The rise of Sephora Kids: Gen Alpha takes over beauty and skincare

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Posted Jun 25, 2024
Clairese Boser

Move over Millennials and Gen Z, there's a new trendsetting generation in town: Gen Alpha. Known as the "Sephora Kids," these tech-savvy tweens (ages 9-12) and young teens (ages 13-15) are shaking up the beauty and skincare industry. In 2023 alone, they spent nearly $4.7 billion on beauty products, outspending every other demographic. As they dive headfirst into the world of makeup and skincare, they're setting new trends and challenging brands to keep up.

So, what's fueling this beauty obsession among the youngest consumers, and how are parents reacting? Let's dive into the details.

What's going on with Sephora Kids?

There’s an untold multitude of tween skincare videos flooding TikTok, YouTube,  and Instagram, and many adults are also seeing an influx of Generation Alpha inside brick-and-mortar beauty stores. Gen Alpha has officially entered the beauty scene, spending more on skincare and makeup than any other age group - an impressive $4.7 billion in 2023. All of this caught the attention of the media, who’ve now dubbed the trend “Sephora Kids.” 

What is a “Sephora Kid”? The term refers to tween and young teens who emulate beauty routines and makeup trends typically associated with adults. These viral videos often feature high-end beauty and skin care products, including well-known prestige skincare brands like Drunk Elephant. While experimenting with beauty and skincare can be fun, the ingredients being used, such as vitamin C, retinol and other viral components that are usually targeted at adult skin concerns, might cause harm to young skin. So while some see “Sephora Kids” as a lighthearted and fun trend, others express concerns about exposing children to adult beauty standards and potentially harmful products.

But what do parents of Gen Alpha think about this trend? Are they on board or do they have concerns brands should be aware of? And are “Sephora kids” really as widespread as the media portrays?

A recent study by aytm, in collaboration with Revlon, surveyed 1,000 parents of girls (tweens and young teens) to get the scoop on their daughters’ skincare and makeup habits. The study focused on five main areas:

  • Adoption: How are girls embracing skincare and makeup?
  • Spend: What are they buying and how much are they spending on it?
  • Parent perceptions: What do parents think about this trend?
  • Skincare ingredients: Do parents know which ingredients their daughter should or should not use?
  • Considerations: What should brands know to market effectively to this segment?

Don't miss any of the valuable insights from this study. View the on-demand recording of our joint session with Revlon where we dug into the details.

How are girls embracing skincare and makeup?

Interest grows thanks to peers and social media

According to parents, 62% of girls are interested in makeup and 66% are interested in skincare - with interest in skincare even higher (75%) once girls hit their teen years. 

And it’s true that peer influence  and social media are sparking girls’ interest in the beauty category, with YouTube and TikTok being the most used platforms among this audience. When we look at the link between social media and product usage, we see that girls who use social media (especially Instagram and TikTok) tend to use more skincare products overall. 

Most girls are motivated to use beauty products simply because it’s fun, though many are using skincare products to improve their skin and/or find a solution to a specific skin concern. This is also the primary reason girls pick specific skincare brands/products - improving her skin  and/or needing a solution to a specific skin concern.

Where does Gen Alpha's interest in skincare and beauty start?m

Most girls are using age-appropriate products

Within the makeup category, lip gloss is the most popular product, followed by mascara and eye shadow. Tweens tend to use fewer makeup products overall, mostly gravitating towards “fun” products like lip gloss, eye shadow, and lipstick. Once they hit their teen years, girls tend to add in base-type products (e.g., foundation, concealer, and bronzer) to help them complete the full look. When we ask parents when it’s appropriate for their girls to start using these makeup products, most agree the top products are fine for tweens and young teens to use.  

How many teen and tween girls are wearing makeup?

What about skincare?  Face cleansers/washes and face lotions are by far the most popular products among Gen Alpha. While more advanced products like serums, mud/clay masks, and facial oils are less popular, they are still used by roughly a quarter of girls. Usage is similar between age groups, except for facial sunscreen, pimple patches, peel off masks, and serums, which are more popular among young teens. As far as age-appropriateness of these products, most parents agree that nearly all skincare products are okay for their daughter to use - except for serums, where just over half of parents believe girls should wait until they are at least 16 years old to use them. 

How many teen and tween girls are using skincare?

What are girls buying and how much are they spending on it?

Top brands capturing category spend

We know that this generation now accounts for the most spend in the beauty category,  but how much are girls actually spending each year? According to their parents’ estimates, on average their daughters spent $119 on makeup and $140 on skincare in 2023 - with young teens spending more than tweens in both categories ($29 more on makeup and $47 more on skincare). 

Thinking about 2024, about half of parents expect their daughter to spend more than last year - with tweens more likely to increase their spend on skincare than young tweens. 

