Sephora Tweens: The Culprits or the Victims?

- 5 minute read
Digital Content Specialist​

Gemma Elgar is a Digital Content Specialist at Foundation where she creates and executes content strategies, including site copy, blog content, and more. She also conducts social media campaigns for our clients, and has spoken on a panel about creating sensitive campaigns for niche audiences.

Expensive, high-end skin care with strong ingredients and anti-ageing effects has become a trending interest among child and tween girls.

Ingredients like retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which promote collagen production and fine-line prevention, have become something of a holy grail in skincare for adult audiences; from the age of about 25, our skin’s natural collagen levels begin to decline, and as a result, our skin loses some of its youthful firmness.

Retinol can help bring back some of that natural glow, but when you’re under 25 and your collagen levels are still fine, could this have a negative, or even long-lasting effect on the structure of your skin?

These ingredients, and certain brands that promote them, have become a recent source of controversy within the beauty industry due to the infatuation that young girls, or ‘Sephora Tweens’, have found in them.

What are Sephora Tweens?

Image Source: Freepik

Young girls, particularly pre-teens, have for a long time found community through makeup and beauty. Most women will remember playing dress up and using flip-phone makeup kits with their siblings and friends at a younger age. With the power of social media, this has transitioned to following the most viral skincare trends, but many skincare brands and influencers are perhaps not considering the age or influenceability of some of their demographic.

As with many media concerns, a lot of this phenomenon can be traced back to a lack, or misrepresentation, of information. Dubbed as ‘Sephora Tweens’, young girls are seeing these products going viral and being promoted by their favourite influencers and want to be involved, without understanding exactly what they’re designed to do.

Community in girlhood is often about spending time and engaging in activities with your peers, as well as relating your own life to the older women you admire. If a girl’s favourite celebrity is endorsing a Drunk Elephant retinol product, chances are she’ll want to use it, too.

Child Influencers

Kourtney and Penelope
Image source: @pandkourt TikTok

One of the most lethal sections of this Venn diagram is the section of child influencers, who fill the role of being someone to aspire to while also still feeling like a peer.

Some names to pay particular attention to here are some of the Kardashian children, most notably North West and Penelope Disick, both of whom went viral on TikTok for sharing their skincare routines. 11-year-old Penelope’s routine included the likes of Drunk Elephant, Dior, Honest, and Charlotte Tilbury. 9-year-old North’s featured many of the same, and included a toner, serum, and even an eye cream.

Due to the source of the influencing content, many of the top-trending skincare products are rather pricey, and not plausible anyway for many standard-income families. But as a birthday treat given without the proper research? These products are not impossible for children and tweens to gain access to.

This amount of skincare seems excessive for a child anyway, but many doctors have now raised concerns about the trend, stating that it could create long-term, irreversible damage to their still-developing skin.

Is It Bad to Use Retinol Too Young?

The skin barrier is very sensitive to active ingredients like AHA and retinol. When your skin is ageing and you want to see the effects of these ingredients, this becomes a good thing; it means it’s easy for the ingredients to penetrate the skin and have an active effect. But, these ingredients are strong; even when used on mature skin, many doctors and skincare professionals recommend building up retinol usage so as not to shock or damage the skin.

The entire makeup of your skin when you’re young is different to an adult’s. The stratum corneum is thinner, water handling is different, and the natural amount of moisture and lipid production is lower than an adult’s. More generally speaking, the skin barrier is even thinner, leaving children and tweens’ skin much more sensitive to external factors and susceptible to irritation.

Children as young as eight are asking for skincare products designed for fully matured, adult skin, which could cause major long-term damage to young faces.

Retinol serum

Appealing to the Wrong Audience

To some, this trend might feel like it’s been a long time coming. Miniature makeup kits and shops like Claire’s have for a long time been encouraged as child-friendly introductions to adult interests of health and beauty. But, some brands are now being criticised for creating misleading content, using models in TikToks and Instagram reels that appear too young to be using the products that they advertise. In fact, many of these brands also often don’t even mention a minimum age requirement for certain products.

What’s more, the gamification and novelty packaging that some brands use with their products makes them desirable to a younger audience, but the ingredient list may well contradict the packaging. Whether this is a Bubble moisturiser that pops up in the shape of a flower, a Star Face pimple patch that turns a blemish into a cutesy sticker opportunity, or the brands that have come under the most heat during the tween skincare phenomenon – Drunk Elephant.

The bright colours, colloquial language, and playful graphics of Drunk Elephant make it a brand that appeals heavily to both Gen Z and Gen Alpha, despite many of its products including strong active ingredients. As a result and to help combat users’ concerns, the brand made a statement on Instagram listing some of their products that are ‘safe for kids and tweens to use’.

The Western Fear of Ageing

The beauty industry has long since been aware of the Western fear of ageing, and many brands have capitalised on this fact by creating their own wrinkle remedies and anti-ageing products. In recent years and months, however, this fear has trickled down to the youngest, and most easily influenced, of us all.

Sephora Tweens are being criticised for their want to be involved in the adult skincare trends, but is this any different to trends of the past? Young girls have always aspired to be like the women around them, so is this not a case of the same? While the aspiration itself is not a harmful one (maybe it can even be seen as wholesome), the nature of this exact situation potentially is.

The younger generations that are growing up alongside tech can be savvy in their research, with questions like ‘is skincare good for 10 year olds’ and ‘is retinol bad for young skin’ receiving 140 and 260 monthly search volumes in Google, respectively. But the information that’s out there is confusing when brands promote conflicting content around who can or can’t use their products. It’s up to the brands, the influencers, and the parents to help younger girls understand the danger these products expose their skin to, and to help them find an alternative that still lets them feel involved.

How Foundation Can Help

At Foundation, we can help you market your brand to the audience who should see it. Through paid media, SEO, digital strategy and more, we’ll help you target the right people while staying aware of current societal conversations and trends.

Our digital marketers are specialists in marketing for the beauty industry. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help your business.

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