Tweens and teens are obsessed with TikTok’s buzziest skincare brands - but much of it is not suitable for them. Here’s how to navigate the kids’ skincare minefield.

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It’s a big deal when a brand asks people not to buy their products but that’s what Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson did recently. Writing on Instagram, she asked teens and tweens to “stay away from our more potent products that include exfoliating acids and retinols – their skin does not need these ingredients quite yet”. Tweens and teens are so obsessed with TikTok-friendly skincare brands, many of which that are aimed at adults, that the story even made the BBC News this week, with leading dermatologists issuing warnings to parents.

I know all about this trend. My daughter celebrated her 15th birthday last month with a trip to Westfield shopping centre with her friends. They didn’t emerge laden down with bags of clothes as I'd expected, rather the entire contents of Sephora. These girls are bombarded with TikTok content featuring Drunk Elephant, Bubble Skincare and Byoma. One talked me through her elaborate skincare regime, as I drove them home, and it took most of the 45-minute journey.

Meanwhile, my twin 12-year-old nieces have been banned from buying any skincare for three months by my exasperated sister-in-law. Our Beauty Director SJ now has a rabid tween fanbase at her 9-year-old daughter’s school after she donated some goodies from Hailey Bieber’s skincare brand Rhode to a school raffle. And one London branch of Space NK has removed its Drunk Elephant testers from the shopfloor to stop children coming in every day after school and pumping them into oblivion.

Putting aside the issue of cost – parents must be the judge of whether they want/ can afford a £60 moisturiser for their child – the problem here is that many of these brands, although boasting jauntily coloured packaging that’s catnip for kids, are aimed at adults. They often contain ingredients that shouldn’t be anywhere near a 12-year-old’s face

“It is unwise for children to use skincare designed for the more complex needs of adult skin,” says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. “Children have a different microbiome to adults and their skin barrier may well be disrupted if they use actives-based anti-ageing skincare, like vitamin C serums or rich moisturisers not formulated with them in mind. And there is simply no need for any child to have an eight-step skincare routine.”

How can parents police kids’ skincare?

This is a tricky one because when you have a teenager, they won’t listen to you, even if you do literally write about this stuff for a living. When I try to tell my daughter she doesn’t need a product, she tells me that I am wrong because everyone on TikTok says it’s great. And then stalks off, case closed.

So the best thing to do is read the ingredient labels closely and confiscate if necessary. No judgement from us here because this can flummox the best of us. SJ admits she allowed her daughter, who has eczema, to use a Bubble hydrating sleep mask, to which she promptly had a reaction. “Even with all my knowledge, I got it wrong,” SJ says. “As soon as she put it on, her face went bright red so I removed it from her skin straight away. It was only then I clocked it had exfoliating acids in it.”

Generally, active ingredients – ones that are designed to target a specific concern – should not be used on children’s skin.

“I most certainly don’t recommend alpha hydroxy acids or retinoids, including retinol, of any kind in children without acne,” says Bunting. “Cell turnover at this age is brisk and doesn’t need stimulating unless the skin is becoming congested. Retinoids can be helpful if acne develops but this more potent area of actives is best explored with your doctor’s guidance.”

Essential oils, which could irritate, and pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil are also best avoided.

“I’d also steer clear of multi-serum routines and cleansing balms, oils and moisturisers designed for adult skin,” Bunting adds.

What is the best skincare for kids?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that children are interested in skincare. “It does have a role to play for tweens and teens - when puberty starts and hormones switch on the oil glands in facial skin, it’s a good time to think about starting a simple skincare routine twice a day,” says Bunting.

She suggests the following regime:

Further reading? Have a look at our in-depth story on best skincare for teens.

Best kids’ skincare products from those viral brands

Still being pestered to death about TikTok’s favourite brands? Don’t panic, here is our pick of the products that should be OK for delicate young skin.

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No actives, no essential oils, nothing weird – if your darling daughter won’t rest until she’s got that elephant logo in her life, this is your best bet. It has a fun jelly texture and gently dissolves away grot.

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My goodness, the kids love Bubble, which has similar bright branding and clever push-down dispensers as Drunk Elephant but at half the price. This gentle moisturizer contains aloe leaf juice and avocado oil.

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This Korean brand’s nourishing lip treatment poses no problems for kids and might even encourage them to go to bed earlier – you just trowel it on before hitting the sack.

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Approach Glow Recipe with caution as the brand is big on actives (including retinol and vitamin C) and thus aimed at adults, but the cheery packaging lures in the kids. This cleanser, with colloidal oatmeal and avocado oil, is fine though.

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Direct the mini Hailey Bieber fan in your life to the Rhode lip balms. Flavours include salted caramel and watermelon – basically, Lancome Juicy Tubes, the next generation.

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Let’s be honest no one really needs a face mist but they do feel nice on the skin. This oil, alcohol and fragrance-free one should refresh without causing any issues.