I’m on a video call with Layla, my cousin’s 10-year-old daughter. She’s wearing a black leotard and a pink tutu. Her hair is pulled into a high ponytail, and she sits on her dad’s desk chair cross-legged, chatting excitedly with me. The topic of discussion? Beauty. I recently gifted Layla an advent calendar filled with bath bombs and lip gloss. She loved it so much she told me she couldn’t wait and opened all of the little doors at once. It warmed my heart to share an i
n interest with Layla. As I continue to chat with Layla, she tells me of her love for cooking up homemade avocado and honey face masks, explaining that she makes her skincare products because she can’t buy them. There’s a wholesomeness in Layla’s enthusiasm for self-care. She explains that she wants to keep the beautiful skin she has, well into her teens. But her enthusiasm feels worlds apart from the global army of tweens seeking out highly active skincare products for their pre-pubescent skin. If you weren’t aware, tweens have been shopping up a storm, or at least heavily influencing the purchasing decisions of their parents, and leaving a wreckage of product testers in their wake. The term ‘Sephora Kids’ has been circulating on social media for some time now; just check the hashtag on TikTok. A movement of 8- to 12-year-olds is taking over French brand Sephora’s stores globally. So why on Earth are tweens shopping for anything but a tinted lip balm and a bath bomb? And why are skinfluencers (yes, I cringed as I typed that word), telling tweens to buy retinol when active ingredients like this are anything but suitable for a child’s skin? And is it ethical for businesses to capitalise on the trend of tween beauty? As I listened to the ongoing debate among consumers, I wondered how brands were responding. After all, good business dictates that wherever a market exists, there is potential for financial gain, especially considering that tweens are the next generation of consumers. The teenage personal care product market is expected to grow by $8.81 billion from 2021 to 2026, with a steady annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent. A study by marketing agency Razorfish found that over half (51 per cent) of Generation Alphas (that’s the tween generation) first hear about brands through YouTube videos. If you’re playing in a market that has the ability to attract a tween demographic, you might be looking at these figures with money signs in your eyes. So, I decided to approach three major Australian retailers that have a bricks-and-mortar presence, knowing well how much tweens love to play with products. Not one retailer agreed to comment. Take from this what you will. Drunk Elephant takes to social media The controversy surrounding tween beauty has thrown a few beauty brands into hot water. Drunk Elephant is a brand that’s been front-and-centre and also the first in the firing line. With the public up in arms that tweens are using the brand’s active skincare products, Drunk Elephant decided to take steps to control the narrative. In December, during peak holiday gifting, when little girls all around the globe had Drunk Elephant on their Christmas wish lists, the brand posted a list of “Drunk Elephant products that are safe for kids and tweens to use” on its Instagram. The post advised, “I would say stay away from our more potent products that include acids and retinols – their skin does not need these ingredients quite yet.” However, the post was interpreted by the public as a call for further scrutiny, prompting responses like “no kid needs skincare but unfortunately, social media is convincing them they do” and “a post on Instagram is not due diligence”. When the founder of Texas-based Drunk Elephant, Tiffany Masterson, was asked about this on the podcast Gloss Angeles, she replied, “I think that part of it is good, that they’re learning and they’re educating themselves, and they have that self-care thing going, and I think that can’t be a bad thing,” Masterson seemed satisfied with the brand’s newfound attention: “I’m so flattered and honoured that it appeals to a wide range of people,” she said. Earlier this year, Masterson denied targeting children when asked by Ad Age if the move was deliberate. “The answer’s no, we’ve never attempted to target children in any way and would not.” During the same interview, however, she also confessed to sending products to Kim and Kourtney Kardashian with a note bearing their daughters’ names. North West and (Kim Kardashian’s niece) Penelope Kardashian, who are undeniably the biggest tween influencers in the world, boast a combined 23.6 million followers on TikTok and coincidentally shared their Drunk Elephant skincare routines to their accounts soon after. A resounding marketing success for the brand. Deliberate? Well, you decide. I stumbled across a post from an aunt looking to buy her 12-year-old niece something “cool”. Soon after, responses flooded through from mothers and aunts who had experience in this very game. Warnings not to be “the aunt who buys a 12-year-old Drunk Elephant skincare” came in droves. Other posts by mothers with kids the same age recommended Sol de Janeiro, Laneige Lip Masks, Frank Body Scrubs or Glow Recipe Face Wash and advised that any makeup from MCoBeauty would get her niece smiling. As I pondered the thread of replies, I thought about little Layla. Maybe I wouldn’t be the cool aunt, but I decided to buy her a toy nail care set instead. I figured Sephora could wait.