Recently, there has been a lot of debate about children – influenced by the latest TikTok-trends – using skincare, and parents are worried about their children being exposed to harmful chemicals.
Meanwhile, dermatologist express their concern that children can disrupt a well-functioning barrier with products not aimed at young skin, and warn about consequences like eczema, acne and increased sensitivity.
But how scared should parents be of their kids using the latest viral TikTok products? Is skincare harmful for children? Can skincare disrupt hormones or sabotage the skin barrier? And at what age should you start using skincare?
In this article our co-founder and Beauty Director, long-time beauty journalist and author of several books on skin health, Maria Ahlgren, shares her thoughts.
Maria Ahlgren, co-founder and Brand & Beauty Director at Common Clouds
As a co-founder of Common Clouds - which has a lot of young customer since we address skin issues that often affect teenagers, like blemishes and oiliness - but also a long-time beauty journalist with 15 years of research and reporting under my belt, and a mum of a teenage daughter, I want to share my thoughts and answer some of the questions we get from worried parents.
I also want to share a bit about how we work behind the scenes to ensure that our products are safe and gives the desired results without unwanted side-effects.
DO CHILDREN NEED SKINCARE?
First of all. There is a HUGE difference between a 10-year-old without a pimple in sight and a fourteen-year-old with breakouts and possibly a make-up routine.
We need to define what is children's skin and what is teenage skin. Skin changes during puberty due to a major hormonal shift in the body that also affects the sebaceous glands in the skin. Up to 90% of teenagers are affected by acne – ranging from mild to severe – at some point.
Children, who have not yet reached puberty, do not need skin care (except for moisturisers or special creams if they are dry and, of course, sun protection before UV exposure).
All the functions needed for healthy skin are already built into healthy young skin, such as cell shedding, cell renewal, and optimal collagen synthesis.
It’s when hormones change that skin changes too. When you enter puberty and your sebum production increases, you may develop pimples, blackheads, or problems with oily skin. Now’s the time to set a good basic routine that you can stick to.
Having a good basic routine is 10,000 times more important for the skin's well-being than having a long list of viral products that you mix without any real "game plan". Skincare must be used consistently to be effective, and if you have too many different products without a consistent routine, you can both miss out on the great results that a product can give if used as intended, but also overload the skin (and your parents' bank account!). We love the concept of "skin streaming" – consistent use of multi-functional, everyday skincare products chosen for your specific skin goals.
IS IT HARMFUL FOR CHILDREN TO USE SKINCARE?
Like everyone working with skin health, I agree that it is worrying that children, i.e. children who have not yet reached puberty, use advanced products that are often developed for the challenges and needs of adult skin.
I’m the first to agree that skincare products and self-care routines can provide both a sense of belonging and positive emotions (nothing lifts my mood like an “Everything shower”, dousing myself in lovely lotions or unboxing the latest “it-product”!) , but from a skin point children and skincare are a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" situation.
Here’s the thing.
Young, healthy skin already has optimised cell renewal, a dense cell matrix and a full collagen account. A child's skin does not need glycolic acid, strong AHAs and other powerful ingredients often used in skincare for adult or mature skin, that has started to show signs of aging or sun damage. Many so-called anti-aging ingredients, such as certain peptides designed to combat age signs, are not dangerous, but completely unnecessary when you already have undamaged skin with healthy, strong cells and all functions in peak condition.
Also, as a a child or teenager, you may not have the patience to read and follow detailed instructions, and there is a risk of "cocktail mixing" ingredients and products that are not only unnecessary, but in combination way too strong for the skin.
At worst, too strong products can disrupt the skin's barrier and the microbiome's vital immune defence. The dermatologists and skin therapists we work with at Common Clouds daily see the consequences of young skin that has been over-treated, such as acne, eczema, allergies and hypersensitivity.
Exfoliating acids in particular - which are pure MAGIC when used correctly! - can lead to over-exfoliation, disrupting the skin's outer barrier (read all about our amazing barrier here!). Many of the products that have gone viral lately contain AHA or glycolic acids which can be far too potent for young skin, especially if you don't know how to use the product (in general, BHA or PHA should be the acids of choice for young skin).
Some acids also increase sun sensitivity, and from my experience, children and teens are not the most loyal SPF users (at least not in my house!).
At the same time, it's important to remember that previous generations, like mine in the 90s/00s, overused stripping, harsh cleansers and toners that reeked of alcohol, so we've come a long way ;)
WHAT IS A GOOD SKINCARE ROUTINE FOR TEENAGERS?
Cleansing, moisturising, gentle exfoliation, and targeted spot treatments if needed are a great place to start.
If you've started wearing make-up, it's vital to cleanse your face every night to prevent clogged pores and breakouts, and then moisturise your skin. If you have pimples or blemishes, using a gentle exfoliator, such as Cloud Water, about 2-3 a week will be very helpful. Cloud Water also helps with pimples on the back, so called “bacne”, that is common in both teenage boys and girls.
