5 Signs Your Tween’s Skincare Routine Has Gone Too Far

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Has Your Tween’s Beauty Routine Gone Too Far?Antonio_Diaz - Getty Images

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Is your kid’s beauty routine more complicated than yours? If so, you're not alone. Thanks to popular Instagram and TikTok accounts, tweens and teens seem to be spending more time than ever on skincare.

“There’s so much stress on looking good on apps like FaceTime and Snapchat, and kids are taking photos of themselves all the time,” says Sonia Rodrigues, M.A., senior director of child and adolescent services at Rutgers Health-University Behavioral Health Care.

The fad is fueled by social media influencers who post “Get Ready with Me” videos with elaborate routines using multiple products like cleanser, scrubs, toner, serum, eye cream and moisturizer — some of which may contain ingredients that could be dangerous for children's skin.

“It may seem harmless to learn how to take care of your skin,” says Sara Naselsky, Psy.D., a post-doctoral fellow in behavior medicine at Cooper University Health Care. “But the challenge is that kids may become too focused on judging their own bodies and skin.”

Rodrigues and Naselsky say it’s a natural part of growing up for kids to want to experiment with their appearances and products and to feel included in a trend. But when interest veers into obsession, and self-esteem issues crop up, there may be cause for concern.

What do dermatologists think of these trendy skincare routines?

One of the problems is that many of the products kids are asking for include anti-aging ingredients such as retinol and vitamin C. “Tweens’ skin is at the peak of its perfection,” says Katherine Bodiford, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Mayo Clinic. “They don't need these products.”

While retinol products are effective for exfoliating dead skin and boosting collagen production for adults, they could lead to negative effects for kids' skin. “Dermatologists may prescribe retinoids for kids with acne, weighing risks versus benefits. But there’s absolutely no other reason for kids without acne to be using them,” says Dr. Bodiford.

And some doctors are starting to notice negative effects. “I’m seeing more breakouts, worsening acne and contact dermatitis or chemical burns because kids are using these products with highly active ingredients,” adds Brooke Jeffy, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. “The trend started a few years ago but has really ramped up recently.”

What should you do if your kid wants skincare products?

There are a few different ways you can turn this into a positive experience for your child.

Watch TikToks with your kid.

Instead of simply dismissing your child’s pleas for pricey skin care regimens, make it an opportunity to figure out why these products and routines are important to them. “Watch the videos together, and ask your child questions, such as ‘Why do think this is a good product?’ and ‘Is this something a friend is using?’” says Rodrigues.

Explain the truth about influencers and marketing.

Kids may not realize that an influencer’s job is to sell products and that many of the products are geared toward a much older audience, says Naselsky. Point out that you also have no way of knowing if these people are using filters, applying other products or getting expensive professional skin treatments, too. It's also a good time to teach kids about how companies market products. “Kids often tell me they’re using these products because they like the bright colors or it looks cute on your vanity,” says Dr. Jeffy. “They’re status symbols.”

Take them shopping.

The upside of this craze is that having a skin care routine is not a bad thing for tweens. “It’s great to start taking care of your skin earlier and learn to cleanse and moisturize regularly, especially if tweens are getting to the age when hormone changes may trigger acne,” says Dr. Jeffy. “Being consistent before that happens actually can help minimize acne.” Just keep it simple. “All your child needs is face cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen of a minimum of 30 SPF for daily wear and 50 SPF at the beach,” says Dr. Jeffy. When shopping together, look for products that are labeled for sensitive skin and that are fragrance-free. The fewer the ingredients on the label, the better. “The more ingredients, the more potential allergens you’re putting on your skin for no reason,” says Dr. Jeffy.

How to know if it's gone too far — and what to do about it.

If your child seems overly concerned with looks and often makes negative comments about their body, they may be veering into concerning territory.

Here’s what else to look for:

  • Your child is isolating and doesn’t want to socialize or do the things they used to do with family and friends.

  • Your child is late to school or bedtime because of their elaborate skincare routine.

  • Your child can’t leave the house without doing all the steps in their skincare regimen.

  • Your child is “body-checking” or looking in the mirror frequently, or seems hyper-focused on their skin.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Remind your kid that their appearance is the least important thing about them. “Talk about the fact that it’s okay to want to look good, but ask your child the reasons why they’re friends with a certain person. Is because they make you laugh? Or that they always share with you? Point out that the things your child loves about their friends — and that people love about them — is never appearance,” says Naselsky.

  • Model a healthy attitude. It’s no mystery that kids soak up everything adults say and do, which means we need to be mindful when talking about our own appearances. Avoid making comments about your wrinkles or pimples or focusing on the latest anti-aging products. “Your kids are listening and watching. The earlier we drill the idea that ‘aging’ is something bad into our kids’ heads, the more negative associations kids will have with a process that’s completely normal,” says Naselsky.

  • Know when it's time to get help. Sometimes kids need professional help getting unstuck if they’ve become too focused on appearances or if their skincare routines are so elaborate that they’re having trouble getting out of the house on time. Red flags include frequently making negative comments about themselves, checking themselves in the mirror all the time or isolating and spending less time with friends and family, says Naselsky.

Although there’s a huge demand on mental health professionals right now, you can get help for your child, if you know where to look. Start by asking your pediatrician, school counselor and insurance company for a list of referrals. Talk to your company’s HR department, too, which may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which can connect you with providers. Many groups offer online therapy options, including texting. “Some kids aren’t comfortable with talk therapy, so texting is a less stigmatizing way for them to connect,” says Rodrigues.

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