Children are emptying the shelves of cosmetic stores. The result: rashes, itching and burning, dermatologists say

A few days after starting her new skin care regimen of toner, moisturizer, serum and facial spray, the skin around 13-year-old Leora’s lips turned red and dry.

A couple days later, that rash turned yellow and scabby.

“I touched it because it itched a lot, and then I think it became infected,” said Leora, whose family has asked that her last name not be published for privacy reasons, given that she is a minor.

A dermatologist prescribed Leora medication to relieve the irritation, and advised her to stop your skin care routine and Vaseline was applied until the rash disappeared.

Seven dermatologists told NBC News that preteens have come to their offices with skin lesions after using products they didn’t need.Justine Goode/NBC News; Getty Images

Then ensued a debate that dermatologists say is increasingly common: “We got into a whole conversation about this new fad among preteens interested in using a lot of anti-aging products, and the things that are learning on social media,” said Dr. Alexis Young, Leora dermatologist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

“In general, they’re putting one product over another in tween society and not really telling them how to use them,” Young said.

The doctor and six other dermatologists told NBC News that in recent months, preteens and young teens have been flocking to their offices with red, dry, bumpy and itchy rashes after using skin care products. that they don’t need. Some dermatologists stated that this occurs once a month or week; others said they see these patients several times a day.

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Children ages 7 to 13 are emptying makeup store shelves, spending hundreds of dollars in anti-aging creams, moisturizing ointments and acne serums from trendy, colorful brands such as Drunk Elephant, which sells one unit of Protini Polypeptide Cream every 40 seconds, according to the brand’s website, and Glow Recipe, which surpassed $100 million in revenue in 2021, just seven years after being created, CNBC reported.

The trend has been fueled, in part, by social media, where videos by young creators about their skin-care routines sometimes rack up millions of views. (Some adults, for their part, have taken to social media to complain that makeup stores are packed with children.)

Drunk Elephant and Glow Recipe products are not inherently harmful when used as directed, and the companies make products that preteens can tolerate. But some contain ingredients that can irritate the skin of little ones, according to dermatologists.

“It’s a lot for parents and especially for kids,” said Dr. Brooke Jeffy, a licensed dermatologist in Arizona. “Maybe they don’t have the knowledge to know what’s safe, so it’s difficult.”

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Many Drunk Elephant and Glow Recipe products come in pink, orange, or teal packaging that may appeal to younger customers; A promotional video for Drunk Elephant even shows a line of travel-sized products in the shape of cartoon characters.

As with many beauty products, brand labels do not typically specify an age range. Instead, they indicate the expected effects. Drunk Elephant’s TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, for example, claims that the product “renews the skin (…), dramatically improving the appearance of tone and texture, fine lines, wrinkles and pores.” Glow Recipe’s Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum, for its part, states that it can “smooth texture, eliminate breakouts, and refine pores, while softening skin.”

Each of these products contains exfoliating acids, which according to the dermatologists interviewed, are among the most problematic ingredients for young people, along with retinoids. Both ingredients are designed to treat problems such as hyperpigmentation, wrinkles or acne, according to Dr. Jayden Galamgam, a dermatologist at UCLA Health. But for a young person’s healthy skin, they may be too strong, he explained.

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“We have a group of patients who have these recurring rashes around the eyelids and around the mouth,” Galamgam noted, adding: “For them it is terrible. They itch a lot. Sometimes they can’t sleep. They get blood because they can’t stop scratching and they’re very embarrassed because it’s on their face and it’s what their friends see.”

In a statement, a Drunk Elephant spokesperson said that “anyone with skin can use Drunk Elephant,” but that “different products are appropriate for different ages.”

“We always recommend that parents or guardians guide their children, especially before starting a new routine,” the statement said. “In general, we do not recommend products containing high concentrations of active ingredients for our younger fans.”

Glow Recipe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Young explained that Leora’s rash was likely caused by a combination of irritating ingredients and over-exfoliating her skin. Leora said she became interested in skin care through YouTube and her friends.

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Her colleagues want trendy products from Drunk Elephant and Glow Recipe to feel “elegant” and show off their social status.

“If you buy expensive things, you show that you have a lot of money,” Leora commented. “There are always trends, and that’s just how it is, and people get jealous of each other. Now, I guess, it’s all about skincare.”

NBC asked YouTube for comment on cases like Leora’s, in which teenagers are inspired by videos they watch on YouTube to buy products that may be unhealthy for their skin. In a statement, the platform referred NBC News to the company’s policies on content related to harmful substances and medical misinformation.

Drunk Elephant and Glow Recipe product videos are also proliferating on TikTok, whose user base is largely young. The company did not respond to questions about minors exposed to this content.

What ingredients are harmful to children?

Retinoids, a group of chemicals derived from vitamin A, often cause problems in preteens and teens who don’t need them, according to dermatologists.

This category includes retinol, which is usually found in over-the-counter products and is used to reduce the signs of aging. Retinol promotes collagen production and increases the rate at which new skin cells replace dead ones. Retinoids can also treat acne.

However, teen skin produces a lot of collagen naturally, Jeffy explained. A young person’s skin cells change about every 20 days, she added, while adult skin can take more than twice as long. Therefore, retinol is often unnecessary for a teenager’s skin that is not prone to acne, and can irritate and damage the skin barrier, which acts as the first layer of defense. It can also cause a dry, itchy, red or brown rash called retinoid dermatitis, Jeffy explained.

The doctor described the case of a teenage patient who developed a rash around her eyes after applying a retinol cream from Drunk Elephant: “The sad thing is that she didn’t need retinol. She wasn’t doing anything to him and it was causing this rash. It may take a few months for her to completely disappear.”

When asked about the anecdote, Drunk Elephant referred NBC News to its statement and the section Younger Fans (Younger fans) FAQ page on their website.

Exfoliating hydroxy acids, meanwhile, cause the top layer of skin to peel to promote the growth of new cells, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But how young skin is renewed quicklythese acids can damage the skin barrier and cause irritation, sun sensitivity, burning, and rashes.

Dr. Claire Wolinsky, a dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York, said her 11-year-old niece’s skin became red and sensitive after using Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow toner, which contained beta-hydroxy and polyhydroxy acids. .

“Using a chemical exfoliant, (or) multiples of them in your (skin treatment) regimen, is just going to cause irritation,” Wolinsky said. “For a minor with perfect skin, it seems like a bad choice.”

How can parents protect their children?

Dr. Carol Chen, a pediatric dermatologist and associate professor at UCLA, recommends that children without skin problems stick to a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.

“If there is nothing to fix, I wouldn’t fix it,” he said.

If a child insists on additional products, parents should avoid retinol and exfoliating hydroxy acids. Both ingredients may appear on labels under different names: retinol acetate or trans-retinoic acid and glycolic, lactic or citric acid, respectively.

When in doubt, Chen recommended consult a pediatrician or dermatologist.

His advice to young people: “Don’t look for a skin problem.”