Mya Care Blogger 10 May 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Rosmy Barrios - July 05, 2024

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of young children adopting complex skincare routines, especially with the rise of the 'Sephora kids,' a TikTok trend that has had children using various skincare products in the United States[1].

Social media heavily influences societal beauty standards, and children too are bombarded with images of perfect, flawless skin. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and a desire to achieve the same level of perfection, even at a young age. However, is this trend of young children using multiple skincare products beneficial for their skin, or could it do more harm than good?

This blog explains the potential consequences of overdoing skincare for young children and provides tips for fostering healthy skin habits.

Key Differences Between Children's and Adult Skin

Before diving into the potential harms of overdoing skincare for young children, it is important to understand the key differences between their skin and adult skin.

During infancy, a newborn's skin is very thin and primarily consists of water. The skin begins to resemble adult skin, with additional layers and oils, by the time the child reaches 4-5 years of age. It is still delicate and not as developed as adult skin, making it more susceptible to damage and irritation caused by heat, chemical exposures, UV, and injury.[2]

Here are some key differences to keep in mind[3]:

pH: Children’s skin has a higher pH level than adult skin, making it more alkaline. This higher pH level leaves their skin prone to bacteria, acne, other irritants, and water loss. More acidic products with a lower pH, such as adult skincare products, can disrupt their natural skin pH and cause irritation.

Skin Barrier: The skin barrier, or anatomically the stratum corneum, is the outer top layer of the skin that functions as a protective barrier against environmental exposures. In children, this barrier is thinner, with less pigmentation, and less developed, making it easier for irritants to penetrate and cause damage.[4]

Sebum Production: Children's skin produces fewer oils that contribute towards sealing in moisture and providing an optimal environment for healthy skin microbes[5]. As a child grows, puberty promotes a higher production of skin sebum, helping to seal in moisture and shape a healthy skin microbiome and barrier.

Developing Skin Microbiome: The skin microbiome is the community of microorganisms that live on the skin and play a crucial role in maintaining its health. This microbiome is still developing in children and can easily be disrupted by harsh products, leading to potential skin issues. During puberty, the microbiome becomes similar to that seen in adult skin[6], responding to the shift in hormones and sebum production.

Potential Harms of Overdoing Skincare

While it may seem harmless for children to use multiple skincare products, there are potential consequences that parents should be aware of.

One of the first considerations is that many products cater to adult skin and have yet to be tested on children. With the wide variety of products that may even induce skin reactions in the age-appropriate adults using them, it is difficult to ascertain which generic products are child-friendly.

Here are some other potential harms of overdoing skincare for young children:

  • Sensitization: Using too many products or products with harsh ingredients can lead to sensitization, which is when the skin becomes overly sensitive and reactive. This practice can cause redness, itching, and irritation, making it uncomfortable for children to continue using skincare products.
  • Peeling: Children’s skin is delicate and can quickly become dry and flaky if over-exfoliated or exposed to harsh ingredients. Excessive dryness can lead to peeling, which can be uncomfortable and unsightly for children.
  • Microbiome Disruption: As mentioned earlier, children’s skin has a developing microbiome that harsh products can easily disrupt. Many adult products can lead to imbalances in the skin’s pH and natural bacteria, potentially contributing to ailments such as acne or eczema.
  • Infection Susceptibility: Children’s skin is more susceptible to infections due to its thinner and less developed barrier. Using too many products or products with harsh ingredients can compromise this barrier, making it easier for bacteria to enter and cause infections.
  • Hormone Disruption: Some skincare products, mainly those marketed towards anti-aging, may contain ingredients that can disrupt children’s hormones. As their skin is thinner, endocrine disruption can have long-term systemic consequences in children. These products are safer for adult use.
  • Over-Reliance on Products: Introducing children to a complex skincare routine at a young age can create an over-reliance on products[7]. A multi-step routine can lead to a belief that their skin needs constant maintenance and can cause anxiety if they cannot follow it. It may also cause them to overlook underlying skin issues or habits that may contribute to them, such as sleep disturbances or an unhealthy diet.

Specific Products to Avoid Until Adolescence/Adulthood

While every child’s skin is different, some products should generally be avoided until adolescence or adulthood. These include:

Anti-Aging Products

Anti-aging products often contain harsh ingredients that can disrupt the delicate balance of children’s skin. These products are often harsher as they are designed for aging skin that requires much more exfoliation and nourishment, tackling skin protein deficits and dissolving wrinkle-forming deposits and scars. Such products may be unnecessary for young children, as their skin is still developing and does not require anti-aging treatments.

According to dermatologists, the skin only begins to lose proteins such as collagen after a person turns 20, and the rate is very slow[8]. Parents with children who want to use anti-aging products should try to explain what they do to the skin and that they are for improving the complexion of older skin. They can also explain to their children that sunscreen offers UV protection that can help prevent wrinkles at an earlier age, keeping their skin looking younger for longer.

Harsh Exfoliants

Exfoliating products like scrubs or chemical peels can be too harsh for children’s delicate skin. These products can cause irritation, dryness, and peeling.

As the child's skin barrier is thinner, they can easily absorb the chemicals, which may contribute to systemic health problems and allergies.

Non-Prescription Acne Treatment

While acne is a common skin concern for teenagers, it is not as prevalent in young children. Using non-prescription acne treatments can be too harsh for their skin and may cause more harm than good.

A classic example is retinol, which is popular for its anti-aging benefits, ability to smooth out uneven skin and treat mild cases of acne. Children do not need to use retinol for acne, as it is very likely to give them a skin rash. A simple skincare routine and healthy lifestyle habits are sufficient to tackle mild acne in kids[9].

