The 10-Year-Olds Using Drunk Elephant Beauty Products

We asked a dermatologist: Is raiding Sephora setting Gen Alpha up for skin problems down the road?
A collage of three screenshots from Tiktok showing three different little girls holding drunk elephant beauty products.
Screenshots: @lesleyyj, @garzacrew, @lesleyyj via TikTok

Despite the best efforts of a certain two-hour advert (which I loved), little girls were not all asking for dolls this year. Instead, many parents reported that skincare was a top priority on their children’s Christmas lists—for girls as young as eight. 

Meanwhile, workers at Sephora are recounting tales of children coming into the store, destroying samples and throwing abuse at staff while demanding premium skincare products by Drunk Elephant, Glow Recipe, and Sol De Janeiro. The bottles for these skincare ranges shimmer like jewels in pastel and neon, and they have an obvious childlike appeal—but, as they were designed for adult skin, they often contain active ingredients that are too harsh for children, like retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C. 


Generation Alpha—those born between 2010 and 2023—is considered to be the first generation brought up in a fully digital world. Often given unbridled access to TikTok and Instagram, they’re exposed to a whole slew of influencer marketing (which we can guess is where they learnt about Drunk Elephant). Why else would a pre-teen ask for a serum that reduces wrinkles? Why would a ten-year-old need a $55 eye cream?! But we can’t just blame social media. It’s common for children to want to copy their parents and act older than they are—it’s just that when I was young, my mum moisturised with Nivea, and Clinique was considered a rip-off. 

Rather than distancing themselves from their pre-teen fandom, Drunk Elephant released a statement in December stating that, “Yes! Many of our products are designed for all skin, including kids and tweens.” However, they warned off: “more potent products that include acids and retinols—their skin does not need these ingredients quite yet.” Most dermatologists do not recommend retinol under the age of 25. 

But what are the actual consequences if a kid does ask for harsh products and parents give in? Will Gen Alpha have the glowiest skin of all time or will they all break out in hives? I asked dermatologist Sharon Wong about this expensive new childhood hobby.


VICE: Hey Dr. Wong! What’s going on with children and tweens getting into premium skincare and makeup?
This wasn't actually on my radar until very recently when a friend said, “My eight-year-old daughter wants skincare for Christmas. What brands would you recommend?” 

Having a skin health education at a young age is not a bad thing at all. But your skincare needs will vary at each stage. So before the teenage years and the onset of acne and so on, skin is still really sensitive. It's still really thin. The emphasis at this age should be on sun protection, protecting the skin barrier, hypoallergenic products, and minimal fragrances and preservatives.

If anything, with anti-aging products like retinols, you could compromise their skin barrier and make their skin more sensitive. Sensitive skin is actually quite difficult to treat, so you may be causing downstream problems. Other things like vitamin C–yes, it helps build collagen, but why would a ten-year-old need collagen? You only start losing it in your mid-to-late 20s.

At what age should children start engaging in some form of skincare, in your opinion?
If they’ve never had skin issues like eczema as a baby or toddler, then really when they start becoming a bit more independent. Up until that point, their mum or dad will be helping them with the bathing routine. But around six or seven, engaging them about skin health is a good thing to do. And of course, sunscreen.


What products should children and pre-teens be using other than sunscreen?
Well, especially if they've got dry or sensitive skin types, you should try and minimize the amount of soap. Anything that foams can make your skin more dry and compromise the skin barrier. So things which are cream-based are best, like Aveeno and Cetaphil. Cleanse, moisturise and put your sunscreen on. That's it. Life is going to get more complicated, so you don't need to complicate it early on.

What should they definitely not be using?
At that age, they should definitely be nowhere near retinols. No exfoliating acids, no vitamin C, none of that is required for children of that age. There are exceptions, like if you have a ten or eleven-year-old who starts getting acne, but then you should see a paediatric dermatologist and actually get proper guidance. Don't just go off your own research. In young children with acne, it's very easy to overuse active ingredients, and then you end up over-drying the skin, causing breakouts, eczema and sensitivity. 

So what will actually happen to a child's skin if they use retinol, glycolic acid or vitamin C? 
Well, even adults will have issues if they just pile on all the actives at the same time. If you start creating a defect in the barriers, from over-exfoliating, for example, you can actually end up getting really dry, cracked areas, which are open doors for infection and sensitivity. You can become allergic to products that you weren't previously sensitive to, which is the starting point for things like eczema. Inflammation and itchy red patches that require steroids to settle are very well-known problems with using active ingredients that are too harsh. That’s true at any stage, but even more so when your skin is already thin and quite immature. 

If a nine-year-old asks you for Drunk Elephant retinol cream, what should you say to them?
Not until you're 18! Or later, even. I would say retinols probably shouldn't need to feature in your skincare until at least your mid-20s.

Should skincare brands consider putting age restrictions on certain products? Like a 25+ warning on the packaging?
I do think there needs to be some sort of regulation. If someone under 18 needs retinols or high-strength exfoliating acids, they should be seeing a dermatologist. 

And finally, as someone who has had both chronic acne AND eczema, is there anything wrong with just using a gentle cleanser and moisturiser with SPF? Am I falling out of trend with the tweens?!
No, not at all. You're probably reaping the benefits from not overcomplicating your routine.