Family, Kids & Relationships

Advice Column: What should I say to my skincare- and beauty-obsessed tween?

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Q: Elaborate (and expensive) skincare routines are apparently all the rage with teens and tweens right now, and my 9-year-old is starting to ask questions. She said her friends were talking about a Drunk Elephant product that you “have to have” to get glowing skin, and it turns out that product is over $100! 

Now my kid is angry that I won’t let her get any skincare products beyond a simple cleanser. I just worry that she’ll start becoming obsessed with her appearance and feel that she has to “keep up” with the other girls. Should I let her try out some of the products she’s asking about? Or is she too young to start getting into skincare? 

A: By now you may have seen some headlines about “Sephora kids” and “Ulta addicts.” It seems that a lot of kids, even as young as 8 years old, are becoming very interested in skin care routines and anti-aging serums—some to the point of swarming the free samples at beauty stores, or convincing their parents to spend hundreds of dollars on products. It makes sense to wonder whether it’s a harmless trend, or if it could actually be putting too much focus on appearance and unrealistic beauty standards. 

“Glass skin” is the look many teens are going for, which means skin that is blemish-free, smooth, and even-toned. Unfortunately, many of the visual examples of this largely unattainable standard come from social media, and have been either retouched, filtered, or AI-generated. To attain this look, they may resort to anti-aging products, or products with active ingredients like salicylic acid, retinols, and peptides.

However, doctors do not recommend any products for kids beyond a gentle cleanser, a facial moisturizer with SPF for the daytime, and a gentle facial moisturizer for the evening if they have dry skin. Harsher products can irritate or dry out younger skin.

Skincare can, however, be a part of a good hygiene routine, which is a great habit to start building now with just a couple of simple, gentle products. So the answer here is to work with your kid towards striking a balance between good hygiene and an unhealthy obsession with appearance and aging.

Ask her why she wants to try these products, and what her goals are from her skincare routine. If you hear any red flags, like wanting “glass skin,” wanting to keep up with her friends, or potentially unhealthy worries about her appearance, it’s a good time to talk with her about her self-image and reinforce her confidence a little. 

If she’s simply interested in experimenting with gentle products, or thinks of it as a fun hobby, you might let her pick out a fun (but gentle) moisturizer, or even a gentle face mask to do together one evening. 

Here’s what parents are saying

We asked our community of parents on Instagram what they think about the growing skincare trend, and there were lots of different opinions.

Some parents voiced concerns about teens and tweens using anti-aging products, and potentially developing an unhealthy self-image…

“I tried to explain to my 9-, almost 10- year old she doesn’t need all that. I told her all she needs is a good face cleanser and face lotion. She came home with a face toner from her cousin and she didn’t even know what is 🤦🏾‍♀️. Her cousin is also 9.”

“Interest in taking care of skin? Great! Worrying about anti-aging before puberty? Nope. This is part of the reason I refuse to let my kid have a smartphone. (I can’t believe how many kids her age have phones with social media and internet 😨). Annnnd if I do need to get her a phone it’s gonna be something without the internet. It really worries me kids at this age are already this consumed with ‘not aging’.”

“It’s harmful when they’re allowed to use the wrong products at a young age.. like certain serums are unnecessary and anything with acids in it shouldn’t be used on a pre teen skin and barley on teenager skin 😮‍💨 other than that it’s kind of like a part of hygiene like washing their hands and brushing their teeth!”

“I think age appropriate skincare that’s part of regular hygiene and taking care of our bodies is good. I think messages about aging and glass skin and multi step routines when our kids are pre teens is potentially very problematic. I think taking my kid to a dermatologist and having a conversation about age appropriate skin care, esp as it relates to acne or sun protection is the way I’ll go.”

“The argument isn’t about teaching their kids proper hygiene in self care, it’s those who go to extremes and allow their kids to put so much stock into their appearance. We already have a huge problem with body insecurities as it is.”

Some parents wish their teen would spend more time on skincare, and think it’s perfectly normal for kids to become interested in grooming and products…

“Definitely a worrying trend that kids under 8 think they need anti-aging things. But I totally get the appeal of things that feel nice on your skin. It reminds me of being a kid and wanting lip gloss. I think teaching them at this age to care for your skin is easy. If they want a ‘regimen’ – do a double cleanse and a moisturizer and a sunscreen.”

“My teen daughter is definitely into skincare and I’m proud of her. She washes her face with a gentle cleanser, uses SPF, and moisturizes. This is hygiene and also cancer prevention. And if she asks for a fun skincare splurge for a holiday gift, I’m all for it as long as it’s appropriate and safe for her skin. We are blaming teen girls for what capitalism has done.”

“My middle school aged daughter is very into her ‘skincare routine’. But so was I at that age- makeup, moisturizers, face washes- and I wasn’t influenced by social media. So I think it’s perfectly normal.”

“If my kid is old enough to care for a monthly period and get skin issues, then yes, I think it’s healthy to explore and have an interest in skincare. I did at a young age! I was obsessed with magazines. It was my version of ‘tik tok’. I’m not shaming my kid for trying to learn how skin works and what products work.”

“Your skin is your largest organ. If someone of any age is interested in taking care of themselves and their skin, how fantastic, let’s learn about how to do that.”

“My tween doesn’t even want to wash their face. 😂

Generally, parents agreed that there needs to be a balance between a healthy hygiene routine and an unhealthy obsession with appearance and aging.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.