When I was in middle school, I began getting acne. I battled it with Aapri apricot scrub, Stridex, Sea Breeze, and whatever harsh cleanser I saw advertised in Seventeen. I had no clue how to tackle my skin, my mom said I looked beautiful and my skin would eventually calm down. Ads and advice in magazines made me believe the harder I worked on cleaning my skin, the more likely my zits would go away.
I had a friend from swim team who went to a private school. She invited me to her birthday sleepover and I didn't know another girl there. Many brought Caboodles full of makeup and skincare, brands I never heard of like Clinique, Mary Kay, and Estée Lauder. It was thrilling to try out these fancy beauty products; we even did mud masks. It made me realize that there was more out there than what I found in the aisles of Drug Emporium.
In high school, I did all sorts of DIY treatments for my hair and skin. Mayonnaise, lemons, oatmeal, tea bags, honey, yogurt… no refrigerator ingredient was safe, nor was my hair, which turned an unnatural shade of orange, and my skin, which was both greasy and flaky dry.
I'd lay out for hours, coated in baby oil, knowing that first burn would turn into a base tan. It could be the middle of March but if we had one day above 50 degrees, my friends and I would be out on lounge chairs in the backyard, holding anything reflective to capture every ray possible.
In college, I was super into mud masks. At least once a week, I applied a product that seemed to draw every impurity and drop of moisture from my skin. I'd then apply makeup without moisturizer, go out and drink liquor, and start the next day with coffee and Diet Coke and wonder why my skin looked so tired and dry.
I'd go to the tanning salon at least once a week, relaxing under those lights, believing it made me both more attractive and made my skin look better. One spring break, my friend and I couldn't afford Cancun or Fort Lauderdale so we stayed on campus but went to the tanning salon daily, so folks would think we could afford a getaway. The compliments on my dark tan were as addictive as those UVB rays.
After college, One of my jobs was as a regional trainer for a skincare/body care brand. I tried a different product almost daily and fell for our high-powered Vitamin C treatment. I would apply it after using something that resembled a Scrub Daddy to exfoliate my face. Oooh, the burn must mean it's working! On weekends, I was still laying out in the sun, maybe being “safe” with Bain de Soleil SPF 2 tanning oil.
Why am I sharing all this? Because everyone's having a grand old time mocking tween girls for going bonkers in Sephora for Drunk Elephant and The Ordinary products. From the national news to dermatologists trying to go viral on Instagram, everyone is judging the “Sephora Tweens” for using retinol, peptides, and anti-aging serums as young as 10. They're destroying their delicate baby faces with these harsh ingredients and need to get off TikTok and play with Barbie. Heck in my day…
In my day…
In our day, if we had Sephora and holiday gift cards as presents, we'd be doing the same damn thing. Instead of TikTok, we had YM and Seventeen and Teen and Sassy, which we read cover to cover multiple times, trading with friends, often having those magazines as our only advice for skincare, makeup, and caring for our young and changing bodies. Instead of Sephora, we had the beauty aisle of the grocery or drugstore, our parents' medicine cabinet and vanity, and a refrigerator full of random ingredients.
Leave the Sephora Tweens Alone
Over-processing young skin is nothing new, and chastizing tweens and teens for doing the 2020s version of what many of us did ourselves is hypocritical. Slathering on peptides is way better than slathering on Crisco and tucking a foil-covered album cover under our chins while putting Sun-In and lemon juice into our hair.
Tweens will be tweens. Their bodies are going bonkers and suddenly it's smelling different and acting differently and is shaped differently with different curves and angles and hairs. And looking at fellow tweens, it's hard to know what's right and what's wrong because tweens and early teens all age and grow at different speeds, reacting in different ways to puberty.
One thing I must say, these tweens and teens have way more skill with makeup than we ever did. I learn from my daughter on the daily: how to apply false lashes, how to blend blush, how to highlight my cheekbones, how to groom my brows.
I see these “Sephora Tweens” on social media looking like glowing suns, rosy milkmaids, and colorful kaleidoscopes, rocking winged liner that could cut a b*tch, contour so perfectly applied that their face looks a completely different shape and concealer so expert you have no idea they have acne patch-covered zits underneath. They know not to use a loofah on their face or peroxide in their hair.
Today's tweens and young teens are creative and talented, and as they go through the 2024 version of Clearasil, Ten-o-Six, and the Clinique 3-step system, let's remember how long it took before we figured out our skin and ourselves… if we have even figured it out yet!