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 • Opinion  • Features  • POV: You’re a Teen and No One’s Bothered to Ask for Your Say on the ‘Sephora Kids’ Issue. Until Now…

POV: You’re a Teen and No One’s Bothered to Ask for Your Say on the ‘Sephora Kids’ Issue. Until Now…

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Main image – Indu

Over recent months, you may have been privy to something called the ‘Sephora kids’ issue. This is referring to teens and even pre-teens (some as young as 8), making a beeline for luxury beauty stores like Sephora, on a mission to stock up on their favourite products.

But these products aren’t what you think. They’re not innocent pots of lip balm, playful sleep masks or even mini nail polish gift sets to stare at in awe. Their items of choice are powerful skincare products containing active ingredients that have been created for consumers in a much higher age bracket. 

The craze of impressionable children spending their pocket money or their parents’ hard-earned cash on adult-focused beauty products has been mainly perpetrated by the likes of TikTok and Instagram. They seemingly hang on to every word of their favourite influencer raving about how his or her skin has been ‘transformed’ by a particular 9-step skincare regime when in fairness, he or she is targeting a much older audience. 

 

Image – Maitepons/Stocksy

 

Whilst an extensive routine that includes the likes of retinol, vitamin C or glycolic acid can work wonders for someone in their twenties and above, applying such powerful ingredients on younger skin can be harmful, sometimes even dangerous.

Alongside this, the so-called ‘Sephora kids’ are rumoured to behave in-store, trashing tester pots and making a mess in their wake.

But has anyone actually asked children themselves, particularly teenagers, what they think? Because perhaps the reason you’ll find so many kids in adult-focused beauty stores these days isn’t just as a result of being ‘influenced’. It could be because there is nowhere else for the ones who really need a skincare solution to go. 

And how do teenagers feel about being labelled as badly behaved and ‘bratty’? Has anyone actually asked them if they approve of this apparent behaviour on the part of their peers? And is an obsession with this in-store conduct actually distracting from the main issue here – that potentially harmful ingredients are being used by children?

Because maybe the problem is that the world hasn’t caught up with the fact that 12+ year olds are actually becoming legitimate consumers, and that simply dismissing them as ‘brats’ is doing more harm than good. Perhaps introducing a solution to the problem in the form of safe skincare for their age group, available in more affordable, age-appropriate stores, is actually the answer.

Luckily, several brands like Bubble and Balance Me are listening. But there is only one that’s solely teen-focused and uses its own teen committee behind the scenes.

Indu’ works with a community of over 270 teenagers who are given the opportunity to have their say without being judged or passed off as simply hormonal, demanding or self-entitled.

Because the children are the crucial party here. And I for one have been wondering why they’re needs, and most importantly their perspectives, have been neglected for so long.

 

Image – Indu

 

Here, we ask Reena Hammer, co-founder of indu, should legislation be put in place when it comes to children using harmful active ingredients? How do teens really feel about the accessibility of skincare for their age group? What barriers are they facing when they enter a beauty store?  And Indeed Labs Dermatologist Dr Nowell Solish explains how teen skin is different from adults’, and what kids should (and shouldn’t) be using.

We also ask teens themselves what they think of the Sephora kids phenomenon, and whether teen-specific skincare is the answer.

 


Adult skin VS adolescent skin

It’s safe to say the skin during puberty is very different to when you’re an adult. “It has more collagen and doesn’t start to break down until [you’re in your] 20s at least,” explains Dr Solish

“Teens tend to be more hormonally active and as such tend to be more acne prone. As well, teens tend to be much more sensitive to products.” Meaning that bringing a bottle of retinol anywhere near teen skin is a huge no-no.

 


When self-care turns bad

Hammer sees no harm in younger people taking an interest in skincare. “It’s a bit of wellbeing,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘I want to take care of myself.’ That’s a good thing to encourage.”

It’s when teens start to talk about using ingredients like retinol and vitamin C that it can become damaging. “You just don’t need it, you’ve got all the good stuff that you need in your skin, you don’t need to replenish it yet,” Hammer says. 

