The ‘Sephora Baby’ Craze Has Tweens Obsessed With Anti-Aging. But Doctors Have Warnings

As a teen in the mid-2000s, the Proactiv commercials playing repeatedly on MTV were the beginning and end of my skin care education. Amongst us teens at the time, acne was our main, and perhaps, only concern— and we were willing to sacrifice as many towels and pillowcases to the bleaching power of the benzoyl peroxide gods to get acne-free skin. Today’s teens and tweens (and their linens) have a completely different standard these days, as it’s easier than ever to access skin care education through social media like YouTube and TikTok. However, much of their skin care “education” may come from influencers, whose main objective is ultimately to influence their audience to buy products. And for their teenage audience members, these products aren’t always the right choice. Take, for example, the recent “Sephora Baby” trend, in which teens and tweens as young as 9 or 10 are using pricy skin care for adults, particularly from Drunk Elephant (not surprisingly, this trend was largely influenced by a TikTok of then-9-year-old North West — the daughter of Kim Kardashian — using a variety of expensive skin care products). Eleven-year-old Penelope Disick (the daughter of Kourtney Kardashian) also shared a video — in which she was using anti-aging serums. But should young girls necessarily be using the same products as adults? In short, not always. “Social media can be helpful in raising awareness of certain skin conditions, but may also be harmful in spreading false information. There is a lot of ‘marketing noise’ on social media,” said Dr. Angela Casey, an Ohio-based, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bright Girl skin care brand. “Skin is very different in our pre-pubescent, tween and teen years compared to our more mature years. Skin care should be tailored accordingly.” Social media is a double-edged sword. Social media is a double-edged sword. While social media provides more education around skin care, it can also introduce viewers to insecurities they didn’t even know they had. “Teens are much more critical of their skin and are aspiring to unrealistic expectations, not realizing that many of the images and videos they are seeing are altered or using filters,” said Dr. Brooke Jeffy, an Arizona-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of youth skin care brand BTWN. So when you’re tempted to buy a new product shared by your favorite influencer, or to try a new “at-home skin care hack” posted by another user, it’s important to take a pause and reevaluate the claims of the post. “I would caution teens to be judicious with the content they consume and remember that the information is not vetted,” said Dr. Helen He, a New York-based dermatologist and resident at the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai. “It would be useful to also seek the opinion of a dermatologist.” Fortunately, as social media’s influence grows, more and more experts have begun to understand the importance of sharing their expertise on these platforms. “There are many expert dermatologists and dermatology providers that have a strong presence on social media, and they are sharing evidence-based information with their communities,” Casey said. How is teenage skin different than adult skin? How is teenage skin different than adult skin? When you think about teen skin, one word comes to mind — acne. “Due to hormonal shifts where teenagers produce high amounts of androgens starting at puberty, they typically have oilier skin that is more prone to acne breakouts,” He said. Yet, acne is not the only difference between teen and adult skin. “Adult skin is generally more damaged from sun, environmental factors, pollution and inflammation,” Casey said. This is why for many products formulated for adult skin, you’re likely to see ingredients promising to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, boost skin elasticity and firmness, or reduce hyperpigmentation. But if a teen uses these skin care products, one may assume that the worst-case scenario is that the product simply doesn’t work on their skin — and in the best-case scenario, they’ll be ahead on the anti-aging game, right? Not quite, thanks to another key difference in teenage skin. “Younger skin is also thinner, so it more easily absorbs ingredients placed on the skin,” Jeffy said. Because of this thinner skin, active ingredients that can be tolerated in older skin can cause teen skin to become irritated or break out. How does younger skin need to be treated differently? How does younger skin need to be treated differently? As teens and adults have very different skin, this requires a very different approach to their skin care routines. “Teens need to adopt skin care routines that ‘protect and preserve’ their skin (i.e., prevent skin damage), while adults often need to take a ‘reboot and reverse’ approach to address accumulated skin damage,” Casey said. Start with a good foundation of three basic products. Start with a good foundation of three basic products. For a “protect and preserve” approach, all three dermatologists we spoke to recommended the same routine for teens — using a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser, a good moisturizer and a SPF 30-plus sunscreen (preferably mineral-based, as it tends to be friendlier for sensitive skin). “The optimal moisturizer contains humectants that draw water and hydration into the skin, occlusives that prevent trans-epidermal water loss, and emollients that help seal the connections between skin cells,” Casey said. To find a moisturizer with these three components (humectants, emollients and occlusives), Casey recommends to look for the following ingredients: Humectants Hyaluronic acid Glycerin Urea Emollients Ceramides Squalane oil Occlusives Petrolatum Argan oil Jojoba oil Additionally, as teen skin is more sensitive, it’s also a good idea to check your skin care products for common skin irritants. He recommends that teens and those