So which brands are capitalizing on this spend? As it turns out, mass channel brands! For makeup, e.l.f. comes in first, followed by Covergirl, Maybelline, L'Oréal, and Revlon. For skincare, CeraVe is at the top, followed by Neutrogena, Cetaphil, and Aveeno - whereas more prestige brands like Drunk Elephant are being used by a small subset of this generation (~1 in 10 girls). 

Most popular shopping channels

Where are girls purchasing these products? Mass retailers are the clear winners - specifically Walmart, followed by Amazon and Target. Despite this trend being named "Sephora Kids," we found that only 1 in 3 girls get her products from there - though this store is more popular among higher income households (2 in 5 girls with $100k+ HHI).

Where are "Sephora Kids" actually buying skincare and beauty products?

Who’s involved in the purchase decision

While most parents trust their daughter to pick products out for herself - only 1 in 5  say they don’t trust her at all - it’s mostly a mix of both the parent and daughter choosing brands and products. And when it comes down to actually buying them, most parents say they typically purchase their daughter’s makeup and skincare and/or another parent/guardian does. Although, once girls reach their teen years, they are almost twice as likely as tweens to purchase the products themselves.

What do parents think about this trend?

Despite negativity about this trend in the news, overall parents feel positively about their daughter’s entrance into the makeup and skincare categories. Not only that, but they perceive their daughter’s interest as age-appropriate, and feel that using makeup/skincare has increased their daughter's confidence and has given her something to be passionate about.

What do parents of teen and tween girls think of the Sephora Kid trend?

That said, parents are concerned that the trend could be negatively influencing tweens and teens to spend too much on beauty products,  grow up too fast, adopt unrealistic beauty standards, and use products that are not safe for their age.

Do parents know which ingredients their daughter should or should not use?

On social media, we see young teens and tweens using skincare products with ingredients that are not appropriate for their age, such as retinol and AHAs. So, we asked parents which ingredients their daughters are using - and as it turns out, very few (15% or less) use ingredients that could be harmful to their young skin. Furthermore, most parents do agree that these ingredients are NOT appropriate for their daughter’s age group to be using.

That is, except for Vitamin C. While this ingredient may sound innocuous, it is actually an acid and not appropriate for tweens’ and teens’ skin - but according to parents, 2 in 5 girls are currently using it. Not only that, but the majority of partners think it’s appropriate for girls their daughter’s age to use Vitamin C. They are also unsure what benefits are associated with Vitamin C - most know it brightens skin, but very few are aware of its other benefits, such as exfoliating and improving wrinkles.  So while most parents are rightfully concerned about most ingredients, there is a need for further education around what is and isn’t appropriate. 

Are skincare products appropriate for Gen Alpha and Sephora kids? Which ingredients are and aren't appropriate?

How can brands address parental perceptions and concerns

Parent expectations for brands

Most parents say it’s the brand’s responsibility to provide accurate product information to them and their daughter, and they wish brands were more transparent about ingredients. Safety is another concern, with most parents believing that some brands are unsafe for their tweens and young teens. 

Given their concerns, specific claims about included ingredients are of high importance when parents are helping their daughter choose products. Must-haves include “no harsh ingredients”, “clinically tested”, and “hypoallergenic”.

What brands have permission to do

While about 1 in 3 parents believe that makeup and skincare products should not be marketed directly to tweens and young teens, nearly two-thirds of parents would feel more comfortable about a brand if they created a product line specifically formulated for tweens and young teens. Additionally, over half would like a brand more if it made a product specifically for these age groups, with only 2% saying they would like the brand less.

Key takeaways for brands

To succeed with Gen Alpha, brands need to:

  • Win over multiple generations by capturing the interest of daughters and developing trust with parents
  • Ensure products are appropriate for this age group and provide transparent product information 
  • Consider creating a product line specifically formulated for young teens and tweens
  • Educate both parents and their daughters about the primary benefits of ingredients and the right age to start using them
  • Take advantage of the significant opportunity for mass retailer and mass channel brands

Gen Alpha is a lucrative market for makeup and skincare, but brands must navigate the multi-generational dynamics at play. By understanding and addressing both parental concerns and the interests of young consumers, brands can tap into this vibrant and growing market.

So, what’s the consensus on the “Sephora Kids” trend?

Despite the trend being called ‘Sephora Kids’, Walmart is actually the primary shopping destination for Gen Alpha’s skincare and makeup needs. It’s not just kids making these purchasing decisions either - parents still play a significant role in deciding what products are appropriate and being purchased for this demographic. There is however a growing call for brands to be more transparent and educational about ingredient usage and suitability for different age groups and skincare concerns in their marketing. 

Want to learn more? Dig deeper into the study

View the full recorded presentation of findings with Revlon’s Manager, Global Consumer Insights and Knowledge, Lauren Schmitt.

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