What Age Is the Best Time to Start Using Skincare?


With all the recent buzz about 10-year-olds in Sephora raiding the makeup and skincare aisles with their Christmas money, the internet has had basically one burning question (or rather concern) on our minds:

Is a skincare routine really necessary at 10 years old? Or even younger?

To answer this question, we did our usual deep dive into what the latest dermatology science has to say, as well as watched a ton of videos from the internet’s top “skinfluencers” (at least, those with degrees), and we found some interesting answers.

Young people can and should start a basic skincare routine to get into good skincare habits, such as washing their faces, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen to prevent sun damage. 

However, there is no need to use anti-aging products or retinoids unless recommended or prescribed by a dermatologist.

Inappropriate use of actives such as chemical exfoliants, retinoids, and other anti-aging products can result in contact dermatitis and eczema and even lead to kids developing allergies to certain ingredients.

Should Kids Be Using Skincare

The immediate reaction that many online personalities had to the “10-year-olds in Sephora” trend was a mix of everything from outrage to disappointment.

Everyone from Sephora employees to dermatologists and aestheticians were weighing in. 

Yes, it is shocking to see young children and tweens reaching for harsh products like retinoids and anti-aging serums.

But are these products really all that bad for kids to use? Here’s what we found.


After doing a bit of digging, we found that most dermatologists agree on one thing when it comes to retinoids: there is no need for young individuals with normal skin to use retinoid products.

Before we dive deeper into this, let’s clarify what a retinoid is in the first place. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, retinoids are sort of a “catch-all” term for a group of products that use vitamin A to treat acne-related symptoms.

There are both prescription and over-the-counter products of “adapalene” (a type of retinoid), which come in the topical forms of tretinoin (Retin-A), tazarotene, and trifarotene and the oral form of isotretinoin (Accutane).

There are also retinols (another form of retinoids), which are used to treat skin tone, pigmentation, and texture.

Essentially, retinoids are highly effective compounds for the treatment of acne and aging-related skin issues because they encourage quicker cell turnover. 

This both reduces the formation of acne blemishes (such as closed comedones) and minimizes the appearance of age-related skin problems.

However, there is a caveat to our initial statement at the start of this section: there is, in fact, a valid use case for retinoid application among young people. 

If your child is dealing with acne that just doesn’t seem to go away with the use of a mild cleanser and moisturizer, they might benefit from using a retinoid. 

In fact, tretinoin is the first-line form of treatment clinically recommended by dermatologists for adolescent patients experiencing acne.

For skin aging, doctors recommend starting to use retinoids when you’re in your mid-20s.

However, if your child has normal skin or very little noticeable acne but is expressing an interest in skincare or using retinoids, parents could use this opportunity to connect with their kids and work together to create an age-appropriate skincare routine.

We’ll dive into what that might look like a little later on in this article.

Anti-Aging Products

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, dermatologists or not, kids do not need to be using anti-aging products.

Young skin is already inherently youthful, and there is no reason for kids to be worried about wrinkles, uneven skin tone, or textured skin at this age.

While it’s perfectly normal for young people (particularly girls) to become interested in skincare and makeup as they age, when it comes to products targeted towards anti-aging, parents should be aware that these products are not appropriate for their child to use.

This is because anti-aging products contain chemicals that can be more harmful than helpful for young skin.

Physical and Chemical Exfoliants

There are two different types of exfoliants: chemical and physical.

Physical exfoliation is the use of a non-chemical product such as a towel, washcloth, or facial scrub to remove dead skin cells from the surface of our skin.

This can be a harsher form of exfoliation and is recommended to use sparingly since excessive exfoliation can damage the skin’s moisture barrier, creating more problems than there were to begin with. 

Dermatologists and estheticians will often recommend chemical exfoliants (to adults) instead since you can choose the level of exfoliation based on your skin needs.

Some examples of chemical exfoliants are BHAs, AHAs, PHAs, enzymatic peels, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and many, many more.

This is a whole topic unto itself, though, so we won’t dive too much into this right now. Just know that your child’s skin will almost certainly not require any kind of physical or chemical exfoliation.

That is, of course, unless your dermatologist recommends it for a particular skin issue. For kids, the simpler, the better!

Ideal Skincare Routines by Age

Now that we’ve gone on about what not to use, we’d like to shed a bit of light on what is age-appropriate skincare for kids.

Yes, that’s right, kids can use skincare! However, it won’t be the ten-step routine their favorite influencer follows.

There are a few things that differentiate the skin of young kids, teens, and adults. 

