What age is OK to let your kids start wearing make up?

We asked over 1,400 mums and an expert: when is it OK to let your children stop using 'play make-up' and start putting on the real stuff? Here's what they told us...

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In a nutshell: Over 12 is when most people said they’d let their child start wearing proper (not play) makeup (we polled 1,427 parents). 

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For lots of little girls (and some boys) wearing make up can be a way they like to copy mummy (if mummy wears any, that is).

We shared a story on MFM a while back about a mum who bought her 4-year-old daughter a make-up kit – mainly, she said, to keep sticky fingers out of her own expensive eyeshadow (which we totally get).

And while lots of us have probably had to prise little hands away from our fave lippy every now and then, there’s a difference between tots covering their faces in creams and powders to just to be funny or messy – and young girls or boys deciding they want to wear make-up because they think it makes them look prettier.

So, when do you reckon you’d let your kids actually wear make-up properly?

What our parents said

When we asked 1,427 parents this very question, the most popular answers to at what age they’d let their child wear make up were:

  • Over 12 (42%)
  • Not sure (12%)
  • 12 or never (both 8%)
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The difference between ‘pretend’ and real make-up

When we probed a bit further on this one, lots of parents stressed the difference between ‘play’ make up – which they’d let their children use, in the house from a younger age – to ‘proper’ make up that their child would put on to go out.

For example, one respondent said: “I would let them play dress up with make up at home from about 4.”

And another, who said she’d let her daughters wear make-up from 6, commented: “Only a little bit of lip gloss and blusher – holiday time only.”

But when it came to putting on make up to go out in – that age went up significantly. A few said their child would have to be 16 before they’d let them wear make up beyond the play stuff.

But another pointed out: “I hate make up on children – I imagine there’s not much you can do after 13-14 though!”

What the expert says

Dressing up, playing, and pretending to be an adult is great and should be encouraged, says educational psychologist Naomi Burgess, adding: 

“We also need to have ongoing conversations with our girls and our boys about how we refer to their ‘primary worth’.

“Do we want to refer to our girls as only being ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ rather than ‘happy’ or ‘interested’? And boys as ‘sporty’, or ‘manly’?  

“Does beauty only exist on the outside? It is so important to help children develop autonomy, acceptance and ownership of their own bodies by helping them select their looks, outfits and accessories, for different occasions and purposes.

“So, if your girl or boy wants to wear make up or paint their nails to experiment and see what it looks like to be a girl or boy or grown up, just go with it and explore it with them.”

Here are some of the key words that came up when we asked parents about this topic…

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Image: Getty

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