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  • Cæcilie Bachdal Johansen—Denmark

Sephora Kids skincare overuse calls for responsible action

The recent phenomenon of children overconsuming skincare and makeup underscores the urgent need for informed guidance and responsible action through awareness, education, and proactive engagement from parents and lawmakers. 


Children overconsuming skincare and makeup underscores the urgent need for informed guidance and responsible action. Photo: Richard Stachmann


During the past two to three years, there has been a significant increase in interest among children aged six to 12 in skincare and beauty, leading to the coining of the term ‘Sephora kids’, after the popular beauty retailer. Children are overconsuming skincare and makeup products and practicing elaborate skincare routines, using up to eight, 10, or even 16 products in one routine.

 

The term saw growing use as a hashtag on social media in 2023, and after continuously trending at the beginning of this year it was picked up by media outlets across the globe. American and British dermatologists have expressed concern over the growing number of children seeking medical treatment for allergic reactions to skincare products in their clinics. 

 

The trend is highly influenced by social media. Many children follow beauty influencers, watch skincare routines on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, and empty their piggy banks to consume high-end skincare, haircare, and makeup products in vast quantities. Sephora kids are also influenced by peer pressure and the desire to experiment with self-expression.  

 

Overconsuming skincare can have negative health effects  

 

It is more critical than ever for parents and guardians to be aware of the products their children are using, ensuring they are age-appropriate and safe for developing skin. This is because the Sephora kids trend comes with significant health hazards—namely, allergenic and endocrine-disrupting ingredients like fragrances, colourants, and other chemicals, as well as anti-aging ingredients like glycolic acid and retinol, which should not be used by children.  

 

When children use skincare products containing these ingredients, they risk developing a red non-allergic rash called irritative contact dermatitis. In a worst-case scenario, children may develop allergic contact dermatitis—a lifelong skin allergy.

 

The more skincare products and ingredients children use, the greater the risk of exposure to endocrine-disrupting ingredients. In a cocktail effect with other endocrine-disrupting ingredients in the child's food and surroundings, these can have negative health impacts, including premature onset of puberty, low sperm count, and higher risk of hormone-sensitive forms of cancer such as breast and ovarian. 

 

Skincare for children should be free from allergens, like essential oils and fragrances, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and should not consist of any other products than sunscreen, a gentle cleanser, and body lotion.

 

Protecting children is a joint responsibility  


On social media, children are exposed to a large volume of content endorsing overconsumption of skincare. Brands have also started to market products directly to young children and tweens aged 10 to 12.

 

In many cases, Sephora kids are merely imitating what they see adults doing online, but with the significant difference that they may find it difficult to decipher the meaning of the information they are exposed to. They may also have trouble differentiating between the skincare they can use on their skin and what is only meant for adults. 

Skincare- and makeup-related online content could be required to include a disclaimer when the product is meant only for adults.

To address these issues, several authorities in children’s lives need to own up to their ethical responsibilities, including influencers, parents, the skincare industry, and legislators. 

 

As a medical doctor and communicator on Instagram, I personally bear great responsibility in this matter. I create content about various products and dermato-cosmetic procedures—including botox, chemical peels, and laser treatments—that is available to everyone. Although 99.8% of my followers are aged over 18, I have now added the disclaimer ‘This post is for adults’ when it deals with products or procedures that are only suitable for adults.  

 

It is important for parents to have a finger on the pulse so they know what their children are interested in and on which platforms they seek out and develop their interests. In this way, parents can help children embrace their interests without shaming or limiting their online behaviour, and help them navigate the skincare jungle to understand which products and ingredients are suitable for children’s skin and which are an absolute no-go, like retinol and exfoliating acids. 

 

Skincare brands bear an ethical responsibility not to encourage children to engage in elaborate skincare routines and should mark products meant only for adult skin.

 

Furthermore, our legislators ought to regulate social media platforms. In much the same way as disclaimers for digitally altered images are required in some countries, skincare- and makeup-related online content could be required to include a disclaimer when the product is meant only for adults.

 

Towards a safer and more informed skincare culture

 

As a medical doctor and as a mother of three children aged 7, 10, and 12, I want to stress the importance of prioritising the health and wellbeing of our children as we navigate a changing beauty and skincare landscape.  

 

We can empower parents and children to make informed choices, promoting a skincare culture that is safe, sensible, and truly nurturing. Together, we can ensure that beauty is not just skin deep but also a reflection of our commitment to health and integrity. 

 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Re:solve Global Health.

 

Cæcilie Bachdal Johansen is a medical doctor and holds a PhD in dermatology from University Hospital Bispebjerg and Copenhagen University, Denmark. Since 2015, she has been sharing insights about skin health on her Instagram account @makeupandmedicine.dk, aiming to empower laypeople with knowledge about their skin and help them navigate the skincare jungle. 


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