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Skin Deep: Navigating the Tween and Teen Beauty Craze

Last updated: May 2, 2024

Do your tweens and teens have more skin care and makeup products than you? If so, you’re not alone.

Sometimes referred to as “Sephora teens” because of their obsession with skin care, tweens and teens are becoming major consumers of skin care and makeup products. Kids as young as 8 are buying into the trend.

Social media is the primary driver. Videos highlighting teen influencers demonstrating their skin care and makeup routines are popular on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

Altered Reality

Young people may not understand that influencers don’t necessarily have their best interests in mind. Many could be simply promoting a product to make money, get free merchandise, or “gain clicks” for themselves.

“Skin appearance has always been a major part of the self-esteem of tweens and teens,” says Dr. Abby Smolcich, a Pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. “Today, social media adds more pressure for kids to look good.”

We’re all accustomed to seeing celebrities and movie stars with perfect-looking skin, but that’s not reality.

“Photos and videos of famous people are often highly modified. Many celebrities have strict rules about how they can be shown, and the same is true of teen influencers,” Dr. Smolcich says. “The faces they project in their photos and videos likely have been edited to make people’s skin look perfect. Don’t believe all you see or read online. Photos and videos can and do project false images.”

When Skin Care Goes Too Far

Attention to skin care isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s beneficial for kids to develop good skin care habits, Dr. Smolcich says.

“However, some of the products being touted online are too harsh for young skin and may cause future problems for these kids,” she says. “And many of them are quite expensive when common drugstore brands such as CeraVe, Cetaphil, Neutrogena, and Eucerin may be just as effective.”

Dr. Smolcich warns about products that contain retinol, antioxidants, and exfoliating acids.

“These compounds are not appropriate for tweens and teens,” she says. “Extended exposure to these harsh chemicals can irritate young skin, causing a scaly rash or other allergic dermatitis. Older people need these products, not teens.”

A Healthy Routine

Less is more when it comes to kids and skin care. Dr. Smolcich recommends this basic routine for most tweens and teens — girls and boys alike:

  • Face washing with water and a gentle cleanser twice daily — in the morning and before bed. Use fingertips for washing. Washcloths or skin scrubbers may irritate skin.
  • Choose oil-free skin care and makeup products.
  • Apply a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free or unscented moisturizer on skin at night or if skin feels dry.
  • Apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 along with a physical blocker, such as zinc oxide, daily — rain, snow, clouds, or sunshine. Reapply every 90 minutes to two hours if sweating or swimming.

Acne Worries

Acne is a concern for many tweens and teens. Dr. Smolcich recommends that young people wash their face with a mild cleanser after any sweat-generating activity and avoid going to bed with makeup on. In addition, wash sheets and pillowcases weekly so dirt and oils don’t transfer back to the skin.

Dr. Smolcich also noted it is important to avoid picking at or popping pimples. This can lead to scarring and infection or cause the blemish to take longer to heal.

“It’s so tempting to pop a pimple, but letting natural healing deal with an outbreak is best,” she says.

A healthy diet also makes a difference.  

“Research shows a connection between consuming high levels of sugar and skin breakouts,” Dr. Smolcich says. “Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and drinking lots of water all help promote healthy skin.”

Finally, stay away from smoke exposure.

“Tweens and teens should avoid being around smoke and smoking,” Dr. Smolcich says. “All types of cigarettes — including e-cigarettes, vaping, and secondhand smoke — are bad for anyone’s skin.”

If skin concerns persist, parents should have their child see a pediatrician, family medicine provider, or dermatologist. They can offer recommendations and reinforce positive messages.

“Some skin problems need a little extra help beyond what over-the-counter products can provide, and there are many options doctors can choose from,” Dr. Smolcich says. “Sometimes if the teen is using an inappropriate product that’s causing a skin problem, they may listen to their doctor more so than their parents about discontinuing its use.”

Discuss skin care and other concerns with your child’s provider.

Tags: acne Sephora teens social media tween and teen skin care

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