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We Should Have Seen ‘Sephora Kids’ and Skincare Becoming an Issue from Way off

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Main image – Irina/Adobe

OK, we’re not the first ones to dive into this topic- though we were one of the first, reporting on the subject way back in September before it really took off- but we need to talk about tweens and skincare

As you will probably have seen, there’s been lots of talk about the rise of ‘Sephora kids’ suddenly seemingly taking over beauty counters – and why tweens and kids shouldn’t be following the extensive skincare routines they seem to go crazy for.

In fact, the phenomenon has become so big it’s sparked thousands of satirical TikToks in itself over the the elaborate skincare routines, the ‘carnage’ supposedly left behind at beauty store testers, and the huge budgets these children seem to have.

@lexislately

Honestly the drunk elephant testers at sephora werent terrible but you could tell a 10 year old had just just made a skincare smoothie. 12 year olds dont need retinol that is all ??? #sephorakids #sephora #drunkelephant #omg #relatable #lmao #skincaresmoothie #gross

? Smells Blood – kensuke ushio

Lots of the ground covered so far focuses on the impact tweens having 10-step skincare routines can have. But what hasn’t been covered is exactly why this is happening. Why are tweens so obsessed with skincare in 2024 to the point that older consumers are complaining that the skincare space is being ‘invaded’ by children?

What’s changed and how have we created this? 

That’s what I’m delving into today; with the help of four experts in various fields (a consultant dermatologist, facialist, cosmetic chemist and psychologist) to discuss exactly why children and tweens are showing significantly more of an interest in skincare than other generations. 

 


The algorithm dilemma 

Thinking back to when we were 10+, the internet as we know it today was not a thing (*cue dial up nostalgia*) and even if we could Google, chances are we’d not yet have the media literacy skills to know what to tap into that search bar. 

Enter: TikTok and Instagram, both with a handy algorithm that does all the hard work for us.

Pause for a few extra seconds on a video or better yet, interact with it and it’ll serve you more, and more and more … and more of the same. The more you show interest in it, the smarter it gets in knowing exactly the type of content you like to see (regardless of whether the information is correct or appropriate).

The result? Tweens stumbling on content they weren’t even aware was out there and subsequently would never have known to search, including 10-step skincare routines, huge beauty collections and multi-hundred dollar Sephora hauls.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by huds ? | skincare & beauty ? (@diariesofhuds)

 

Consultant dermatologist at Self London, Dr Anjali Mahto recognises that social media can have both a positive and negative impact on the skincare habits of kids and teens. Noting that on the positive side, they provide a space for sharing valuable skincare information, tips and routines. 

However, she’s experienced first-hand in the clinic how this comes with drawbacks.

The first is the rapid spread of misinformation and inaccurate content. “The algorithm-driven content may promote trendy or viral skincare practices without proper scientific backing. This can lead to experimentation with potentially harmful ingredients, without fully understanding their implications,” Dr Mahto explains.

There have already been reports in the news about tweens using ingredients like retinol and experiencing extreme eye irritation, requiring hospitalisation even, for improper use. 

Facialist Kate Kerr echoes this, noting that “incorrect skincare use is one of the biggest causes of skin sensitivity, dehydration, congestion and breakouts” in her clinic. Self-diagnosing and experimentation after seeing content on platforms like TikTok is a big part of this.

“Skincare has become an at-home science experiment,” Kerr warns. “People are using information they find on these platforms to become at-home chemists [and dermatologists], curating multiple-step regimes,” she adds.

Cosmetic chemist Ava Perkins agrees. “We still have a long way to go in terms of cosmetic science education across all generations.” 

 

Image – Anna/Adobe

 

With advances in technology, AI and algorithms, it’s also getting increasingly difficult for people to distinguish between fact and fiction; this is particularly true for children and tweens. 

“My main concern with all this is that the younger demographic may not always have the skills to critically evaluate the skincare information presented to them on social media,” Dr Mahto explains.

“It’s therefore important for parents/guardians and healthcare professionals to play a role in guiding and educating young individuals about reliable sources of skincare information; distinguishing between evidence-based practices and trends, and understanding their unique skin needs,” she adds. 

Ultimately, while Dr Mahto believes that social media can be a valuable resource for skin education (being particularly good to help those with skin conditions), “it should be supplemented with guidance from healthcare professionals who are experts in the field to ensure safe and effective practices,” she advises. 

 


Prevention is better than cure…but did we take it too far? 

Although a huge part of the conversation, TikTok and other social media platforms aren’t only to blame. The way skincare products are marketed to us plays a huge role, too.

The past 10 years or so, the conversation around preventative skincare has amped up big time. The trickle down of this has impacted our younger generations. 

 

Image – Adobe

 

Dr Mahto agrees that there has been a “noticeable shift in the skincare industry towards emphasising prevention- particularly in the context of sun damage and ageing- over the past 10/15 years.”

She believes that this can be attributed to a growing awareness and education of the long-term effects of sun exposure on the skin and an increased focus on proactive skincare.

Previously, skincare advice was often focused on existing issues rather than preventing future damage, Dr Mahto explains. “As scientific research has advanced and our understanding of the impact of sun exposure on premature ageing has grown, there has been a much greater emphasis on preventive measures,” she adds. Sunscreen is the most obvious example.” 