 

Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

 

“Teens need to have simple skincare and not use strong, harsh creams made for adults,” confirms Dr Solish. “These products are not made for their skin and can actually make it worse causing irritation and inflammation. [Teens] also tend to use too many products on their skin. The best routine for them is mild products and gentle, simple routines.”

 


The teens talk

So how do the kids see it? Because from where I’m standing, most of the people who have an opinion on the ‘Sephora kids’ craze seem to be disgruntled adults wondering why they’re competing against children to get their hands on the latest £60 anti-aging cream. 

“There is definitely a want and a feeling of needing to be older than you are,” says Lily, aged 18 and part of the indu teen committee. “When you’re a younger teenager there isn’t much education on younger people’s skin and it’s very different to adults’. This usually leads to younger people feeling they need to spend lots of money on well-advertised products.”

 

Image – Indu

 

“There’s a large gap in the market between things like play makeup and crazy expensive products that aren’t made from what we want,” continues Grace, aged 15.

And Ellissia aged 14 adds, “I think younger teens feel drawn to those products that aren’t aimed at their age group because they want to feel included in the trends,” she says. 

“That’s why everyone’s talking about ‘Sephora kids’, because 10-year-olds use products like retinol without realising the effect it has on your skin.” And just like that, it’s clear that not only has today’s youth been completely underestimated, but access to safe skincare for their age group has been shamefully neglected.

 


And the adults listen

Hammer says it was her indu co-founder, Aaron Chatterley’s teenage daughters who steered the conversation towards realising there should be more space made for teenage skincare. When he asked where they shop for fashion, their answers were instant.  “Brandy Melville, Subdued, Urban Outfitters – clear places that teens go to shop,” Hammer explains. 

“He said, ‘ok, so what is there like that for beauty?’ and they said ‘dad, that doesn’t exist.” It soon transpired that whilst there were products available for very young kids and adults, there wasn’t much in between. “They said, ‘it’s Tinkerbell, Hello Kitty, fairies and rainbows. Or it’s adult brands which are amazing, but we know they’re not really for us.’”

 

Image – Indu

 

Of course, there are excellent gentle skincare brands created for sensitive skin like La Roche Posay and CeraVe. But do these really appeal to young people? “It’s something your mum gives you. You don’t wake up every morning going, ‘yeah I really want to use it,’ and often, the adult stuff as we know is not only potentially harmful but it’s expensive,” Hammer says. 

After doing extensive research across the US and UK, Hammer says they found the common denominator amongst thousands of teens was sheer confusion. “They said they felt like they were this forgotten age group, either forced to grow up but also not being acknowledged for how hard this time period is,” she explains. “They don’t really see their representation properly and they’re bloody confused.”

 


Teenage skincare on the rise

Thanks to brands like indu, kids are now being given a platform to speak out on. But there is a shocking lack of solely teen-focused skincare brands out there – indu, unbelievably, is currently the only one. 

“Indu is a teen-only brand. We are always happy to say once you hit 19 or 20, you’ve probably outgrown us and that’s totally fine, we’ll recruit the next gen. We don’t want to try and keep you forever,” Hammer says.

The range has been kept simple and is easy to use. “No one needs 15 steps and teens’ skin is actually perfect,” Hammer says. “What they need is essentially a cleanser, a moisturiser and an SPF. Anything that has anti-ageing properties is completely off the table as well as anything that is harsh or highly active.”

And she says a teenager’s main aim should be to keep their skin balanced, whatever their teenage years throw at them. “There are environmental aggressors, hormonal stresses, stress from school, that pizza you ate. There is so much going on that seems unconnected but that has essentially ended up resulting in whatever happens on your face and on your skin. 

Ultimately, what we’ve got are products that are just going to push and pull constantly to keep the skin in balance.” 

Indu has an SPF coming and there are two cleansers available, both of which have corresponding moisturisers. Each product is refillable and made from recycled materials. “We’ve also got some great masks because teens love using masks, but we’ve kept it very simple but effective,” Hammer says. 

