‘Sephora Teens’ and the Power of TikTok Marketing

If you have been on TikTok, you have undoubtedly seen them– the insanely popular videos of beauty influencers singing the praises of all sorts of skincare and beauty products, from drugstore brands to exclusive, upmarket items. Usually, the women in these videos are in their 20s, 30s, and even older, promoting products to plump skin, shrink pores, erase wrinkles, or give users the highly coveted luminous  ‘glass skin’ effect that has put K Beauty (Korean beauty products) on the radar of Western consumers. 

The appetite for beauty products is ever-growing and shows no sign of slowing down. The global beauty market, the umbrella category of skincare, makeup, fragrance, and hair care, is estimated to have generated $430B in 2022 worldwide. The beauty market was one of the few that saw growth during the pandemic, due in some part to lockdown boredom, but also to consumers getting up close and personal with their own faces in a new way during the pile-up of daily video calls that became a hallmark of the pandemic. By 2027, the market is expected to grow to $580B. 

Zoom in closer on the beauty market, and you’ll find a consumer that should not have anti-aging, plumping products on their radar– tween and teenage girls. An audience seemingly unaware that they have the type of skin that older women spend decades (and lots of money) trying to recapture. Thanks to social media, Generation Alpha (those born after 2010) has discovered skincare and beauty rituals and they’re not letting go of them anytime soon. Collectively, Gen Alpha accounts for about 2.5 billion people worldwide. In 2023, teen consumers spent 33 percent more on cosmetics and 19 percent more on skincare than in the previous year, according to investment bank Piper Sandler

‘Sephora Teens’, as they’re now (maybe not so affectionately) called, are named after the beauty mecca Sephora, signifying a generation deeply immersed in skincare and beauty products, with TikTok playing a pivotal role in shaping what they buy. They’ve only been alive for a little over a decade, but these tweens and teens have crafted elaborate morning and evening skincare routines, as well as hair care and makeup regimens, all gleaned from TikTok.  It is a genuine phenomenon highlighting the transformative power of TikTok marketing, where short-form videos wield significant influence over consumer behavior. A recent Gallup poll conducted last summer found that more than half of all teens spend at least four hours a day on social media, so the teen audience is captive, and many have money to spend. Or at least their parents do. 

TikTok’s ability to disseminate skincare routines, product recommendations, and reviews has created a new wave of mini beauty enthusiasts who are ready to spend to keep up, even if it is on products they don’t yet need. So what brands have been on the wish list of this newly minted consumer? Sephora Teens have been on the hunt for brands like Drunk Elephant, Summer Fridays, Sol de Janeiro, Glow Recipe, and Rare Beauty, a beauty line founded by actress and singer Selena Gomez. 

Sephora, one of the most prominent beauty retailers, has become a focal point for Sephora Teens who avidly explore beauty and skincare products, and often spend hundreds of dollars on them in one go. Kids can visit Sephora and easily sample the products that they see online, something that isn’t always the case at other retailers. 

Alongside all of the tutorials online are also videos of exasperated Sephora employees left to deal with ransacked stores and damaged displays after visits by hordes of teens looking for specific items, items that are often sold out. One Sephora employee even filmed a video detailing a 10 year-old girl fighting with her mother over a $900 purchase at the store. 

TikTok’s algorithm-driven content delivery ensures that users encounter diverse skincare and beauty content, and makes sure that they will encounter similar content over and over again, leading to the rapid adoption of recommended products. TikTok’s format encourages quick, engaging demonstrations, making it an ideal space for showcasing skincare and makeup routines and product efficacy.

Generation Alpha can’t get enough of ‘get ready with me’ videos, which often showcase the latest in fashion and beauty trends with detailed recommendations for beauty products. These videos have slowly built a cohort of followers that has immense purchasing power, despite not being old enough to hold a job themselves. A social researcher, Mark McCrindle, estimates that by the end of 2024, more than $5.39 trillion will be spent on Gen Alpha, an amount that outpaces the spending of both employed Millennials and Gen Z. 

Algorithms aside, why and how are teens so drawn in to buy and use products that are not appropriate for their young skin? What happened to kids being satisfied with classic drugstore staples like Clairol Herbal Essences and Bonne Bell Lipsmackers that older generations grew up with? The answer lies in the potent alchemy of good old-fashioned peer pressure and extremely effective social media marketing. 

Teenagers are highly attuned to social validation and acceptance by their peers. The popularity of certain skincare products, especially those endorsed by influencers or otherwise widely presented on TikTok, can create a sense of belonging and conformity within peer groups. The desire to emulate beauty trends and achieve the flawless, radiant complexions seen on social media platforms can drive teens to experiment with products that are not suitable for their skin. 

Beauty brands invest heavily in marketing strategies targeted at young consumers, leveraging social media platforms like TikTok to promote their products. The persuasive nature of influencer endorsements, aesthetically pleasing packaging, and captivating storytelling techniques can create an aspirational appeal that resonates with teenagers who want to not only fit in with their peers, they want to have perfect skin while they’re doing it. The immersive environment of TikTok allows brands to create engaging content that seamlessly integrates product promotion with entertainment, making it difficult for teens to resist the allure of these products, even if those products may be better suited to their mother or an older sister. 

As mentioned above, many of the beauty influencers are older women, but some of these trends and tweens have become content creators in their own right. These new influencers have their own followers now, who hang on to every detail of their recommendation videos or tutorials. 

The ‘Sephora Teens’ trend is just the latest example of a marked shift in consumer behavior influenced by social media. The democratization of beauty advice on TikTok allows users to discover and embrace skincare and beauty practices that resonate with them, even if not age-appropriate. This trend challenges traditional marketing strategies, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and relatability in product promotion. 

Brands that seek to harness the power of TikTok marketing for themselves can leverage data-driven insights collected through market research as well as analytics to track and measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts among the Gen Alpha demographic and other audiences. Analyzing engagement metrics, audience demographics, and content performance enables brands to refine their marketing strategies, optimize content, and easily identify emerging trends and opportunities for innovation. Being agile and responsive to consumer preferences and behaviors helps brands maintain relevance and stay competitive in the dynamic ecosystem of TikTok marketing.