Kids Health

When Do Kids Need to Think About Skincare? A Dermatologist Weighs In

written by ZARA HANAWALT

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skincare for tweens"
skincare for tweens
Source: @meetbtwn
Source: @meetbtwn

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with another mom about her daughter’s holiday wishlist. “You’ll never believe what she asked for,” the mom said. “Skincare products—I mean, she’s not even 12.”

But I wasn’t surprised to hear this at all. Across social media, I’ve seen moms sharing that their kids, some as young as 8 or 9 years old, are asking for skincare products from pricey brands like Drunk Elephant or Glow Recipe. Young influencers like Penelope Disick (who is, for the record, 11 years old) have shared their own skincare routines, which are quite involved and include some of these high-end products. And recently, “prejuvination” has emerged as a real trend thanks to Gen Z. FYI: ‘Prejuvination’ refers to preventive treatment for aging, which members of Gen Z (who are all under 26 at the moment) have already begun thinking about, according to recent research.

The bottom line? If your tween is requesting skincare products, you’re not alone.

As a parent, you may be wondering whether you should give in to these requests. Of course, we all love to make our kids happy… but shelling out on expensive skincare products? Is that really necessary for tween and teen skin? And more than that, is it even safe for them to use these products?

What to Know About Skincare for Tweens

Brooke Jeffy, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of youth skincare brand BTWN, frequently creates content around skincare for tweens and teens on social media—she even reacted to Disick’s skincare routine and shared a video urging parents not to buy a certain brand of popular products for their kids. 

Dr. Jeffy spoke with The Everymom to answer common questions about how parents can help their tweens and teens embrace skincare in an age-appropriate way… and whether we should indulge their wishes for pricey products.

First things first. Do tweens and teens even need skincare routines?

Do kids need fancy routines with multiple steps, high-end products, or lots of active ingredients? No. But as their parents, we should be thinking about how to help kids care for their skin, according to Dr. Jeffy. “Tweens and teens do need to establish healthy skincare habits, so they become routine for life,” Dr. Jeffy said.

There’s no real formula for figuring out the exact approach here, but when kids are young, it’s all about the basics… and those basics should be taught earlier than you might think.

“In general, I recommend occasionally pointing out the importance of why we are cleansing, moisturizing, and using sun protection to kids between [ages] 2 and 5. Between ages 6 to 8, [parents can] encourage a consistent routine of daily cleansing of the face at bedtime using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer with SPF in the morning. Between 8 to 10, encourage twice daily cleansing and moisturizing to maintain healthy skin and reduce chances of breakouts,” said Dr. Jeffy.

So… does that mean we should be buying our kids the expensive products our kids are requesting?

Both on social media and in real life, one brand has emerged as a clear favorite among the tweens and teens who are interested in skincare: Drunk Elephant. It makes sense: Items from this brand have the cutest packaging, complete with brightly-colored vessels and a real cool factor. But items from Drunk Elephant aren’t cheap: A full-sized moisturizer from the brand costs over $60, and serums can be even pricier. 

Let’s put it this way: Kids don’t need pricey skincare products, according to Dr. Jeffy, who said there’s “absolutely” no sense in shelling out on expensive skincare for tweens and teens. “[You] certainly can get products that are just as effective at cleansing and moisturizing, [which is] all that kids need in addition to sunscreen, for much less money,” Dr. Jeffy said.

tween skincare
Source: Canva

Aside from the financial toll, is there any danger to allowing kids to use expensive skincare products?

That’s a yes, according to Dr. Jeffy.

“Products with active ingredients that target mature skin issues are often irritating to young skin and damaging to the skin barrier,” the expert said. “When our skin barrier is not working properly, the skin is prone to dryness, breakouts, infections and more susceptible to the negative effects of environmental stressors like ultraviolet radiation from the sun and pollution.”

What are the best skincare products for tween and teen skin?

It’s natural that kids will gravitate towards the products that line Sephora’s shelves. With their beautiful branding, enticing claims, and high-end affiliation, they’re definitely more exciting than a lot of the drugstore brands that earn dermatologists’ stamps of approval for young skin. But steering your child towards those basic products as opposed to the ones they see trending on social media can be better for both your wallet and their skin barrier. 

“I recommend sticking with fragrance-free, oil-free, and non-comedogenic products for most kids,” said Dr. Jeffy. “I like brands like Cetaphil, Cerave, and Vanicream because they meet these requirements, are reasonably priced, and [are] easy to find.”

We get it: Your tween/teen is probably not going to be wildly excited by those options. The good news? Dr. Jeffy’s own line of skincare products, BTWN, may provide both the simplicity and affordability you want in your kids’ skincare products, as well as the fun factor they crave. 

“I created BTWN to be appropriate for young skin but to also feel like a special product made for them that they would want to use,” said Dr. Jeffy.

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When should I allow my teen to dabble in adult skincare products?

How old does someone have to be in order to safely introduce these active ingredients found in adult skincare? That’s a tricky question to answer, according to Dr. Jeffy. For one thing, age isn’t the only factor here, though there are some general guidelines when it comes to using an age-based approach to a skincare routine. 

“Introducing actives is both age and condition-specific. In our late 20s to 30s, everyone should consider using retinol to enhance collagen production and [chemical exfoliants like] AHA/BHA to improve radiance if needed,” said Dr. Jeffy. “These actives can be used in younger kids to address breakouts; however, care must be given to ensure they are not irritating the skin and damaging the skin barrier.”

If your child has any skincare concerns, you’re better off visiting a dermatologist.

It can be really, really tempting to give in to the claims of many popular products, which may promise amazing results for whatever your child is struggling with. There are also social media testimonials about products that can be incredibly persuasive. But you may want to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist instead to figure out the best skincare approach for your child, especially if they have any specific concerns.

“This is so challenging because it is a parent versus the marketing power of the skincare industry. I think it can be helpful to point out that the skin is an organ we have to take care of—it is not just a wall you can do anything to,” said Dr. Jeffy. 

“I also think it opens up the opportunity to have a valuable discussion about who should be relied upon for information,” added Dr. Jeffy. “In the case of skincare, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and aestheticians are who to look to—not celebrities and other teens. Certainly, a visit to a dermatologist can be helpful to come up with a plan everyone involved can feel confident with.”

mom and daughter talking about skincare
Source: Canva

Let’s talk about *why* tweens and teens may be asking for these products.

When I was in my teens (and, if we’re being fully honest, even my early 20s), I barely washed my face. So what’s happened between now and then to make skincare products so appealing to kids?

Chalk it up, at least in part, to the social media effect.

“I think it is all because of social media and desire to fit in and have the trendy products. Everyone experiences this,” said Dr. Jeffy. “I certainly remember as a kid wanting what I saw the popular kids with, but it was just a few things I saw at school. Now, this is just on such a larger scale because kids are seeing everything an influencer has and does throughout the day constantly on their feed.”

“I think it also has to do with how much we see our faces on camera now,” added Dr. Jeffy. “And many school activities are online, so [kids are] constantly seeing themselves on camera. Adults experience this too, and I think are more hyper-focused on appearance and fear of aging, and kids see that concern in their parents, which drives this too.”

So, if your kid asks for skincare products, what’s the best way to handle it?

Understanding that certain products aren’t just ineffective for tween and teen skin but also carry the potential to disrupt their skin barrier is the first step. The second may be to have a frank conversation about the importance of caring for skin in an age-appropriate way—and maybe even weaving in a discussion about social media misinformation and unhealthy beauty standards.

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