“But we’re only 24!” a friend exclaims.

She was, quite sensibly, responding to one of my neurotic rants after I noticed a few smile lines. I’m 24. But I’m aging. I can feel my cultural access afforded by my femininity and youth afforded by my youth slipping away one wrinkle at a time. I’m not the only one. I’m a zillenial, an age group who are at the stop sign between Millennials, (people born in 1981-1997) and Gen Z (1997-2012). Children at an increasingly young age are getting into skincare and makeup.

Earlier this year, the country watchedaffluent tweens raiding Sephora for the coveted Drunk Elephant moisturizers.

Now more than ever, seemingly perfect faces and bodies are everywhere we turn—online and in real life. Everyone is having a glow-up and pre-teens are no longer permitted their “awkward phase.” But is the global Gen Z’s anxiety surrounding beauty really something Thai people should worry about?


The Age of Influencers

Photo: Vikka Skincare

According to the Ministry of Commerce, in 2022, the export value of cosmetics, soaps, and acne treatment tallied up to over B100 million and has been showing a stable 5% growth since 2022.

“I was introduced to Korean skin-care through K Pop and the K beauty community online,” says Emma, a Thai 18 year old skincare enthusiast. She explains that most of what guides her purchases these days are influencers she has followed and random people that pop up on Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter.

“I also look at the comments underneath their posts because people give very different opinions on the same products,” she says. “I don’t really look for additional reviews outside the platform.”

Photo: Doctor Koong

Dr. Kornvikka “Koong” Pattanapran, 40, owns three beauty clinics in Korat. She has also been running the cosmetic and skincare brand KVKX Thailand for 12 years, and VIkka Skincare for nearly four years. “With KVKX, I got popular because of the Woody Kerd Ma Kui talk show. It was an overnight sensation, and it’s a  lot of word of mouth,” Dr. Koong says.

But Vikka Skincare had a different journey. During the pandemic, after a YouTube channel reviewed one of her products, her brand went viral and it became an organic trend for other influencers to review her products. She’s worked with influencers ever since. “I think it’s more accessible if you use micro influencers. A lot of people believe that they’re more reliable than celebrities.”

Photo: Nai Lao Sii / Instagram

Anothai “Nae” Niruttimetee is an illustrator and lifestyle millennial influencer who also rose to fame during Covid. Her Youtube channel “Ano and Friends” has over 500K subscribers. One of her regular series, “Nai Lao Sii” (roughly translated as “spill it, sis”), features Nae and two other female celebrity friends giving in-depth reviews and beauty secrets, including “TMI” information on topics ranging from skincare, beautifying procedures, to boob jobs.

“I think there are so many girls who don’t have friends to discuss this stuff with,” she says. “Everyone wants to know these things but many don’t dare to ask.”


Skincare Scare

Photo: Vikka Skincare

“When I’m vulnerable, sometimes, [being online] does affect the views I have on myself. There’s so many ‘tips’ or steps to follow so it can be really tiring,” Emma says. Published in 2021, a study by Thanchanok Kamthoncharoenrung and Phunpiti Bhovichitra on “The Impact of Instagram Usage on Self-esteem among Young Adults in Thailand,” shows that the number of followers, likes, and comments, correlates to self esteem.

However, the internet has a way of keeping people accountable. “Twelve years ago, there were a lot of gray businesses. These days if you claim that one tub of your product can forever cure your melasma, for example, you’ll be calledout on the internet. So I prefer the scene right now more,” Dr. Koong comments.

Photo: Anothai “Nae” Niruttimetee / Instagram

There are no official regulations for sponsored content for skin care products, but Emma suggests influencers use #AD when talking about a paid products. Nae agrees and adds that before recommending she and her friends put the products to the test for about a week and try to talk about the sponsored products alongside other items they like because realistically, “you definitely can’t have this face with just one product.”

This clear line of communication extends to the language brands use to advertise. Apart from stating the facts and not over-promising results, Dr. Koong says that it’s equally important to avoid medical jargon and complex chemical terms that can be confusing.

Photo: Vikka Skincare

But when it comes to screening which product to buyyourself, it can get trickier. Dr. Koong cautions customers to watch out for products that advertise miraculous results. “If you use a cream and your skin immediately brightens, you should stop. Most people won’t because they like the feeling. But if the cream has harmful chemicals like steroids, the side effects will only start showing up around day 14 onwards. You’ll get flushing, blemishes, extreme breakouts, and your veins will start to pop.”

These days the average Gen Z consumer is more savvy. They can check the ingredient list, request a lab test, or buy a test kit to do at home. However, with DIY kits, consumers still have to beware of false results. Contents inside a registered FDA product can be swapped, so a serial number can’t guarantee safety.

“Right now the main concern is products that don’t contain ingredients they claim to have,” Dr. Koong says, speaking about a recent viral sunscreen scandal that goes for under B300 and comes in a gallon. In cases like these, the price point might raise a few flags. “If you want a sunscreen with SPF 50 PA+++ with a light texture, it’s very difficult to do. That’s why it’s expensive.”


