Parenting

What’s the ‘Right’ Age for Kids to Start Wearing Makeup? An Expert Weighs In

written by KATHERINE BALLESTA-ROSEN

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Source: Kampus Production | Pexels
Source: Kampus Production | Pexels

How many of us can remember when we were little, there was something super fun about popping open one of those bright tubes of scented Lip Smacker or Claire’s glittery lip gloss and smoothing it across our lips? Or perhaps it was sweeping those spongy little eyeshadow applicators across your eyelids with a palette of colors. But is that when you would say you started wearing makeup?

A child’s first reaction to makeup is usually curiosity and play. Maybe they’re mimicking their mom, dressing up for Halloween, or even attending a Taylor Swift-themed party. That makeup use seems innocent enough. Except there’s a different energy when kids start using makeup to feel better about their appearance or to fit in. It’s this transition out of the innocence of exploring makeup into the pressures of beauty standards that feels like it’s happening earlier and earlier.

Younger kids are taking a deep dive into makeup and skincare products (even retinol!) like never before. Take the “Sephora kids,” for example. For those unfamiliar, a wave of viral TikTok videos spotlighting unsupervised Gen Alpha pre-teen girls flooding Sephora and wreaking havoc as they shopped for and tested products initiated interesting conversations around kids and makeup. Some questioned the targeted marketing of leading makeup and skincare brands. While others wondered at what age young people “should” be shopping for these products to begin with.

With all of that in mind, we wanted to get to the bottom of understanding the “right” age kids should start wearing makeup. Beyond that, if and when your child starts wearing makeup, how can you encourage them to have a positive relationship with it? We posed these questions and more to a leading makeup and skincare expert, Cassandra Bankson. Keep reading to learn what we discovered!

Is there a “right” age for kids to start wearing makeup?

With almost two decades of experience in the skincare and beauty industry, Bankson has encountered makeup wearers of nearly all ages. Bankson’s answer was, “Nope! There is not necessarily a right age to start wearing makeup. It’s the same way there isn’t a perfect time to wear certain clothing or be responsible enough to babysit others.” What’s more important, she expressed, is the role parents play. What’s their sense of what is and is not appropriate, and why? What purpose is the makeup going to be serving? Is it stemming from creative inspiration or an insecurity? Ultimately, Bankson affirms, “the ‘right age’ depends on each individual situation and each family.” 

little girl and makeup
Source: Canva

Makeup and maturity

Bankson also pointed out that makeup readiness is usually better judged by maturity rather than age. For instance, of course, a 4-year-old wearing heavy eyelashes and bright red lipstick probably wouldn’t be appropriate unless it was an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. However, she encouraged parents to be “involved, supportive, and understanding of their child’s current life stage and developmental needs” first.

Whether it’s for a corrective purpose or the pleasure of using it, there are a variety of emotional and environmental factors that could guide a child toward makeup. Bankson used the example of a child being born with a congenital nevi (birthmark) or skin pigmentation disorder—if they were being teased about it at school, they might want to start wearing makeup to reduce its appearance starting at a relatively young age. Meanwhile, if a child has an older sibling (or a close friend with an older sibling) who wears makeup, their desire to use it might bloom earlier. There are also kids who, for no obvious rhyme or reason, develop a fascination and talent for something simply because it clicks. It might happen at different ages for different kids, and yet they could all be “ready” for makeup.

Rethinking kids and makeup

Makeup as play and identity exploration

From fluffy brushes to fun colors and an abundance of choices for your lips, cheeks, and eyes, the possibilities are endless. It’s no wonder so many kids turn to makeup for play, first and foremost. Even leading toy brands have developed pretend makeup play kits because they understand its entertainment potential. Kids, tweens, and teens are all about discovering their niche for hands-on fun. Playing with makeup could be that extra exciting element that brings who they are to life. “Instead of thinking of it as ‘just makeup,’ think of it as identity exploration,” Bankson advised.

In the best-case scenarios, Bankson also noted that kids, tweens, and teens could be turning to makeup to discover new ways of self-expression that bring them joy. They might be interested in trying on different identities for the pure curiosity of it, such as preppy or girly girl versus gothic or punk. It’s up to the parents to assess and decide if their child’s makeup use is for positive reasons. As far as stamping on the “right” age for that? Bankson comes from the mindset that “developmental self-exploration is very important,” and it’s worthwhile for parents to be sensitive to the fact that “that can happen at different ages and times for different kids.”

Little boys and makeup

We have more liberated gender norms and fluid gender identities than ever. Even so, we’re guessing some parents might have mixed feelings if their little boy lights up around makeup. Bankson approached a boy’s budding interest in makeup much the same way she discussed above: with earnest questions and listening. It’s the root cause and underlying desire behind their makeup interest that’s worth understanding. Boys are as curious as anybody about exploring who they are and how to express themselves. Playing or experimenting with makeup could be one resource they turn to.  

