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Active Skincare Ingredients Are Harming Tweens

Trends come and go for teenagers and pre-teens, but a recent surge of interest in anti-aging skincare might be harming their skin.

The internet has been awash with videos of young girls aged as young as 10 or 11 roaming around stores like Sephora, purchasing expensive and potent anti-aging skincare products containing ingredients like retinol and exfoliating acids.

Now, dermatologists are warning preteens and their parents that these products may actually be damaging their youthful skin.

Many of these tweens and teens have gotten into skincare after watching TikToks from their favorite creators, who have a detailed skincare regimen consisting of a cocktail of expensive brands such as Drunk Elephant or Fenty. However, using these strong products together has begun to cause damage, with many reporting outbreaks of eczema, rashes, and acne.

“Many products have what we call “active” ingredients — like salicylic acid, retinols, peptides. They are more suitable for mature skin to target wrinkles or skin with specific concerns like acne. But for tweens and teens, these ingredients can do damage, irritate the skin and cause the reverse effects they are hoping to achieve,” Carol Cheng, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology and board-certified dermatologist and pediatric dermatologist at UCLA Health, said in a statement.

As we get older, the amount of collagen our skin produces slowly wanes, leading to the development of wrinkles. On adult skin, retinol helps slow the process of aging by increasing the production of collagen in the skin, which reduces fine lines over time. However, before a person reaches their twenties, collagen has not yet begun to dwindle, making retinol redundant.

“Retinols and retinoids can sometimes be a problem for young children, especially if there is not a clinical indication such as acne. Retinols can sometimes cause retinoid dermatitis, a type of scaly rash. Additionally, retinols can make you susceptible to sunburn and sun damage,” Jayden Galamgam, a board-certified dermatologist and pediatric dermatology fellow at UCLA Health, said in the statement.

Many young people mix ingredients to create a “skincare smoothie”, which can alter the pH of the products and result in skin irritation. Additionally, using retinol improperly, i.e. in the morning or without sun protection, can result in increased sun damage to the skin.

Experts recommend that younger people interested in skincare stick to a basic routine that avoids stronger ingredients.

“A simple and practical routine is best. Cleanse the face once or twice a day with a gentle facial cleanser. Drugstore brands (Cetaphil, for example) are fine. Apply a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater every morning is of utmost importance. At nighttime, add a facial moisturizer if the skin seems dry. That’s it,” Cheng said.

Using sun protection is the bastion of skincare, the experts say, and is a way for younger people who are concerned about wrinkles to avoid premature aging of the skin.

“The number one thing we stress is sunscreen. Kids should develop that habit early so that it becomes part of their normal daily routine. Also, they should cleanse their face with a facial cleanser. Facial cleansers are formulated to have a pH level closer to the skin’s natural pH level,” Galamgam said. “Preteens and teenagers also should avoid harsh exfoliating scrubs. These can cause dryness, redness and irritation. Other than a mild cleanser and sunscreen, people should find a facial moisturizer that works best for their skin type.”

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