5 Pieces of Beauty Advice For Pre-Teens

Summed up as, 'Start as you mean to continue.'

pre-teen girls in front of bathroom mirror

Belinda Howell / Getty Images

It was over glasses of red wine last weekend that a friend asked for advice on natural deodorants. She wanted to know if I was familiar with Routine deodorant, a Canadian-made natural deodorant that comes in refillable glass jars. I do know it – and happen to use it myself – so I gave it an enthusiastic endorsement.

"I want to buy it for my pre-teen daughter," she said, "because I never want her to know what it's like to have perfectly dry armpits." Her logic was that if her daughter became accustomed to using natural deodorant from the start of puberty, she wouldn't have to wean herself off the unnaturally dry effect that chemical antiperspirants provide.

It was a perspective I hadn't considered before, but it got me thinking. For those of us women who started using conventional beauty, skin, and feminine care products at a young age, and then learned years later about the damage caused by their ingredients, it is true that there's an awkward "weaning" phase. We learn about the toxic ingredients in our favorite products, and then a mad scramble ensues to replace them with safe, natural alternatives that can feel ineffective by comparison. Sometimes it takes a long time to find products that work as well – and sometimes we never do – but that's a small price to pay for our long-term health. 

It would be so much easier if we had started out with safe, natural products at the very beginning and never had to make the transition. That's where parents can help nowadays, armed with knowledge that we never had in the past. Together we can help our own teens and pre-teens to embrace clean products to ensure their lasting health. 

I do not have a pre-teen daughter with whom to discuss these things. (My sons are still too young and uninterested, but no doubt the day will come.) Talking to my friend, though, got me thinking about what I would tell a daughter, if I had one at the age that hers is now, based on what I know. This is what I would say. 

1. Use Natural Deodorant

And I will buy it for you, as much as you need! Routine. Piper-Wai. Primally Pure. All of these pricey but fabulous natural deodorants will not keep your pits dry, but they'll keep you fresh and odor-free. Wear natural fabrics that allow your armpits to breathe and get used to the fact that a bit of underarm moisture is fine, normal, and healthy. It's one of the ways your body naturally detoxifies itself.

2. Try a Menstrual Cup

Thanks to a barrage of marketing from tampon and sanitary pad makers, menstrual cups don't get nearly enough attention as a potential option for young girls. Not only does using menstrual cups save significant amounts of money and reduce waste, but it helps girls overcome the societally-imposed phobia of having contact with one's own menstruating body, thus building confidence and comfort. 

There are specific menstrual cups designed for young girls, such as Saalt's Teen Cup, Diva Cup's Model 0 for women under age 18, and (my new favorite) the Nixit Cup, which the website does say "requires you to be quite comfortable with your body to insert it."

3. Buy Clean Cosmetics

For some pre-teen girls, that first trip to the drugstore to buy cheap eyeshadow palettes and lip gloss can feel like a rite of passage, but those products are not safe to use. They can contain chemicals like phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde, talc (that is potentially contaminated with asbestos), synthetic fragrances, and so much more – all of which get absorbed through the skin, the body's largest organ. 

If I had a pre-teen who wanted to wear makeup (which, to be clear, I would discourage or delay for as long as possible), I think the best approach would be to talk about health risks and explain that it's possible to buy great makeup minus all the chemicals. Get some zero-waste products from Lush, or some fun makeup crayons and palettes made by C'est Moi, or the lovely vegan products from Elate Cosmetics. If they like doing their nails, buy them a set of nail polish from ella+mila, which is free from seven of the harshest chemicals typically found in nail polish. 

The goal is to give them the tools to seek out products from alternative sources, rather than the drugstore, and teach them why it matters. Watch a film like "Toxic Beauty" together to drive home the point.

4. Skip the Perfume

I'll never forget the message in Gillian Deacon's book, "There's Lead in Your Lipstick," which suggested that if there's one conventional product you give up, it should be perfume (or cologne). These fragrances are the absolute worst in terms of toxicity, partly because the industry is so shrouded in secrecy due to keeping fragrances as "trade secrets." Perfumes are packed with ingredients linked to hormone, endocrine, and reproductive system disruptions, as well as cancer. 

There are many natural alternatives available, and these might be worth a gift to a young teen who's wanting to have a signature scent. Again, I like Lush's spray and solid perfumes, as well as the products listed in this roundup of natural perfumes. Deacon suggests mixing a few drops of a nice essential oil blend with sweet almond oil and using that instead.

5. DIY Is Fun

I think many young teens already know this instinctively; I mean, who didn't spend hours at sleepovers doing facial masks and pedicures? But as a parent, I'd encourage it strongly, as any skincare products made from edible ingredients are going to be healthier and safer for the body than store-bought ones. So get on board with the oatmeal scrubs and the salt soaks and the honey face wash and the olive oil hair masks. Provide the ingredients for teens to be able to play around on their own and discover how nourishing real, whole ingredients can be. Show them the list of cool DIY recipes that we have on Treehugger.

Conclusion

I know that every parent means to do well by their child, and there is a risk I sound overly idealistic, thinking that a pre-teen daughter (if I had one) would even want to hear what I have to say about clean beauty and female care products. But my friend's comment resonated with me – this idea that starting our children out as we'd like them to continue is really the best we can do. There's no reason to settle for the conventional and harmful products that bombard teens nowadays, and whatever guidance you can offer early on will likely help them to make better decisions down the road.