This holiday season, parents of young girls scratched their heads at the items topping their children’s Christmas lists: Protini Polypeptide Cream ($68), T.LC. Sukari Babyfacial ($80), D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops ($38)…since when does a prepubescent eight-year-old need luxury skincare products? Did they think that Santa’s elves had set up shop with luxury skincare company Drunk Elephant?
Even without this winter’s widely-discussed skincare frenzy amongst young girls accounted for, the global beauty market is growing rapidly. In 2022, the industry generated $430 billion in revenue, with luxury products comprising $62.3 billion. Drunk Elephant has been a particular focus of recent buzz, both for the voracity with which young girls have targeted its products and for price points sometimes topping $100. Founded in 2013 and described by Forbes as one of the fastest-growing prestige skin care companies in history, the luxury skincare company Drunk Elephant was acquired by multinational beauty giant Shiseido for $845 million.
The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry
In some ways similar to the $164 billion supplement market, much of which lacks regulation as well as sound scientific backing, the skincare industry benefits from blurring the line between cosmetics and “healthcare” – after all, the skin is the body’s largest organ. But there’s a wide berth between dermatological treatments for eczema or acne and the complicated skincare routines peddled by TikTok influencers. At best, these are time-consuming and expensive. For instance, $1,714 will get you LaPrairie’s “Skin Caviar Exclusive Luxury Holiday Ritual” set (for topical use only). At worst, these products are downright dangerous for young girls.
Retinol, a common ingredient in anti-aging skincare products, is marketed as boosting collagen production to minimize the appearance of wrinkles. Dermatologists warn that this is not only unnecessary and illogical for young girls whose skin is still developing and producing collagen, but by overstimulating collagen production in young skin it can cause permanent skin damage, in addition to photosensitivity and skin irritation. Harsh but popular ingredients like salicylic acid and niacinamide can disrupt skin development and lead to conditions like dermatitis (eczema). But according to Drunk Elephant, a “simple” skincare routine for kids and tweens includes a $16 cleanser, your choice of a $38-68 oil or a $62 moisturizing cream, a $34 sheer sunscreen, and an $18 lip balm.
While it might seem absurd that young girls are flocking to products claiming to “promote elasticity while helping to reduce the look of fine lines,” it all starts to make a lot more sense once you dip your toes into the quagmires of social media. There, you’ll be bombarded by images that are filtered and photoshopped, peddling impossible-to-obtain beauty standards. There’s a good chance you’ll wade into “Get Ready With Me” territory, a segment of TikTok with 157 billion views, where you can watch short, algorithm-friendly videos of beautiful people sharing stories as they get ready to do something. In what is becoming a key marketing sector now worth $250 billion and predicted to double by 2027, influencers will innocuously sprinkle in product placements for skincare, makeup, and clothing.
Keep going, and you’ll encounter warnings to start your anti-aging routine now…don’t wait until it’s too late! If that message isn’t sinking in, just try out TikTok’s new AI-generated “aging filter” to glimpse the horrors that could await your future…wrinkles, sagging skin, ick! If you get fully swept into the wild sea of #AntiAging TikTok, you’ll find bizarre hacks to eternal youth like taping your face for a DIY face-lift or training tips to freeze your face into an expressionless mask, because if it doesn’t move, it won’t get wrinkled (be sure to follow in the footsteps of Kim Kardashian and stop smiling). You can even purchase a special, anti-wrinkle straw, which allows you to drink without pursing your lips!
Social Media Sells Insecurity
It is unfortunately nothing new for teenage girls to struggle with insecurities and body image issues in a period of their development where peer acceptance becomes critical. What is new, however, is how ubiquitously these beauty ideals are shoved down young girls’ throats, alongside marketing for products claiming to offer their attainment.
Generation Alpha is typically delineated as the generation born after 2010, the birth year of iPads and Instagram. Even more than Generation Z, they grew up completely inundated with social media and are estimated to spend over eight hours per day on social media (mostly Instagram and TikTok).
A leaked 2021 internal report from researchers inside Instagram, owned by Facebook (now Meta), exposed that the company was fully aware of how it was harming teenage girls. Their findings included, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” and, unprompted, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” Amongst suicidal teens, 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens attributed their desire to kill themselves to Instagram. Did this research prompt the corporation to consider how they could better protect young girls? Of course not! With retention and expansion of young users vital to Instagram’s $100 billion in annual revenue, the report disgustingly concluded, “Instagram is well-positioned to resonate and win with young people.”
Insecurity + Objectifion = Corporate Profits
The craze for luxury skincare amongst young girls is just one example of what happens as for-profit social media platforms grant unfettered access to younger and younger children to rapacious interests, from retailers to influencers to even the $56 billion plastic surgery industry. The objectification of women and its corresponding crushing pressures to meet a narrowly-defined beauty ideal has been a time-honored tradition just about as old as class society. At least modern shapewear is a bit less painful than whalebone corsets…even if it might cause issues like acid reflux or organ compression!
The objectification of women also leads to a stark double standard for aging between men and women, which is preyed upon by the anti-aging industry. As women age, they are told that they lose their beauty and in turn, their value. Without the drudgery and stresses of capitalism, including the insecurity and isolation of aging in a country with an abysmal healthcare system, the bogeyman of aging would lose its grip. A socialist society would democratically retool industries like the skincare sector for public good and wellness, not profit and #wellness. Without the $766 billion global advertising industry, the sight of a pore could again be normal, not a nightmare, and the objectification and exploitation of women and girls could finally become a matter of ancient history.