Teens and Tweens Are Obsessed with Skincare. Parents (and Derms) Are Concerned.

When a 10-year-old wants retinol, you know there’s a problem

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If you’ve scrolled through TikTok recently, you may have come across fresh-faced tweens and teens detailing their (extensive) skincare routines and showing off their (also extensive) Sephora hauls. If you haven’t, brace yourselves.

In the last few months, there have been reports of kids as young as 10 years old buying anti-aging products (yes, really) featuring potent ingredients like retinol and exfoliating acids. This surge of interest in skincare from Gen Alpha even caused tween-favorite brand Drunk Elephant (the bronzing drops are a popular pick amongst this cohort) to respond on Instagram with a post on “Can kids & tweens use Drunk Elephant?” (Apparently the answer is yes although the brand cautions younger consumers to “stay away from our more potent products that include acids and retinols—their skin does not need these ingredients quite yet.”)

Perhaps equally troubling are reports of young shoppers showing up en masse to stores like Sephora and Ulta, wreaking havoc on displays and being rude to staff. Search the hashtag #sephorakids on social media and you’ll find plenty of videos complaining about these young consumers.

If you’re feeling alarmed, you’re not alone.

The reports of kids shopping for expensive creams and serums with anti-aging ingredients are a cause for concern, says dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. “These ingredients can be too harsh on the skin leading to dryness and irritation,” she explains. “Additionally, using products that are not necessary can also trigger breakouts as well as conditions like perioral dermatitis.”

Of course, many kids aren’t opting for anti-ageing skincare products but rather experimenting with makeup, moisturizers and masks.

Kira, mom to a 14-year-old in Laurel Canyon, CA, tells us that her daughter has been interested in makeup and skincare for years. “The interest started when she was 12 and it started with Florence by Milli Bobbi Brown. It went on to different masks and different hair bands to hold her hair back while she did masks. There was a moment of fake glue on nails. Then started the MILK brand. Contour and blushes. Then lip glosses at Glossier. Then eye shadow, some stolen high end from my drawer, some Wet and Wild and Morphe collections.” Her daughter’s interest in beauty has only grown since then (“stealing my Gucci mascara”). Another parent we spoke to joked that her teenager “keeps Sephora in business,” and yet another mom noted third grade girls at her children’s school who demand Sephora bags for their lunches so other kids will “think they shop there.”

And in a sense, this is nothing new. “Tweens and teens have historically been concerned about their appearance,” Dr. Tish Taylor, a licensed school psychologist and adjunct professor teaching Child Development, tells us. But if you can’t shake the feeling that your own teenage foray into the makeup aisle at Claire’s feels different from how kids today are approaching beauty, well, you’re not wrong.

“We now have an industry that is able to produce various products [with] the endorsement of influencers and celebrities,” Taylor says. “The combination of the product industry, social media, and the availability of social media influencers has made skin care routines [even more] popular among youth.”

And that’s the difference. This generation is up close and personal with influencer and celebrity content—be it sponsored advertorials or step-by-step #GRWM videos—more so than any cohort before them. Not to mention that so many of their interactions are done via screens, making the pressure for “perfect” skin even more intense. We millennials may look back in horror at the beauty standards set by the monthly magazines from our youth, but it seems like small potatoes compared to the onslaught of curated imagery, videos and tutorials that the tweens and teens of today are faced with at alarming rates.

For what it’s worth, Garshick tells us that skincare needs for the tween and teen age group are actually very minimal—or even nonexistent. “Teens and tweens may not necessarily need anything for their skin,” she tells us, adding that for those who are interested, “healthy skin can be achieved by simply using a gentle cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen.” 

And yet, it seems that many children are going far beyond a simple three-step routine. “I feel like they spend way too much time and money on products—it’s all stuff they see on Instagram and TikTok!” Beth, mom to two girls ages 16 and 19 in Athens, GA, tells us. “As their mom, a person who has used only Cetaphil and Lubriderm with the occasional Kiehl's product for over 30 years and very little if any makeup ever, I think they think, ‘mom, you just don’t know.’”

So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Per Dr. Taylor, parents can start by talking to their children about the influencers and celebrities they’re seeing. “There are various points of conversation that parents can address. The first is helping their child recognize that while influencers and celebrities may want to help others and their appearance, they are also hoping to have their posts and videos noticed and watched, so their motivation is likely to sell products. Second, they are not experts in healthy skin, especially each individual’s healthy skin. And third, they may not be considering the cost of the products or combination of products that can become burdensome for a young person or their family.”

Dr. Garshick echoes this sentiment, and urges parents to remind children that what they see on social media isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of what someone looks like. “One of the most important things to emphasize to teens and tweens is that there is no such thing as perfect skin, and blemishes and pores are normal, and the filters available on social media don’t always allow that to be seen. When committing to a skincare routine, the goal should be healthy skin, not ‘perfect’ skin.”

But for children who are unhappy with their appearance, it may not be enough to explain the dark side of social media. Parents may also want to make an appointment with a dermatologist and look at resources for healthy skin in their kid’s age group and for their particular skin type, including if their child has a particular concern like acne, suggests Dr. Taylor. “Helpful resources may include The American Academy of Dermatology and the terrific article addressing this very issue by Dr. Carol Cheng in UCLA Health entitled: “Kids Exploring Skincare May be at Risk from Influencers Hyping Incorrect Products.”

One final piece of advice? Everybody, including adults, wants to look their best and feel good about themselves, says Dr. Taylor. “Many of us fall into that category. However, recognizing natural beauty and realizing that primarily comes from within, not from a product or skin care regimen, is worth highlighting. Maybe we should have more inner beauty influencers!” Now there’s an idea.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...