How Parents Navigate Their "Sephora Kids"

If you've been anywhere near TikTok recently, you've probably come across "Sephora kids," a phenomenon where tweens and children as young as 7 are swarming the store on the hunt for whatever trending serum, moisturizer, or highlighter they can get their hands on. As skin care takes center stage for Generation Alpha (that is, those born between the years 2010 and 2025), the retail giant is now the location of choice for play dates and scavenger hunts, with their often unruly clientele leaving behind a mess of swatches and product displays for employees to tend to. Some children who have yet to hit double digits are more familiar with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide than their parents, and many haven't even learned basic math before swapping squishmallows for Drunk Elephant on their birthday gift lists.

Taking matters a step further, "kid influencers" are also on the rise, with children taking to TikTok to show off their new purchases, divulge their skin-care routines, and partake in story-time "Get Ready With Me" videos that involve pricey multistep routines. This outwardly in-your-face fixation with beauty products is in stark contrast to millennial mothers like Jackie Hosey, who recalls having to sneak mascara and lip gloss to school in the third grade. Now she finds herself navigating her 11-year-old's desire to use chore money for skin care and spend all of her after-school hours at Sephora to swatch various formulas and collect product samples.

According to Mariel Benjamin, a parenting expert, licensed clinical social worker, and vice president of groups and content at Cooper, this isn't anything new — to a degree. "Developmentally, it's appropriate for children ages 8 to 12 to notice what others look like, create their own notion of what beauty is, and try to imitate the adults and older children around them," she says. "But instead of using their mom's makeup, there has been a colossal shift in behavior where parents are allowing children to participate as consumers."

This begs the question: where does this attraction to the beauty space (and, specifically, expensive products) stem from? Many parents point to TikTok. "They see these products on TikTok and want to go to Sephora and try them out to keep up with the trend," Hosey says. "Knowledge of skin-care products has become a status symbol among girls this age."

Kristjana Hillberg, mother to an 11-year-old, agrees. "[My daughter] Lily has always been interested in makeup — she's witnessed me perform as an aerialist and have really extravagant makeup done — but I feel like downloading TikTok was really the onset of the fascination and growing interest outside of what she was already used to," Hillberg says.

There are also peer dynamics and an unavoidable social context to consider. According to Benjamin, it's developmentally appropriate for tweens to both get terrible advice from their peers and to care deeply about what their friends think. It's even true for Hosey, who says her daughter and her friends "get on FaceTime and show off the products they bought for the day."

Glossy Instagram ads and eye-catching packaging are also at play. "Corporations are not going to stop marketing something to children just because it isn't appropriate for them," Benjamin says, adding that social media has made it easier for children to covet these things, blurring that line between what is for them and what isn't for them (think: flavored vapes).

When navigating this particular dilemma, open dialogue is key. "The best way to approach this topic is with curiosity and asking your tween in a nonjudgmental way, 'Why do you want to use this product?'" Benjamin says. "Start off by listening and finding out more — how do they feel about wearing the product? Will it make them feel confident? Is it because their friends are wearing it?" It's important to get to the root of the motivations for wearing skin care or makeup before anything else; then, parents can validate these very real feelings before setting reasonable limits that make sense for the family, Benjamin says.

As for those seemingly never-ending TikTok videos spewing product after product? When it comes to content children consume and record, Benjamin says that parents have a role in not only selecting appropriately, but in modeling behaviors that support their child's growing self-esteem, confidence, and body image. While some people may argue that those aforementioned "Get Ready With Me" videos can be likened to modern-day dress-up, concerns are mainly centered around why children are interested in this attention, what they're looking for from the videos, and what the skin-care routine "means" to them. "Making these videos for dress-up, and not publicly posting, is one easy alternative that keeps the focus on play and exploration, not about likes and attention," Benjamin says.

"Making these videos for dress-up, and not publicly posting, is one easy alternative that keeps the focus on play and exploration, not about likes and attention."

In addition to what they're watching and posting on social media, parents are also in control of what their children buy. It's important to not exert that control without a discussion, without understanding what your kids need or want, and without sensitivity to how they feel, says Benjamin, who offers the following statement for parents who are struggling: "'I understand that you want this and that everyone else uses this product. It's hard not to have the same stuff that your friends have, but I have a lot of concerns about how safe this product is for you. As your parent, it's my job to keep you healthy and safe, and from everything I've learned, this product isn't safe. I know that is hard to hear, and we can keep talking about it and learning about it together.'"

It's true that for many parents, there are rampant concerns over kids using potent ingredients like retinol and harsh actives like exfoliating acids. "To me, this is not just an experimental phase that comes with zero consequences; our skin is the largest organ of the body, directly absorbing what we put on it," she says. "Lily is right in the middle of the puberty-starting timeline, and with puberty comes shifting hormones, which can play a huge role in your skin."

Rather than blaming the world we live in for making such products accessible to children, Benjamin is an advocate for educating yourself on ingredients and product usage. "This is a new area of interest, and we have no idea about the long-term effects of the use of these products on our children," she says. "Most of these products have never been tested on children or prepubescent skin, so I recommend checking with a dermatologist about ingredients and following their advice."

Improper ingredient usage is partially why Sara Marino, a mother of three and the founder of Green Girl Goods, a clean beauty and skin-care box for tweens and teens, began looking into beauty products appropriate for kids. "I started the brand to answer the challenges I was facing finding the right products for my own daughter, and to avoid exactly what's happening right now with parents not knowing how to find products that work for their children," Marino says. "We don't push antiaging products or those with active ingredients — instead, we share products with safer ingredients that are compatible with young skin and work to educate our customers on why we've included a product in the box, what the ingredients mean, and how to make better choices for themselves when shopping." Among these products are safely scented colorful cosmetics, makeup brushes, and nail products, as well as lifestyle items that include gratitude journals and sunglasses.

So, where do we go from here? Remember that most children want a product for its name, popularity, packaging, or smell, and that they may not fully understand its function. This makes it much easier for parents to set good boundaries about which items are allowed, which aren't, and why. While setting and holding boundaries for their children may be uncomfortable, Benjamin says that parents should view this as an opportunity to educate them on their own decision-making process, finding a way to sensitively enforce boundaries that feel right for them.