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Skincare Giants Tread Carefully as Youth Market Booms

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Michael Chen

April 5, 2024 - 11:22 am

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The Skincare Industry's Delicate Dance with Teens and Tweens

In a remarkable move that signaled greater sensitivity towards their younger consumers, the team at Bubble Skincare, helmed by founder Shai Eisenman, made the extraordinary recommendation that a subset of their core customers – children and preadolescents – should abstain from purchasing their new exfoliating serum. The product, they cautioned, might be too potent for their delicate skin. It was a bold stance that showcased the brand's commitment to the welfare of their youngest clientele, who were engaging with the brand in droves and significantly contributing to its rapid expansion to 12,000 retail locations in the United States and the United Kingdom. Commended through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, the advisory was met with over 40,000 affirming likes, underscoring the unexpected yet pervasive trend of skin care fascination among the younger segment of the population.

Eisenman's stance underscores a novel predicament for beauty brands who have seen an unprecedented surge in interest from America's youth. Not only are children as young as eight investing in skincare, but their uptake has propelled household spending on such products by 27% more than the previous year among 6- to 12-year-olds, according to NielsenIQ. This figure even overshadows the overall national growth, which stands at 13%. Consequently, brands are learning to navigate this shift and explore ways to ethically engage with a demographic that, until recently, showed scant interest in their offerings.

This surge has had an undeniable impact on market trends, with certain brands seeing their fortunes soar thanks to their popularity among younger users. The demand for Sol de Janeiro’s lotions and pricier body sprays, for instance, has driven the shares of its parent company, L’Occitane International SA, up by 40% this year, marking it as one of the most successful personal-care stocks in the global market.

The lucrative gains extend to companies like e.l.f. Beauty Inc., notable for their teen-friendly $8 skin toners and $13 face creams. Their performance in the past year has seen shares nearly double. Notably, skin care product sales for the company eclipsed that of cosmetics in the recent quarter, surging by nearly 90%, signaling a solid consumer tilt towards skin health products among the younger audience.

Such rapid shifts haven't gone unnoticed by industry giants. Oshiya Savur, chief brand and marketing officer at Maesa, notes the "seismic shift" in the market's demographics as brands once focused on Generation Z find themselves catering to the much younger Generation Alpha.

Navigating Youthful Skincare Trends: The Need for Simplicity

Dermatologists, conversely, assert that youngsters typically require nothing beyond a basic cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Despite this, young skincare enthusiasts are being influenced by "Get Ready With Me" TikTok videos, often featuring influencers using and layering a multitude of products. This trend leads Ivy Lee, a board-certified dermatologist from California, to express concern over the rise in consumerism and the subtle messaging that suggests the necessity for a complex and expensive skin-care routine. This concern is exacerbated by a rise in young patients experiencing skin irritation and acne, conditions often attributed to using an array of skincare products excessively or inappropriately.

Certain brands have even faced parental backlash, like Drunk Elephant, when it published a social media post listing over a dozen child-safe products—prompting a rebuke from one commentator who insisted none were appropriate for children. In response, a Drunk Elephant representative clarified that the brand doesn’t recommend young individuals use products with highly concentrated active ingredients.

However, the industry has also seen a unique form of 'anti-marketing' emerge. Kiehl's and the Ordinary, subsidiaries of L’Oréal and Estée Lauder respectively, have taken to social media to advise against purchasing complex skincare routines. One notable post by Kiehl's featured an image of a child with ice cream smeared on their face, implying that this is the only 'cream' suitable for children. Such measures are aimed at reassuring perplexed parents, many of whom end up purchasing these products both for their young ones and for themselves.

A telling example of this came from Tonya Powell who shared that her daughters introduced her to the world of skincare. A visit to a Manhattan Sephora, a hot spot for youth skincare shopping, revealed that the store’s staff is trained to direct teens and tweens away from items containing retinol and other active ingredients. Meanwhile, LVMH, Sephora's parent company, opted not to comment on the matter.

The Corporate Hesitation and Legal Challenges

Even as the trend burgeons, major beauty conglomerates remain cautious. These organizations, unlike smaller and newer brands, are keenly aware of possible legal risks associated with marketing to children. Corporate behemoths such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder have been tight-lipped in this regard, pointing to an overarching industry concern regarding the safety protocols and testing standards mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in terms of marketing to young consumers.

This circumspection in marketing has caught the attention of agencies like the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division, where Laura Brett's leadership is pivotal. The organization emphasizes the importance of clinical testing to substantiate safety claims and is prepared to examine companies' marketing assertions closely. Brands non-compliant with cooperative investigation risk escalation to the U.S Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an entity increasingly scrutinizing beauty industry practices, particularly the influence of social media on youth.

The FTC has made it clear in statements that it is prepared to exert full leverage of existing laws to safeguard children from potentially detrimental marketing practices. Brands making claims to safety must ensure their products are appropriately tested on the demography they target, which, if not adhered to, could attract scrutiny or legal challenges.

For younger children under the age of 13, the regulations are even more stringent. On platforms like TikTok and Instagram, age restrictions pertain in the U.S., protecting a demographic considered highly impressionable. Dona Fraser, who leads the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, another division of BBB National Programs, advises companies to adhere to advertising guidelines, warning against marketing that implies that the use of a product could enhance popularity or self-worth.

Such legal considerations, as Diana Melencio of XRC Ventures points out, could introduce additional complexities into acquisition processes, particularly if major corporations contemplate purchasing smaller, youth-focused brands. Notably, recent reports from Bloomberg News indicate that entertainer Selena Gomez is exploring potential offers for her cosmetics firm, Rare Beauty, showcasing an appetite for investment despite the emerging challenges.

In conclusion, while the beauty sector sees an increasing trend of youth engagement in skincare, larger corporations maintain a cautious outlook to avoid backlash and ensure product safety. The brands that are successfully navigating this terrain are those that balance ethical marketing, transparent communication, and legal due diligence, ensuring they attract -- but do not exploit -- the burgeoning youth market.

For more information on the research by NielsenIQ, please visit NielsenIQ. Details regarding the FTC’s position on marketing to children can also be found at the official FTC website.