A good routine for teenage skin that has entered puberty is:
- CLEANSE. Daily cleansing to remove makeup and excess. Use a gentle face wash like Cloud Wash.
- EXFOLIATE. Gentle exfoliation with BHA acid a few times per week to dissolve excess oil and dead skincells trapped in pores helps to prevent clogged pores, pimples and blackheads. Our viral BHA-toner Cloud Water is made to be highly effective while being ultra-gentle and non-irritating.
- MOISTURISE. Daily moisturising is a much, even If you have oily skin. Our mattifying cream Cloud Light Fluid acts as an oil regulator and also strengthens the barrier.
- TREAT. Pimple patches are amazing spot treat, protect and conceal pimples. It’s SO important not to squeeze pimples - squeezing can exacerbate the inflammation and leave long-term scars that are difficult to treat. Cloud Patch and Moon Patch is ideal for pimples at any age.
- PROTECT! Sunscreen is often the last product prioritised by young people, but trust me - sunscreen is the best long-term investment for your skin.
Common Clouds skincare is made for acne-prone, but also sensitive, skin.
HOW DO I KNOW THE SKINCARE MY CHILD IS USING IS SAFE?
The dangers of skincare have been in the headlines recently, but it's important for parents to read up and make your own judgement about the product your child wants to buy.
I am a trained journalist myself and have worked for various publications over the last 15 years – mainly covering beauty, health and cosmetic science - and know how many editors love click-bait headlines ;)
Headlines that are sensational and appeal to people’s fears sell copies and entice readers to unlock articles behind paywalls, "HARMFUL!". "CARCINOGENIC!" "ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR!" are good click baits - but in the last month's debate, the editors have, in my opinion, been a bit too eager in their sensationalism, creating unnecessary fear.
The fear-mongering stories that have been featured in the recent debate are not proportionate to the actual risks, and few independent experts have been allowed to speak.
In the EU, we have very strict legislation on cosmetics, and every year substances suspected of being hazardous are investigated or banned.
But you also need to be aware that - as with all chemistry - the dose makes the poison. Even water can be dangerous in too large a dose! To ensure consumer safety, many ingredients are only permitted up to a certain level, and there is always a large safety margin.
At Common Clouds, we have the "luxury" of being a young. independent company with no old formulations with banned or to-be-banned ingredients or levels that need to been adjusted due to new risk assessments. It can take time to phase out products, which is why the authorities usually give companies a waiting period, so it's true that products with ingredients that will be phased out are still on the market.
Common Clouds develop and manufacture our products in the EU (Sweden and Italy) and South Korea (our pimple patches) in reputable factories that comply with all safety regulations and have all the necessary certificates (we do so-called audits and due diligent-checks before signing any agreements).
At present, we work with three factories that we have hand-picked because they meet all our requirements - both in terms of safety and ethics, but above all because they have proven that they have world-class R&D (Research & Development) teams and cosmetics chemists that create fantastic products! I personally work closely to our lead chemists to ensure that we create amazing products of the highest standards, but to a democratic price point (spoiler: packaging and marketing are often the main drivers of price, not the formulation).
COSMETIC SAFETY TESTING
Before we put a product on the market, the product goes through several safety tests, including:
- Stability test - A test where the formulation is exposed to different temperatures, light conditions, UV exposure etc. for 3 months to ensure that both the formulation and ingredients are stable.
- Internal and external safety assessment - Our suppliers have in-house safety assessors who look at both each individual ingredient and the formulation. In parallel with the internal assessment, we also commission an independent third party to assess the product in the lab and review the ingredients and final formulation. Both parties also review all communication on our packaging and other communication surfaces to ensure that we provide the consumer with all the information they need to use the product effectively and safely, and that all claims are authorised. It is not necessary to have a third-party assessor for products manufactured in the EU, but we have chosen this route to have all the safety documentation in place.
- Sensitivity tests – Depending on the product, we also carry out tests on human skin to ensure that the product is suitable for sensitive skin. We formulate all our products without known allergens (such as perfume, some essential oils and certain preservatives), but we still want to have "braces and belts".
- Retailer's safety net – Our main retail partners, such as H&M Beauty and Kronans Apotek in Sweden, also have strict safety requirements that suppliers must fulfil. These include long lists of banned ingredients. This provides an extra safety net for the consumer.
- Cosmetic registration – All our products are registered with Läkemedelsverket (the Swedish Medical Products Agency), although the Agency does not make any assessments itself. However, if a banned or hazardous ingredient is found in a product, the product can be banned on the market. Our patches are also approved by the Korean equivalent of FDA.
These are just some of the steps our products go through.
Of course, we formulate without potentially harmful substances like PFAS, cyclic silicones and phthalates. But - and this is a big but! - many of the ingredients we have excluded we’ve actually excluded for environmental and ethical reasons. Many mineral oils, silicones, PFAS and the like are harmful to the environment and aquatic environment, which is why we leave them completely out of our formulations. Common Clouds should be kind to EVERYONE - even those who live in the soil or sea.
