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Is There Such A Thing As “Too Young” For Skin Care? Derms Weigh In

Jamie Schneider
July 28, 2023
Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor
By Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Young black girl washing her face over the sink
Image by Stereo Shot / Stocksy
July 28, 2023
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To be honest, I could have definitely used a skin care upgrade when I was 11 years old. Aside from attacking my skin barrier with alcohol-soaked peel pads and using the occasional abrasive face scrub in the shower (that oil-free marketing was really something!), I didn’t have much of a routine or even understand the slightest skin care vocab. 

Compared to the young girls of today, many of whom use hyaluronic acid in their everyday jargon, this paints a very different picture. As I scroll through countless “Get Ready With Me” videos on TikTok, I’ll admit it often takes me a full minute to realize I’ve actually spent time watching a 12-year-old’s beauty line-up. Until she filmed her Bat Mitzvah outfit reveal, I could have sworn she was 25. 

Their skin care literacy is unmatched, that’s for sure. But as I see the 10th tween uncapping her vitamin C eye cream, I do wonder if these potent products are doing more harm than good. 

Is there such a thing as “too young” for skin care? I had derms weigh in below. 

What age should you start a skin care routine? 

First thing’s first: Anyone, regardless of age, can benefit from a simple cleanse, moisturize, protect regimen. “Sunscreen is a must from birth onwards,” notes board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, M.D., founder of MaeiMD. “And antioxidant protection can benefit those at any age.”

Board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, agrees: "If the advice is what we dermatologists recommend—washing your face with gentle cleanser at least once, preferably twice a day, and using SPF 30 to 60 when outdoors—this is something that I support, and it is really never too early to start this," she tells mindbodygreen.

It’s when pre-teens start to dabble in potent, photosensitizing actives—acids, retinols, and the like—that they start wreaking havoc on their skin barriers, she adds. However, depending on when a child hits adolescence, a derm might actually recommend these stronger ingredients to target specific skin concerns (namely, acne). 

“Some 11 year olds are already experiencing skin changes associated with puberty, in which case retinoids and other acne-fighting ingredients are indicated,” notes Marcus. So the answer is a resounding it depends, but kids should always get the green light from a derm before slathering on potentially-irritating ingredients. 

Now, things get tricky when it comes to hydrating, collagen-promoting ingredients—think peptides, growth factors, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that these ingredients are receiving more air time on social media and reaching a younger demographic—after all, true skin longevity starts with early prevention methods! And while they don’t carry the same irritation potential as retinoids (assuming you use a high-quality formula), they also aren’t really that necessary for a much younger age group. 

“We start to lose collagen in our 20s1, so that would be a good time to start using more advanced actives, such as peptides and growth factors, which function to help stimulate collagen,” Marcus says. When you’re very young and your skin is already chock-full of collagen, there’s not much to replenish. 

Sorry to say, an 11-year-old slathering on an innovative peptide-infused formula is likely just wasting money (a lot of money, given the steep price tags on some of these innovative, biotech-derived confections). The serum will hydrate their skin, no doubt, but they don’t necessarily need the collagen-restoring capabilities those peptides provide. 

An early adolescent would fare far better with focusing on sun protection (and perhaps acne, considering the skin starts to produce more oil due to hormonal changes), waiting until young adulthood when collagen maintenance becomes front and center to use specific antioxidants, retinols, and other collagen-stimulating actives. 

A note on mental health 

But let’s not forget that skin care is far from superficial. For many, spending time at the sink can serve as a grounding ritual that helps them reduce stress and connect with their bodies. Your skin is your largest organ, after all, and treating it with care should not come with any barriers to entry, age being one of them. 

“Routines are really important,” says board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, M.D. “As long as they’re not doing any harm.” So if a gentle 10-step routine simply feels good (assuming you aren’t completely wrecking your skin barrier), please, go ahead and proceed. “If their skin isn’t acting up in any way, then it's probably OK,” Wechsler adds. 

Especially for kids that do have specific complexion concerns, engaging in skin care can help give them a sense agency. “Skin problems can have an impact on one’s self-confidence and self-esteem2, so it’s important to care for your skin and get help from a professional if needed,” says Marcus. “I also believe that skincare can be a form of caring for one’s spirit and sense of well-being and self-respect, even in the absence of skin problems, and young girls should feel free to indulge in rituals that make them feel good!” 

But like any well-being habit, it is possible to take it too far. “Things become a problem when you spend too much time in the day ‘doing something right’ and obsessing about it, so it gets in the way of the rest of your life,” notes Wechsler. 

Social media can certainly perpetuate this obsession for young girls, especially if the algorithm targets an audience already fixating on their skin concerns. "We're more open to being manipulated when we're insecure," says psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., about the dark side of SkinTok (aka, skin care TikTok), which is why you might feel inclined to purchase a “seriously life-changing” serum just because a creator told you to. 

Young girls experimenting with skin care isn’t inherently bad, but it’s important to make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons—i.e., they aren’t doing so for social media clout. “As long as skin care is making girls feel good and it’s not becoming an obsession with perfection, I’m all for it,” Marcus declares. 

The takeaway 

If a beauty routine makes you feel good, who am I to stop you from partaking? But in terms of actual complexion benefits, a younger age group doesn’t necessarily need to introduce collagen-restoring ingredients just yet. A proper cleanser, moisturizer, and, of course, SPF is all a tween really needs. A “less is more” approach may even be better for skin longevity in the long-run—take it or leave it. 

Jamie Schneider author page.
Jamie Schneider
Beauty & Health Editor

Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.