Skip to main content

Bill To Ban the Sale of Anti-Aging Cosmetic Products to Children and Preteens Passes Key First Hurdle

For immediate release:

Kids are buying anti-aging skincare with ingredients that can be harmful to their health. AB 2491 authored by Assemblymember Alex Lee will protect children and preteens from the unnecessary risks of anti-aging products. The bill is now headed to the Appropriations Committee after passing the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on April 23, 2024. 

“Anti-aging products with powerful active ingredients like retinol have become much more accessible in recent years,” said Assemblymember Lee. “They’re readily available at retail stores, and we’re seeing videos on social media of children as young as seven using anti-aging serums. The industry itself has made statements that kids do not need to use these strong products. But the multi-billion dollar beauty industry in the U.S. is failing to take meaningful action to address the issue, and companies are profiting off of kids who are unknowingly buying and using products that aren’t meant for them. Kids don’t need anti-aging products, and AB 2491 will protect children and preteens from the potential harms of using products that may lead to short- or long-term skin challenges they wouldn’t otherwise have.” 

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. 

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.

While a coalition of organizations representing retailers and manufacturers are opposing AB 2491, they have acknowledged in a letter that they “do not support children using anti-aging products.” One of those organizations, the Personal Care Products Council, further said in a statement, “Dermatologists agree that anti-aging products are generally unnecessary for younger skin, and preteens should look for mild cleansers, hydrating moisturizers and protective sunscreens.” 

Companies like Dove, Kiehl’s and The Ordinary have also begun to combat the issue through platforms like social media. In an Instagram post by The Ordinary, for instance, the company recommends teens to “[a]void ingredients like retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids at the start of your skincare journey”. 

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 or fine lines 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. 

Scarlett Goddard-Strahan is a 10 year-old who shared her story at the April 23 hearing. Swayed by influencers on TikTok and YouTube, she sought out products that were advertised as anti-wrinkling, brightening and so forth. But the fifth grader began experiencing skin reactions like burns and bumps after using these products. 

“I stopped using these products a while ago and use Nivea and sunscreen now, but I still have bumps on my cheeks and they get itchy and red when I sweat and when I am out in the sun,” said Goddard-Strahan. “I feel embarrassed that I have bumps on my face and people at my school ask me why my cheeks are so red. It makes me really self-conscious. I’m worried my skin is always going to look like this and feel like this.”

She added, “I really wish that I would have known how these products would have affected me because if I did I would never have used them. I didn’t know I could buy something that sounded good, but would actually hurt my skin. I wanted glowy skin and instead I have red itchy skin.” 

AB 2491 will ban the sale of over-the-counter skin care products or 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 retinoids and retinol.
  • An alpha hydroxy acid including glycolic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) 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.”

Under the bill, businesses are required to take a reasonable step to ensure that purchasers of anti-aging products are not under the age of 13. A reasonable step could include: 

  • Placing a prominent notice next to the physical product or in the product’s online description that states that the product is not meant for anyone under 13 years of age.
  • Requiring the purchaser to provide a date of birth or otherwise confirm their age before purchasing.
  • Requiring the purchaser to use a nonprepaid credit card for an online purchase.
  • Requiring the purchaser to verify their age by means of a valid form of identification that includes a photograph of the purchaser and their date of birth. 

“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.”

Earlier this year, the British Association of Dermatologists 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 alpha hydroxy acids to customers under 15.