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Assemblymember Alex Lee Introduces Bill To Protect Children From Potentially Harmful Skincare Products

For immediate release:

Assemblymember Alex Lee has introduced a bill to protect children from potentially harmful skincare products. AB 2491 will ban the sale of anti-aging cosmetic products to kids under the age of 13. 

“Social media has kicked off a trend of children using anti-aging products with powerful active ingredients that may be harmful to them,” said Assemblymember Lee. “We’re seeing this on both the national and international level. AB 2491 protects our youth from the unnecessary risks of using products that are not suitable for their skincare needs. These anti-aging products offer no benefits to children and preteens.” 

Platforms such as TikTok and Instagram are filled with beauty influencers promoting makeup routines and skincare products, resulting in a phenomenon dubbed “Sephora Kids.” Young children exposed to this content are driven to buy trendy products, including anti-aging skincare, that are targeted to adult skin concerns, without receiving proper information about the effects or science behind the skincare.

Common ingredients in anti-aging skin products are retinols, glycolic acid and ascorbic acid. These ingredients are used to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production and increasing cell turnover. However, they can also cause skin irritations such as redness, itching, swelling, dryness, peeling, and potentially lead to topical dermatitis and eczema. 

AB 2491 will ban the sale of over-the-counter cosmetic products to children under the age of 13 that are advertised to address skin aging and contains either of following ingredients: 

  • Vitamin A and its derivatives including retinol 
  • An alpha hydroxy acid including glycolic acid, ascorbic acid or citric acid 

"Traditional skincare for children and teens includes the use of a good moisturizer to keep skin healthy, a good sunscreen to minimize sun damage, and anti-acne products to reduce breakouts and scarring,” said Homer Swei, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Healthy Living Science, Consumer Safety Science for the Environmental Working Group. “But dermatologists now report that children and teens are using anti-aging products. At best, these products won’t provide any skin benefits, as these products are designed for older adults; at worst these products may harm skin by causing irritation, dryness, peeling, and eventually topical dermatitis and eczema. There is no reason why children should use anti-aging products.”

Cell renewal rates change as people age. Babies and young children have a faster cell turnover rate than adults, which results in their naturally soft, smooth, and radiant skin. Skin cell turnover rate slows down as adults age. This decline is one of the factors contributing to visible signs of aging like wrinkles, dullness, and uneven texture. This is why anti-aging products that address concerns like collagen loss aren’t necessary for children. 

In addition, children have more sensitive skin than adults. Some of the key differences include a thinner epidermis, weaker skin barrier, still developing immune system, higher pH level, and faster skin cell turnover. This makes their skin more vulnerable to external irritants, environmental factors, and allergens. 

“Tweens and teen skincare habits are being driven by influencers, brands and celebrities via social media and our evolutionary desire to fit in which is so strong when we are young,” said dermatologist Dr. Brooke Jeffy. “Kids are spending hours on social media being influenced to use anti aging skincare products they do not need but can actually harm their skin. Some of my patients have told me they use the products for some perceived benefit but most tell me they buy because of product packaging and how it looks on their sink. Certain products and brands have become status symbols.”

“Dermatologists, myself included, are seeing young patients with adverse effects from using products too harsh for their more sensitive skin,” Dr. Jeffy added. “Rashes, infections and breakouts are common and generally resolve without sequelae with removal of the causative product over time though some will require medical treatment. Moreover these very visible reactions can be psychologically impactful because appearance plays such a role in self esteem and mental health and is something they are putting themselves through for no good reason. The kicker is that kids do not benefit from these products so there is only potential for harm. There is also the concern that the irritation and damage to the skin barrier these products create damages the skin's ability to protect itself from sun exposure and the chronic irritation may accelerate changes in the skin associated with aging. Thus a product that may have benefit in an adult offers only risk in a child because they do not have the damage these products address to begin with.”

The British Association of Dermatologists has sounded the alarm that kids using anti-aging products may leave them with irreversible skin problems. Further, the pharmacy chain Apotek Hjärtat, which has roughly 390 pharmacies in Sweden, has set an age limit restricting the sale of advanced skincare products including retinol and AHAs to customers under 15. 

See here for Assemblymember Alex Lee’s video explainer on AB 2491.