When makeup artist Kate Johnson was growing up, it wasn’t hard for her to get her hands on beauty products. “My mom worked for Jaffra, which is kind of like Mary Kay, so [makeup] was always around.” At first, she mostly thought of makeup as smelly—she was reacting to the lanolin found in most lipsticks back then—but as she got older, it grew on her.
The idea of makeup, that is. Not the smell.
Kate first started really wearing makeup after her 12th birthday, when her dad gave her the gift of a beauty counter makeover. Still, “I wasn’t one of those people who grew up obsessed with makeup,” she said, noting that, in those early years, she mostly stuck to powder and concealer to cover her acne.
Kate’s transition from fresh-faced kid to makeup-wearing tween may have been rather unceremonial, but for some kids (and especially some parents), it can feel like a big deal. A really big deal. So what is the right age to start wearing makeup? We talked to makeup artists, parents, a guidance counselor, and a teen to gauge the issue from multiple perspectives.
Is Your Kid Ready?
These questions might help you decide if it’s makeup time.
Does your kid understand what makeup can and can’t do?
“Make sure they’re not diving into this idea of celebrity-ism,” Kate said. “They’re not going to look like Kylie Jenner, because they’re not getting lip injections.” In general, she suggested emphasizing that “you can’t change your features permanently with makeup. It’s something to accent your features, and play with and have fun.”
Can your kid handle the responsibility that comes with wearing makeup?
“Personal responsibility is great gauge of when a kid is ready to start experimenting with makeup,” said makeup artist and mom Nika Vaughan. “That includes remembering to take it off at the end of the day.”
For kids who are wearing foundation to cover blemishes, Nika said, “Educating them on some easy skincare and acne-treatment tips might be more useful than condoning the wearing of foundation. It’s better to instill great skincare and makeup habits when they’re younger so they can be more informed what works for their needs as they go through their teens and 20s.”
Are you ready for your kid to wear makeup?
“If your kid is a bit of a free spirit, then extremely colorful eye shadow or goth lipstick might be in your future,” Nika said. “[And] if they’re way into social media, then you could be seeing way more contouring on that face than you knew was possible.”
You can give a verdict on makeup that’s more nuanced than “yes” or “no,” though. Nika recommends thinking about what you’re ready for, then setting ground rules about when your kid can wear makeup and how much you’ll allow. “Learning to wear makeup is all about experimenting, so it’s totally reasonable for a parent to set some boundaries.”
Why does your kid want to start wearing makeup?
“If [your kid] has a healthy fascination with beauty, that’s fine. It’s art. Maybe you have a creative child. Maybe they want to play with things and be tactile,” Kate said. But when they start examining what they perceive to be flaws, I think it’s really important to sit down and say, ‘You’re not flawed.’”
High-school guidance counselor and mom Lora Alexander-Flaherty warned that “some kids may be putting it on because they want to look older, and that’s not the look you truly should be going for.” Lauren Pedecone, a junior-high English teacher and mom, added that “a bad reason would be to show off so boys notice.” Although that depends on age because, she laughed, “adults wear makeup to show off for men, [too].”
Finally, Nika pointed out that experimenting with makeup at a younger age is a perfectly normal part of the maturing process. “I have met so many women in their 20s and 30s whose makeup comfort zone only includes lip balm and some mascara. They never really experimented with makeup when they were younger, and as young professionals they now find themselves a bit bewildered when they wander through the cosmetic aisle.”
The Verdict: Is There a Right Age?
Kate thinks it’s fine for kids as young as 4 to play with makeup at home. “My personal thoughts on leaving the house with more than some lip gloss on would probably be 12,” she said.
Lauren suggested 12, 13, or 14—essentially, sometime in middle school. “Kids start to worry and pay attention to the social aspects of their lives much more at this age.”
High-school senior Lily Binkus said it’s ideal to start wearing makeup at age 14–15 for “school dances, weddings,” and other special occasions.
Lora recommended age 14, “and that’s light lip gloss and just a little eye makeup … because you can’t stop them.”
Nika thinks basic makeup is OK at age 12, and that more fashionable products should be introduced over time. “We’re allowed to make mistakes and take chances with our appearance as a teenager, so this is an ideal age to learn.”