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'Sephora kids' skin-care trend draws warnings from dermatologists

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A new skin-care trend has dermatologists concerned about the effects certain products might have on the skin health of kids and teens.

The "Sephora kids" trend has exploded on social media, with viral posts on video-sharing app TikTok showing youth across the United States flocking to beauty and skin-care retailer Sephora.

In their posts, young skin-care fans showcase their shopping visits — often expensive "hauls" — as well as skin-care and beauty routines. The hashtag #sephorakids on TikTok shows posts made by people accusing the kids of leaving behind messes, ruining store displays and mistreating staff and customers.

Not tested on children

Some people chalk the trend up to children playing and pretending they're grown-ups, but dermatologists say some skin-care products may not be suitable for children, and could even be harmful.

"Many skin-care products for adults have not been tested on children and teens, so we don't know if they are safe or tolerated by younger users," said Monica Li, a cosmetic and medical dermatologist in Vancouver, in an email to CTVNews.ca. Li is also a clinical assistant professor at the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia.

Some products specifically for children exist. For example, some sunscreens, moisturizers and cleansers have been tested and formulated for use in infants and children, Li said. "(The children's products) tend to contain milder or gentler ingredients, are hypoallergenic (allergy tested) and specifically monitored for tolerability with use in these populations," she said.

Products for adults can use ingredients such as collagen. Naturally made and found in our bodies, collagen is "generally safe for use on the skin," Li said, but it's unnecessary for children.

"Children have lots of collagen and do not need to supplement with an external source," she said.

Tweens can be prescribed topical retinoids to treat acne, Li added. "But this is to manage a skin condition, not for a cosmetic (or) beauty purpose," she explained.

Ingredients to avoid

Li recommends youth avoid products with active ingredients targeting aging, such as retinol, exfoliating scrubs, eye cream or vitamin C serums. She calls these kinds of products "unnecessary and potentially harmful for younger users due to their potency and effects on delicate skin."

Dr. Linda Xing, a dermatologist and medical director at Rejuvenation Dermatology Oakville in Oakville, Ont., said most skin-care products for adults can be used for children and preteens.

The "Sephora kids" trend could become a problem if youth's use of skincare becomes "excessive" and if the product has potent ingredients meant for adults, she warns.

"It's theoretically safe for kids -- just it's not appropriate for their use because they don't have those skin issues," she said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

As an example, she said kids can theoretically use retinol, but it's one of the most potent ingredients that can damage the skin barrier, so it has to be used carefully and they should follow the directions to use it correctly. "In adults, they can get into problems with irritation and dryness, like burning and peeling," she said.

Retinol, which dermatologists say has anti-aging benefits and treats acne, is a popular ingredient in skincare and a form of vitamin A.

Xing said exfoliating products that contain alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids can also damage the skin barrier, or the outermost protective layer of the skin, causing redness, burning and other side effects, if they're overused.

Another problem preteens can run into with skincare or makeup is exposing themselves to allergens.

"If you use a lot of products early, you're sensitizing your skin also to a lot of allergens that are in some of these commercial products, whether that's like perfume or preservatives," Xing said. "So from a standpoint of using so many products at an early age, you could be putting these kids at risk for developing contact allergies later in life."

Recommendations for kids

While kids should avoid using certain products, Li said their interest in skincare can have some benefits.

"Kids and tweens should be educated to focus on skin health, and the #sephorakids trend is an opportunity to have a healthy discussion about good skin hygiene practices and habits," Li explained. "If kids or young teens want to explore the trend, they can consider hyaluronic acid serums, ceramide-based moisturizers, lip balms/gloss with plant-based ingredients, vitamins and/or natural oils, or hydrating face masks."

In the end, a simple skin-care routine is key for children and preteens, Xing said.

"I think we just need to emphasize more education, and then the fact that they don't need so much of a complicated multi-step skin-care routine, and you can just focus on the basics and then save money," Xing said. "You know, it's very costly to buy a lot of these skin-care products that they don't need, and could also cause some skin issues."

She said there's no strict guideline on when tweens should adopt a basic skin-care routine that involves a cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen.

"It's very important to educate kids about how important sun protection is," Xing added. "So we can empower them to try different sunscreens and use that diligently and regularly over your lifetime to build healthy skin habits." 

Correction

This story was updated to clarify that dermatologist Monica Li only recommends certain skin-care products if youth want to explore the trend. 

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