Children, particularly those under 10 years of age, have a more permeable skin barrier, meaning they both absorb and lose hydration more quickly than adults. Their skin is also thinner.

As we age, our skin begins to produce more sebum, especially as we enter puberty, which can lead to common adolescent-related skin problems such as oily skin and acne.

As a result, there are definitely products teens can (and potentially should be) using to prevent and treat their acne.

However, for kids and young adults with normal skin, the simpler, the better.

So, here are some basic routines we think are appropriate based on dermatologist recommendations for the major youth age groups.

Kids (< 8)

Kids under eight years of age should not have to worry about their skin much, if at all. 

The most that parents should be encouraging for a hygiene routine at this age is regular bath time with a gentle body wash and shampoo, brushing and flossing the teeth, and maybe applying some baby or kid-appropriate lotion if your child has some dry spots.
Children should also be wearing sunscreen to protect their skin from UV damage since they typically receive much higher doses of UV radiation than adults.

Pre-Teens (8-12)

As children approach puberty, their skin will begin to change. 

Their peers may also start to become interested in skincare and makeup, which could rub off on your own children, even if they aren’t on social media.

Discouraging skincare and makeup use entirely, though, might just backfire.

Instead, have lots of conversations and work together with your child to build a skincare routine that will help keep their skin healthy and free of damage from the harsh chemicals found in popular skincare products.

Pre-teens can safely use a gentle facial cleanser, a lightweight moisturizer, and sunscreen to protect their skin from UV damage.

If they want to use makeup, make sure they’re properly washing their face every evening to help get them into the habit while they’re young. 

This will be so beneficial for them as they get older since they’ve already been in the routine of taking care of their face from a young age.

Beyond that, unless they have an obvious skin problem, there is no need to worry about using any other products.

Teens (13-18)

As we enter our teenage years, blemishes like acne are bound to start forming as our skin begins to produce more sebum.

It’s important to work with your teen and not overreact, as adding more products to their skincare routine could just exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.

Everybody’s skin is different, so it may take some trial and error to find what works best for them.

If your child wants to try a new serum, cleanser, oil, toner, etc., advise them to add one new product at a time and give it three or more weeks to start working.

Unless it’s clearly making the problem worse––causing redness, closed comedones, itchiness, cystic acne, dry patches, etc.––removing it too soon will not give the product the time it needs to work.

If nothing seems to be working to clear the acne, or it’s only getting worse, it might be time to see a dermatologist.

In general, teens can safely use most facial cleansers (avoid using ones with harsher ingredients, such as salicylic acid, more than a couple times a week), very gentle toners, and moisturizers. As always, sunscreen is recommended whenever your teen goes outside.

If they are wearing makeup, double cleansing with a makeup-removing balm or oil is very gentle and effective for removing products without harming the skin. Ensure they’re always using a cleanser afterward.

Adults (18+)

As we age, we can use many more products with far fewer of the negative effects we might experience as teens with sensitive, acne-prone skin.

Adult acne sufferers everywhere with sensitive skin are groaning at this statement, but it’s generally true––as adults, our skin can typically take a bit more than adolescents.

This is why it’s more readily recommended to use chemical exfoliants and retinoids in our 20s.

A good, basic skincare routine for adults could look like this: makeup removing oil or balm, gentle cleanser, toner, light to heavy moisturizer depending on your skin needs, and, of course, sunscreen.

You can also incorporate actives (such as chemical exfoliants or retinoids) and serums (like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid or niacinamide) that are designed to treat specific skin concerns such as acne or age-related blemishes.

We recommend following the same advice as teens, though, and only adding one product at a time to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Finally, we want to acknowledge the elephant in the room––the catalyst for this trend of kids reaching for anti-aging skincare and retinol serums––and take a moment to talk a bit about social media.

From what we can tell, this trend is almost entirely due to social media and online influencers doing what they do best: influencing their followers to purchase certain skincare products.

Even if your kid doesn’t have access to social media, their peers might, and peer pressure can be very hard to avoid or protect your child from.

Does this mean that social media is bad?

Well, this study on the use of social media by Italian adolescents (11-17) says that while social media can be a useful tool, it’s also a major risk factor for mental health among teen users. 

Many studies also point to the increased risk of bullying (both online and offline), self-harm, reduced performance at school, trouble sleeping, and more.

Ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for their children, and you can’t prevent them from hanging out with their friends.

However, it is worth having a conversation with them about social media, how it can affect their mental health, and (if they’re on the skincare side of social media) the negative effects of harsh skincare use early on in life.

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