Brands will need to take new proactive steps to avoid the misuse of their retinol products by young consumers. Clearer product age-labelling and social media outreach are simple steps to achieve a safer environment for all consumers.

The British Association for Dermatologists has warned that children as young as eight are using skincare products following their promotion on social media video-sharing sites such as YouTube and TikTok. Ingredients such as retinol are not intended for use on young skin and can lead to negative reactions, allergies and eczema. Unfortunately, the influencer-led discussion on social media is a breeding ground for viral trends with low concern for scientific advice compared to engagement, and despite sign-up age limits, many children continue to access and share videos online.

Social media engagement – a vital marketing strategy

Between 2021 and 2023, GlobalData’s consumer surveys revealed that all age groups reported spending more time online, leading to greater time spent on social media. As beauty brands increasingly collaborate with influencers on social media and in online communities, social media engagement has become a vital marketing strategy for the industry. However, this also filters down to younger users – including users as young as 13 years old for platforms such as TikTok.

If brands wish to use the platform to advertise and influence, they should consider the potential backlash if their content reaches younger audiences. Brands should ensure their products that feature ingredients such as retinol, which are only appropriate for more mature skin, are specifically marketed towards that group only. When optimised for a TikTok-like environment, age-targeting needs to be simple enough that the audience can intuit it from the packaging in seconds, without requiring an extended read.

The emerging popularity of skincare regimes among young consumers could even result in age limits on beauty products that feature “strong” ingredients such as retinol, comparable to those for energy drinks and alcohol. Government regulations tend to be reactive, while industry’s shorter lead times can be proactive. Brands can also lead the conversation by contacting influencers directly about the issue. They should leverage influencers on platforms such as TikTok to promote clear messaging on the recommended age rating of products to protect younger audience members.

Influencers can help bridge the gap between a brand and its audience, reducing the risk of children using inappropriate products. TikTok is also great for humorous and short narrative content, so brands can utilise this to convey their message and reduce reputational risk.

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