I’ve started to get some SERIOUS pimples recently. I have a pretty nonexistent skin care routine—where should I start? —Amelia, 14, Sydney

Oh, Millie. (Can I call you Millie? I just met an Amelia who goes by Millie, and isn’t that so good?) Welcome to mid-teenagehood: It’s all zits, and metaphorical zits, from here on out. But you can be the boss of those zits (literal and otherwise)!

The first thing you should do is see a dermatologist. They’ll be able to tell you what kind of acne you’re getting. The most common kind of pimples are called comedones, aka black- and whiteheads. These are caused mostly by the sebum, or “oil,” that our skin naturally produces. Other kinds of acne are triggered by hormones. Progesterone, which spikes a bit in the middle of your menstrual cycle, can cause a temporary increase in sebum production and lead to zits appearing right before you have your period. Then you’ve got your cystic acne, which can be any of the above, plus some added bacteria that turns a regular old zit into a pus-filled cyst.

When I was your age, I had it BAD. My pimples were not only typical white- or blackheads, but also deep undergrounders, as I like to call them: They lurked beneath my skin, never actually rising to the surface. Instead, they looked like bruises, were sore, and irritated me for weeks on end. After years of trial-and-error with antibiotics, creams, wipes, solutions, and pills, my doctor finally prescribed me a strong acne medication that did the trick. Hopefully, you won’t need this level of treatment and will instead receive a diagnosis of “typical teen skin,” some advice about how to treat it, and maybe a prescription for a topical antibiotic.

I also want to encourage you to test out these Universal Truths of caring for a pimple-prone face! Let’s call them the Two (Zit) Commandments:

I. Thou Shalt Neither Pick nor Pop. Don’t do it! I know, it feels impossible, but if you make it a goal to NEVER, EVER pick at your skin, you will at the very least pick a little less. Pawing at your acne spreads the bacteria that is causing inflammation in the first place, making it easier for new neighbor zits to appear nearby. It also usually leaves the original zit even more angry-looking, inflamed, and sometimes bloody, and it can lead to scarring. It’s not worth it! If you have blackheads, try using Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips to gently remove them. These are like stickers that gently pull the blackheads out of your pores! If you are brave, ask YouTube about them:

If not picking is driving you up the wall, replace that habit with a healthier one: Drink lots of water! No, water doesn’t cure acne, but it’s generally good for your skin (and all the rest of you!) and is a worthy distraction when you want to put your hands all up on your face. Get a reusable water bottle and fill that thang up on the regular. A cornadocious mantra to help you in these trying times: “When you feel the urge to pick, stop and take a sip.”

II. Thou Shalt Wash Thy Face for One Whole Minute. It takes time to get your skin as clean as possible, and hardly any of us invest enough of it when we’re washing our faces. Before bed, set a timer for one minute of face-washing time, plus 10 seconds to ready your cleanser. Rushed face-washing = your enemy! And remember to wash your jawline and neck, especially if you wear makeup. But don’t spend over two minutes washing your face unless you’re wearing super-stubborn stage makeup, or something, as too much washing can dry out your skin.

I’m devoted to Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Facial Cleanser, but you can find your own favorite—look for something oil free, and if you have easily irritated skin, try out a gentle “sensitive skin” formulation.

Try following those commandments for two weeks, then write me back with your thoughts, OK? Also, try to accept the fact of pimples. For many of us, they never really go away, and that is just LIFE. —Jane Marie

I’m into crazy lipstick colors, especially black. But are there ways to wear black lipstick that won’t make me look goth, since that’s not really the look I’m going for? —O., 15, Santa Clara, CA

Sure there are! First, decide that “goth,” like every other name people use to taxonomize themselves and others, is only a real concept if you want it to be. YO. I THINK I JUST BORED MYSELF WITH THAT 5K PREACH-A-THON, but I mean it, my dude. I’m not trying to turn this response to a question about makeup into the closing scene from The Breakfast Club (even though we know that movie is rife with incredible lipstick tips), and you already know the aforementioned, anyway. I just always think it’s worth reiterating that wearing dark makeup (or anything else) doesn’t transform you into a certain “type” of person besides your same exact self, still, but with DEVASTATINGLY tight lipstick on.

I do know what you mean, though. I can assure you that as a frequent, ardent wearer of black lipstick, there are MANY ways to coordinate a face/outfit that won’t look like you’re wearing a Halloween costume (though I also support and frequently employ looks in that vein—ask me about how I started shopping at Party City for casual daywear a few weeks back). Here’s a question to guide you: You love black lipstick—who do you feel like when you have it on? I wear it because it makes me feel severe and put-together and bizarre and beautiful. I either try to match the rest of my clothes and makeup to that feeling, or use them to subvert it. I recommend this strategy wild highly.

In terms of making it “wearable,” the easiest way to “balance” black lipstick is to keep the rest of you relatively pared down. On your face: Skip dramatic eyeliner and heavy shadow in favor of a lighter color on your lids, or no color at all, then add mascara and an “Oh, am I wearing blush? I didn’t even realize!” level of subtle pink cheek color if you want. On the non-face parts of you: Wear a T-shirt (maybe not a Bauhaus one, for our purposes here) and straight-up regular jeans or a simple skirt. Here’s the top half of me observing these two conceits sometime last year:


If you want to adorn yourself in something a bit more fashion-forward than literally the easiest, most basic outfit since the dawn of time, try wearing something that seems totally incongruous with whatever you think black lipstick connotes: a pastel sundress, or cute overalls (oh my god, I just figured out my style direction for tonight, thank you), or a patterned romper (any non–spider/bat motif will do the trick).

Finally, if you’re all, “That’s all well and good, ‘labelzzz’ don’t exist and T-shirts do, Party City is a great place to shop for casual basics, GOT IT, but how do I apply black lipstick in the first place?” peruse the Face-ics I made to that end some time back:

Please note that in this video, I am wearing my hair in a nightmare-bun and a cut-up YOUTH POLICE FORCE shirt my dad inexplicably gave me for Valentine’s Day 2005, but I still look pretty happy, huh? BLACK MOUTH = BEST MOUTH. Go show the world this unassailable truth, ya little O.-nyx minx. —Amy Rose