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Makeup and misinformation: Social media has lasting effects on preteen skincare

Sygne Stole
Social media’s skincare trends have led to a craze with preteens experimenting products on their skin. Experts warn that in search of the perfect skin, preteens could be unintentionally harming their skin in the future through the use of chemicals that have not been tested.

Anyone who has walked into a Sephora in recent months would’ve probably seen the preteen girls running around the aisles in Lululemon outfits and Stanley cups desperately picking every Drunk Elephant skin care product, every Sol de Janeiro perfume mist and every bright pink Glow Recipe product off the shelf and piling them up in the little mesh baskets. 

The popularity of skin care brands like Drunk Elephant among preteens is a testament to the power of social media platforms including TikTok, where such brands go viral and seemingly everyone suddenly has perfect skin. But medical experts say there also may be a risk in flocking to these sorts of costly creams and serums: they may not really work for you.

Sarah Stein, a pediatric dermatologist at the University of Chicago, believes that a simple skin care regimen is best. With direction from a trained dermatologist, issues like acne that preteens contend with can be combated. However, using products without proper guidance can be detrimental.  

“You have to keep in mind that all of these products are made by manufacturers who want to make money,” Dr. Stein said, “so they will say almost anything they can and target whatever audience they can to make money. I think that the most important message is that people need to have their guard up because we are all so susceptible to marketing or influencers’ claims. Because we’re all in search for beauty and youth.”

Dr. Stein referred to skin care products as “cosmeceuticals,” a term used to describe products that cross over between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Stein said marketing for these products suggests that they alter the skin’s appearance, but in reality, they cannot change the function of the skin. If one did, it would be considered a drug and would be required to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

“These are all products that have to carefully tread the line between kind of how they market themselves and the ingredients that they’re allowed to incorporate,” Dr Stein said. “The problem is that the versions that are in these over-the-counter products aren’t as effective as the ones that one can get prescription strength from a physician.”

Adena Rosenblatt, who is also a University of Chicago dermatologist, said these kinds of acne products, because they are mostly synthetic, can cause the opposite of the intended effect: dryness. 

Using these types of acne products, like retinol, can dry your skin out if it hasn’t been used properly, Dr. Rosenblatt said. It’s a big thing to consider when looking at skin care that’s trending on social media. 

Social media perpetuates hype around all sorts of costly products that grow popular and then fade away when the next trend comes along, Dr. Stein said.

“I think that social media is a big problem,” Dr. Stein said. “Because again, it’s so tempting to buy whatever sounds like is going to be the best. And so people buy lots of different things and then just start using all of it thinking: ‘More is better.’ But with all of these products, there’s always a risk of having an irritation reaction, a true allergic reaction, or becoming more dried out or irritated from the product.”

Social media trends that target younger girls can send messages that do not support their healthy development, she said. 

In addition to misinformation and peer pressure coming through social media, images of unattainable beauty standards are unavoidable. 

“In some ways, it’s harder now than it has been in past generations,” Dr. Rosenblatt said, “because not only do we still have all of that focus on skin appearance, but we also have social media. I mean, we’re in a world where everything revolves around like now taking a lot of selfies.” 

Dr. Stein says that when seeing younger patients, she tries to not mention other skin issues they might be having unless the patient brings it up. 

“I think it’s also important to sort of not make acne into a bigger problem than it is, right?” Dr. Stein said. “It has to be a personal decision that this is something I want to deal with or treat or that it’s something I’m concerned about. That is so that we don’t create any self-image problems in preteens and teens where there aren’t any.”

So when choosing products to use when trying to treat acne and breakouts, Dr. Stein suggests that people pick products that actually work for you rather than what is trending. 

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About the Contributors
Chloe Alexander
Chloe Alexander, Arts Editor
Chloë Alexander is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as the arts editor. She joined the journalism family in the 2021-22 school year as a ninth grader and previously served as an assistant editor. Chloë enjoys journalism because it allows her to create a space for Lab students to be represented through writing. Her favorite story that she has written is “‘SOS’ showcases a wide range of styles and themes.” Outside of working on the Midway, she is a Maroon Key, plays the piano and enjoys reading. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Honorable mention, feature writing 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, news editing, headline and current events 2023 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, special coverage: (with Clare O’Connor, Amy Ren and William Tan), superior 2022 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Briefs writing, first place (with Louis Auxenfans, Joaquin Figueroa, Chloe Ma, Amy Ren, Katie Sasamoto-Kurisu), Vol. 98, Issue 8 (March 10, 2022), Page 3
Sygne Stole
Sygne Stole, Artist
Sygne Stole is a member of the Class of 2025 and an artist for the Midway.

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