For four days last year, Amelia Gregory remained in the hospital hooked to an IV as doctors struggled to treat a skin infection that had spread to her left eye, lest it take away the 13-year-old’s sight. .
The cause? Amelia had decided to try a skin care treatment that she had seen demonstrated by a teenage influencer on the social media platform TikTok.
Experts report a worrying rise in similar cases as young people increasingly watch tutorials on everything from exfoliating and peeling skin to homemade moisturizers and masks, some taught by children as young as ten.
Amelia, after watching one of those videos, tested a mixture of products on her skin in the belief that they would have an anti-aging effect and make her skin “glow.” But some of the products contained retinol, a form of vitamin A often used to reduce wrinkles.
While this ingredient increases skin cell production, when used in excess and on younger, more sensitive skin, it can cause burning, redness, peeling, and peeling. “Amelia ran down the stairs red-faced and screaming in pain,” recalls her mother, Claire, 41, a women’s health specialist from Cheshire.
After watching a TikTok video, Amelia tested a mixture of products on her skin in the belief that they would have an anti-aging effect and make her “glow.”
But instead, the teen ended up causing long-term damage.
‘He had skin peeling off his face and angry red spots. Panicking, I asked her what she’d done and she sobbed, “A skincare video.”
Through tears, Amelia explained that she had followed the instructions of a young skincare influencer, who told her followers how to make a ‘mask’ using a retinol cream, another retinol product, and a weak acidic product they often use. older women to brighten and exfoliate the skin. .
“My face was all red and raw,” Claire says. ‘Whatever she had put on her had burned her skin so much that she had welts and her skin was red and peeling. I was stunned.’
She took her daughter to the family doctor, who told her it would go away because it was just due to skin care products from a store. But as the days passed, Amelia’s skin became more sore and her left eye became red and swollen. Claire then took her to see a pharmacist, who looked at her and said, “Go to the ER.”
Amelia was immediately admitted because, within days, she had developed a bacterial infection in the tissues under her skin, a condition known as cellulitis, and the infection had traveled to her eye.
“That scaly, open skin had become infected and the infection had spread to the left eye and at one point it looked like it would spread to the right as well,” Claire says. ‘The doctors told me that the infection could cause me to lose my sight. She was terrified and couldn’t believe it: all this for skin care.”
Her mother Claire said a dermatologist warned her that Amelia’s skin would take a long time to heal properly.
Amelia, 13, is showing signs of improvement in hospital after doctors battled to save her sight.
Later that day, at which point she could barely open her eyes or blink, Amelia was put on an intravenous drip.
Doctors say they are seeing more cases like this, particularly in the so-called Alpha Generation, those born after 2010.
They represent a burgeoning market for beauty and skincare products and, growing up in the world of digital media, have become avid followers of young beauty influencers, whose appeal is enormous. Penelope Disick, 11, and North West, ten, both members of the Kardashian family, who reside in the US, have millions of followers for their beauty and skincare videos on TikTok.
And social media twins Haven and Koti, 7, from Oklahoma, have 4.8 million followers on TikTok, where they share “get ready with us” videos along with pictures of what they bought on their latest grocery shopping spree. of skin care.
But this trend is causing concern among experts such as Dr Derrick Phillips, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation. “Influencers share tips and product recommendations when they may not have all the information and what works for one person may not work for another,” he says.
Mixing skin care products like retinol, peels and acids, as Amelia did, is especially risky, she adds. “Both acids and retinol exfoliate or remove the top layers of the skin,” says Dr. Phillips. ‘When combined, this can essentially cause a mild chemical burn and results in dry, red or darkly pigmented, irritated and sensitive skin.
‘Using potent ingredients without understanding their interactions and concentrations can also exacerbate existing skin problems or create new problems such as perioral dermatitis. [red rash around the mouth]which is increasing and may be due to a weakened skin barrier as a result of using the wrong products.’
Within days, Amelia had developed a bacterial infection in the tissues under her skin (a condition known as cellulitis) and the infection had traveled to her eye.
It says that young people should not use retinol because it is too potent for developing skin, and that even adults should use it carefully. They should start with a patch test to see if it causes a reaction and then start with a low concentration. The only time retinols should be used in teens is to treat acne, under supervision, she says.
Other worrying social media trends you’ve come across include the uneven application of sunscreen to “create a contour effect,” where areas without sunscreen become red or tan, creating the “contour” to make the face appear thinner. “But this puts the skin at risk for the harmful effects of UV rays, including damage that can lead to skin cancer,” she says.
Dr Glyn Estebanez, a cosmetic doctor and surgeon who runs the Dr Glyn Medispa clinics in London and Chester, agrees, adding: “I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous it is for people of all ages to follow skin care advice. of the skin of social networks. First of all, anyone can give advice on these platforms and consider themselves an expert.
‘And, even if they are qualified, everyone’s skin is different, so advice that may work for one person’s skin is unique and may not be effective for another.’ It could even cause damage.
‘Children in particular generally have thinner and more sensitive skin than adults. It is also more prone to irritation due to chemicals and irritants.
“I would advise parents and caregivers to prevent their teenagers from following skincare advice on social media and also to remember that, in general, teenagers’ skin does not need harsh, abrasive chemicals, because Most teens’ skin does not need to be repaired due to environmental damage or aging.’
Amelia was 11 years old when she started watching skincare videos on TikTok. Beautiful teens and pre-teens (ages nine to 12) would educate her followers on skin care “tricks” and tips. “I thought she was normal because all of her friends followed skincare videos from other teenagers and young girls; skincare is very trendy with Amelia and her friends,” Claire says.
Amelia with her mother Claire, who was horrified to learn that her daughter had been able to easily buy the products she had tried in a store.
Soon, Amelia was following more and more influencers, including one who posted about using retinol, the advice that landed her in the hospital for four days last March.
Her mother mistakenly thought that only those over 18 could buy retinol; In fact, there are no such rules and Amelia had easily bought the products she tried in a store.
Claire says: ‘We saw a dermatologist a few weeks after leaving hospital, who looked under the microscope and said that, although Amelia’s skin had healed superficially, the deeper layers would take a long time to heal.
“I had caused irreparable damage and would need factor 50 sunscreen on my face in summer and winter for the foreseeable future.” Your skin is also permanently more sensitive and irritable. We tried many creams and each one caused pain and a breakout as a result of the damage.
‘Doctors had to prescribe him high doses of antihistamines because he reacted to anything that came into contact with his skin. To this day she continues to take antihistamines.
Claire is speaking out now to warn other parents about the dangers. “Be aware of what your kids watch online, make sure they only have skin products designed for young skin and that they don’t pick on anything made for older skin,” she warns.
‘As her mother, I take full responsibility for what she was seeing. But I do think it is wrong that a cream that contains retinol can be sold to children.
“You can’t buy a Red Bull at your age, but you can buy a cream that damages your skin.
“Doctors were able to save Amelia’s skin and sight; it could easily have been the other way around.”
Good Health asked TikTok for a comment but it did not do so.