 months ago