The truth about tween skincare

Published 05th Mar 2024 by Ellen Cummings

More children are becoming interested in skincare thanks to social media, leading to the rise of the “Sephora tween”. We look at the science behind safe and effective skincare for children and explore what kind of skincare products they should be using.

Social media has created a number of questionable trends in recent years, and one of the most concerning is the rise of the “Sephora tween”.

This refers to the hordes of pre-teens flocking to beauty retailers to buy (or, more likely, nagging their long-suffering parents to buy) skincare products they’ve seen popularised by influencers on social media apps like TikTok. 

“I believe social media is the reason for what feels like an overnight obsession with skincare,” comments skincare expert Fiona Brackenbury, who has over 30 years’ experience in the beauty industry.

“There are more children using TikTok and sharing their skincare routines, which then spirals out of control.”

While social media may be helping to boost the profile of these products, the brands themselves aren’t blameless.

Dr Sonia Khorana, a GP with a special interest in dermatology, explains, “I think tweens are drawn to products with colourful packaging and push-down pumps, because they’re inadvertently marketing towards a younger demographic – such products are seen frequently on social media.

“It’s also apparently the ‘cool’ thing and it’s what everyone’s using on social media. A lot of brands and products that are popular amongst tweens also have tween ambassadors.

"Tweens are just following a trend and wanting the same products that are marketed by their top creators.”

Popular brands among this age group include Drunk Elephant, Glow Recipe and Laneige, and although these skincare products might be nice to look at, with their bright packaging and cool names, the reality is that some of them could be damaging to children’s skin.

“When you are being influenced to buy something because it’s cute or colourful and looks fun, unfortunately the focus is taken away from what is in the formula,” says Brackenbury.

Some of the products bought by these children aged nine to 12 contain active ingredients such as vitamin C, glycolic acid, salicylic acid and retinoids

“Products containing such ingredients are formulated for mature skin and to help speed up skin cell turnover – they can really do damage to the skin barrier when used by tweens,” explains Dr Khorana.

“Children can experience redness, soreness, dry skin and irritation. Collagen and elastin are robust in tween skin, so they don’t need these products. They may also develop allergies to these substances.” 

How can beauty therapists help with children's skincare?

Fortunately, some of the interest in skincare amongst young people has trickled into the professional beauty sphere, where beauty therapists are well placed to advise on a safe skincare routine. 

“I have been inundated with mums asking me what they can do,” reveals Brackenbury. “They are pleased their daughters are interested in skincare, but they want to make sure they buy something that is respecting their young skin.” 

Although it might be disappointing to tweens who want to replicate the 10-step skincare routine of their favourite influencer, skincare for tweens should be very minimal.

“Keep it clean with a gentle cleanser, replace the moisture and protect from UV damage. That’s it!” shares Louise Thomas-Minns, a skin health therapist, product formulator and owner of Louise Thomas Skin Care.

However, as with adult clients, it’s important to adopt a personalised approach and operate on a case-by-case basis; there may be young clients who have skin conditions and require a bit of extra help to achieve or maintain healthy skin.

Dr Khorana says that she might advise a cleanser with salicylic acid or a topical product containing a retinoid if the client is prone to breakouts.

“These will help tackle oily or blemish-prone skin in tweens but should be used under the advice of a professional,” she says. 

Bridging the gap in skincare education

Crossing the educational divide and convincing tweens to use skincare that is actually beneficial for them rather than just trendy might be easier said than done, and it’s likely that beauty professionals and parents will have to adapt their approach. 

“It’s important to have a collaborative conversation with tweens and not be dismissive," advises Dr Khorana.

“An interest in skincare itself isn’t concerning as building good skincare habits is a good idea, so education and an open conversation is important. For example, education about sun damage can encourage sunscreen use.”

Brackenbury agrees that an early interest in skincare provides an excellent opportunity for education, commenting, “I think that if the tween is engaged in skincare, then this is a brilliant step forward and it’s time to invite them into the salon with their mum to set them up for skincare success.

"There is a huge opportunity for salons and clinics to run masterclasses for tweens and mums to educate everyone on what they should be doing.

“I would really encourage beauty professionals to have conversations with their clients about their daughters’ routines. It might not be for all daughters but it’s best to get in quick before all their birthday and Christmas money is spent on a girls’ trip to Sephora.”

Thomas-Minns adds, “We can, with parental or carer consent, provide skin health consultations and treatments if necessary, but I’m also mindful of the fact that we have to charge for this service, which can be challenging for parents and carers. 

“We can try to get the message out there of the basics of caring for skin and that it’s not attached to a ‘trend’ or a particular product or the perception of the way we should look; it’s about self-care and being healthy.”

Thomas-Minns also believes more vigilance is required when it comes to children’s use of social media.

“Parents, carers and schools need to discourage, educate and take the glamour away from social media. My eight-year-old daughter is exposed to the beauty industry through my work as a skin health therapist and brand founder but she doesn’t have this skincare obsession. She doesn’t use social media and is aware of the benefits and pitfalls of it.”

Taking responsibility on social media

It’s also crucial for brands to be aware of the content they’re posting on social media and how pre-teens might be interacting with it.

Fingers have been pointed at certain brands by critics who are accusing them of purposely marketing their products at children – indeed, Drunk Elephant’s founder Tiffany Masterson had to directly refute claims that the brand was deliberately targeting Generation Alpha (people born after 2010). 

However, this doesn’t mean that children aren’t still inadvertently attracted to the products – which is where the type of content being posted comes into play.

Dr Khorana explains, “It’s important for brands to be responsible and educate their consumers about the products they’re using if tweens are expressing an interest in their products or using them. Brands can use the same ambassadors and creators to provide this accurate information to tweens.”

Dr Khorana concludes, “Elaborate (and expensive) skincare routines aren’t a necessity for tweens and it would be good for brands to say this. There are plenty of products suitable for tween skin and good education from brands can provide tweens with this information.

"Brands do have a responsibility to educate tweens on what’s best for their skin and age – not just allowing them to copy what they see trending on social media.”

Skincare and make-up for children

Don’t just take our word for it. We spoke to 12-year-old skincare fan Ava to get the inside scoop on what’s going on with tween skincare and make-up.

Why do you think people your age are more interested in education about skincare than they used to be? 

Because it's been advertised on TikTok and social media. 

Where do you get information about skincare? 

I look it up on the internet, and the dermatologists on TikTok. I don’t follow any in particular – just the people that come up on my For You page

What’s in your make-up and skincare bag?

I’ve got the Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm, an eyelash curler, a makeup brush, micellar water, the Elf Cosmetics Multi-Use Blush Stick, the Huda Beauty setting powder… I like the Elf dupe of the Charlotte Tilbury highlighter, and I’ve got the blush and contour wands as well. I've also got the Elf Halo Glow and the Elf primer. Then I've also got the Benefit Hoola Bronzer, the Too Faced blush and the Rare Beauty under-eye brightener.

When you buy or use skincare, what do you want it to do?  

Moisturise my skin so I don't have any lumps or bumps. I want bronzing drops for the summer – but I found an alternative option to the Drunk Elephant drops. Everyone wants the alternative option because it's like £10 cheaper. 

Do any of your friends use retinol?  

No because it's for old skin. All my friends know that retinol is bad, and also that BHA and AHA are bad. [Phew!]

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Ellen Cummings

Ellen Cummings

Published 05th Mar 2024

Ellen Cummings is the senior content writer at Professional Beauty, working across the magazine and online. Contact her at [email protected]

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