The rise of ‘Sephora kids’ is affecting summer camps and highlights a bigger problem

Looks like sunscreen and bug spray are the only two “skincare items” that will be allowed at summer camps this year, due to the recent rise in Gen Alpha campers bringing their entire Sephora skincare haul to summer camp. Skincare is obviously the latest fad with Gen Alpha, and influencer beauty online content has been a major enforcer of this new trend.

Fortune reports that Gen Alpha spends more than two hours per week on online shopping, while using their parents’ credit cards. Plus, per a report from NielsenIQ, U.S. households with kids 6- to 12-years old are spending 27% more on skincare than in years past. 

Additionally, Motherly reported, “According to 2023 data by Greenlight, a company that works to provide resources and debit cards for raising financially-smart kids, children and teens are spending around $14.7 million at Sephora, a dollar amount that has more than doubled in the last two years. The data also shows that same group of consumers is spending $8 million at Ulta Beauty.”

Because of this beauty obsession taking away from traditional camp activities, summer camps are banning skincare products from cabins and suitcases, sending letters home to parents and campers about what to bring and not to bring for camp. Business Insider reports several camps in the Northeast have had to explicitly tell campers to avoid bringing makeup brushes and face creams to camp. While the occasional fun face mask for the downtime in the cabin, retinol serums, hyaluronic acids, and eye creams are also no longer allowed.

Camps banning the products include Lake Bryn Mawr Camp, an all-girls sleepaway retreat in northeastern Pennsylvania; Tyler Hill Camp, near the Pennsylvania-New York border; and Camp Mataponi in Maine, per Business Insider. 

While it looks like camps are seeing this trend and trying to abruptly stop it—at least for those days of the summer the kids are in camp—should parents be worried with this sudden surge of obsessing about skincare and beauty products? Is this promoting a negative body image in young children? Keneisha Sinclair-McBride, a pediatric psychologist said in an interview with TODAY for parents to take a deep breath. “Sometimes we put adult lenses on things,” she said.

“For example, kids are probably attracted to skin care simply because they think it’s fun and the products smell good—we’re panicking that next they’re going to want anti-aging treatments. We’re putting our own grown-up fears onto them.”

But some children are already purchasing anti-aging treatments to prevent “looking old” or even not realizing the products they’re buying include ingredients to prevent aging—which damages their young, wrinkle-free skin.

In fact, a California lawmaker wants to make tighter restrictions on the types of products tweens can use. AB 2941 introduced by San Jose Democratic Assembly member Alex Lee. AB 2941 would ban selling anti-aging skincare products to kids under 13 years old, per Motherly. And in the initial hearing for the bill, a 10-year-old girl spoke about her painful skin reactions she had after purchasing anti-aging products. 

“I mostly looked for sheet-masks, cremes, and mists and other products with words like ‘glow,’ ‘hydrating,’ ‘brightening’ and ‘anti-wrinkling,’ cuz I didn’t want to get wrinkles, and, no offense, look old,” she said to the room full of legislators, who chuckled in response.

She added that some of the products made her develop a rash that was so painful she couldn’t sleep, and she still suffers from redness and bumps on her face.

Should parents take a page from these summer camps’ books and ban our children from curating their skincare hauls? Not necessarily, but perhaps be aware of the products our children are buying and making sure they’re not doing more harm than good.

Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist said in an interview with TODAY that we should still be wary of the types of products we’re allowing our young children to put on their skin, not because of body image, but because of the potential damage that could occur to their bodies. She urges parents to tell their kids to keep things simple. Don’t use products that contain acids or retinols, or products that exfoliate. 

“Cleanser, oil-free moisturizer, lip balm and SPF,” Nussbaum said. “That’s all they need.”

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