Beauty Be-Tween The Lines

Make-up for the Playdate Set

When she isn’t marching around the house ordering her parents to stop using plastic grocery bags “because sea turtles swallow them and die,” five-year-old Parker is rocking out in her hot pink bedroom to Taylor Swift and digging into her growing stash of makeup. As she dabs her cheeks with Hannah Montana blush and swipes her lips with Hello Kitty gloss, she’s getting a jumpstart on decades of future beauty consumption.

The Robin ReportAnd within just three short years, the now-pre-K kid will be routinely cracking open her piggy bank not for the Zhu Zhu Pet du jour, but for cosmetics mad money. In fact, according to NPD’s most recent look-see into the category, a 2009 report entitled “Insight into the Youth Beauty Market,” tweens (8 to 12) were the only group that ratcheted-up their cosmetics spending over 2007, outpacing both teens and young women, whom NPD defines as 18 to 24.

Even more compelling for industry-watchers is the products gaining traction in tween-ville: mascara, eyeliner and real, bonafide lipstick rather than gooey gloss. That’s big-girl stuff. Heck, that’s woman stuff.

So what’s driving the shift into more mature fare? According to NPD’s Karen Grant, Vice President and global industry analyst, it’s a mix of Marketing and Mama. “To some degree, it’s due to the popularity of Hannah Montana and so on,” she says. “But what I found interesting is that tweens were most apt to say that they’re influenced by their mother. They’re looking at what their mom is using to help them decide what to buy. So the more adult product choices have to do with who’s influencing them. And mascara is the product that is most likely to be used by women across all ages and ethnicities.”

Grant also notes that the awareness level of CoverGirl among tweens has shot through the roof recently, and cites the brand’s use of super-bright, kid-friendly packaging as a possible reason. “It’s not that CoverGirl is targeting young women,” she says, “but those mascaras in bright oranges and blues were very captivating.” Thus, it’s no wonder that the buzziest tween beauty launch in years – GeoGirl – includes both FYEO (For Your Eyes Only) Feather Lash Mascara and GR8 (Great) Lipshine lipsticks. The 69-SKU line, which rolls out in April and is exclusive to Walmart for at least one year, also weaves eco-mindedness and technology into the brand DNA.

On the natural front, GeoGirl is laced with chamomile, lavender and white willow bark and devoid of such chemical red flags as parabens, phthalates and sulfates. And in a nod to tweens’ extreme tech-savviness, product names are all derived from text-speak. Don’t know that T2G means ‘time to go” or TiSC is short-hand for “this is so cool”? Then you’re not the target audience for T2G facial cleanser or TiSC body mist.

Clearly, in its attempt to capture a slice of the small-but-rapidly-growing $24 million tween beauty market, the company behind the brand – Lake Forest, California-based Pacific World Corporation – has done its homework. Still, its pre-launch outreach to mommy bloggers may not be having quite the effect the company had hoped. A recent rant on MomsRising.org, for example, not only calls into question the very notion of such a large push by Walmart to sell cosmetics to tweens, but also GeoGirl’s eco-ositioning and philanthropic stance. (In tandem with the roll-out, Pacific World is unveiling gg-Gives, a program that directs a portion of net proceeds to charities recommended by its young customers.)

“Marketing lipstick, exfoliator and eyeshadow to 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade girls is part of a larger and growing problem in our society which teaches girls that their value is dependent upon their sexuality and their perceived outer beauty,” writes MomsRising blogger Amie Newman. “Our girls, and our boys, need to be valued for who they are, first, as smart, compassionate, creative, loving human beings.”

And then Newman thrusts the knife a little deeper. “In the meantime, I teach my 8-year-old girl how to be a committed steward of the earth by recycling, composting, digging in the dirt and reading National Geographic. If she wants to play with my organic makeup, she’s more than welcome to. But I’m going to pass, thank you very much, on Walmart’s green curriculum.”

Despite her harsh words, Newman concedes that the horse has long been out of the proverbial barn; tweens love and covet makeup and beauty products at ever-younger ages. Just ask Bobbi Brown, who recently unveiled the splashy, coffee-table-esque tome Beauty Rules: Fabulous Looks, Beauty Essentials and Life Lessons, a follow-up to her 2000 smash Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty.

“I was about 11 or 12 when I first started wearing makeup ‘out,’ ” Brown recently told HollyBaby, the pint-sized edition of HollywoodLife.com. (Accompanying the online interview: an image of four-year-old Suri Cruise clutching a jam-packed makeup bag.) “When girls start going out to parties, school dances, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, etc., that’s about the right time
for them to start learning about makeup. It’s my belief that at that age, a bit of lip gloss and maybe a swipe of mascara is all you need.”

A marketing genius if ever there was one, Brown has created a limited-edition Beauty Rules Face Palette. The $45 kit contains glosses and balms, pot rouges, shadows, liner and an eye pencil, all in ostensibly kid-friendly shades. Cleverly, the outer cover is an adorable riff on a spiral notebook. In a video for Amazon.com, Brown talks about the core impetus behind Beauty Rules. In a world in which teens are bombarded with media images of perfection, it’s getting harder and harder for them to feel as if their looks past muster. “I wrote the book to help empower girls to be able to realize that they rock, and they’re beautiful, and anyone could be great,” she says, before providing precise tips for finessing a smoky eye.

In addition to learning how to wield an eyeliner brush, these insecure teenagers might want to channel their own tween selves; according to NPD’s Grant, young makeup-lovers have a considerably higher level of confidence about their appearance than teens. That’s why a line like GeoGirl, which is designed to subtly enhance beauty rather than pile on the glitter and gloss, is probably on the right track. “Tweens haven’t yet hit that middle school crisis when everything changes,” Grant says. “They aren’t as self-critical and are pretty confident about their looks. They have a good amount of self-esteem.”

Dana Wood About Dana Wood

A beauty journalist for over 20 years, Dana Wood has served as Beauty Director for both W and Cookie magazines and has written for numerous national publications including Glamour, InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar and Self. She also spent several years in the Luxury Products division of L’Oreal as Assistant Vice President, Strategic Development. Her first book, Momover: The New Mom’s Guide to Getting It Back Together, was published in 2010 by Adams Media.