The Best Skincare for Teens (No, It’s Not All Drunk Elephant)

January 31, 2024

Skincare for teens

There’s a term floating around on TikTok lately that caught our eye: ‘Sephora Kids,’ which describes kids as young as ten years old flocking to the beauty retailer to buy skincare products. Interestingly, of the many brands that are out there, Drunk Elephant is the one that Gen Alpha seems to be gravitating towards the most. Given that the brand is known for using anti-aging ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid in their products, this has some parents and dermatologists concerned that their kids might starting these things way too soon. We tapped a few experts to get their take on which skincare brands and products are best to use for teens and tweens. They also shared helpful pointers on how parents can talk to their kids about skincare.

First Things First, Why Do Teens Love Drunk Elephant So Much?

Two words: social media. The brand is known for its bright, colorful packaging and has a huge fan base online. “[Teens] love gorgeous packaging. We’ve been reading through hundreds of comments on TikTok and kids are talking about buying their products and refilling it with less expensive brands just so they can have [the bottles] on their shelf,” says Lee. “Gen Alpha are also seeing these products go viral and sell out. It’s the same as when we were kids, and the cool kids had the ‘it’ backpack or shoes. But instead of being in the school yard [where you’d only see what your peers have], they’re on their devices, which gives them access to even more options.”

When Should Kids Start Using Skincare?

According to Dr. Charles, puberty is a typically the time for teens to start a skincare routine. “While children of all ages should wear daily sunscreen, tweens and teens can start a skincare routine when they begin to notice signs of puberty. During puberty, their hormones can increase oil production and cause skin changes [like acne] that a skincare routine can help manage,” she explains.

The experts suggest a basic skincare routine that includes a gentle cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen. “I’m a big fan of keeping the routine as simple as possible to support skin barrier function and protect your skin against environmental damage like UV exposure and pollution,” says Dr. Barr. However, Dr. Barr notes teens should avoid using products with too many active ingredients (like retinol, salicylic acid and glycolic acid) and strong detergents. “Active ingredients like retinoids can cause dryness, peeling and irritation. It can potentially harm the skin’s protective barrier and using it too frequently can trigger acne outbreaks, especially in individuals with acne-prone or oily skin,” she shares.

How Should Tweens Use Skincare Products?

The experts say kids can start using skincare products between the ages of 7 to 10 years old. However, this age group should have a very simple routine for their still-delicate skin. Lee suggests teaching them to clean their faces first, before adding any other products to the mix. “It’s really about creating healthy routines and attitudes towards hygiene from a young age and educating them on the basics,” says Lee. “So, get them in the habit of removing dirt, grime and using SPF daily.”

How Old Should You Be to Use Retinol?

All the experts agree that kids and teens should not be using retinol in their skincare unless it’s been prescribed by a dermatologist for acne-related concerns. As Dr. Zeichner explains, topical retinoids (like tretinoin or adapalene) are sometimes recommended to teens to treat severe acne. Otherwise, Gen Alpha can try other alternatives like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to treat their acne. Dr. Lolis notes they should start with low concentrations of these ingredients and consult with a dermatologist before applying it to their skin.

How Old Should You Be to Use Eye Cream?

Our experts urge Gen Alpha not to use any type of eye cream. Eye cream is typically used to treat or reduce signs of aging like fine lines and dark circles, which don’t usually show up until your 20s. That said, the average age to start using eye cream is in your late 20s, as skin cell turnover starts to decline around this time, leading to thinner skin around the eyes.

How Should Parents Talk About Skincare with Their Kids?

The experts have a few helpful tips for talking to your kids about their skincare routines.

  • Educate them. Teach your kids about skincare and the risks of using specific ingredients/products too soon. “It’s important for parents and children to be educated about specific ingredients and what’s necessary and unnecessary [for their skin,]” says Lee.

  • Listen to their concerns. According to Dr. Barr, it’s important to spark a conversation with your child about their interest in skincare and specific products. “As a parent, helping your child create a healthy skincare routine begins with creating a safe space for them to talk about their concerns and desires,” says Dr. Barr. “They may be seeing all the recommendations to ‘fix’ problems they were told they had (but likely don’t), so it makes sense that it can create feelings of anxiety and worry, which can affect their self-image and self-esteem. They may also just interpret what they’re seeing online as a fun way to connect with their peers.”

  • Create a simple routine with them. Stick with just the basics like a cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen. Remind them that they’ll have plenty of time to add other products into their routines later.

  • Open a dialogue. “Rather than indulging or denying their requests to purchase these products, consider their requests as an invitation to get curious. Open up a dialogue to better understand their motivation for wanting these products. Once you know their ‘why,’ then you can better determine how you can best support them.”

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