Fear of Aging

Photo: Tangled

Chutimon Thipjindachaikul interviewed 15 Gen Z subjects from the age of 18-24 who were living in Bangkok and enjoy purchasing anti-aging cream. She  discovered that the teens are concerned about their images with 13 out of 15 subjects worrying about premature aging and believing that these cream can slow the process.

In “Wellness is Whiteness”, Amina Mire writes “ageism is the most powerful tool in the anti-ageing industry’s rhetorical arsenal because women are often valued in terms of how well they retain their youthful glow. As a result, women often assess their own self-worth in terms of how successfully they have avoided looking older. Consequently, no matter how successful women may become, looking youthful and glowing is expected.”

“I bought retinol at 18.” Emma says, “ I noticed wrinkling on my forehead and smile lines. I also have big pores on the side of my nose so I felt like I needed help in that area.” For products like retinol, there isn’t a strong cut off point of when to use as the chemical has various effects. It can help reduce wrinkles and trigger collagen creation but it can also be used for oil control which teenagers might apply to their acne treatment.

Photo: Vikka Skincare

When the rule is to never age, the line between preventative care and treatment starts to blur. “Wrinkles on your forehead are markers of being expressive...“These days you can’t say you’ll start treating wrinkles when you’re 40 because it might be  an outdated idea,” Dr. Koong says. “But I feel like if you have dry skin and you just want to use retinol at 15, I don’t think it’s suitable.”

So at what age is skincare actually necessary? Dr. Koong says when your kid starts to have outdoor activities or get exposed to sunlight, that’s when at least sunscreen comes in handy.

“Around 11-18, they should find a really good cleanser that clears out their sunscreen. A lot of sunscreen has oil, if you don’t use the right cleanser, the oil can clog your pores. And moisturize your face,“ she says. “But when you’re older, I think you can use products to treat specific issues.”


Fair Skin, Fair Treatment

Photo: Vikka Skincare

In Taksaorn Phuchongpravech’s 2015 paper on “White Skin Obsessions in Thailand,” they found that since 2007 Thai society has associated the obsession with skin whitening products with the influence of Korean beauty. This made whiteness an essential tool for certain groups who need to rely on their appearance for work, such as celebrities, promotional models (known in Thai as “pretty”), and MCs.

One of their interviewees, a 25 year old female promotional model reflects, “Having fair skin is necessary for this job because customers often want people with light skin, even though the work
has nothing to do with cosmetics.”

Taksaorn also found that this belief applies across various jobs such as government workers, students, hospital workers, and office workers. They indulge in skin brightening products because they
believe that having fair skin will improve a positive first impression.

However, Nae offers a different perspective. “In my generation, Gen Y, everyone wants to get skin whitening cream but right now I think people are more educated. They know that skin bleaching
products are bad.”

“The high schoolers who get famous on Tiktok have poreless skin and are very pale,” Emma adds. She agrees that people of varied skin tones can still fit beauty standards as long as they have clear skin.


“Myself but Better”

Photo: Minnie Tries Makeup / Instagram

Celebrity makeup artist Chanidapa “Minnie” Kulmaeteesiripak has worked on fashion shows, events, magazine lookbooks, and advertisements. Scroll through her Instagram portfolio “Minnie Tries Makeup” and you’ll find that make up isn’t all about skin brightening.

“I usually ask my client what they want and where they are going. If this person usually goes for western makeup but they want to try a Korean look, then we can find a middle ground that’s unique to them,”

Minnie says. “I think for western style of makeup, they like the tanned, bronzed, sun-kissed skin, but Koreans would pick up the undertones of your skin and make it look smooth like a clean sheet of paper.”

Photo: Minnie Tries Makeup / Instagram

She explains that in the past, makeup and skincare were two different entities, but right now there are more makeup brands that are in the middle, selling beautifying products while advertising
nourishing ingredients.

Minnie reveals that her youngest client is around five years old. The gig is for a non-beauty related advertisement. Although they didn’t request crazy looks or high coverage and used makeup that’s spe-
cifically made for children, there’s already a certain standard to live up to.

“They didn’t expect us to put a lot of makeup on the kid, but they just don’t want them to look somber. I’ll try to add a little blush and make it look as natural as possible. Sometimes, they’ll arrive early so I’ll spray some face mist to keep them fresh.”

Photo: Minnie Tries Makeup / Instagram

Since the pandemic, there’s definitely an emphasis of self care that equates to self love. However, there’s something extremely sinister about which type of “natural” skin is deemed acceptable.

“I like skincare so I might be biased,” Dr. Koong admits. “I think that getting beauty treatments like ulthera, thermage, and lasers is like driving a sports car to your friend’s house. It’s saying that you have
the money...But my definition of investment isn’t to buy expensive products. What’s more important is to have discipline and use the right product to treat the right issue.”