Sephora kids are obsessed with retinol serum. Is it safe for young skin?

Two dermatologists say using retinol on young skin could have harmful effects.

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Retinol serum. Cheerful young girl wearing a bathrobe and makeup hairband when applying face cream in the bathroom
TikTok-viral beauty products, including retinol serum, are all the range among Sephora kids. But are the active ingredients dangerous for young people?

Over the past few months, Sephora kids have gone viral on TikTok. A quick search on the app will bring up hundreds of videos highlighting the store's growing number of tween shoppers. TikTok's trending beauty products are all the rage for these young customers — and one of the most coveted items is retinol serum. But is it safe for kids and teens to use? We asked two dermatologists to weigh in.

What’s happening

  • More tweens are shopping at Sephora.

  • Current and former Sephora employees are sharing their experiences with the age group on TikTok.

  • TikToker @olivia.vaphiades, a former Sephora associate, recalled being asked for retinol serum by a 10-year-old customer.

  • She said she advised the preteen more than once of the serum’s strength but was adamant about purchasing the product. “[I said] you probably don’t need that for your young skin. So, [her and her mom] end up coming to the counter, and all she’s cashing out is the Drunk Elephant retinol serum,” Olivia said in the clip.

The context

  • There are millions of views on the TikTok tag #sephorakids, and more than 56 million search results on Google.

  • Retinol serum is a topical treatment high in vitamin A and known for its anti-aging effects.

  • TikTok user and pharmacist @millennialrx says retinol is ideal for evening out fine lines and wrinkles but tends to dry out the skin.

  • Melillo shares that younger skin do not need the serum and recommends using a gentle cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen.

Is it safe for kids to use retinol serum? We asked two experts

  • Sun sensitivity, peeling and dryness are common side effects of using the serum. Though temporary in adults, it may lead to a harsher reaction in children.

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, a child’s skin is 30 per cent thinner than an adult’s, which means they are more likely to experience irritation.

  • Retinol serum also has potent active ingredients that could chemically burn a child’s skin.

  • Children have an under developed moisture barrier, so they may not be able to handle the serum’s robust formula.

young brunette girl washing her face with lots of soap bubble details on hands.
An expert says that kids and teens should focus on hydration when it comes to skincare.

Dr. Geeta Yadav is a board-certified dermatologist who is also the founder of FACET Dermatology. She says that tweens don’t need to use retinol serum, let alone worry about aging.

“Retinol is best reserved for those with acne and adults in their mid-20s and beyond,” she says. “Children have more delicate skin than adults and their moisture barrier may not be fully developed.”

“Potent actives like AHAs and retinol can cause significant sensitivity,” Yadav adds.

She does not recommend children purchasing and using products unsupervised, either. Instead, she suggests parents bring their children to a dermatologist if they want to enter the skincare space.

“We’re best suited to help them understand their skin, such as what is and isn’t safe for them to use. Whether that’s a specific product or ingredient,” she says.

Dr. Julia Carroll, a board-certified dermatologist at Compass dermatology, agrees that kids and tweens should only use complex products if they are experiencing skin issues — and have a dermatologist’s guidance.

“Teens and tweens might feel pressured to use anti-aging products prematurely,” she says. “They may not understand the potential damage a product can do from a TikTok recommendation.”

“Social media often promises unrealistic beauty standards,” she adds. “They may not even realize that their skin does not require such intensive treatments.”

What kind of skincare should kids and tweens use?

When advising parents on what they and their children could consider a safe skincare regimen, Yadav and Carroll both suggest a simple routine focused on cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection.

“I would advise kids to understand their skin needs first,” Carroll says. “At a young age, the focus should be on maintaining healthy skin, rather than anti-aging.”

If your tween is looking to follow a TikTok trend, Yadav says that there are some that are safe for younger skin.

“One such trend is the dolphin/cloud/jelly skin,” she adds. “Hyaluronic acid is an ingredient in the body that attracts and holds water. A serum that uses water, humectants, glycerin and aloe is a safe way to follow a skincare trend and get glowing skin without the risk.”

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