teens

Tweens, Sephora, Mecca and the one thing we're all ignoring.

We need to talk about the tweens. Because some of the favourite beauty brands of millennials have now become the viral obsession of Gen Alpha. And people are not happy about it. Labelled as an "epidemic", you don't have to be a beauty lover to notice the slew of stories emerging about tweens taking over some of the world's biggest beauty retailers.

Take a scroll through TikTok and you'll see thousands upon thousands of people calling them out for absolutely 'ruining' their shopping experience — messy testers, gaggling crowds, big lines, sold out products, the lingering scent of Sol Janiero body mist...

Aged-13 and younger, these tweens are the youngest generation after Gen Z. And they have acquired a taste for high-end beauty. Brands like Drunk Elephant, Summer Fridays, Rare Beauty, Charlotte Tilbury, Glow Recipe and the aforementioned Sol Janeiro have exploded in popularity, filling wishlists and beauty baskets around the world.

Watch: Parents of Teenagers: Translated. Post continues.


Video via Mamamia

Kelsey, 13, told Mamamia she used to go to retailers like Sephora and Mecca with her mum, but now likes to go with her friends from school. Some of her favourite products are from viral brands like Drunk Elephant, Rare Beauty and Sol Janiero.

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She told us: "I follow lots of beauty influencers on TikTok and if I see something I like, I'll go and try it in store."

For young girls like Kelsey, these products are way more than just skincare and makeup: they've become something of a status symbol. And the reality of it, especially if you're a millennial, seems particularly jarring. Because this generation doesn't go into chemists and buy Coca Cola-flavoured Lip Smackers and apricot exfoliating scrubs. This generation buys Laneige Lip Sleeping Masks and has a seven-step skincare routines, made up of serums with active ingredients, oils and anti-ageing night creams.

So, how did we get here? What exactly is behind the tween takeover and what does it mean for parents, consumers and big beauty retailers? Here, we examine the rise of tween skincare and the one glaring issue we're ignoring.

What's behind the explosion of tween beauty?

Mamamia spoke with Jennifer Helm*, mother of 12-year-old daughter Alexandra.

She said, "My daughter has always loved makeup and all things 'girly' but the skincare fascination started early last year. She was talking about Drunk Elephant and Glow Recipe as well as Sol de Janeiro and a number of her friends were buying these products — it was very on trend."

"Then there was talk of, 'skincare routines' and when she asked me what a serum was, I wondered where she was getting this information. She does not have social media so I believe it's been a combination of YouTube and her peers," Helm said.

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"My initial response was that she didn't need to use anything other than sunscreen. I told her that serums were for my age and it wasn't something she had to worry about. I allowed her a basic cleanser, moisturiser and SPF from a clean beauty brand. There was pressure to get products that her other friends had, and on a day out shopping with friends she purchased some Glow Recipe products. I explained why these weren't necessary and returned the items."

Dermatologist Dr Katherine Armour told Mamamia, "As the mum of a pre-teen, the 10 to 12-year-old age group is obsessed with TikTok. Its quick-fire posts are very attractive to them, and this age group seem to bond and interact a lot through discussing TikTok."

"TikTok is currently flooded with posts of 10 to 12-year-olds discussing and applying multi-step skincare routines that they feel they require for their already perfect skin. Even more concerning, are the posts where mothers are present while their 10-year-olds apply six or seven products from highly active skincare brands. In my opinion, the parental presence may validate this approach as being necessary."

As you'd probably expect, it's not just parents and experts noticing this shift, but retailers too.

Mamamia spoke to a store manager from Sephora, who shared just how powerful the impact of social media has on the purchasing power of tweens, particularly when it comes to skincare.

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"If a brand has trended on TikTok, you can almost guarantee it will be out of stock in all stores," they said.

"In recent times, brands such as Laneige and The Ordinary have surged, with a spotlight on the Laneige Lip Sleeping Masks and The Ordinary serums. Tweens love to feel a part of the wider social media community and by simply using the same products as their favourite influencers, making them feel seen and relevant."

Maia Bryant, MECCA Head of Skincare said, "It’s not new to see teenagers experimenting with beauty as a way of self-expression and self-care. For some it might be playing with colour, changing up their hair, or spritzing the latest body mist, while for others it’s embracing the daily ritual of a skincare routine."

"With the rise of TikTok, customers have access to more information, beauty hacks, tips and tricks than ever before. As a result, we’re seeing customers of all ages coming in to store to try out new products and brands that they’ve seen online."

The main issue, however, is the fact that many of these products aren't meant for young skin.

As Dr Armour points out, brands like Drunk Elephant are being touted by dozens of pre-teens on TikTok as being appropriate for their skin — when many products contain certain ingredients that can be much too harsh.

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"The commentary is mostly around texture and feel," Dr Armour told us. "This is important, but, obviously gives no indication of the effect on the skin. The more pre-teens that post about loving a brand, the more aspirational it becomes to a fairly vulnerable age group."

"Secondly, the packaging and branding around Drunk Elephant is striking and based around vivid colours, which I think is particularly attractive to this age group."

The best way to illustrate the insane popularity of brands like Drunk Elephant is to look at the fact that there's a whole market that exists in selling 'empties' to parents.

Not only can you now find 'opened' or 'used' Drunk Elephant products for sale on sites like Facebook Marketplace or eBay, but also completely empty packaging that parents are using to fill with something cheaper. With Drunk Elephant skincare ranging anywhere between $25 to $215, it's not hard to see why parents are becoming increasingly pressured to seek other avenues.

For parents like Jennifer, the power of paid influencers marketing to their tweens has never been more concerning — or unattainable.

"It makes them feel they need an elaborate skincare routine, at that age they just don't have the ability to discern when they are being marketed to," she told us.

