As a little girl, you may have had a pretend makeup set, or smeared your lips with your mother’s lipstick when she wasn’t watching. But thanks – or no thanks – to social media and over-indulgent parents, eight-year-olds these days could be more familiar with highlighting than Hi-5.
But even outside of social media, children are already familiar with using makeup, whether it’s for school plays or dance performances, face-painting at birthday parties, or simply by observing Mummy get ready for work in the morning.
It could even be the parents who got their children started on makeup in the first place. They may think it's adorable to see their little ones playing with lipstick and let them continue to explore. Or it could be makeup-obsessed mothers who take playing doll-up a little overboard by over-indulging their daughters' interest in makeup.
While many parents wouldn’t let their kids touch a foundation sponge or even lip gloss for various reasons – “I don’t want her to waste money on makeup”, “She’s not old enough”, “I don’t want her to grow up vain” –there are actually dermatological consequences to consider.
And it’s not just makeup either – there is also the question of when is a good age to let your child colour her hair or wear nail polish. Here’s what the expert says about letting your child use such beauty products.
TO MAKEUP OR NOT TO MAKEUP?
There are medical reasons why makeup isn’t good for your young ones. First, a child’s skin is thinner and has a decreased barrier function as compared to adults, said Dr Lynn Chiam, dermatologist with Children & Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic. The skin’s barrier function refers to its ability to keep moisture in and damaging elements out “and children’s skin is less able to defend itself against irritants,” she said.
It doesn’t help that the chemicals found in makeup can cause dryness, redness, itchiness and irritation to the skin, she added. “With prolonged use, this can adversely affect the barrier and structure of the skin, causing it to be more sensitive to other things like water, soap, sweat and heat.”
Consider this, too: If you have difficulty getting your child to brush her teeth or shower, how do you ensure she’ll properly remove her makeup?
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Letting her wear makeup may set her up for teenage acne, when the incomplete removal of products, coupled with unhygienic practices (such as sharing makeup with friends), can clog pores and transmit bacteria.
And if you think a little lip gloss or blusher is harmless, think again. “Makeup can lead to dermatitis of the skin and lips, causing redness, itch and flaking,” said Dr Chiam. “Children also absorb more through the skin as they have a higher surface to volume ratio. As such, they can react even when small amounts of an irritant is applied.”
Dr Chiam advised to wait until your child is in her late teens, 16 years old and above, before letting her dabble with makeup. “In children with a history of dermatitis, they may need their skin condition to settle before applying makeup.”
If you’re concerned about the makeup your little ballet dancer or performer frequently has to wear, she recommended powder-based makeup as it is, “in general, less irritating to the skin than liquid-based ones”.
Powder-based makeup is, in general, less irritating to the skin than liquid-based ones.
You may also want to look into vegetable-based makeup brands such as Bong Bong Friends. “In terms of safety, we must be very careful about using adult makeup ingredients on kids, especially colourants,” said its founder Min-Young Kim. “Some ingredients can be toxic to kids.”
According to Kim, the coloured balms, stamp blusher with built-in sunblock and nail stickers from Bong Bong Friends are made from purple sweet potato, red radish, carrot oil and corn. “The makeup may not have as rich a colour payoff but it is safe for kids to apply,” she said of the South Korean range, which is set to launch in November at Guardian stores.
HAIR COLOURING FOR KIDS?
It’s true that most Singaporean children really don’t have that option as school rules don’t allow them to show up with dyed hair.
But what if your little David Beckham fan is begging for some blonde streaks to emulate his football hero over the school holidays? Should you give in?
“One of the most important things to bear in mind is that children tend to have more sensitive scalp and much finer hair than adults,” said Dr Chiam.
“As they develop, their hair and skin go through a lot of changes, so they are more likely to experience reactions and are more susceptible to hair damage. I will advise against dyeing or bleaching a child's hair until after puberty, and ideally not until their late teens – at least 16 or 17.”
The chemicals can remove the protective lipids from your child’s scalp, leaving it exposed and vulnerable to damage from the environment, styling products and other irritants.
If you must colour Junior’s hair, you’re better off using non-permanent hair dyes; they'll also wash off easily in time for school. “These temporary colours just coat the hair shaft and do not penetrate it as a dye would,” said Dr Chiam. Coloured hair sprays and hair chalks are safe to try.
Moreover, permanent dyes often contain ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and a chemical known as paraphenylenediamine. “The chemicals can remove the protective lipids from your child’s scalp, leaving it exposed and vulnerable to damage from the environment, styling products and other irritants,” she said.
The damage is done when your child complains of a stinging sensation on the scalp, itchiness, swollen patches, redness or patchy hair loss.
Don’t think that the DIY hair dyes from pharmacies are milder and safer than the ones used in salons either. “Even DIY dyes, which are permanent, can lead to hair and scalp damage,” said Dr Chiam. To be certain, always do a patch test first to check for allergies. Apply a small amount of the dye on the inner wrist and observe for any skin irritation, she said.
STAY AWAY FROM NAIL POLISH
And finally, there’s nail polish. Dr Chiam referred to the three major toxins in many commercial brands: Toluene, which can cause issues to the nervous system and upper respiratory system; dibutyl phthalate, which is linked to birth defects in animal lab tests; and formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory problems and increase your risk of certain types of cancer from long-term exposure.
For those reasons, do not use nail polish on children who are nail biters or use their hands to feed themselves. “I will also caution against using nail polish on children prone to asthma as the nail polish may contain toxic aerosols,” she said.
“Even child-friendly nail polish contains many different types of colourants, preservatives, and chemicals.” Gelish nail polish are definitely a no-no for young hands.
If you’ve decided to let your child wear nail polish, Dr Chiam recommended keeping it on for as short a period as possible and not more than five to seven days. An alternative is to try nail stickers like the ones made from food-grade corn from Bong Bong Friends.