Once upon a time there was a little curly girl who liked to play with her aunt’s miniature Avon lipsticks. These were samples handed out by the Avon Ladies to customers so that you could “try before you buy”. Today we rely on swatches in the Avon catalogue that are helpfully labelled Warm, Cool and Neutral so that we can choose the shades that suit us best and avoid the mistake that 10-year old me made of wearing yellow eyeshadow and bright pink lipstick – together.

Maybe your first trips to the adult world of makeup involved your mom’s bottle of Chanel No. 5 or a furtive swipe of your older sister’s Russian Red lipstick from MAC. Most of us start with an experiment with someone else’s makeup.

Whether or not you are allowed to wear makeup when you start junior high or high school is a decision your parents will have to make with you. Because I attended a Catholic junior high with a dress code, Bonne Bell lip smackers and Love’s Baby Soft perfume were all I was allowed to wear when leaving the house.

The most important thing you can do for yourself in your teen years is to start a good skin care routine. It’s especially important now when your skin is prone to blemishes and breakouts. Not only will it lay the foundation for beautiful skin into your elder years, it will help fight off the breakouts.

Use a mild cleanser like Cetaphil Gentle or Bioré Shine Control Foaming Cleanser. Avoid scrub products with crushed apricot shells. These can break the skin and spread infection if you’re in the middle of a breakout period. Today’s scrub products use tiny plastic microbeads that are smooth and won’t tear your face.

If you have acne, try to keep your hands off your face. The dirt that your hands pick up as you go about your day sticks to skin oils when you touch your face and sits there clogging pores.

Remember, too, that acne is not caused by diet – it’s adult hormones producing that oil. A healthy diet doesn’t hurt, however, and try to drink more water to flush out toxins.

Don’t pick!!! I know how tempted you must be to squeeze pimples and blackheads, but I can tell you from personal experience that doing so leaves scars. These last years longer than teen acne and are more difficult to get rid of.

If you feel you need a toner after cleansing, use one without alcohol. Witch hazel is a popular alternative to commercial toners that is inexpensive and available everywhere. Toner is not a necessary step in cleansing, though many people like it to help remove every trace of cleanser.

Most people find that they can get through acne breakouts using over-the-counter products. The companies with the widest range of readily available acne-treatment products are Bioré, Neutrogena and Noxema. Proactive is available through infomercials and their website. Persistent and severe or cystic acne usually requires medical intervention. Your doctor may prescribe a topical treatment, or medication, or a combination of the two.

Even oily, blemish-prone skin requires a moisturizer, however, the lightest versions you can find are best for your face during these years. Neutrogena’s Multi-Vitamin Acne Treatment is an oil-free moisturizer that also helps to reduce breakouts. During the day, use an oil-free sunscreen like Neutrogena’s Healthy Defense or Coppertone Oil Free Faces Sunblock. Sunscreens can be used instead of moisturizer.

Which brings us to colour!

Youthful skin should never be completely covered. Even if you are having a serious breakout, the solution is not to slather yourself in foundation in an attempt to hide the blemishes. Using the wrong colour or type of concealing product will only draw attention to the things you’d like to hide.

Find a foundation or concealer that matches your skin exactly. This is one place where you should not skimp on cost, however, most good foundations are expensive. Last year, L’Oréal came out with a drugstore product that makes it easier to match your skin tone without using up a week’s allowance. True Match comes in a wide range of warm, cool and neutral tones from light to dark. It also has companion concealer and powder. For more information on hiding blemishes, see my May 2005 column.

Use a light hand when applying colour makeup. A beginner shouldn’t be using every product in the beauty arsenal. Start with clear or light shades of mascara, barely blushing cheeks and clear, glossy lips.

In addition to Bonne Bell, which has been around since the 1930s, several companies now market makeup lines specifically for teens – Annabelle from Canada, Caboodles Cosmetics, Jane Cosmetics, N.Y.C., Rimmel from the United Kingdom, Tru and Wet N Wild. The Body Shop has reasonably priced products in flattering skin tones, Avon has the Mark line, in addition to some incredible bargains in their regular line,and Maybelline is known for its youthful image. In department-store lines, Clinique was the teen-friendly line that I started out with, and MAC is the cheapest of the high-end brands.

Fat pencils designed to give a quick swipe of colour are ideal. They’re usually sheer in texture and fool-proof to put on. Maybelline’s Cool Effects Shadow/Liner Pencil in Peach Daquiri will suit many eye colours. MAC’s Shadesticks stay on all day, even if you have very oily eyelids, and Avon’s Big Color Eye Pencils are regularly discounted. You can use gloss at this age and there are many products available that are designed to add shine to highlight features other than lips. Try Caboodles Go Glam Glitter Eye Gloss.

Maybelline has been the go-to company for mascara for decades. Great Lash is the best-selling mascara in the world, but their Lash Discovery mascara features a small wand that is great for beginners. Avon Waterproof Wash Off Mascara really does wash off with soap and water. It also goes on quite easily as it’s thinner than most mascaras. One coat darkens nicely.

You probably won’t need to wear blush often, but if you do, try to find a powder that goes on sheer in light tones of peach, pink or plum depending on your skin tone. Clinique makes a sheer cheek gel in several different shades and Avon’s Tint ‘N Go is in a push-up tube.

Bonne Bell’s Lip Smackers are widely available and come in a huge variety of flavours – including the one I bought religiously 30 years ago – Dr. Pepper. Other products to try: MAC Lip Glass, Maybelline Shiny-licious Lip Gloss; and Rimmel Star Dazzlers Lip Gloss.

When you’re ready to move on to more complicated looks, try to get a lesson. Makeovers are always free at Sephora and if you ask them to show you what they are doing every step of the way you’ll learn some great tips. Every Clinique location has one or two “All About Eyes” clinics every year and they will gladly demonstrate techniques. Be brave and experiment with colour.

Your teen years are your time to shine as you head into the wonderful world of makeup!