The education surrounding the damage caused by UV radiation when it comes to premature ageing as well as an increased risk of skin cancer has led to “widespread recommendations for regular sunscreen (and not just during sunny days) as a daily preventative measure,” Dr Mahto adds.

@deepbluemedspa

The trend of children as young as 10 doing their skincare routines with popular products they purchased from Sephora is dangerous. The problem with this is that while these products may have kitchy names and fun smells, they include ingredients that can be harmful to young skin-specifically acids, exfoliants, and retinoids.  These products are designed to increase and promote cell turnover. However, at the age of 10 or 12 this is already happening at a normal rate. So, it is not only unnecessary, but can also cause short term irritation and overall damage to the skin barrier.  #safeskincare #teenskincare #sephoraskincare

? original sound – NOFEELINGS. – NOFEELINGS.

Kerr notes that the way this is discussed when it comes to tweens is very different. “It’s not about ageing, it’s about protection.” However, this message has sadly been lost. Aggressive marketing towards prevention through things like social media ads by beauty influencers pushing preventative treatments have reached a much younger audience than intended. 

“Research shows that tween and teen girls are experiencing severe lack of confidence, and this makes them especially susceptible to marketing directly targeting their self-esteem,” says psychologist Dr Limor Gottlieb

Oh, and it doesn’t help that beauty packaging is the most eye-catching it’s ever been. Bright, playful and innovative packaging makes skincare less about anti-ageing claims and more a fun tool to use in trending social media videos. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Glow Recipe (@glowrecipe)

 

 


Mum knows best, right? 

Kids want to be what they can see. Remember trying to apply your mum’s lipstick because you always saw her wearing it? Or applying nail polish because that’s what “grown-ups” had? 

Due to this preventative language, it might not be far-fetched to think that skincare-curious and ageing-anxious parents have passed this onto their kids. Talk in the household might include preventative serums and eye creams, an awareness on reducing wrinkles and treatments to reduce unwanted elements of ageing. 

“Children copy their parents’ behaviour, so mothers need to monitor themselves and be aware of what messages they are spreading around body image,” says Dr Gottlieb.

Similarly with generations before Gen Z, there was lots of talk around diet culture. The same can be said (though perhaps not to the same extent) for ageing and preventative measures being taken. 

A raft of videos criticising the rise in tweens’ obsession with skincare also point the finger at parents for not being firm enough with their children and saying ‘no’ to many of the items they want, and the prices involved.

But since parents themselves didn’t grow up with the same levels of peer pressure as today’s TikTok generation, it’s also easy to understand why some aren’t entirely sure how to navigate this new world of beauty consumerism.

@natsodrizzy

these kids need to go touch some grass #sephora #fyp #sephorakids #preteens #ipadkids #ipadkidsarescary

? original sound – nat

 


The peer pool just got a whole lot bigger 

Peer influence is undoubtedly greater today than generations have experienced before. Part of the reason could be down to a peer group today not only includes those in their class groups and hobbies, but also now whoever they follow on social media. 

“I don’t think we can underestimate the power of peer influence and societal beauty pressures too. Add both of these to very powerful marketing by brands and it’s no wonder there’s a huge fascination with skincare for the younger generation,” Dr Mahto notes. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Kay ? (@beautybykay12)

 

Teenagers go through stages of discovering identity, calibrated through a process of social comparison by checking out competition. This competition is their reference, typically their peers. However, due to social media, this reference group has expanded, explains Dr Gottlieb.

Why is this a problem? Well, “because technology and therefore social media is an evolutionary novelty, our brains cannot differentiate between our inner circle (our closest friends and peers) and random people online — for our brain it’s the same — so now these tweens are comparing themselves on a global yet virtual platform.” 

Because of this, it’s become difficult for young people to “navigate the algorithms and critically think about what they consume and be able to differentiate between real and fake — and it seems that marketers are exploiting teenage girls’ vulnerability,” Dr Gottlieb adds. 

The result is a generation who grew up watching anti-ageing routines, expensive Sephora hauls and beauty influencer ‘unboxing’ videos – and wanting to get in on the act.

 


The takeaway

So what now? Honestly that’s a whole other story for another day. But awareness is what we need more of.

Awareness that social media is a powerful tool. Awareness that our words and our marketing matters. And awareness that peer influence hasn’t gone anywhere, and if anything, got more influential. 

 

Meet the experts

Dr Anjali Mahto is a highly respected and renowned consultant dermatologist and founder of Self London, as well as the author of best-selling book The Skincare Bible.

 

Kate Kerr is an award-winning facialist with experience working with the UK’s leading beauty editors, actors, athletes, celebrities – even royalty.

 

Ava Perkins is a cosmetic chemist, PhD researcher, and content creator, helping to bridge the gap between industry knowledge and consumer understanding in the cosmetic space.

 

Dr Limor Gottlieb is a psychologist and intimacy and relationship researcher with an evolutionary approach to understanding intimate relationships.

 

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Contributing Beauty Editor

Tori Crowther is a beauty and health journalist and qualified nail tech. The former beauty editor of Popsugar UK, Tori regularly write for titles like Allure, Glamour, Marie Claire, and Women's Health and is Contributing Beauty Editor at Live That Glow. When she's not interviewing derms or writing features, you can find her seeking out the best coffee outside of London.

Expertise: Nails, skincare
Education: Nottingham Trent University
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