Beyond that, “Men and young boys deserve to enhance the features of themselves that they like and diminish the ones that make them feel insecure, especially if they are being bullied,” Bankson advocated. What’s encouraging is that she said she’s noticing a societal shift, with more boys, men, and people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds being open to start wearing makeup (if you’re curious about what’s trending, check out War Paint for Men). “Regardless of gender and sexual orientation, there are many young people who choose to use makeup creatively or correctively,” she explained. It’s up to us as parents to champion their use supportively, starting from whenever that glimmer of interest first arises.  

Source: Canva

Validating your child’s choice to wear makeup

It can be so easy for parents to dismiss a kid’s genuine enthusiasm for makeup. Especially if they think it is something age-inappropriate or superficial. So how can parents approach makeup in ways that support their child’s self-esteem and well-being, rather than shutting them down “because you said so”? Bankson recommended asking a diversity of questions about their makeup use to truly listen. Why are they interested in wearing makeup? How do they choose what to use? Where are they learning about it?

If you don’t like an answer, try asking from a different angle. Let’s say you ask your child why they’re drawn to makeup. They tell you it makes them look prettier, but you feel that diminishes their ability to value their inner beauty. Sure, lecturing them about the importance of feeling beautiful with or without makeup is one option. But asking them why being pretty is important to them could prove more fruitful. They might surprise you with their answer. Maybe they feel bolder making new friends, or maybe they’re being bullied for their appearance. 

As Bankson put it, asking questions and showing your interest is “helpful for understanding the root cause of your child’s interest in starting to wear makeup.” She considers things like, “Is it creative? Is it something that they watch you do as a part of your routine every morning? Is something else happening that they feel they need to cover or hide?” By taking the time to really understand, you can show empathy for how they’re feeling from their point of view. And get a pulse on what’s actually motivating them. Speaking of which, if you’re a makeup wearer, be prepared to tell your child why you use it! Your motivation can have a significant impact on theirs, whether you’re fully aware of it or not. 

“If you’re a makeup wearer, be prepared to tell your child why you use it! Your motivation can have a significant impact on theirs, whether you’re fully aware of it or not.” 

Setting boundaries with your kids about makeup

What if you notice your kid is overdoing their makeup? No matter the extent of makeup, Bankson still stands behind an encouraging, nonjudgmental approach. “One of the best ways to go about this is by exploring through open-minded questions and curiosity,” she urged. Some questions she suggests are:

  • What draws you to that color of lipstick, shade of eyeshadow, or design of eyeliner? (or whatever noticeable makeup feature you’re concerned about)
  • Is this a makeup look that you came up with yourself, or that you saw somebody else wearing? 
  • How do you think other people are going to react if they see you wearing this look/color?
  • How do you hope they will react to you wearing this makeup? 

Obviously, your child telling you they wanted to try on their favorite color or that they wanted to fit in with what influencers so-and-so are doing are two very different answers. Still, by being thoughtful with questions, you’re more likely to have an open conversation. You’ll be able to clarify their intentions with their makeup choices. From there, you can decide what kind of support or intervention makes the most sense. 

When it’s actually “too much”

Bankson did confirm that she believes there is such a thing as using “too much” makeup. Particularly if it’s being used as a “shield” or “crutch” to cope with insecurities. While she acknowledged that “each parent and each family is going to have a different perspective of what is or is not too much for their child,” it’s essential that kids “see that they have talents, creativity, and ways that they can benefit the world outside of what they look like.” If you’re getting the sense your child is relying on an excess of makeup to glaze over a deeper issue, periodically invite them to express their feelings with you. It may not change their relationship to makeup overnight, but it can spark compassion and validation with possible ripple effects down the line.     

Meanwhile, if your child’s start to wearing makeup feels extreme and in need of more immediate attention, Bankson has a few helpful tips:

  • Set boundaries for how and when they can wear it, such as in any “safe place” with friends and family, or on the weekends at home
  • Share appropriate makeup styles and inspiration with them or explore makeup content together online 
  • Try a makeup tutorial together

The key is still having windows of opportunity for self-expression through makeup. On the other hand, by not relying on it as often, a child can start to internalize “that the world does not give them favoritism or different treatment based on how they look,” Bankson said. By bonding with your child around makeup’s intricacies in constructive ways, you may have more of a positive influence on how they engage with it.

Social media’s influence on kids and makeup

Bankson has a balanced outlook on social media’s relationship to kids and their interest in makeup. Here are some of the pros and cons: 

The benefits of social media for kids and makeup

Bankson put community at the top of her list. Through online makeup communities, kids get the chance to tap into their critical thinking and decision-making skills. They can interact with brands, tips, styles, budgeting, and more. Every interaction requires them to dial in on what they’re really thinking. They also have the chance to befriend like-minded users and develop lasting connections.

