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Kristina Nguyen, a TikTok skincare influencer, shares skin-care reviews with hundreds of thousands of followers.Laura Proctor/The Globe and Mail

Kristina Nguyen started to dip into skin care when she was 12, to deal with bad bouts of acne.

Home remedies led to experiments with products, and eventually to TikTok and YouTube, where Kristina shares skin-care routines, advice and reviews. Four years later, she has more than 615,000 and 26,000 followers on each platform respectively.

One of her most popular TikTok videos, with more than 13.9 million views, shows a dizzying array of beauty products laid out before her. It’s captioned: “This is ¼ of my collection.”

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Kristina says she spends between $1,000 and $2,000 a month on products.Laura Proctor/The Globe and Mail

On average, Kristina says she spends between $1,000 and $2,000 a month on products. She prides herself on working two part-time jobs – in addition to the money she makes as a social-media influencer – to finance her purchases.

She may be 16, but in the burgeoning world of beauty-care content creation, the teenager from Vaughan, Ont., could be considered an old-timer.

“Sephora kids” – a term describing children as young as 10 buying expensive skin-care products at the global cosmetics chain, in most cases with their parent’s money – gets millions of hits on TikTok.

These videos show lines of young girls waiting to snap up skin care and makeup from brands such as Drunk Elephant, which features colourful packaging and playful product descriptions like “jelly cleanser” – and can cost well over $100 for a moisturizer.

Having extensive – and expensive – skin-care and makeup routines has become a status symbol for teens and tweens, in the way that wearing brand-name clothing used to be, according to Eric Li, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia.

Technology and social media are driving kids’ desire for expensive beauty products, says Dr. Li, whose research specializes in consumer culture. The platforms allow children to compare themselves to – and aspire to – not only their peers but also older generations.

“Children are now imitating their favourite internet personalities, versus their parents or celebrities,” he says.

“It’s very interesting to see nine-, 10-, 12-year-olds that have done so much learning when it comes to skin care, and actually sharing that in their videos,” he says. Tween and teen content creators use knowledge about ingredients in skin care to signal status in a way that in the past might have been reserved for knowledge of high-end brands.

“So skin-care knowledge itself has become a sort of status symbol,” Dr. Li says.

That passion for skin care has brought the beauty brands to the attention of two young generations: Generation Z, the cohort that Kristina falls into, born from 1997 to 2009; and Generation Alpha, those born between 2010 and 2024.

And these youngsters have buying power – even if some of them are being financed by the bank of mom and dad.

In 2023, children and teens in the U.S. using debit cards on Greenlight, a family banking app, spent US$14.7-million at Sephora. That number has more than doubled over the last two years, says Jennifer Seitz, director of education at Greenlight.

On its website, Sephora now showcases products that appeal to children, under the banner “Skin care products for tweens.” They include lip gloss and a watermelon face mask but also a $132 “firming” moisturizer with peptides and amino acids meant to target “loss of firmness in the skin.”

Sephora did not respond to a request from The Globe and Mail for comment on what the company does to appeal to this demographic, and whether or not kids are becoming increasingly important to its overall business.

Sales revenue for the Canadian beauty market grew by 19 per cent to $1.7-billion in the first six months of 2023, compared to the same period the year before, according to Circana, a U.S.-based consumer data and trend analytics company.

While these data include consumers of all ages, Circana does point out that prestige skin-care products topped the holiday wish-lists of many young people in 2023. And the company wagers that Gen Alpha will likely drive growth of skin-care sales for years to come.

“Get ready with me” videos, also known as GRWMs, which show people going through their skin-care and makeup prep routines, are hugely popular among teens and tweens. The products used in the videos are featured front and centre, with names and packaging prominent on camera.

Ben Grosskopf, a 15-year-old student from Toronto with more than 2.3 million followers on TikTok, feels GRWM videos are his most essential content. One of his first to go viral showcased him applying skin care for an eight-hour flight. The 21-second video stacks up with 10 products from brands such as Caudalie and Merit Beauty, which carry serums and creams that typically start at more than $50.

Ben says he’s received hateful comments in the past, with some weighing in that a young man should not use skin care. Yet, his most-liked comments typically ask for a product list.

Practising a skin-care routine every morning makes him feel more organized, Ben says. Beyond the feeling of freshness this gives him, the young TikToker also holds a great deal of knowledge about the products.

But not everyone is convinced that teens and tweens are driving skin-care sales without some heavy encouragement from brands. Dr. Amina Mire, a researcher in the department of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University, says women have always been interested in beauty products, but suggests that brands have repackaged marketing tactics to target women at younger ages.

She points to phrases such as “preventative skin care,” which has spawned trends like Botox, retinoids (topical vitamin A) and anti-wrinkle creams. Such products are finding their way into the hands of younger and younger consumers – who, let’s face it, have years to go before needing to worry about wrinkles.

Commenting on the “Sephora kids” trend, Ben says 10-year-olds should not be using products with strong ingredients such as retinol or glycolic acid, which can damage their skin in the long run.

Kristina agrees. “I always do intense research before I use products and put them out there,” she adds.

When she first experienced breakouts, she turned to lemon juice to help rid her of her dark spots, a homemade beauty remedy that could have been passed down from a grandmother. The pursuit of good skin is by no means new, nor is Gen Z or Gen Alpha’s desire to preserve beauty the way generations before them did.

The difference now is that the internet gives them access to way more research, information and knowledge than any previous generation. And for those who parlay that knowledge into content, like Kristina, it also pays off with financial compensation from the brands – something that old-fashioned lemon juice would be hard pressed to deliver.

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