The “Sephora Kids” Epidemic

Skincare ≠ Wellness

I woke up at home on New Year’s Morning, and like the Zoomer I am, I immediately opened TikTok while rotting in bed. After a few minutes of scrolling, I came across videos with the hashtag #SephoraKids. If you are unaware, Sephora is a beauty store that sells higher-end products. Typically, the customers are people in their late teens and up; the makeup is usually more expensive, and high-quality, hence the older customer base. However, users on TikTok, typically customers or employees of Sephora, have recently started pointing out that Sephoras across the country have been overrun with young girls. Usually, they are ages 9-14, and they are in Sephora either by themselves, or with a parent doing so little to corral the kid they may as well not even be there. Typically, the parent is paying for anything the kids want as well.  

If you are not a regular Sephora customer, you probably don’t realize the financial toll the average Sephora run takes on you. I take months between visits, and I walk out feeling like Joe Exotic saying “I will never financially recover from this.” Keep in mind, I usually buy some hair products, a brow gel, and maybe a new lip gloss if I want a little treat. According to employees who have dealt with the Sephora Kids, they are usually buying hundreds of dollars worth of products, all on their parents’ dime. I saw a video of an employee who had to help a mother convince her (extremely rude) daughter, who could not have been more than 12, into cutting down her basket from $900 worth of products to $500. Keep in mind, most of these products are things a tween has no business using, such as multiple high-end perfumes. 

Some of my Sephora products, which I may never financially recover from buying. Photo by Camryn Anderson.

The main company that always comes up in these videos, the holy grail for 10-year-old iPad girls, is Drunk Elephant. Drunk Elephant is a skincare brand (an expensive and overhyped one, in my opinion) that became popular among young girls on TikTok because it has cute packaging, and it contains anti-aging ingredients like retinol. 

The problem with young people utilizing products with retinol is that it is not recommended to anyone under the age of 25 use it. Along with stories from employees and customers, dermatologists have spoken out about the potential damage retinol can cause to young people’s skin. Essentially, retinol is used to encourage skin cell production, exfoliate your skin, and produce collagen. This helps promote anti-aging… in people over 25. According to these dermatologists, frequently using retinol products as a teen can actually damage your skin’s barrier, essentially turning that $65 moisturizer into a pro-aging product.

Along with retinol, others have raised concern about children purchasing chemical exfoliants. A chemical exfoliant is an acid, usually a BHA, that is used to even out your skin tone, and fade dark spots and blemishes. I myself occasionally use a chemical exfoliant to help fade my acne scarring. However, I use it carefully and infrequently, because it is an acid going on my face. 

 I have heard stories from people in Sephora talking about seeing kids come into the store with chemical burns on their faces from improperly using exfoliants. Let’s be real, millennial Parents: There’s a good chance your kid can’t even read, but you expect me to believe that they can properly use a chemical exfoliant? Seriously, do you really think a kid who can’t read an analog clock can properly use products that rely on the user being able to follow instructions and pay attention to warnings? 

As the discourse has continued, I have seen people discuss the possible reason why 10-year-olds feel like they can take over a place mostly geared towards adults. I have seen important points brought up about how so many kids don’t have very many places left to go besides malls. City parks are becoming run down or turned into parking lots by developers; the kids have nowhere left to just be children. However, I think there’s more to it than that.

The next obvious answer is just sheer entitlement from these kids. I seriously don’t know how the millennials messed kids up this bad. When I was a tween/teen getting into makeup, I asked for products that were out of my price/skill range all that time. However, my parents never considered buying me $500 worth of products that I objectively did not need. It doesn’t mean they don’t love me, they just recognized that I shouldn’t be using products made for adults. Your kid is too young to be using Drunk Elephant; point-blank, period. So don’t buy it for them. 

Wealth is obviously another factor here. My parents could not afford to blow hundreds of dollars on products. Hell, most parents nowadays cannot afford to enable their children financially at that level. However, what we see with Sephora Kids is their parents are content to buy their kids an entire basket of products, no matter the price. My theory is this: Many rich millennial parents emotionally neglect their children by raising them with an iPad, but try to make up for it with materialism.   

In my opinion, though, a largely unspoken contributing factor to the Sephora Kids is our obsession with skincare and anti-aging as a form of  “wellness.” Unhealthy beauty standards have only gotten worse because of social media, and they are going to continue to get worse. I believe the only thing that will stop these girls in their crusade to look “30 at 60” is when they hit their twenties and start seeing the negative effects of the exfoliants and retinols. 

I’ve seen some people blame the girls themselves for being so vain, but can you blame little girls for being obsessed with vanity when they are being taught that a face free of blemishes and wrinkles is the best thing they have to offer the world? Beauty is only skin-deep, but so are chemical burns from an exfoliant.    

In the past few years, wellness and self-care culture has become an entire genre on social media. Skincare has become one of the cornerstones of TikTok and Instagram self-care, which I find problematic for two reasons: There is more to self-care than doing a face mask (though that can absolutely be a part of the routine!) and expecting someone to buy hundreds of dollars worth of products in order to be “well” is unfair. Furthermore, someone can be taking great care of their appearance and still be mentally unwell (I would know, I’ve been there). 

Unfortunately, humans suffer from something called the Halo Effect, which means we attribute more positive qualities to people we view as attractive. If someone has clear skin, looks youthful, and looks like they take good care of themselves, we view them as an inherently good person because they’re pretty. For young women especially, the pressure is always on when it comes to maintaining your appearance. It is made a central goal in your life from the second you become conscious, and social media has only made it more unrealistic, expensive, and damaging. 

Really, what did we expect from a generation of girls who were raised on social media? Gen Alpha is considered by many to be overly entitled and poorly behaved, because they were given an iPad as soon as their motor skills developed. Because of this, they have also been seeing face shapes, body types, and makeup trends cycle in and out of style as their main form of socialization. Of course they are obsessed with appearances, because we are too. 

If we want the kids to stay out of Sephora, then we need to talk about why the kids want to be in Sephora in the first place. I believe it’s because we have pushed a grotesque culture of Beauty = Wellness = Popularity/Recognition on them. The latter goes into my previous theory regarding how young kids seek attention online because they are emotionally neglected by their parents, but that’s an article for another day. Overall, I believe the solution to this problem falls on not only parents to be more attentive, but us as a society to create a better culture for our kids to live in.      

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