Equally rewarding around their community engagement over makeup is the chance for self-expression and self-exploration. Older kids, tweens, and teens are starting to wrap their heads around that lifelong question of “Who am I?” Socializing about makeup can have a hand in shaping their answer. “Makeup can give young people the ability to try on different personalities, find out what they believe in, what they stand for, and what sort of groups they do or don’t fit in with,” Bankson shared. Of course, there are many avenues to self-discovery. Nevertheless, it’s important we celebrate that makeup adds layers to it, including through the lens of social media.   

“Makeup can give young people the ability to try on different personalities, find out what they believe in, what they stand for, and what sort of groups they do or don’t fit in with.”

The other major benefit social media brings to makeup use is confidence. Sure, in an ideal world, none of us would need makeup or a captive audience to feel good about ourselves. Realistically, Bankson pointed out, “Makeup can give kids a temporary boost of confidence that allows them to do new things. To speak to a new person, to take on a difficult task, or to step outside of their comfort zone.” If your child needs to elevate their confidence socially, and wearing makeup might do the trick, why not try it as a starting point? Then, as they build their confidence muscle, you can challenge them to tackle pursuits with and without it. What do they notice? Has their confidence really been inside of them all along? 

The harm of social media for kids and makeup

Bankson believes consumerism, comparison, and inappropriate content are the three biggest killjoys to makeup on social media. When brands or influencers are focused on “restocking, overspending, and continuously looking for the next trendy thing,” it teaches kids to “never be satisfied with what they have,” Bankson said.

Meanwhile, we all know comparison is the thief of joy. She said that on social media, kids see “actresses, models, or people that look a certain way get special treatment, or are loved and adored more.” This can lead to competition or comparison. And we know a competitive or comparison-oriented mindset can be quite damaging to our well-being. From low self-esteem to high stress, it has the potential to pollute our minds as much as our bodies.    

As far as inappropriate content goes, parents are no strangers to the dangers of the internet. That being said, Bankson made a key point about predators and makeup groups. She cautioned that some predators specifically target young girls’ groups online. If they take aim at a makeup group a child is in, the child could be at higher risk of communicating with them. If you didn’t have enough reasons to have a family discussion about social media safety, this certainly makes another! 

start wearing makeup
Source: Canva

On the “Sephora kids”

We also asked Bankson about her impressions of the Sephora kids that have been flooding social media. “When I first heard about this, I thought that it was a one-off incident… I ended up going to five different Sephora stores in different cities and was able to confirm that this is, in fact, an issue,” she reported. Bankson went on to say that she has witnessed young girls stealing and even kicking each other in the middle of a Sephora. 

However, rather than criticize the kids and tweens at the center of the controversy—as many social media posters have done—Bankson focuses on parents. “I believe it is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children how to accurately, appropriately, and sanitarily use product testers and behave in public spaces.” Indeed, it’s cultivating life skills, like respect and safety, that will likely diminish instances of makeup foul play. Paradoxically, if kids are hoping to be taken seriously for their interest in makeup, it’s not the Sephora kids who should be winning attention on social media. 

Kids skincare when using makeup

Okay, so emotionally-speaking we want to raise our kids to have a joyful and inspired relationship with makeup. But what about physically-speaking? Are there certain ingredients, or even particular cosmetic lines, that kids should watch out for? Bankson informed us that most makeup is generally safe for young skin. It’s the potentially strong chemicals and ingredients in skincare products (i.e., certain serums, gels, peels, etc.) to watch out for. She emphasized, “Unless there is a skin condition or concern, nothing needs to be corrected with skincare or makeup. The goal should be maintaining good hygiene.”

For kids who choose to wear makeup, washing it off at day’s end is a must. Just like we teach kids about deodorant and shaving, facial cleansing amounts to proper body care. Bankson cautioned, “If makeup or products are left on the skin, they could have the ability to clog pores, create staining, or even lead to improper skin cell turnover and, in rare cases, infection.” She recommended two approaches for successful cleansing. Either find a gentle and fragrance-free one-step cleanser that effectively removes all traces of dirt, sunscreen, or makeup, or do a double cleanse by using an oil cleanser made to gently remove oil-based makeup products, followed by a regular cleanser that provides general skin support. For even more guidance, we have a great resource dedicated entirely to dermatologist-approved teen skincare, too.

Key takeaways on kids wearing makeup

It’s completely natural for parents to worry that once their child crosses that threshold into the world of makeup, they’re more exposed or vulnerable. Which is ironic, considering it’s often used for confidence. Bankson elaborated, “I think that society can agree upon the fact that one of the biggest dangers for people who are very young and start wearing makeup is that it can make them appear older… which could put them in dangerous situations.” The promising news is that we all have an impact on shaping how we perceive and nurture young makeup wearers.

“One of the biggest things that I wish I could tell every young person, as well as myself, is that what you look like has no impact on how you can help change this world,” Bankson said encouragingly. In the quest for love, affection, or attention, makeup can seem like the perfect remedy. Instead, she hopes we can all put our hearts into helping our kids uncover their talents, imagination, and what excites them. That’s their authentic path to infusing themselves and the world around them with meaning, and we couldn’t agree more!

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