Parents should consider consulting with a qualified dermatologist if the acne persists.

Ingredients to Avoid

When choosing skincare products for young children, it is important to bypass harsh ingredients that can provoke irritation or disrupt the skin’s natural balance. These include:

  • Parabens
  • Phthalates
  • Sulfates
  • Synthetic dyes
  • Strong fragrances
  • Alcohol
  • Salicylic acid
  • Retinols
  • Peptides
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

"Clean" and "Natural" Caveats

With heavy promotion of the clean beauty movement, many parents may wish to choose skincare products labeled as “clean” or “natural” for their children. However, it is important to note that these terms are not regulated and do not guarantee that a product is safe for children. Always inspect the ingredient list and discard any products with potentially harmful ingredients.

Natural products that can help your child are often soothing, hypoallergenic, and moisturizing[10], such as calendula, chamomile, tea tree, lavender, shea butter, and olive oil.

It is also important to note that a very long ingredient list, even of natural, organic, or healthy ingredients, can cause skin problems for your child. Simple products with few ingredients are better, as they stand a lower chance of causing a skin reaction.

When is Skincare Necessary for Young Children and at What Age Can They Start?

A general recommendation is to wait until just before adolescence before allowing children to start a skincare routine.

While it is important to avoid overdoing skincare for young children, there are certain situations where skincare may be necessary. These include:

  • Dry or irritated skin: If your child's skin is dry or irritated, a gentle moisturizer may be necessary to soothe and hydrate it.
  • Sun protection: Children should always wear sunscreen outdoors to rescue their delicate complexions from harmful UV rays.
  • Skin concerns: Concerns such as eczema or acne may necessitate the use of targeted skincare products to manage the condition. If your child has a particular skin concern, it is best to consult with a dermatologist for personalized recommendations.

What is a good skincare routine for a child?

For young children, a simple skincare routine is all that is necessary. Young skin is typically healthy and does not need many products to thrive, so overloading it can do more harm than good. Also, a simple routine can help instill good habits for taking care of skin as they grow.

This routine should focus on gentle cleansing and moisturizing to keep their skin clean and hydrated.

Here is a simple skincare routine for young children[11]:

  1. Cleanse: Use a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser to wash your child’s face once a day, preferably at night. Avoid using a cleanser in the morning, as this can deprive the skin of its natural protective coating. For children with a skin condition such as eczema or extreme dryness, avoid using any soap when washing their skin to prevent dryness.[12]
  2. Moisturize: After cleansing, apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to your child’s face to hydrate their skin.
  3. Sun protection: If your child is outdoors, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of over 30 to shield their skin from damaging UV rays.

Look for labels that say fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. These terms indicate products formulated to be less irritating to the skin.

When to Consult a Dermatologist

If your child is experiencing persistent skin issues or reactions to skincare products, it is best to consult a dermatologist. These can include:

  • Persistent acne
  • Severe dryness or eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Rashes, redness, itching, burning, swelling, and other adverse skin reactions

A dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations and help identify potential irritants or allergens affecting your child’s skin.

Tips for Parents to Help Foster Healthy Skin Habits

As parents, it is important to foster healthy skin habits in our children from a young age. Here are some tips to help your child develop a healthy relationship with their skin:

  • Lead by Example: Show your children the importance of a simple skincare routine by practicing it yourself. Demonstrate the value of cleansing and moisturizing to maintain healthy skin.
  • Focus on Healthy Habits: Encourage good health practices like sufficient sleep, hydration, and a balanced diet. These foundational habits contribute to skin health and overall well-being.
  • Addressing Underlying Concerns: Be aware of any allergies or sensitivities your child may have that could impact their skin health. Consulting a dermatologist can help to provide insights on effective skincare solutions.
  • Sun Protection Education: Teach your children the importance of sun protection from a young age. Emphasize using sunscreen in their skincare routine to prevent wrinkles and delay skin aging.
  • Building Confidence: Promote self-acceptance and realistic expectations regarding skin health. Encourage your children to embrace their natural beauty and understand that care and positivity helps to nurture healthy skin.

Incorporating these tips can help your child develop healthy skin habits and a positive relationship with their skin.

Can my child use my skincare products?

It is best to avoid sharing skincare products with your child, as adult products may be too harsh for their delicate skin. Instead, opt for products specifically formulated for children. Child-friendly products will not have terms such as ‘anti-aging’ or ‘cosmetic product’ on the label.

What are the signs my child's skin is irritated by their products?

If your child’s skin is red, itchy, or peeling after using a skincare product, it may be a sign of irritation. Discontinue the use of the product and consult with a dermatologist if the irritation persists. If you are uncertain of a new product, try a patch test. Apply a small amount to your child's skin and wait to see if it causes a reaction. Opt for a product that does not harm your child's skin.

Is a cleanser always necessary for young skin?

While cleansing is a necessary step in a skincare routine, it may only be required sometimes for young children. If your child’s skin is not visibly dirty or irritated, rinsing their face with water may be enough to keep it clean.

However, if your child is wearing sunscreen or has been playing outside, a gentle cleanser at the proper pH for their skin may be necessary to remove any buildup. Opt for child-appropriate facial soap or cleansers.

Never use a cleanser if your child has dry skin or a similar condition.


While it may be tempting to introduce young children to complex skincare routines, it is essential to consider the potential consequences and stick to a simple routine. Parents can help their children support healthy, happy skin by avoiding harsh adult products and fostering healthy skincare habits. Remember, less is often more when it comes to skincare for young children.

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