K-beauty make-up and skincare for children and toddlers – how young is too young for cosmetics?

Korea’s baby-faced make-up trend has now come full circle and is influencing children across Asia. For parents, knowing where to draw the line can be tough, with immense cultural pressure for women to be physically attractive

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 7:09pm

In East Asia, South Korea’s K-beauty industry currently reigns as the region’s dominant make-up and skincare trendsetter. Over the past decade, K-beauty trends – such as the cherub-like flawless-skin baby face and the “no make-up” make-up look that champions glowing skin, pink cheeks and bright pink lips – have become extremely popular in the region.

The focus on looking youthful and baby-like was not a trend in South Korea until about 10 years ago. Now, women and girls are even encouraged to behave in cute and childlike ways through K-pop, K-dramas and variety shows where actors and K-pop stars are asked to show their best “aegyo” faces.

Thanks to technology, social media and strategic marketing, these movements have spread to other regions of the world, including East Asia and the US.

Paradoxically, Asia’s baby-faced make-up trend has now come full circle to influence beauty and grooming trends among children. You can now find YouTube videos of young toddlers getting their eyelashes curled and hair permed and coloured, of nine-month-olds getting DIY facial massages, and young children dressed up with BB cream and moussed hair at Seoul Fashion Week. Without doubt, children and teens’ skincare, make-up and grooming practises are on the rise.

In South Korea, brands like The Face Shop saw cosmetics sales among teenagers aged 13 to 19 double in 2014, while a Korean consumer rights group reported in 2016 that 42.7 per cent of primary-school-aged girls surveyed had used cosmetics before, according to news site Quartz.

But how young is too young to wear make-up? Yoon Kyung-won, a Seoul-based mother with two children aged nine and six, says that while she began using make-up in high school, she draws the line at younger than middle school.

“Until middle school, I don’t want my kids wearing make-up, but if all their friends are doing it, it might be tough to avoid … When I was a high school student, [cosmetics brand] Etude House had just launched and it was the first brand for high schoolers and teens. Me and my friends bought their powder to ‘brighten’ up our faces.”

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In Korea, while girls generally enjoy experimenting with make-up, most parents and schools frown upon it, Yoon says.

“These days, lots of high school students do their eye make-up and eyebrows … My daughter’s cousin is 14 and she’s doing her eye make-up, lip colour and hair … She spends a lot of time making herself prettier … but lots of mothers don’t like when their children do this because they worry that once they care about appearance, they won’t do their homework.”

Yoon adds that children in South Korea also internalise social norms and beauty standards from a young age. “When I was in high school, some of my friends got plastic surgery at age 16. They got their eyes and nose done. At the time, [I felt jealous] and wanted to become prettier too … after surgery my friends seemed more happy and confident.”

Reflecting the country’s position as one of the world’s top beauty and plastic-surgery hubs, South Korean society sees women face immense cultural pressure to be physically attractive. It is also a country where beauty is explicitly approached as an aspect of one’s social capital, and part of the formula for achieving success.

Similar trends also exist in China, where half of the cosmetic surgery market is made up of the age group from junior high school pupils to university students, according to a 2017 report published by Global Times.

In Korea, Yoon says these standards are imposed from an early age. “Even though my daughter is only in the second grade, some of her friends will turn to her and say, ‘You’re so pretty, I wish I had a thinner face [like you].’”

Alexa Bui, a Hong Kong-based make-up artist and mother of two, says she was allowed to experiment with cosmetics from a young age. “I was allowed to [apply] lipstick and paint my toes as a child but I was never allowed to leave the home with them on until I was in high school, and I feel like that’s a fair house rule for us,” she says.


A post shared by A L E X A (@alexa.bui) on Feb 17, 2018 at 7:54pm PST

Bui says children can experiment with self-expression via make-up, though this should be limited to certain items only. “For middle school children, I think it’s fun to play around with lipgloss and nail polish. [But] I personally draw the line at foundation because at that age their skin is still baby soft and perfect, so why would you cover it?”

Ultimately, Bui says, parents should be free to decide what is best for their children, as long as it doesn’t have any long-term negative effects.

“I got my first perm at the age of six, so maybe that’s why [I think that]!” Bui says. “That being said, my kids won’t be getting their hair permed or permanently coloured until they reach double digits, but a little bit of hair chalk that washes out never hurt anyone if it’s during the school holidays. To me, their appearance is not the be-all and end-all, but simply another part of them.”