Is TikTok’s skincare craze putting your tween’s skin at risk?

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TikTok is fuelling the latest craze for tweens: adult skincare. Influencers and brands are introducing serums, creams and beauty routines to children as young as 10 under the allure of radiant skin and peer approval.

For tweens, aged between eight and 12, TikTok is the preferred social media and a major influencer of cultural trends, surpassing recommendations from friends, brands and magazines. The Australian Retailers Association’s 2023 insights report says more than half of Gen Z start their buying journey on social media.

Does using adult skincare too early come with risks?Credit: Nathan Perri

As a mother of a tween girl, I often find myself negotiating access to the trending products, and it is not always easy to say no when all the friends are talking about them.

But how bad is this obsession?

Behind the glossy screens of influence is the emerging dilemma: are these products – meant for adults – harming their delicate skin? And does being drawn into the world of adult skincare too early come with risks to skin health and self-image?

The hidden dangers of adult skincare for tweens

Using products meant for adult skin can disrupt the delicate balance of tween skin and lead to problems. The most common adverse effects include increased breakouts, irritated skin and hyperpigmentation, experts say.

“The onset of puberty gives rise to changes in the skin and there are many skin disorders that tend to become symptomatic at this age,” says Dr Phoebe Jones from Restoration Medicine. “Using adult formulations can make the skin worse. For example, retinol is known to be useful for the treatment of acne in adults … but if a young person with acne tries to use it, it could lead to increased breakouts.”

Overdoing treatments on tween skin causes the skin’s barrier to become disrupted and irritated. “This is happening a lot with the overuse of peels,” says Jones. “I’ve seen burns causing permanent scarring and hypopigmentation from some of these.”

Dr Bryan Pang from Sydney Dermatology also warns against tweens overusing skincare products because it can lead to eczema and skin peeling. “I am concerned about the appropriateness of products such as night serums and eye gels for prepubescents and teenagers,” he says.

And while Jones notes the skin can usually recover with time, it may require treatment to repair the microbiome, skin barrier and calm down the inflammation.

Parents divided over tween trend

When it comes to the appropriateness of skincare for tweens, parents are divided. On one side, there are those who see it in a positive light, with young people developing healthy grooming and self-care habits. On the flip side, there are the naysayers, who are concerned about the potential exposure to harmful ingredients at a young age. There are those – like, me – who wonder why a 10-year-old needs a $60 glow serum when their skin is naturally aglow.

The impact on self-image

Tweens on the other hand, are wondering what all the parent fuss is about. Speaking to those who are embracing the TikTok skincare trend, it’s clear that self-image at this young age is not always a factor at play.

Instead, for some tweens, it’s simply a case of immersion into the latest trend, which has transitioned through their years from big bows to fidgets, pop-its and skincare. The obsession lies in the collection of the trending products seen on TikTok and the sensory experience of how they smell, feel and look. Most tweens will avoid products with the “bad ingredients” as soon as they become aware of them.

What tweens have to say

  • Avamaria, 10, loves watching skincare hauls and influencer routines on TikTok, and does her own ‘get ready with me’ routine everyday because it “gives me energy and makes my face feel clean and refreshed.” While she knows she doesn’t need skincare at her age. Her enjoyment comes from talking about the products with her friends and creating her own hauls and routines.
  • Sienna, also 10, likes doing skincare “for fun.” While it makes her skin feel soft and refreshed, she doesn’t think it boosts her appearance or confidence. “I love it when a friend of mine has a product that I don’t, because I get to try it out.”
  • Tiana, 11, says, “I don’t think skincare is bad for my age because some girls start to get pimples and they need to use products to get rid of them.” She loves her watermelon moisturiser because it “hydrates my skin and makes it glow.”

A call for age-appropriate skincare labelling

Whether we love it or hate it, the tween skincare trend is not ending any time soon. The key is to help tweens balance influence and their lack of discernment, with experimentation and education of responsible use, and this duty of care needs to start at home.

The question arises: Should product labelling include age ratings, such as “suitable for 9+” or “not for under 18″, to help guide tweens and set age-based use boundaries?

Pang believes that age-appropriate labelling can guide tweens towards suitable products and reduce the risk of adverse effects. And Jones agrees, saying: “As a general guideline on packaging it would be useful, but I don’t think it should be made a law.”

What do doctors think of these trending tween products?

Experts review the ingredients and suitability of the top products amongst tweens.

  • Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturiser, $34

Dr Phoebe: “I like the ingredient list. It contains antioxidants, gentle exfoliants and calming ingredients. The fragrance could be an irritant … but less than 1 per cent of the population are fragrance sensitive.”

Dr Pang: “Hyaluronic acid, gluconolactone and willow bark extract all seem reasonable, however tea tree extract has potential risk of contact allergy dermatitis, as a result of the fragrance.”

  • Drunk Elephant O-Bloos Rosi Drops, $60

Dr Phoebe: “There doesn’t appear to be any harmful ingredients in this product … (however) most young people would naturally have this (rosy glow). Sappanwood bark provides the pigment.”

Dr Pang: “This is a liquid blush. It is fragrance-free, which is good and has multiple botanicals. The risk of irritation and allergy is very low.”

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