“Rare Beauty, I’m coming for ya!” shouts Haven Garza to 4 million TikTok followers as she dabs a liquid “luminizer” by the brand Rare Beauty on her face, to which she has already applied a toner, serum and moisturizer. This may sound like pretty standard fare for TikTok’s highly popular get-ready-with-me beauty tutorials, but the skin care influencer in this case is 7 years old.
And in a single 2-minute video that conveys the kind of rapture only a child can by repeating “EEEE!” and “amazing!!!,” Haven has managed to promote more than $400 worth of goods. The products are from popular brands, including Bubble Glow Recipe, Drunk Elephant and Skinbetter Science— among them, an $135 overnight anti-aging retinol cream formulated to boost collagen and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Haven, who shares her TikTok account with her manager mom and twin sister, Koti, is among a growing number of preteens known as “baby beauty” influencers who are hawking expensive products on social media. They’re emulating celebrity kids such as 10-year-old North West, who posts TikTok videos of her cosmetic routines, and tween beauty-focused Instagrammers like Pixie Curtis. They’re also following the lead of teens, such as Avery Kroll, who have fueled the booming get ready with me trend.
There’s an argument to be made that youth beauty influencers are simply engaging in creative expression and innovative entertainment. But the more time I’ve spent doom-scrolling through dozens of accounts, the more perverse the trend seems to become.
Not just because of the extraordinary waste of money and resources spent on unnecessary products and the physical risks of using them but also because of the psychological effects of conscripting kids into marketing roles for an industry that, since its inception, has taken a heavy psychological toll even on adults.
Let’s be clear that social media platforms are not the only culprits here. The onus lies as much with the beauty industry as it does with TikTok or Meta. And before this trend snowballs, the executives at leading cosmetics and skin care companies should be taking a stand against it.
Yet many of them are doing just the opposite—by creating products designed to supercharge the growing obsession with beauty among young girls. For example, the Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido has acquired Drunk Elephant, a brand reaching teens with kaleidoscopic packaging and online marketing campaigns that have come to define social media clickbait. Meanwhile, Christian Dior has gone a step further with the recent release of skin care on the Baby Dior line, which includes $230 “scented water” for toddlers and newborns.
While the fashion media has generally been uncritical of this trend—if not downright celebratory—journalist and Gloss Angeles podcast co-host Kirbie Johnson has been among the few voices noting its “chokehold” on American youth.
In a recent newsletter, she described a scene at a Drunk Elephant product launch event where several teen influencers were in attendance. “I did feel like I was in an HBO parody of the industry,” she writes, “where there’s some joke about how young the industry’s actually getting, and I end up at a party with literal children for a retinal eye serum launch.”
There are, indeed, significant practical and psychological costs to pushing beauty products and habits on kids (let alone toddlers and infants). It has been documented that many skin care and beauty products contain harmful chemicals. Skin lightening and anti-aging creams, for example, can contain high levels of mercury, and researchers have found that fragrances in cleansers and shampoos can compromise fertility.
Some youth-focused skin care lines, such as Bubble, have steered clear of the harshest anti-aging chemicals. Yet Bubble still has products with exfoliating hydroxy acids and ingredients used to treat acne, such as niacinamide, that are hardly necessary for pre-pubescent consumers. It’s also marketing products such as eye creams that are superfluous for kids.
Which brings us to the matter of teen mental health. This new trend is fueling an obsession with appearance that is closely correlated with eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
We should also be concerned that it could, in turn, fuel the trend toward increasingly younger consumers of Botox, fillers and plastic surgery. According to American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery data, more than a quarter of the patients opting for Botox last year were 34 or younger – up from 21% in 2015.
It has been widely documented that Gen Z is already experiencing a mental health crisis driven largely by social media but also by a range of other societal factors, from the pandemic to climate change.
Call me traditional, but as a parent of a tween and a teen, it seems to me that what a 7-year-old needs on their skin is not “luminizer” or anti-wrinkle night cream, but dirt, rain and finger paint.
Amanda Little is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering agriculture and climate. She is a professor at Vanderbilt University and author of “The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World.”