Fresh-faced and 16. So why are girls like her buying anti-wrinkle cream?

Cosmetic manufacturers are accused of making profits from teenagers who, claim campaigners, may damage their young complexions by using unsuitable products. Steve Bloomfield reports
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The Independent Online

School-aged girls are applying anti-ageing creams amid growing concerns that cosmetics firms are using TV advertising and brightly coloured packaging to attract teenagers to products once associated with middle age.

School-aged girls are applying anti-ageing creams amid growing concerns that cosmetics firms are using TV advertising and brightly coloured packaging to attract teenagers to products once associated with middle age.

Health and environment campaigners say that major corporations are making huge profits from the sale of expensive anti-wrinkle preparations to girls of 16 and younger, despite evidence that they are not appropriate and may even be damaging.

Some mainstream brands, including Nivea, have already taken out advertising during television programmes aimed at a predominantly teenage market. Advertising and PR experts confirm that cosmetics companies are increasingly drawing in teenagers.

The packaging of anti-ageing products has changed to make them appeal to a younger clientele. L'Oréal, one of the top cosmetics companies, has told The Independent on Sunday that teenagers are buying the anti-ageing creams because "everyone wants to preserve the natural beauty of their skin".

Vicki Shotbolt of the National Family and Parenting Institute (NFPI), a leading charity, said: "It is absolutely outrageous. There is already too much pressure on teenage girls to look a certain way. They need space and freedom to develop a positive body image. I defy anybody to find a teenage girl who really needs an anti-ageing cream."

There is particular concern that Channel 4's youth strand, T4, which broadcasts teen favourites such as Popworld, The OC and Hollyoaks, now also regularly carries advertising for anti-ageing creams and moisturisers.

Mark Borkowski, head of the Borkowski public relations agency and a commentator on the advertising industry, said: "They'll say they are targeting mums, but if they are advertising it then they are obviously aiming it at teens. You have to question the morality of that."

The creams have been backed by Hollywood actress, Scarlett Johansson, a role model to many teenage girls, who recently admitted using them at the age of just 20. "It is hard not to feel the pressure in this industry," she told a magazine interviewer.

Dayna Long, a 16-year-old from Lowestoft, is typical of the growing youth market for the products. "I started using my Mum's cream just because I liked the smell, and now I use it every day," she explains. Dayna says she hasn't any wrinkles yet, and hopes to delay getting them by taking good care of her skin. "People like Kylie have got lovely smooth skin and they use expensive stuff like Crème de la Mer, which I can't afford at the moment."

Fiona Macdonald, 16, from Oxford, said: "There is definite pressure on us as young people not to look old but to try and look 18, and to stay looking that age even when we are well past it. Whenever I switch on TV I see ads by Nivea or Olay and it affects you: your mind doesn't look at the product being promoted but at the people promoting it. You don't consider whether it's meant for your skin. Celebrities have a lot of influence and we believe them when they say these products work."

Seventeen-year-old A-level student Fleur Elliott from Cambridge uses an assortment of anti-ageing lotions, moisturisers and creams.

"I don't want to be 50 and look gross," she said. "I don't want to regret that I didn't take care of my skin as a teenager, so I make sure I do everything now. It makes sense to get a head start on fighting wrinkles." She also uses an anti-ageing eye mask weekly.

Claire Irvin, editor of Elle Girl, aimed at 16- to 20-year-olds, said she would not recommend an anti-ageing cream to her readers.

"They are too strong for younger skins. It would also take the excitement from beauty products if teenagers were getting involved in anti-wrinkle creams. It's a shame."

Helen Lynn of the campaigning Women's Environment Network warned that anti-ageing creams could actually have the reverse effect if used by teenagers and young women. "They can remove the outer layer of skin and increase sun sensitivity," she said.

Nivea denies targeting the teenage market, but says teenage girls do make up a small proportion of the customers who buy their anti-ageing products.

Jo Edwards, marketing manager at Beiersdorf UK, which owns Nivea, said: "We encourage them to use products that prolong their youthful complexion. It is proactive, not reactive.

"These products help younger women maintain their youthful looks. It is preventing the onset of wrinkles."

Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, whose Crème Vital moisturising cream costs £57 for 50ml, said it was important for teenagers to look after their skin.

"You should start skincare young," he said. "If you start from 16 you will see the benefits. It is like feeding yourself properly.

"If you take care of your skin you won't age so much."

Additional reporting by Lucy Dixon and Katherine Nicholls

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