ARE PRESERVATIVES DANGEROUS?
In general, no. On the contrary. Without preservatives, harmful bacteria, mould, and other unwanted microorganisms would be able to thrive freely in the products, especially if they contain water, which the vast majority of skincare products do (this includes flower water, aloe vera and the like).
Preservatives are by definition a safety system. Without them, the risk of eye inflammations, infections and of unwanted microorganisms gaining a foothold in the skin increases significantly. And if your teen is like mine, they don't keep track of Best before-dates or washing their hands before digging in a cream jar – without preservatives, I think some cosmetic products would soon be able to walk out of my daughter's room by themselves ;)
There are many preservatives on the market, and it is impossible to answer for other brands, but we only work with preservatives that are viewed as completely safe at the levels used (remember - the dose is crucial for everything all chemicals in this world – natural as well as lab-made!).
I myself am actually allergic to common preservatives (like formaldehyde, which is now banned), so ever since I was a teen myself I've been forced to learn about preservatives and which ones are tolerated by my skin.
DOES SKINCARE GO INTO THE BODY AND CAUSE HARM?
In general, no. It is extremely difficult for substances to get past the skin and into the bloodstream - the skin is like a raincoat that protects us from danger!
If everything we put on our skin was absorbed by our bloodstream, we wouldn't survive long. Imagine what happens when someone pops a bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve or contaminated rain falls on us ;)
Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture so-called transdermal drugs, i.e. drugs that are absorbed through the skin, such as nicotine patches, hormone patches and the like, can probably attest to the difficulties of transporting active substances into the body through the skin. Even cosmetic chemists know the challenges of delivering active ingredients into the skin, and how to ensure effective delivery systems is a science in itself.
Cosmetic products are only made to treat the surface of the skin - if it enters the body, it is classed as a medicine.
However, individual ingredients used in cosmetics have been measured in the body. Examples of this are certain chemical, nano-particle sunscreen filters, cyclical silicones and PFAS (however, the main source of PFAS is drinking water, waterproof textiles, aquatic animals, old Teflon frying pans and the like).
Therefore, for example, some sunscreens are not recommended for young children, and hairdressers or nail technicians who work with potentially harmful substances in high doses must have both protective equipment and ventilation.
But as a skincare consumer, you don't need to worry, as long as you buy your products from known, trusted brands and through trusted websites or retailers.
SO HOW DANGEROUS IS SKINCARE?
Overall, skincare is safe and can be extremely helpful to people with skin concerns. Skincare is also joyful and a way to connect with other people. As a teenage mum, I must say it's a very wholesome hobby, and I'd rather see my daughter indulging in a multiple-step skincare routine than some other things I indulged in the late 90s ;)
However, the barrier can indeed be disrupted by excessive use or too strong products, and money can, from a skin point of view, be thrown in the pond (just like when we buy other things we "don't really need") but the source of cancer and hormone chaos is NOT primarily in a serum bottle. This is pure fear-mongering, and there are actually regulations in place that forbid companies to use Free from-claims that wrongly gives the impression that certain ingredients are dangerous, or that other companies are selling dangerous products.
If we are worried, we should start with other sources of daily exposure from potentially harmful substances. What do our children eat? What is their food cooked in (e.g. scratched Teflon pans?)? What do they drink? Do they vape or snuff? What's the textiles in their clothes treated with?
We need to ask ourselves - is that little pea-size of cream or make-up REALLY what we should worry about?
There is a risk that, due to fear, you either don't help your teenager when needed (for fear of poisoning your child), or you seek out so-called "natural skincare" which may contain substances that pose a far higher risk of allergy and unwanted reactions than well-formulated "lab skincare".
Like everything that concerns our kids, we as parents have a responsibility to gather facts and guide our children, not to be alarmed.
So, to conclude:
- There’s a huge difference between a child’s and a pre-teen’s/teenager’s skin.
- Healthy, young skin have all function’s they need built in. Teenage skin needs a helping hand, especially when excess oil, pimples, blackheads and the likes are present.
- Skincare can also have a positive impact through bringing a sense to belong or giving self-care.
- However, over-using too harsh products or over-exfoliating skin can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to problems with over-sensitivity, acne, dryness, rosacea and eczema.
- Skincare products goes through rigorous safety evaluation before entering the market in the EU.
- Believe in science, not fear-mongering (often orchestrated by people that wants you to buy their products instead).
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PS. When you're young, you want the trendiest things. Teenage culture has always been like that. But why should girls' consumption be scrutinised? Where is the debate on young boys' consumption? As a woman, long-time editor of women’s and teen magazines, and mother of a teen girl, I get so tired of girls' interests always being problematised. There are interests that are FAR more dangerous than a TikTok cream, I can promise you that <3