 

Image – Indu

 

There’s one for every teen skin scenario, for example, a moisture mask for dry skin and a clay-based mask for congested skin. “The smell of the products was also a big one for us because I personally believe smell enhances the experience of the product.”

As far as packaging goes, she says convenience with teens is key. “They need easy ways of taking products with them to sleepovers and clubs which is why we’ve ended up with clips that can go on their backpacks or phone.” Genius, and as Hammer discovered, a quirk not just reserved for kids. “If I’m going to find my bloody lip gloss I’m using a clip too, I don’t want to go through a million things!” Adult brands, take note!

Hammer adds that whilst brands should look appealing to teens and tweens, crucially they should include zero sexualisation. “’Better Than Sex’ mascara and ‘Orgasm’ blush are amazing products, but is that what a 12-year-old should be pulling out of their bag?”

I couldn’t agree more, and this makes me think of another mascara called ‘Perversion’. The name still blows my mind and yes, it’s still available for all ages to buy. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with the formula itself. But do I want my young, impressionable daughter using a mascara named after ‘unacceptable sexual behaviour’? I’ll pass thanks. 

“Essentially we want kids to grow up with a healthy relationship with beauty and that is what is struggling at the moment,” Hammer says. “They’re looking at these older faces and idealisms when they should just be thinking, ‘I just want to be me, and I just want to have fun and play.’”

 


Teen committee

And speaking of having more fun, it seems that gone are the days of men in suits sitting round a table, drinking brandy, deciding what’s right for a group of people they haven’t got a clue about (well, in this scenario anyway *rolls eyes*). When it came to building the indu brand, not all the research gathered was done solely by adults. 

The biggest research source here was the committee of teenagers helping behind the scenes, advising on what they wanted to see from a teen skin brand.  “For us it was important to have teens as part of the journey and be able to listen and create something with a feeling of ‘someone is listening, and this is ours’,” explains Hammer. “They feel like it’s their brand 100%. They’re the ones who are keeping us on track.”

 

Image – Indu

 

Take fragrance, for example. It is a big talking point in any product creation process, but particularly amongst indu’s teen committee. “Fragrance is really important to teens,” Hammer says. “The first thing they do is smell something so if it has no smell, you’ve taken out a huge sensory element.”

And whilst Hammer and Chatterley first considered flavouring their products with predictable scents like bubble gum and chocolate to suit the stereotypical teen, their behind-the-scenes committee surprised them. 

“I have to give them so much credit, they came back with some way more sophisticated noses than we thought,” Hammer says. Yet another reason why involving the consumer you’re actually targeting in the creation process is a no-brainer and not to be sniffed at (if you’ll pardon the pun).

 


The buying experience

So, what about this ‘Sephora kids’ issue that’s got everyone talking about (read: complaining about)? Hammer doesn’t see it as brattish behaviour, rather just kids who are trying to find their way. 

“What I see is intelligent people who want to get their point across, who want to be heard, feel they’re being listened to,” she says. “They’re not saying ‘let’s go in and trash the place. I think a lot of that is just bad representation and if you provide a solution, it will get better.”

And what barriers are they facing that are stopping them from getting the solutions they need? “It’s hard for teens because they don’t know what they want,” she explains. “They just want to do what their friends are doing. And yeah, it’s hard for the store because they don’t want to say ‘no teens’. 

 

Image – Indu

 

Yes, teens are digitally savvy and centric but experience and physical interaction is actually more important  to this generation than probably for millennials. Kids want to meet up and they do want to touch skincare products and smell them and play with them.”

So, what changes need to be made to make the buying experience more enjoyable for all involved? In-store, Hammer’s first port of call is hygiene. “There are limitations to what you can do as a brand because you’re in somebody else’s store,” she says. “But we’ve looked at a lot of digital stuff that we’re just about to launch on our own website, including palette builders.”

 

Image – Indu

 

Palette what now? “It’s a bit like a digital game where you’ve got all the eyeshadow pods, and you can see how the palette would end up looking. We’re going to try and create a version of that for in store as well.” 

She also says stores need to be savvier about replacing testers. “I’m going to do as much as I can about reinforcing the stores putting out new testers of our products when they need to. Change it! If it’s gross it needs to go!”