with sensitive skin avoid products with fragrances, as well as products with alcohol and menthol, both of which can dry out the skin. “And for those with sensitive skin or eczema, also look out for products with preservatives like parabens, formaldehyde and propylene glycol,” He said. Using too many products can create more problems in younger skin. Using too many products can create more problems in younger skin. There’s no shortage of videos on “SkinTok” featuring “10-Step Skin Care Routines” that involves applying product after product every night. But when it comes to sensitive teenage skin, less is more. “Teens tend to use more products in their skin care routines compared to 10 years ago,” Casey said. “They’re always searching for ‘the next great thing’ and fail to stick with a routine long enough to really see the results.” And by adding more and more skin care products to your routine, it can also make it difficult for you and your dermatologist to figure out which ingredients your skin does and doesn’t like. “I often see patients come in with skin irritation or breakouts after having started multiple products at the same time, which makes it difficult to pinpoint which products/ingredients the patient was sensitive to,” He said. “That’s why, when patients introduce new products to their skin care regimen, we recommend that they do so one new product at a time and test it out for at least two weeks first before introducing something else.” Younger skin can’t handle most active ingredients. Younger skin can’t handle most active ingredients. While many of the products promoted by skin care influencers promise to deliver results with powerful actives like vitamin C, retinoids and AHAs/ BHAs, it’s important to remember that combining multiple active ingredients can be difficult for even adult skin to tolerate. When it comes to the sensitive skin of teenagers, many of these actives can end up doing more harm than good. “In my practice, most of our teen acne patients are using a topical retinoid such as adapalene or tretinoin. When they add other actives such vitamin C serums, glycolic acid or salicylic acid without guidance from a dermatology provider, they can get tremendous irritation of their skin,” Casey said. “This creates a vicious cycle of inflammation and can worsen the appearance of the skin and acne lesions.” And while retinoids can help with acne under the guidance of a dermatologist, some teens may try to incorporate over-the-counter retinols as an early anti-aging regimen, to disastrous results. “I had a teen using a retinol eye cream with severe dermatitis resulting in lichenification, or thickening of the skin, from chronically scratching the area. It’s going to take months to resolve,” Jeffy said. Acne needs to be treated delicately. Acne needs to be treated delicately. Ideally, you should work with your dermatologist to determine which ingredients to incorporate into your routine to treat acne and prevent breakouts. But if you aren’t able to access a dermatologist, it’s best to go low and slow when incorporating acne-fighting ingredients into your routine. “If [you’re] starting to break out, start with one acne-targeting product and give it time to work before adding more,” Jeffy said. When incorporating chemical exfoliants like AHAs or BHAs, He recommends only using them only once or twice a week to see how your skin reacts and to avoid overexfoliating the skin. “Occasional, gentle exfoliation can be beneficial, but I am encountering patients who are aggressively exfoliating on a daily basis, which strips away the skin’s natural protective barrier, leading to skin inflammation, and subsequently irritation, redness and breakouts,” He said. Furthermore, it’s best to skip on both homemade and store-bought physical exfoliators like scrubs. “These physical exfoliants can actually create microscopic tears in the skin barrier, causing irritation and redness and potentially allowing harmful bacteria and other irritants to enter the skin,” Casey explained. Eliminating environmental triggers may also help keep breakouts at bay. As the sweat and dirt that accumulates from sports can trigger or worsen acne, Casey recommends washing your skin after sports and exercise to keep the area clean. Casey also recommends periodically wiping down phones and glasses with alcohol to remove dirt and bacteria that can get transferred to our face and trigger acne. Lastly, don’t neglect your regular skin care routine of cleansing, moisturizing and applying sunscreen (especially as sun exposure may trigger or worsen acne). For those with oily skin, it may seem tempting to skip the moisturizer, but our dermatologists highly advise against skipping this step. “Keeping acne under control and supporting a healthy skin microbiome requires adequate hydration. Daily moisturizing of the skin is a key component,” Casey said. To avoid triggering acne, He recommends those with oily and acne-prone skin to look for lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizers and sunscreens. The best thing you can invest in is good sunscreen. And many young people aren’t using it. The best thing you can invest in is good sunscreen. And many young people aren’t using it. If you’re dropping hundreds of dollars on your skin care haul without dropping a few bucks on a sunscreen, you may as well be flushing that money down the drain. “Sometimes, teens will report using over 10 serums, toners, etc. but say that they are not using sunscreen, which is arguably the most vital part of the skin care routine at any age,” He said. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, when we don’t protect our skin with sunscreen, the damage from the sun’s UV rays can include premature aging, wrinkles, age spots and, most importantly, skin cancer. As Casey said, your teen skin care routine should be about prevention and protection, which is why sunscreen use is so important in your teens.

This content was originally published here.

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