Donna Ragone is trying to stave off daughter Jionna's fascination with makeup. The 7-year-old from Farmingdale would wear red lipstick to school if allowed, says older sister, Jessica, 9. "She'll flip through a magazine my mom has and she'll say, 'Ooh, I like this color,'" Jessica says.
Mom's idea of when Jionna should start using makeup? Middle school. "She's not allowed," Ragone says, though relatives have given Jionna eye shadow and lip gloss as gifts. "She has her secret stash she thinks she's going to wear. I let her wear lip gloss with a slight pink shade. That's it."
Moms such as Donna Ragone are fighting an uphill battle: Call it the battle of the blush. Cosmetics manufacturers are introducing lines of makeup and hair, skin and nail care aimed at tweens ages 8 to 12. And some celebrity parents allow their children to wear makeup at young ages -- Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, for instance, have let 5-year-old daughter Suri wear red lipstick.
GIRLS WANT TO FIT IN
"The peer pressure becomes very strong," says Diane Levin, co-author of the book "So Sexy, So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and How Parents Can Protect Their Kids" (Ballantine, $15). "The cycle is set up where more and more energy goes into appearance." At age 8 to 12, girls are obsessed with fitting in and some parents give in to tweens' pleas for products because they don't want the girls to be unpopular, Levin and other experts say.
But sometimes it's mothers who expose their daughters to more sophisticated makeup, taking them along for manicures, pedicures and makeovers, says Lisa Gadzinski, co-owner of the Seriously Spoiled spa for girls, with locations in Patchogue and Dix Hills. "They're taking their daughters with them when they're going to these kinds of things because they are working all week and want to spend quality time together," she says.
Despite the recession, parents still have enough disposable income to treat their daughters, Gadzinski says.
NUMBERS ARE UP
Research backs up Gadzinski. During the recession, tweens' average monthly spending on beauty products rose to $9.20 in 2009 from $8.50 in 2007, according to the Port Washington-based market research firm NPD Group Inc. Tweens reported increased regular usage of mascara, eye liner and lipstick, defined as at least once a month; regular usage of mascara jumped from 10 to 18 percent and use of eye liner grew from 9 to 15 percent.
Of the girls allowed to use makeup, more than 60 percent say their mother is their biggest influence, says Karen Grant, NPD vice president of beauty.
At the Justice clothing store in Roosevelt Field mall, girls can find a makeup box that accordions open to three tiers of eye shadow, lip gloss and blush in pastel and neon colors, retailing for $30. In February, Walmart started carrying a line called geoGirl with light-pink blush, light pink and purple eye shadows and mascara, all in the $4 to $6 range. A website, geoGirl.com, offers videos with such advice as how to tame unruly brows.
In March, a new company named JOON introduced a line of face wash, sparkle body cream, moisturizer and more for girls 6 to 12 in bright packaging and prices from $7 to $10.50. The company will launch an additional 30 products in 2012. "Girls are pretty autonomous at that age. They make decisions for themselves," says Tameka Linnell, president. "We want to give girls choice."
At the Seriously Spoiled spas, the introduction of retail sections have "really increased our business," Gadzinski says. The spas sell such items as "Create Your Own Lip Gloss" for $6.95 and eye candy makeup in shades such as marshmallow or bubble gum for $14.95.
Companies would be thrilled to hook kids on their brands by age 8, says Linda Evans, adjunct associate professor of marketing at Hofstra University. "This has always been an advertising philosophy: If you can attract somebody at a very young age, they will continue to be brand-loyal as the grow up," Evans says.
GROWING UP FASTER
Tweens are teen wannabes, and emulating the older girls often means wearing what they wear, including makeup, says Juann Watson, a Valley Stream therapist. Parents should keep a close eye on who they imitate, she says.
Makeup makes girls look older, which can invite problems, Watson says. "They may look like they're 14 when they're really 10," she says. "Difficult situations can come up."
Author Levin agrees. "It's all part of the sexualization of adolescence," she says. Parents need to ensure their daughters work on feeling fulfilled internally, she says.
'JUST ON SPECIAL DAYS'
Faith Cabral, 10, of Patchogue, left her fifth-grade class early Friday to enjoy the "Ultimate Day of Decadence" at Seriously Spoiled in Patchogue, where she got a chocolate facial and had her hair curled. She also opted for makeup, including glitter eye shadow.
Faith's mom, Beth Smith, agreed to the session even though in general she doesn't like the idea of makeup on a 10-year-old. "They're growing up before their time," she says.
But Friday night was the Halloween Dance at Faith's school. "I want to look pretty," Faith says. "It's my last dance, because I'm moving to Florida. I don't usually wear makeup too often. Just on special days at school, like picture day."