Health Fitness

What’s up with 10-year-old kids in Sephora? Why the question itself is driving controversy

What’s up with 10-year-old kids in Sephora? That’s the question dividing parents, dermatologists, retailers and social media as more and more children buy into expensive, elaborate skin-care and beauty products.

But while millions of people watch and share videos condemning “Sephora kids” (often blaming the parents for allowing their children to purchase products meant for adults), and dermatologists have chimed in warning that some of these products are harsh and not meant for pediatric skin, other people are pointing out that there’s nothing new about children mimicking older role models — and that it’s harmless.

“My whole FYP [for you page] is about 10 year olds at Sephora. So here’s my four year old shopping at Sephora,” writes one woman in a video she posted on TikTok on Jan. 5 that shows a girl happily wandering the store.

“Yes, not every product is for kids but this trend is cute and so fun for the little girls, stop roasting kids on the internet.”

“Sephora kids” refers to the children and tweens who shop at the beauty retailer, sometimes posting videos of their hauls and skin-care routines online, much like the influencers they may follow.

WATCH | ‘Sephora kids’ trend leads to debate:

The trend is thought to have been at least partially influenced by Kim Kardashian’s daughter, North West, who posted a video in 2022 of her morning routine, which included a sheet mask, lip mask and toner. She was nine at the time.

Kourtney Kardashian’s daughter, Penelope, also shared a video of her skin-care routine, which went viral again in November when a dermatologist reposted it with her own criticisms.

“I just died a little. Why does this adorable 11-year-old need makeup, and the skincare routine which is more complicated than mine,” said Arizona-based dermatologist Dr. Brooke Jeffy, who took particular issue with the anti-aging products from Drunk Elephant.

Buying power of Generation Alpha

Canadian beauty industry sales rose 18 per cent in 2023, according to global analytics firm Circana, whose headquarters is in Chicago. The firm predicts an overall increase will continue this year (especially for higher-end products) and also notes a particular cohort that will likely drive growth for “years to come”: Generation Alpha, those born in 2010 and later.

“Prestige beauty products, and specifically skincare, topped the holiday lists of many young consumers in 2023 and their enthusiasm should continue into 2024 and beyond,” Larissa Jensen, Circana’s senior vice-president, noted in the firm’s 2024 beauty industry outlook.

There are 114 Sephora locations in Canada, and the retailer is the No. 1 sales producer in Canada’s beauty industry, according to Beauty Matter.

Drunk Elephant, one of the brands carried by Sephora, has proven so popular with Gen Alpha that founder Tiffany Masterson posted a response to the trend on Instagram in December, stating that many of its products are designed for all skin, “including kids and tweens.”

However, she added that the company’s “more potent” products containing acids and retinols are not meant for children.

WATCH | Beauty product sales are booming:

‘Lipstick index’ suggests tough economic times as beauty sales boom

New data suggests Canadian consumers are falling into the ‘lipstick index,’ spending more on cosmetics when financial times are tough. Several Canadian beauty retailers say they’re stocking up on products, expecting to build on last year’s holiday boom.

Children tend to have thinner, more sensitive skin, Dr. Ashleigh Vallée, a general practitioner in Coal Harbour, B.C., who specializes in dermatology, recently told CBC Vancouver. This leaves them more prone to irritation and dryness.

“I would tell kids to stick to products that are specifically marketed for sensitive skin or hypoallergenic skin. Things like retinols … those are all very harsh.”

Dividing online opinion

But teens, tweens and kids mimicking trends they see in pop culture and from older role models is nothing new. Playing with dolls, even, is one of the earliest forms of this long history of pretending to be older, notes a media psychologist in Glamour magazine.

In the 1990s, kids bleached their hair with Sun-In and their skin with benzoyl peroxide while collecting Lip Smackers. And before there was Sephora, there was Claire’s, where they could pick up hair accessories, drool over glittery backpacks and maybe even get their ears pierced.

“I wore makeup at a young age and it was great for my self-expression,” one person commented on a #SephoraKids TikTok video.

A display of makeup is pictured inside a Sephora store.
A display of makeup is pictured at a Sephora location in New York City. (Getty Images for Sephora)

The issue has been divisive online. The hashtag Sephora Kids has 331.9 million views on TikTok. Most of those videos are adults complaining about kids wasting samples, being rude to employees and spending large amounts of money on products for adults.

One of the most popular, with 3.7 million “likes” since it was posted on Jan. 5, is a rant about “10-year-old kids in Sephora” posted by a woman who says she works there. She describes a child who she says attempted to purchase $900 worth of products and then managed to be talked down to $500 by her mother.

“I’m sorry, who’s the mom, here? Because the problem isn’t the kids. The problem’s the parents … nothing is going to change until the parents change,” the employee says.

In another video with four million views, a woman who also says she’s a former Sephora employee describes her own experiences, including when a young girl demanded Drunk Elephant bronzing drops and a retinol serum.

“You do not need it. You’re going to damage your skin,” the woman says.

Sephora has not responded to a request for comment from CBC News.

As is the way with social media, the uproar over “Sephora kids” has also sparked videos in defence of them. Some kids are even defending themselves, including a 10-year-old interviewed by Teen Vogue who said she was sad to see all of the videos of adults disparaging kids.

“I get it, Bratz dolls were probably popular when you were 10 years old. But I’m a kid [now], and this is what’s popular. This is the new toy that we have. This is a new generation, we’re Generation Alpha. And I’m proud of that.”

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