Rebecca Davis
Image Credit: @justtwomums

Playing dress-up has always been the prerogative of the young. But when do changing hairstyles and outfits shift into painted nails and make-up? One could argue that to allow the embellishment is to push children into adulthood too soon. And then there’s the question of self-worth that may be impacted by a constant desire to look ‘their best’.

Dr Waleed Ahmed, Consultant Psychiatrist, Priory Wellbeing Centre, Abu Dhabi, explains: “Developing a strong self-esteem is crucial in a child’s development and parents can play an important role in this. A positive body image contributes to high self-esteem and so it is important for parents to encourage this. Significantly more numbers of children and young people are reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with their appearance. So, wearing make-up at an early age can potentially add to the negative perception if done for the wrong reasons.

There is probably nothing wrong in children engaging in ‘make-up play’ to express their creativity and have some fun. Parents can ensure that they are having other positive conversations with their children about their bodies, appearance and their abilities.

- Dr Waleed Ahmed

“There is probably nothing wrong in children engaging in ‘make-up play’ to express their creativity and have some fun. Parents can ensure that they are having other positive conversations with their children about their bodies, appearance and their abilities. One cannot underestimate the power of modern media and its impact on children’s body image.”

What age is it then appropriate for someone to use a little eye shadow or dust on some rouge on the cheeks? When should one be allowed to paint their nails?

“The first rule of thumb is to have an open discussion about makeup as soon as your child expresses interest,” paediatrician Eva Kubiczek-Love, MD, is quoted by US-based Cleveland Clinic. “As with any new activity as your kids grow, parents need to establish expectations, set limits and understand the psychological and health impact of these permissions on them.”

We asked UAE-based mums how they manage their little tykes’ expectations while allowing them some fun.

‘A little make-up is okay’

"In my opinion it’s okay to let little girls apply nail polish at home and maybe once in a while experience a proper manicure at the beauty salon.

"But I don’t think I’ll be ready to let my daughter get her nails done regularly until she’s 13 or 14! At this age she’s mature enough to take this decision with me after we discuss everything about it.

"And when it comes to make-up I feel it’s okay for girls above 14 years to apply light make-up during special occasions only because I believe natural beauty is the most beautiful thing any girl/woman can have. And this is what I am trying to teach my little girl who will turn five soon."

-Jordanian expat Mayssam Mahmoud, mum of two

‘Five is the magic number for make-up’

"I let my daughters wear make-up on special occasions and dance recitals for school or anything that requires them to look a little extra nice. I have let them do that since age five. On regular days they do not wear make-up. I won’t say they never but the majority of the days they don’t. We’ll keep it this way I think maybe until they are in their early teens maybe. They can wear nail polish now. Not gelish or acrylic because of the chemicals and all the other things that it entails. I would let them wear lip gloss when they are 9 or 10. To be honest, I play it by ear. There is no set time but seven and eight is too young for daily make-up in my opinion."

-Selina Alshehhi, mum to sisters Ameerah and Sarah Alshehhi

‘It really depends on a child’s temperament and peer group’

"I’ve always had my kids come to do nails with me, both son and daughters as a little weekend treat now and then. Mostly since I wanted to go myself and had no one to look after them. All my kids have always loved these little outings with their mum. As for make-up, my youngest is obsessed and is allowed to play dress up and make-up. However this is not something that is worn to school and nursery. My oldest is nine and still not interested in make-up and I think she’s still a bit too young to worry about this. It’s hard to say what the right age is since it depends on interest and I guess the peer group around them. At nine, this is still not a conversation I’ve had to have with her."

-British expat Rebecca Davis, mum to three

‘Make-up kit at 11’

"My daughter, who is 8, was invited to a spa birthday party where they had their nails and hair done. My daughters – 8 and 11 - have played with water removable nail polish for some years now. And my oldest has just bought her first make-up kit. Of course, they are not allowed to use it at school."

-Romanian expat and mum-of-two Clementina Kongslund

‘We talk about what beauty means’

"My husband I don't believe limiting your children's imagination by imposing strict rules. We prefer to have conversations about everyday life, the good, the bad, and why. It may require a lot of patience and time, but making them understand the reasons will arm them better in the future when making decisions on their own.

"Keira is quite often exposed to make-up as it goes hand-in-hand with her acting and modeling, we made sure to explain to her that beauty lies within and no accessory of any kind (clothes, make-up, hairstyle, nail polish, etc.) will ever change that. Keira understood that make-up is like a costume for a character rather than an improvement of someone's appearance."

Lebanese-American Mya Ayass, mum of two

Make-up rules
So the little one wants to paint nails, wear make-up. Paediatrician Eva Kubiczek-Love, MD, is quoted by US-based Cleveland Clinic explaining rules that could help:
Buy safe products. “Many cosmetics, including those labeled ‘natural’ and ‘organic,’ aren’t regulated to the standards parents might expect,” she says.
Start with less. Ease into wearing makeup. For a preteen, maybe start with lip-gloss.
Watch for skin irritation. Reaction from cosmetics can be as mild as skin redness or as severe as hives and swelling. If you see a reaction, remove it immediately.
Go easy on sensitive or acne-prone skin. Steer away from heavy, oil-based products — especially creams, lotions and foundations — that can aggravate acne, eczema and other sensitive skin.
Maintain a healthy skin regimen. Skin care is important for any adolescent, especially those wearing makeup. Teach your child to:
• Wash their face every day with a mild cleanser.
• Avoid antibacterial soap and exfoliating agents. Harsh products can damage young skin and cause acne flare-ups.
• Remove all makeup before going to bed.
• Replace cosmetics every six to 12 months to minimize risk of contamination.
• Avoid sharing cosmetics, which can increase the risk of contamination and infection.

When do you think a child should be allowed nail polish and make-up? Tell us at