 


The blame game

With so many ‘instant’ options available to us now, it feels like kids are incapable of waiting for anything these days. So, should the blame for the ‘Sephora kids’ culture actually lie with the parents for allowing their kids to believe that waiting for anything in life is unnecessary?

Because if your parents have signed up to every on-demand streaming service, or their Amazon order arrives within 12 hours of clicking ‘confirm purchase’, why wouldn’t their beady-eyed kids want to immediately race to their nearest Sephora to stock up on the hottest brand launch or buy the latest high-tech moisturiser? You can imagine their inner monologue saying, “but it’s available right now. Who cares if my skin isn’t ready?”

“I think it’s really tough to be a parent when your teen is telling you, ‘Oh, but my friend’s got it,” says Hammer

Being a parent myself, I’m constantly fighting between what’s right for my children’s physical and mental health, and what makes them happy. I wait with bated breath for the day one of them turns around and tells me I’ve ruined their life for not letting them have a smart phone.

 

Image – Anidimi/Stocksy

 

But recently there has been a noticeable shift. Take movements like Smartphone Free Childhood for example, which has the oh-so reassuring strapline ‘childhood is being rewired’. The organisers Clare Fernyhough and Daisy Greenwell have presented extensive research showing the damage smartphones have had on the mental health of kids who are now aged 20+. 

There was zero research on their impact when they were first launched, and these now-20-something-year-olds have unfortunately suffered the consequences so that the next generation of children don’t have to. Finally, it feels like the world is waking up.

The same can be said for teen skincare. “I think parent education is important,” Hammer says. Before you make that £30, £50, £90 purchase for your child, she suggests asking them why they want it. 

“50% of them probably want it because they’ve just seen people on TV talking about it, ok not ideal. But the other 50% is saying ‘it’s because I’m starting to feel unconfident, and I want to feel better about myself’. 

So, you actually have to ask them the question of why they want it to start with and then get to ‘what is the point of this’? Is it because they just want what’s cool? Or is it because they’re actually starting to really feel those insecurities, which is something you then need to look at.”

What a minefield it is. So perhaps legislation around active ingredients being used on young skin is the answer. “Actives for younger skin can cause long term damage and it really could be quite bad if you consistently use that sort of stuff,” Hammer warns.

“I definitely think there should be a worst-case warning like ‘this is not suitable for children’. But I think there [should be] a much bigger responsibility on everyone – on the government, on the stores and on the brands.”

Who knows? The more brands continue to listen to what’s going on around them, the more likely it is that legislation won’t even need to be up for discussion. And Hammer is on a mission to lead the way. “We are not going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend all of this doesn’t exist. Because that’s not real life.”

 


The takeaway

Misinformation, ignorance, neglect, naivety, and pre-judgement all have a part to play in this fad of children using the wrong skincare products for their skin. 

But please. Let’s not blame the kids. Most are simply acting on what they’ve been told will apparently help them look their best and feel part of the gang. If brands had actually bothered to ask them what they needed in the first place, ‘Sephora kids’ would be a lesser-known term.

Here’s a thought. Maybe we should start being more inclusive of teenagers. After all, they are the future. Isn’t it about time we treated them as equals, ask for their opinion instead of dismiss it and present them with a solution rather than an assumption?

Perhaps then their beautifully fresh skin wouldn’t need to be compromised, those who actually need luxury items could shop in peace and parents would be able to sleep at night knowing they have access to all the right tools and advice, ready to pass down if needed. 

Kudos to brands like indu who are paying attention. With help from their teen committee, they are intent on changing the way kids shop for beauty products and transforming what is available to them. By no means is the issue solved. But there is movement, and therefore, hope.

Hammer sums up perfectly why we should be taking more time to listen to the upcoming generation. “Look at sustainability, look at what’s happening in the world. Teens are more vocal in general. They’re not afraid, they don’t sit in the corner only to be seen and not heard. Their hunger for knowledge is fantastic. It’s curiosity. It’s growth. It’s brilliant.” 

 

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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University
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