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Drunk Elephant and Wellness Culture: The Issue Behind Teen Skincare Advertisement

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Retinoids. 14-step skincare routines. Gua Sha techniques. Supplements. Laser. Facials. The list is endless. Skincare was once used as a wellness card to prevent skin diseases or allergies, but now it has become a trend amongst people—the majority, young women.

The skincare market has been on the receiving end of a popularity boom led by TikTok trends and fervorous social media marketing carefully curated to attract and persuade those who use it the most: teenagers. Still, the issues behind such strategies can become a precedent for catastrophic results, stripping the younger generation of confidence and a balanced media upbringing.

It is a well-known fact that the 90’s and 00’s culture was specially directed at women’s appearance. The height of cocaine chic and effortless beauty was responsible for shaping the personal views of millions of girls who would become diet-fanatic adults looking forever for the youth fountain while nurturing eating disorders.

The “perfect skin” craze has been added to the list of Gen Z and Gen Alpha ambitions, with children as young as 6 years old participating in these challenges. Trends such as the “clean girl aesthetic” have taken social media by storm, and if you’re a girl not following them, you might as well be an outcast perceived as unhygienic. However, this entanglement between affluence and freshness is not something new.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hygiene techniques were exercised during colonization. Cleanliness and imperial hygiene were often topics that aided Britain’s expansion and served to segregate populations, as if some could spread diseases because of their lack of wealth. This tendency is similar to the “clean girl aesthetic” once the trend establishes this “hygiene” as stylish and the goal, implying that there is a correlation between uncleanliness and (lack of) buying power, in this case of beauty products.

More recently, a 2023 semi-annual Piper Sandler’s survey discovered that in the U.S., teenagers are spending approximately $324 a year on beauty products (including cosmetics, skincare, and fragrance), which was up 33% when compared to the previous year. On the other side of the world, with K-beauty becoming a phenomenon, it has been reported that in South Korea, a skincare routine can start as early as 11 years old, and studies show that nine out of ten teenage girls use makeup products. 

Overall, the Global Beauty and Personal Care industry is projected to have a whooping revenue of US$ 646.20 billion by 2024. Being makeup and skincare savvy became a synonym for being a modern girl, overlooking the long world’s history of changing women’s perspectives of themselves by creating insecurities from an early age.

Drunk Elephant, one of the leading brands on TikTok’s beauty side, had a growth rate of approximately 88% in 2023. With color-coded packaging and a small abstract elephant as the brand’s face, the adult skincare brand features mostly products directed at anti-aging, with strong ingredients that are designed to endure on more mature skin. Yet, the brand has generated controversy online by recently advertising its products to teenagers. 

The issue here is not skincare itself. The brand has helped many women and has an indisputable reputation on the market, but by conniving with these trends when reaching out to a much younger audience, the pressure being added to these kids’ lives becomes even more aggravated when the risks of using such products at such a young age exist. 

A 2023 news piece made in collaboration with dermatologists and experienced people in the field has listed a few of the side effects that are bound to happen when using adult products on young skin, such as allergic reactions, hyperpigmentation, aggravation of skin conditions, pH and hormone imbalance, disruption of the skin barrier, and even the appearance of new conditions like miliaria and dermatitis.

Because teenage skin is thinner, it is also more prone to sensitivity. Essentially, by using adult skincare, these teenagers may be behind the cause of a lot of future skin issues while attempting to fit in with new trends. Again, exposure to such products from an early age can cause not only self-esteem issues but also medical conditions that these teens may have to live with for the rest of their lives. 

But how can you differentiate between products that are safe for young skin and those that are not?

A good rule of thumb is to ensure the products do not contain dyes, fragrances, or parabens. Any harsh ingredients that are focused on more profound exfoliation should also be avoided. Moreover, the knowledge that skin will never look as smooth as when you are using a filter and that everyone has different types of skin should be spread.

Whenever in doubt, simplicity is always the answer. Treat your skin with the products that are right for it, not because a video on any social media site told you to. Always look for products that are age-appropriate and target the issues you want to address, making sure you are using a gentle preventive approach on young skin, such as sunscreen and mild cleansers, and, when possible, see a dermatologist.

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