Kids want $70 wrinkle creams. Parents and lawmakers are “fighting a losing battle”

Caleigh Wells Jul 9, 2024
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Drunk Elephant is one of the most popular skin care brands among children. Caleigh Wells/Marketplace

Kids want $70 wrinkle creams. Parents and lawmakers are “fighting a losing battle”

Caleigh Wells Jul 9, 2024
Heard on:
Drunk Elephant is one of the most popular skin care brands among children. Caleigh Wells/Marketplace
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Tallulah and Michen zig-zag through the aisles of the Sephora at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon. It’s packed inside, but they have no trouble locating the products they found on their TikTok “For You” pages. Their moms are following dutifully behind them.

Because Tallulah and Michen are 10 years old.

Michen’s purchase today is a lip balm. But she’s also got eye masks and scrubs, which are part of a long bedtime routine.

“They see it all on TikTok. And then come in, want to come here and go buy everything they see,” says her mom, Dana Michels.

Countless influencers on TikTok recommend these products, including wrinkle creams. These anti-aging items are packaged in neon-colored bottles and tubes with perfect portions dispensed when you push on the lid. They look like toys. They can cost $70 a pop. 

And elementary-aged kids like Tallulah and Michen can’t get enough.

“It’s bananas,” says Michels, while she playfully covers her daughter’s ears. “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. I don’t know if it’s a battle but just a reality.”

A makeup display with a sign that says "As Seen on Your #FYP"
Advertising at the Century City Mall Sephora targets buyers looking for products on their social media “for you” pages. (Caleigh Wells/Marketplace)

The reality is a result not just of social media, but also old-fashioned social pressure.

“Everybody at school is also wearing it,” says Tallulah. “I don’t know, it makes me feel more grown up.”

Neither of those explanations surprises psychologist and University of Southern California digital and social media professor Karen North.

“Pretty much forever, we’ve seen kids try to act a little bit more grown up, try on the fancy clothes, put on Mom’s shoes, put on makeup,” she says. “Now we have TikTok as the older sibling to emulate.”

North says these cosmetics have become collectible status symbols, just like kids used to collect baseball cards. But the stakes are higher than bragging rights now — some kids are actually hurting their skin.

“You get irritation, redness, burning and also photosensitivity or sensitivity to the sun, which then can lead to sunburn,” says dermatologist Evette Ramsay.

Those are side effects of anti-aging products. They’re designed to increase cell turnover rate, which helps with acne or wrinkles. But it can spell bad news for a young child’s sensitive skin.

“They’re used too often by an inappropriate age group. And they are using too many combinations of products that can be irritating together,” she says.

Those combinations even have a name: skincare smoothies.

California lawmakers are trying to help protect kids. Alex Lee, a member of the state Assembly from the Bay Area, wrote a bill this year to ban the sale of anti-aging products to kids under age 13. A cosmetics industry group called the Personal Care Products Council opposed the bill, and it died. 

“We share Assemblymember Lee’s concerns about the social media trend of preteens and teens using anti-aging products, but no matter how well-intentioned, California AB 2491 presented significant compliance issues,” the group said in a statement.

Lee says he may tweak the language and reintroduce the bill next year. He isn’t convinced the pushback is fair. 

“If you’re a 12-year-old, you can’t go buy the next M-rated game, you can’t go buy an R-rated movie ticket alone,” he says. “ So when the industry acts like it’s not possible for them to self-police, then I call BS.”

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