From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Showbit

In the United States, there have been reports of a ‘tween takeover’ at Sephora, with young girls swarming the stores for products from brands like Drunk Elephant, Sol de Janeiro, Glow Recipe and Summer Fridays. Search TikTok and you’ll find videos of the brand’s employees, fellow shoppers and commentators talking about this craze.

It’s no surprise when you consider the ubiquity of young celebrities and social media influencers promoting age-reversing products and ‘tweakments’ (non-surgical cosmetic treatments). Last year, 14-year-old American Carson Bradley received attention for posting her involved skincare routine on TikTok, which included applying retinol, taking apple cider vinegar pills and putting on a face mask for 10 minutes daily.

“Here are some things I do to slow down the ageing process,” she narrates in her video, also revealing that she started this skincare regime at the age of 12.

Bradley is among a growing number of “baby beauty influencers” that are taking to the internet to update their legions of followers about their makeup and skincare routines, with celebrity children such as North West and Penelope Disick (both offspring of the Kardashian clan) aged 10 and 11, respectively, paving the way.

With the oldest among the Gen Z population hitting 27 this year, this cohort is already thinking about ways to avoid fine lines and wrinkles. According to statistics from consumer Intelligence Company NielsenIQ, 61 per cent of Gen Zs shop luxury beauty, higher than Gen X and boomers. This population is also spending more than their millennial counterparts in terms of skincare and haircare.

Beauty brands are taking notice of this trend. In response to questions on whether their products are safe for kids and tweens to use, Drunk Elephant posted a list of skincare product recommendations on the brand’s Instagram account.

While the phenomenon hasn’t reached our shores yet , more Gen Z women have been dabbling in anti-ageing products. One of them is Maryam H, who started using them a year ago mainly because she had acne-prone skin.

“I started using over-the-counter tretinoin and over the course of a year, I noticed that my skin not only cleared up, but my scarring got lighter and my complexion was brighter,” the 23-year-old teacher reveals. Tretinoin is used to treat acne but also helps with fine lines and dark spots.

Farah Nabilah Nasarudin, a 24-year-old art trainer, has tried anti-ageing products from K-beauty brands such as Sulwhasoo and Somebymi in the past as she saw people online talking about how the products helped with their skin texture and wrinkles.

Jacelyn Marvela Tjakra, a student, reveals that, at 18, her focus at the moment is more on ensuring that her skin is healthy, rather than prevention. She has been “diligently applying skincare products” since she was 14 as she recognised the importance of maintaining healthy skin from a young age. She also considers using sunscreen as a must.

“I’ve never really thought of using sunscreen as a legitimate method to slow down the ageing process before, it was more about following a basic skincare routine of using cleanser, toner, moisturiser and sunscreen,”she shares. “However, as I got older, I learned from fellow skin enthusiasts, dermatologists, articles and even some TikTok videos about the benefits of wearing sunscreen and the skin damage it could limit.

“Moreover, by observing individuals older than me who haven’t prioritised sunscreen, I’ve noticed the negative impact on their skin – uneven tone, texture issues, spots, and diminished radiance. I felt the need to care for my skin to mitigate the effects of aging, and maintain a healthy and youthful complexion in the long run,” she adds.

Social media and the fear of “not doing enough”

Maryam confesses she has “definitely” been influenced by social media: “A lot of my friends and I have expressed concerns over reaching our mid 20s and being closer to 28 than we are to 16.

“Whenever social media shows me reels of people emphasising the importance of a good skincare routine and a healthy lifestyle for graceful aging, I always feel worried that I am not doing enough for my skin,” she adds.

Dr. Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling, concurs that social media influences beauty standards. She references research indicating that the use of social media is indeed correlated with concerns related to body image.

“A systematic review of 20 papers published in 2016 found that photo-based activities, like scrolling through Instagram or posting pictures of yourself, were a particular problem when it came to negative thoughts about your body and self-image,” says Dr Games.

“The influence of social media extends beyond self-esteem and body image concerns, posing significant challenges to our mental health. The constant exposure and engagement with social media platforms have been linked to various mental health issues, including eating disorders and low self-esteem,” she adds.

According to Dr Games, social media is not typically the only factor that contributes to body image issues, but rather, it can influence how one can feel about themselves. There are always a number of factors – some predisposing (family, genetics, childhood, environment and personality, for example) and then perpetuating factors that maintain the problem, of which it is most likely social media plays a part.

A targeted approach to skincare

Dr Rachel Ho, medical director at La Clinic, has noticed that her clientele is getting younger, with women in their early 20s seeking treatments for conditions such as acne and acne scars. However, she doesn’t think her Gen Z patients are seeking treatments – therapeutic or preventive – purely because of social media filters or pressure.

“It’s a combination of factors – greater awareness among this savvy and digitally-connected generation that signs of ageing can be treated; changing standards and attitudes towards beauty (less stigma, different beauty ideals) and accessibility to seek medical treatment that have contributed towards younger patients,” she explains.

If you’re concerned about your skin getting older, she recommends starting as early as possible with sunscreen to prevent premature signs of aging. For therapeutic treatments, she says it depends on the individual’s presentation as, for some women, signs such as dark spots and dull skin can appear in their mid 20’s, “so treatments would be appropriate even for this age group”.

While there are no specific drawbacks for starting anti-ageing treatments at a very young age, Dr Ho reminds us that every treatment option, including skincare products, has its own risks of side effects.

“For skincare, it could be irritation from, say, retinoids. For treatments such as lasers and injectables, the complications risks vary from hypersensitivity to vessel occlusion. And, of course, there is the financial cost too,” she says.

Dr Ho states that having a targeted approach to skincare for anti-aging is effective in delaying signs of ageing – and starting early is very helpful. However, complicated, superfluous products or steps are not necessary.

She recommends a facial cleanser for your skin type as clean skin reduces build up of dirt which can worsen acne. Some studies show that exposure to environmental pollutants can accelerate signs of aging such as dark spots, she reveals.

Also important is using sunscreen in the day to reduce UV damage to the skin, antioxidants to reduce free radical damage from environmental exposure and retinol for collagen building.

Dr Games puts forward the idea of changing our perception of getting older. She says that the increasing obsession with perfectly smooth, unlined, ageless skin is reminiscent of clients with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

“I’m not saying it’s pathological or problematic to pay attention to your appearance or pursue treatments for aging, but like patients with BDD, some women and men can become so myopic about their imperfections – a crease between their brows, a line around their mouth, a droop of the eyelid – that they lose sight of the forest for the trees. Perhaps that’s how so many people end up looking bizarrely puffed, pulled or frozen-faced, yet are thrilled – because that pesky wrinkle is gone?

“I think it’s about coming up with a new meaning of beauty, a new definition of ‘youthful’, one that, perhaps, doesn’t require a plastic surgeon, but just a lot of raw and candid self-exploration and acceptance,” she says.