‘I concern the hurt TikTok magnificence merchandise are doing to my teenage daughters’ pores and skin’

I was 14 when my mum, tired of my constant complaints about my spotty skin and secret pilfering of her concealer, took me to see our GP. He nodded sympathetically and handed me a prescription for a topical cream called Quinoderm, which was so strong it bleached my white pillowcases and school shirts a nasty shade of yellow. That was 30 years ago. Thankfully, skincare has become much more sophisticated and nuanced, and skin education is easily accessible. We now know young skin is more delicate, sensitive and reactive.

So why, then, are dermatologists reporting children – some as young as 8 – are experiencing the same skin complaints I had three decades ago, and requesting luxury skincare products as a result? I asked the experts: my daughters, Violet, 15 and Ivy, 12.

Both girls have developed expensive tastes for high-end skincare brands whose sleek-looking products are visually enticing, but filled with potent ingredients which are better suited to my midlife skin than their own. Their interest is primarily driven by the prestige and social influence these products afford them among their friends. 

This holds greater appeal than skin health, even if they vehemently deny it, it’s true. Both are also heavily influenced by the content creators they follow on TikTok and other social media who showcase their skincare routines via GRWM (Get Ready With Me) videos.

When I was a teen, there was no “routine” and I used basic, unfragranced, no-thrills creams from Simple and Nivea that my mum picked up at the supermarket in her weekly shop. It wasn’t until I began earning my own money that I graduated to using Clinique. Here’s the thing, though. Despite my daughters’ ability to effortlessly pronounce complex ingredients like “niacinamide” – a form of vitamin B3 renowned for its extensive skin benefits – they lack the fundamental understanding of an ingredient’s functions, the importance of concentration levels, and how it may interact with other products in their skincare routine.

High-end skincare is today’s tween and teen’s status symbol, and this sudden obsession from teenagers is understandably having a knock-on effect with retailers. “We recognise that we are attracting a new young customer into our stores and online, which has been driven in large part by the rise in popularity of brands that we carry on social media,” a spokesperson from SpaceNK tells me. Type “Sephora Tween” into Google, and you’ll see pages of news stories reporting skincare-obsessed tweens flooding the Sephora beauty aisles and demanding makeovers whilst filling their baskets with premium-priced skincare. Admittedly this is much more prevalent in America rather than the UK, but I’m noticing first-hand how social media trends are being filtered down to real life with my daughters and their friends

As you’d expect, the use of age-inappropriate products can cause harm and actually create skin issues. It’s quite frankly mind-boggling that some young teens are requesting anti-ageing products. Consultancy Dermatologist Dr Emma Craythorne tells me that “more problematic is the actual causing of skin disease from inappropriate use, so young teens using retinol or acids may be triggering their rosacea or inflaming their eczema.” Angela Taylor, the Education Director of the skincare brand Dermalogica, adds that “children are being exposed to potentially harmful content and misinformation and are often following trends that simply aren’t relevant to their age or skin condition.”

I keep a strict eye on what Violet and Ivy are applying to their faces because, as a parent, my job is to keep them safe, which includes their skin. We methodically check the back of medicine bottles before administering them to our kids, so we should approach skincare similarly. 

“Young skin is delicate. Skincare at this age should be about maintaining skin health with daily gentle cleansing and light moisturising to maintain barrier health,” adds Taylor. “Cellular turnover works at optimum speed in childhood, so we don’t need exfoliation and retinoids to accelerate that further. Use of ‘actives’ can over-process the skin, causing skin barrier damage, dryness and irritation.”

Skincare can be a minefield for uninitiated parents, but the good news is that it’s not tricky establishing a good, basic skincare routine. In fact, a consistent routine is important, says Dr Craythorne, who suggests that a gentle cleanser, moisturiser, and SPF are all your teen needs. For oilier skins, they can skip the moisturiser. It’s as simple as that. 

The less they do to their skin with as few products as possible, containing the fewest ingredients, the better for their short-term and long-term skin health. And if your kid is even muttering under their breath about skin ageing, tell them to wear SPF every day. It gets no more preventative than that. I wish I had known that 30 years ago.

What my kids use

Fun and functional

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