Ready for makeup?

Makeup is an opportunity for a young teen to express her personality

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“I wish she didn’t think she needed makeup because she doesn’t,” says Marcia Hughes,* whose daughter, Alyssa, is 14. “But she doesn’t look like a tart, and this is not an issue that I think is worth a battle.”

Visit a grade eight or nine class and chances are most of the girls will be wearing makeup. If your daughter is piling on the mascara, foundation and lipstick, or adopting a dramatic look that makes you cringe, how should you respond?

First, understand the motivation behind the makeup, says Lorraine Zander, the founder and editor-in-chief of Faze, a magazine targeted at 13- to 18-year-olds. “Makeup is one of the first ways a young girl can show that she’s turning into a young woman,” she says. “It’s not necessarily about attracting boys. It’s a way of saying ‘This is who I am.’”

“A girl experimenting with lots of mascara, bright colours, red lips — may be telling the world that she’s got a zany, fun, daring side,” says Zander. “A reserved person will tend to adopt a more understated look.”

And it’s quite normal for a teen to experiment with expressing herself through makeup. Today she’s model-perfect; tomorrow her look may be campy goth.

Hughes recalls how Alyssa experimented with cosmetics for a while before she ever wore them in public. With practice, her technique has improved, says Hughes. “When she first started wearing mascara, it looked like little boards sitting along her upper lashes, but she’s gotten quite good at it.”

Should a girl in grade eight or nine be allowed to wear makeup to school? Jessica Corp, who teaches at Prince of Wales Public School in Peterborough, Ont., says while a lot of her students wear makeup, it’s not really an issue for her. “It’s how they express themselves, and I don’t see it as a huge problem,” she says. “I wore horrible makeup when I was in grade eight — sparkles everywhere — and no one told me to stop. Eventually, I realized that this was not how I wanted to express myself. I grew out of it.”

Acknowledging your daughter’s interest in makeup, and providing some help in applying it, is probably the best approach. Here are some ideas from the experts:

Keep tools and makeup clean, says Toronto-based makeup artist Alice Kilpatrick. Teach your daughter to wash her brushes periodically and keep containers closed.

To wash brushes, run the bristles under warm water, use a bit of soap, rinse and leave them on a clean towel to try. “And,” she adds, “sharing makeup is a no-no.”

Check out magazines
They’re full of tips and tricks, says Kilpatrick. “Find a look you like and try to copy it.”

Have a makeover
“Why not make a day of it,” suggests Zander. “Invite your daughter to visit a department store or drugstore where they do makeup applications. Ask them to show her a few different looks.” That way, says Zander, the professional — not you — can be the one to say, “Go easy on the eyes.”
Emphasize skin care
Toronto dermatologist Benjamin Barankin says around age 12 is a good time to start a skin care regimen. Face cleansers like Cetaphil, Spectroderm or Toleraine are not drying like soap, especially in a dry climate, he says.

Teach your daughter to pay attention to how her skin reacts to different products too, says Zander. “If a product makes her eyes itchy, or increases redness, don’t use it.”

 Dealing with acne

About the same time girls develop an interest in makeup, they’re often dealing with pimples. Toronto dermatologist Benjamin Barankin says it’s OK for kids to use cosmetics to cover up zits. “Make sure your child is using an oil-free makeup, and encourage her to limit the amount of time it’s on. Encourage her to wash her face when she comes home from school.” Try non-comedogenic products, which means they won’t clog pores, causing blackheads and whiteheads. And medicated cover-ups? “Sure, try them too,” says Barankin.

The most important thing is to treat the acne, not just cover it up. “You have to do both,” says Barankin. Over-the-counter products are safe, inexpensive and can be quite effective in controlling mild to moderate acne. In addition to a cleanser like Cetaphil, he recommends an acne wash that has salicylic acid or benzyl peroxide. It’s fine for kids to experiment with different products, says Barankin, to see what works best for them. But if acne isn’t getting any better after three or four months, it’s important that your child see a dermatologist. Untreated acne can lead to scarring.

*Names changed by request.

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