"There is also the fixation on appearance — why can't they just be kids and not worry about ageing at this stage in life? Oh, and have you seen the pricing!"

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The issue with using wrong skincare at a young age.

Not only are some ingredients unnecessary for young, healthy skin, but experts say the over-use of actives like exfoliating acids, retinols and vitamin C can actually cause a wealth of skin issues.

"Actives are completely unnecessary in young skin, unless an individual has a skin condition such as acne," said Dr Armour. "As adults, pre-teen skin is the holy grail what we are all trying to re-capture with our own use of active skincare and cosmetic procedures!"

"We need to divide active skincare ingredients into those that are highly likely to cause irritation, and those that aren’t. Niacinamide, panthenol, and peptides are not necessary in the skin of this age group. But, they are unlikely to cause irritation."

"However, in pre-teens with normal skin (I.E. not oily or acne prone) actives such as retinoids, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and vitamin C not only carry a risk of significant irritation, but they are quite likely to trigger skin conditions such as periorificial dermatitis, which can be challenging to treat."

Dr Armour goes on to explain that pre-teen skin is still quite sensitive and is not designed to be assaulted on a daily basis by topical irritants.

She said, "The problem is that a lot of the skincare that pre-teens are purchasing is designed for ageing and sun-damaged adult skin which is highly active."

As Sephora's store manager told Mamamia: "Not every product is made for every skin type and age range. I think parents should be wary of viral products containing actives that are formulated with more mature clients in mind."

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"A tween really does NOT need retinol in their routine and we absolutely look out for this in store to ensure tweens and parents are leaving educated around this."

MECCA's Maia Bryant added, "Just because a product works for one person, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone, so we always recommend seeking expert advice."

"Our store hosts are highly-educated beauty experts who love spending time with customers, understanding their needs and passing on their knowledge to help them make the best decisions for their skin. However, if you’re concerned about your child’s skin condition, we’d always recommend speaking to a medical professional."   

So, what should a tween skincare routine look like?

When it comes to what a tween skincare routine should actually look like, Dr Armour said first and foremost, attention should be turned to sunscreen. And with a market bursting with new generation, easy-to-wear formulations, it's never been easier to love sun care.

"Three hundred and sixty-five per year, and reapplied two-hourly as much as possible during the hot months to protect their perfect complexions. With the rise of so many amazing, elegant sunscreen products in Australia, let’s make sunscreen really aspirational and attractive to this age group."

As Dr Amour shared, a gentle, non-foaming cleanser at night can also be used to "avoid congestion and comedone formation which can start to become problematic in this age group", along with a "simple, fragrance-free moisturiser at night after cleansing to protect the skin barrier."

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"A lotion is most appropriate for oilier or combination skin types, whilst a light cream would suit dry and normal skin."

For the pre-teen who is really keen and pushing to use active skincare, our expert said a niacinamide-based product will be gentle and potentially helpful in terms of acne prevention. 

"If your pre-teen is showing the first signs of acne, then adding low concentration (up to two per cent) salicylic acid to niacinamide can help to deal with congestion. Peptides are often discussed, but are completely unnecessary in pre-teens."

The culture of shaming tween girls.

It's almost impossible to talk about the explosion of tween beauty without drawing attention to the underlying culture of tween shaming. Because as the conversation has escalated on social media, becoming increasing layered with opinions, stories and experiences, it seems the focus is being drawn away from the effect of the beauty industry on young girls, to the criticising of the actual tweens shopping at beauty retailers.

There are posts encouraging people to 'normalise being mean to little girls'. One of the latest trends has people filming tween girls in store, commenting on what they're purchasing and posting it TikTok. It's problematic for many reasons, but there's one glaring issue at the crux of it. Put simply, this is the culture we've essentially created for these young girls. 

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Beauty is big business. And there's a lot of money to be made in telling young girls they need to have perfect skin. And while brands in recent times have learnt to embrace different language and connotations around skin and injected different, 'skin-positive' terminology into beauty's advertising vocabulary ('radiant skin'! 'Glow-enhancing'! 'Rejuvenating'!), the fact is that these are still pillars young girls are striving to achieve. Because let's be clear. The beauty industry is still turning girls' insecurities into purchasing power. And that's not their fault. 

So where does this leave us? For parents like Jennifer, the struggle to 'keep up' with her child's skincare obsession is exhausting — and expensive.

"There should be a responsibility on retailers to not sell inappropriate products to children and to provide warnings/advice. I would say product labelling and perhaps an age appropriate 'tween' section may help, as well as staff being educated on what is and isn't suitable for young skin."

"It's just another layer of stress; the potential harming of their skin, the issue of keeping up with trends/peers, the impact of influencers and social media, the cost."

"As a mother, I feel really passionate about this issue, I'm so disheartened that young girls feel the need to worry about this and be so appearance focused at a time in life where they should be enjoying childhood and all the simplicity it offers," adds Jennifer.

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Drawing from her own experience, Dr Armour suggests parents engage with why their tween wants to use skincare, rather than being dismissive.

"Is it because all their friends are using certain products? Is it because they’ve seen it all over TikTok? Or because they have a particular concern about their own skin?"

"I would discuss the fact that a lot of the products being used by tweens on TikTok are not formulated for their skin, but, are targeted towards ageing and sun damaged skin, and can potentially give them a skin problem that they don’t currently have. Finally, I’d discuss the fact that it’s possible to access all the skincare ingredients that you need without spending a fortune."

"Let’s make sun protection sexy in this age group! If our young ones develop good sun protection behaviour early in life and carry it through, then the rates of skin cancer development in future generations should improve and their skin will age well."

* Name changed for privacy.

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What do you think of tweens and skincare? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty/Mecca/Sephora/Canva.