When we think of young girls wearing make-up, we tend to think of child beauty pageants, and this image in itself can conjure up some uneasy feelings for many parents. Children grow up in the blink of an eye and the image of young girls acting older than their years – often under layers of make-up and mature outfits – can be an uncomfortable and unnatural sight.

Outside of pageantry and beauty contests though, should girls as young as 10 years old be wearing make-up in their day to day lives? Parents will ultimately decide on the rules and restrictions as to when their child should start wearing make-up or not – but it can be a tricky thing to control. Young kids love to experiment after all, and if ‘wearing make-up’ is simply a case of daughters testing out Mom’s lipstick for fun then there is no evidence to suggest this is harmful (other than to Mom’s ransacked make-up bag!).

If your 10 year old has recently shown an interest in applying make-up regularly, it is natural to feel concerned about her loss of innocence (not to mention the inappropriate attention she might start receiving as a result). At the end of the day, kids should have the opportunity to be kids and wearing make-up can be just another example of precious childhood years being robbed in the name of trends, peer pressure, and the most powerful recent influence – social media.

When is Make-up Acceptable for Girls?

Young children love to explore their creative side, and make-up can be an appropriate creative outlet in many ways. When kids encounter the fun of ‘dressing up’ for the first time, for example, make-up can play a big part in this – especially in young girls who want to emulate Mommy or a glamorous female celebrity by trying on lipstick and blusher. This is a natural part of childhood curiosity and growing up.

Other instances where childhood make-up is widely accepted by parents is during certain events like dressing up for trick or treating during Halloween, at a costume party hosted by a school friend or having their face painted at a local fair. Since it’s recognised as dressing up and ‘playing pretend’ on these occasions, wearing make-up can be appropriate for young girls to wear in public and this can be a good time to teach your young daughter about the fact that make-up is used to ‘exaggerate’ and ‘enhance’ their facial features and natural beauty – not to ‘fix’ their appearance.

As your daughter grows older and starts forming friendship groups, this can begin to influence her attitude to wearing make-up as well. This can be acceptable in the context of things like a slumber party where young girls often give their friend’s ‘makeovers’ by playing around with different looks and hairstyles. This is your daughter exploring her creative side in your (or another responsible adult’s) home. Wearing make-up outside the house and to school is a different matter.

Unlike getting a tattoo or having their ears pierced, there is no strict law or set of guidelines that point to the ‘acceptable’ age a girl can wear make-up. It is down to your individual judgment as a parent whether make-up will be appropriate for your 10 year old or not. To help you in deciding what is best, we’ve looked into why young girls are drawn to make-up in the first place and the best ways of teaching your daughter about the advantages (and perils) of make-up.

Typical Reasons Girls Want to Wear Make-up

Think back to when you yourself were a pre-teen – how old were you when you started wearing make-up? Who influenced you to wear it and what did your parents think about it? It’s likely you share some of the same reasons for trying out make-up as your daughter is now, and some of them can include…

To ‘be like Mom’

Other than female celebs and social media figures, the key female influence in every young girl’s life is, first and foremost, going to be her mom. If your daughter watches you put your make-up on in the mirror, she can’t help but wonder ‘Can I try this too?’. If and when your daughter asks this, it’s natural to be wary about it, but you may be reassured to know that her curiosity about make-up is linked to her desire to explore and experiment with something new, rather than signal an issue with her on appearance or self-worth.

Child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Tamar Kahane says that for most young girls “requesting make-up may not necessarily reflect a self-esteem issue. It can simply mean ‘I want to look like or be like mommy’. Kahane also pointed out that giving young girls space and opportunity to try out make-up now means they will be “less likely to feel the need to do this later”, so don’t be afraid to let her ‘be like mommy’ for a short while.

To bond with friends

Kids are strongly driven by what they observe in others and pre-teen girls are at a very impressionable age when it comes to fitting in with the crowd and not feeling left out of new trends. In the same way a kid will crave the latest toy or gadget after spotting their friend with one, a 10 year old girl may notice her friends wearing lip gloss or eye shadow and immediately feel the need to ‘catch up’ and stay relevant to her peers.

Medical researcher Laurie Endicott Thomas shares that young girls may have no other reason for wanting to try make-up other than to “bond with their friends by doing the same things they are doing.” Another big part of this decision, Thomas reveals, is that girls “want to show that they are not babies any more.” A need to prove their maturity can play a big part in make-up (more on this below).

To prove her maturity

At a certain age, girls like to step away from being viewed as a ‘little girl’ and be seen as someone that people will take more seriously – so until they can reach an actual age of maturity, make-up can be a fast-track way of seeming more grown-up and ‘mature’ in front of her peers and her own family.

While you should commend your daughter for wanting to act more mature, you should let her know that her idea of maturity and responsibility is misguided if it is only related to how much make-up she wears. Highlight other ways in which she can prove her maturity by helping out with more chores around the house or showing greater kindness and understanding to her siblings. Make her realize that self-worth and maturity is shown in her actions, not how she looks.

To role play and make sense of her world

As your daughter approaches her pre-teen years and beyond, it is natural for her to explore what works for her and trying on make-up is part of her role playing and communicating with the world around her. Parenting expert Jan Faull describes 10 years old as the “turn over” year – the age at which your little girl may not yet be in her teens, but she is beginning to mature emotionally, socially and intellectually and this begins a tidal wave of exploration that parents can’t hold back (no matter how much they might try!)

