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While wearing your school uniform is considered the ultimate in cool, it’s little wonder that the next phase is a young face full of slap. Younger and younger girls in Japan are reaching for the rouge and in response cosmetic companies are deliberately targeting teeny-boppers.

Kanebo Cosmette claims it was the first company to provide “real” cosmetics for children. And its Yeah! range, launched in March 1999, was an instant success, bringing in just below 1 billion yen in its first year.

Yeah! offers 10- to 14-year-old girls their own brand of powder, blusher, mascara, lipstick and nail varnish. Prices range from 350 yen to 1,300 yen. The nail colors and 800 yen blusher were the big hits of the last range, and a new line debuted last month. This includes skin-care products such as facial cleansers and moisturizers, as well as updated colors in the existing line. No perfumes are used in the makeup, and Kanebo says it is easily washed off with soap.

Yasuo Hasegawa, product manager of product planning and development, believes the new line will boost sales but says, “We just want to cultivate our new customers gradually.”

Kanebo’s market research, which discovered that girls in their lower teens were interested in cosmetics but not satisfied with existing cosmetic products, prompted the launch.

Bandai has gone for the even younger child. Its Jewel Drop brand has been targeting 3- to 6-year-olds since November 1998. According to a spokeswoman, the Kiki & Lara Lip Cream in gold and silver has been very popular. A tiny tot can spend her pocket money on lipstick or nail varnish at 480 yen each or splash out on the 720 yen tiny powder compact.

Since July this year Bandai has also offered a Heart Set, which includes product samples, rings and a small heart-shaped makeup container with built-in mirror.

Hasegawa believes the girls are influenced by their mothers, who encourage them to pay attention to how they look.

“Mothers in their 30s wear makeup more often and casually than older mothers, who tend to see cosmetics as something special,” he said.

The rush for “real” cosmetics seems a natural next step for fans of Takara’s so-called “toy cosmetics.” Takara has been selling nail color that washes off with water and lipsticks that are more like a gloss since 1993. The aim was to provide something for girls who had outgrown the Rika-chan doll — Japan’s answer to Barbie. A Takara spokeswoman said, “Young mothers now want their child to look prettier than others. . . . Children are like accessories for them.”

Yeah! was originally sold at family restaurants and “variety shops” to ensure children easy access but since last November the makeup has been creeping into department stores. So popular are the children’s ranges that Ikebukuro’s Tobu department store has devoted a cosmetics corner entirely to children.

And beauty salons for children reinforce the trend. The pink Licci Kids Club in Osaka offers hair care for kids that includes perming. Watch out for the new branch expected in Tokyo soon.

It seems kiddie cosmetics are here to stay. Monthly magazine Pichi Lemon — whose readers are elementary and junior high school children — carried a makeup special for the first time in July. A survey of 300 readers showed that 80 percent were “interested in cosmetics,” while 37 percent apparently already wear makeup and a whopping 91 percent use nail varnish.

Some adults have reservations about encouraging girls to use makeup at such a tender age, but as Tomiko Ishikawa, a Yokohama school teacher, said: “You have to give up to the inevitable when a child claims her parents recommended the makeup.”