Makeup for tweens and teens: What’s appropriate?

Whether it’s their first Bonne Bell Lip Smackers or playing dress-up with their mothers’ lipstick, many girls start experimenting with makeup early. For tweens and teens, one of the rituals of back-to-school time is the fight with Mom over what is and isn’t age- and school-appropriate.

And, yes, that discussion is starting earlier. Though women ages 18 to 64 are using less makeup, tween girls (ages 8 to 12) are using more, according to a new report from market research firm the NPD Group. For instance, since 2007, the use of mascara by tweens — presumably those on the older side — has increased from 10% to 18%, and eyeliner from 9% to 15%.

For parents, this means “it is our opportunity and responsibility to ensure that these girls … are educated on the role of beauty in the most responsible way,” Karen Grant, a group vice president and global industry analyst for NPD, noted in a news release about the findings.


Now let’s be clear, most people probably would agree that young girls should not wear makeup. There’s a reason children’s beauty pageants elicit an almost universal cringe; playtime aside, there is something inappropriate about young girls painted like grown women. But there’s no denying that they watch what adults do and want to experiment.

Celebrity make-up artist Joanna Schlip, who says she “learned how to speak tween” when researching her book “Glamour Gurlz: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Great Make-up and Gurl Smarts,” has some ideas for parents whose daughters take an early interest in beauty.

Tweens shouldn’t wear a full face of makeup, she says, “but if they’re really insistent, to make them feel big-girl pretty they can use sunblock as their ‘foundation,’ cherry Chapstick or clear gloss as their ‘lipstick’ and you can get them to use clear eyebrow gel to groom their brows and they can also use it as mascara…. So it’s really no makeup, but they feel like they’re putting something on. And SPF is great and protects them from the sun.”

Schlip has worked on well-known celebrities, glamorous ad campaigns and magazines including Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Cosmo Girl. She knows from experience that pictures of celebrities and models in magazines are not a faithful representation of what they look like in real life. Parents should teach their daughters that there is a difference in what they see in magazines and what is real.

“It’s manipulated; it’s advertising,” she says. “Photography is an art form in and of itself, as is retouching. Incredible images take a whole process and a whole team of people. We’re talking about a great photographer, lighting, the best hair, makeup — and retouching after all of that.”

During the tween years, parents should also begin teaching girls that when the time comes to wear makeup, they should never share cosmetics, because of the health risks. “It spreads conjunctivitis and other diseases,” Schlip says.

Girls this age also need to know that beauty “is about their actions, how they behave and how they carry themselves, and no amount of makeup can beat a smile — it’s amazing. I’ve seen it a thousand times,” Schlip says. “Beauty is derived from who you are as a person. It’s from the inside out. Especially in Los Angeles, I think that that tends to get lost.”


Once the tween years are past, teens will want to start wearing makeup, but what’s appropriate for one age isn’t for another.

“I used to say that when a girl begins to menstruate, that’s when they should start wearing makeup,” Schlip says. “But that’s not even appropriate anymore because some girls get their period at 7.”

Cosmetics guru Bobbi Brown has a new book out for teens and twenty-somethings called “Beauty Rules: Fabulous Looks, Beauty Essentials, and Life Lessons” that provides some tips and guidelines.

“When they’re going to bar mitzvahs, or around seventh grade, is when mothers tend to allow girls to leave the house with makeup,” Brown says. But parents, of course, make varying decisions and should take into account factors such as their daughter’s school environment, personality and maturity level.

Brown and Schlip both say makeup should be appropriate to both the occasion and the age of the teen. “When you talk about 13, it is really different than 15 and 17 — every year it changes,” Brown says.

Ann Shoket, editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, says teens do understand that celebrities have a team of makeup artists putting them together and that achieving that look daily is unrealistic. “Girls also see reality TV and [celebrities] hanging around the house, looking a mess, kicking their feet up.

“For school, girls really want to look like themselves,” she says.

But for special occasions, “girls are definitely wearing more makeup, and it goes from looking natural, which is what you want at school, to having fun with your makeup, which is what you want at a party where it’s about experimenting with bold colors, sparkle and even fake lashes,” Shoket says. “Makeup is just fun, and that’s the way that girls are viewing it.”

Brown describes appropriate makeup for school as “fresh and pretty.”

Focus on the complexion and skin health first. Some teens with skin issues may need foundation, but most teenagers don’t, Brown says. Opt for tinted moisturizer instead. Also, use concealer for under-eye dark circles and touch-up sticks to cover blemishes, if needed. “Mascara, a touch of blush, sheer lips or lip gloss, and that’s really it,” Brown says. “Blush color should be the color you get when you pinch your cheeks.”

She adds that sparkle and shimmer are great “because they’re pretty transparent. So [a teen] can choose colors that you just swipe on the eyelid — like a silvery-pink [or whatever suits her skin tone] — just not a lot. Bur no red lips and no smoky eye for school.” Brown says earth-tone shadows can work too, but stay away from brightly colored shadow.

Both Brown and Schlip are surprised at girls wearing black liner to school. But it’s not that the teens are leaving the house that way with full parental approval.

“The parents who think that they’re stopping their teens wearing makeup to school — they’re only fooling themselves because what they do is that they go into the bathroom and they share,” Schlip says. “And sharing is the worst thing that they can do because of how dangerous it is to their health.” She adds that mothers have a great responsibility here to teach their daughters about makeup. Mothers and teens may even want to go in together for a makeup lesson.

As for shimmer and sparkle, “this is the age where they really want to do it,” Schlip says. “Just save that for special events like a Justin Bieber concert, bar mitzvah, birthday party, pep rally or dance. But for math class or history, you just don’t want that all over your face.”

Brown says that as every year goes by, teens can add darker colors and more definition. “And by the time they go to prom, it’s red carpet all of the way,” she says.