Child psychologist Dr. Tamar Kahane states that “one of the ways a child learns about the world is through dressing up”, so allowing your daughter to experiment with make-up may be healthy and beneficial in the long run. Allowing her to explore her options may even help her decide that make-up isn’t really for her.

How to Deal With Your 10 Year Old Wearing Make-up

As disheartening as it may be to discover that your little girl has begun wearing make-up, it may be a comfort to know that this is a natural part of your pre-teen discovering herself. There are so many influences in your daughter’s life from her friendship group to her favorite female pop group or social media star and giving into some of the trends presented to her is all part of becoming an adolescent.

You may not be able to stop her growing up, but you can approach her new love of make-up with compassion and understanding (remember that you may have worn make-up from an early age too!). Here are some of the ways to help you come to terms with your young daughter wearing make-up…

Ask your child why she likes wearing make-up

Before getting into an argument with your 10 year old about wearing make-up, it will be more beneficial for both of you to calmly ask why she likes wearing make-up and what it means to her.

It’s easy for parents to immediately see make-up as something that could potentially sexualize young girls, but it’s quite likely that your daughter has an interest in make-up because it brings out her artistic side.

Trust your ‘mom’ instinct

While they are living under your roof, it is fine to let your young daughter experiment with make-up, but when should you allow them to leave the house with make-up on? As their parent, it should be up to you to set these boundaries and you can use your mother’s intuition to help you. Child psychologist Dr. Tamar Kahene reveals that “moms notice what they’re own child is emotionally ready for”, so if your 10 year old seems mature enough to wear make-up responsibly, trust them to do so.

Offer her a compromise

To satisfy your daughter’s curiosity about using cosmetics, try to ease her into gently wearing small, subtle types of make-up. Parenting expert Jan Faull recommends letting pre-teens wear tinted lip balm, for instance as this “gives a little gloss and color to her lips, but doesn’t give the look of full-blown lipstick.” Allowing her to use a clear mascara that separates and enhances eyelashes without making the eyes appear too bold is another good tip.

Reaffirm her natural beauty

It might sound clichéd, but you should remind your daughter as often as you can that she is beautiful without make-up, and that as fun as it can be to try out new looks, nothing can replace what she already has. If she won’t believe her mom or dad’s compliments about her natural beauty, consider taking your daughter to a make-up counter in your nearby department store. Get a staff member to show your daughter how subtle make-up can enhance her eyes or smile without losing what makes her unique.

Teach her about moderation

A bright shade of lip gloss on its own can be overpowering so adding mascara and popping eyeshadow into the mix is a definite no-no (for adults as well as kids!). To teach her the right attitude about applying make-up the grown-up way, let her know that make-up can be even more effective when you use less of it. Painters don’t use the entire color palette to create a masterpiece!

Address the ‘fakery’ of social media

Last but certainly not least, have a frank discussion with your daughter about the negative impact social media can have on self-esteem and let her know that platforms like Instagram and Facebook do not always put across realistic beauty standards. Show her side by side images of celebs before and after Photoshopped magazine images to illustrate your point about selfie filters. Your daughter should learn the lesson as early as possible that perfection does not exist – something social media has unfortunately brainwashed kids and teens into believing does.

Self-esteem and Using Make-up to Cover ‘Imperfections’

Having touched upon social media’s negative impact on a young girl’s self-image, we thought it made sense to briefly address a lesser known reason that girls as young as 10 may start to apply make-up on a regular basis – to cover up perceived imperfections on their face such as things like birthmarks, freckles and early acne.

Because celeb selfies and magazine shots rarely show faces in their natural form, young girls are often being fed the assumption that anything but a smooth, unmarked face is abnormal and should be hidden from view. Most choose to use image filters to mimic this unrealistic beauty standard, but for girls suffering from aggressive pre-teen acne, make-up can quickly become a more tempting coping mechanism.

We normally think of acne and blemishes appearing in our teenage years, but studies have shown that for some kids, signs of acne can actually begin showing as early as 7 years old. If your 10 year old daughter has noticed her skin breaking out, she may be tempted to start wearing make-up to conceal her blemishes, especially in the case of a spot appearing before a party or school picture day.

While wearing make-up may serve as a temporary solution and comfort for your child’s acne however, it will ultimately be in your child’s best interests to consult a pediatric dermatologist about treating the root cause of their acne. The frequent application of heavy foundations and concealer products have been known to often exacerbate the problem since the oils in most make-up products can clog up your child’s pores further.

Make-up tips for child acne

If your daughter suffers with or is showing signs of early acne, be sure to seek the help of a child dermatologist who can specialize in addressing the root cause of your child’s pre-teen acne and offer treatment plans tailored to your child’s needs. Should your daughter want to continue using make-up to boost her self-esteem in the meantime, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • When buying make-up, look for products that state the following on the packaging: oil-free, non-comedogenic and that they won’t clog pores. Many make-up products on the market can contribute to the clogging up of your pores, which is what causes blackheads and acne in the first place.
  • Apply your child’s make-up gently. Use a soft-bristled make-up brush or sponge applicator to apply make-up and avoid irritatng their skin any further.
  • Remove make-up with a mild and gentle product. If your child wants to wear make-up, you should encourage her to stick to a skincare routine. This means removing make-up gently with an oil-free remover and washing the face once in the morning and once at night with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser.