The Aging Dilemma: To Embrace Or Fight The Inevitable In Skincare Language
Lauren Glassman discovered the news while perusing the magazine selection at her local manicure salon. As she reached for the September issue of Allure and casually flipped to editor Michelle Lee’s note, what she read was nothing short of inspiring. “It was like this gospel had spoken directly to me,” effuses Glassman, a stay-at-home mother of two on New York’s Upper West Side. “Especially lately as I’ve been discovering more lines on my face and gray hairs on my head, it’s nice to know there is a movement towards acceptance and not trying to fight the inevitable.”
Tara Bowen, a freelance graphic designer in Philadelphia, tore through the magazine on an airplane. “I thought Hallelujah and it’s about time,” she says. “Why did it take so long for beauty to move into the now? Especially with all this new wave feminism happening, the beauty industry seemed so stuck in the past.”
What these women are referring to is the widely-shared pronouncement that Allure is doing away with the term anti-aging in its beauty coverage and marketing initiatives. Under the leadership of Lee, a seasoned editor with a millennial spirit (she enjoys sharing her rapidly-changing nail art with her 38,500 Instagram fans), Allure revealed its decision as it spotlighted Helen Mirren on the cover. The iconic actress was an appropriate choice given she defies Hollywood’s historically ageist standards.
“I thought Hallelujah and it’s about time,” says Tara Bowen. “Why did it take so long for beauty to move into the now? Especially with all this new wave feminism happening, the beauty industry seemed so stuck in the past.”
When the term anti-aging is used, Lee writes that “we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle,” and “we need to stop looking at our life as a hill that we start rolling uncomfortably down past 35.” She makes it clear, however, that she isn’t suggesting women give up retinol to rectify lines, but that “changing the way we think about aging starts with changing the way we talk about aging.”
While it’s too early to gage the impact of Allure’s pro-aging manifesto, it’s aligned with the messaging of emerging brands that adopt come-as-you-are statements of positivity and self-acceptance. Glossier, for example, recently released a campaign for its Body Hero cream and body wash featuring women of all shapes and sizes touting themselves as body heroes. The brand follows Lena Dunham, Lady Gaga and Pink becoming powerful spokeswomen challenging self-defeating striving for physical perfection in favor of self-love. But when it comes to aging, is it really that simple? According to NPD Group, prestige skincare products with anti-aging benefits make up 40% of skincare dollar sales in the U.S. or $2.1 billion of the $5.3 billion prestige skincare market. That’s a lot of age prevention spending, no matter what you call it.
Changing skincare terms isn’t likely to slow sales and, in fact, could do the opposite. Larissa Jensen, executive director and beauty industry analyst at NPD Group, views the shifting language as corresponding to shifting skincare consumer demands. “In the past, women sought to correct their skin and the term anti-aging resonated as a way to fix aging concerns. Today’s consumer is more focused on protecting her skin, so different terms are necessary to effectively communicate with her,” she says, adding, “There is an underlying negativity associated with the term anti-aging/anti-wrinkle, insinuating that aging is a bad thing. More women are embracing the concept of growing old gracefully, and some cosmetics companies are supporting that through the use of beautiful older models in their marketing campaigns.”
Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has made her livelihood treating women concerned about aging. But she’s not fazed by Allure’s declaration. She’s excited. “I thought the news was awesome and reflects this momentum where women are really rallying around each other,” says Wechsler. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could look at ourselves and be less critical? Women feel badly about aging, but we don’t have to call what we’re doing anti-aging. It’s letting skin age more healthfully or more slowly. Some people’s skin age too quickly due to sun, smoking, stress. So we’re trying to slow it down. It’s not anti-aging, we’re all still aging.”
Wechsler often takes a conservative approach to age prevention tactics and heads off women arriving in her office with unrealistic visions, whether they want to look decades younger or create oversized pouty lips. “I’m in the business of improving self-esteem and, if a line is making a client feel bad about herself, we can talk about why, but I can also make it better,” says Wechsler. “I’m not in the business of freezing faces. I’m in this business of helping people feel great naturally.”
Ayuna, a skincare brand based in Spain features the tagline “well aging,” and, similar to Allure, wants to transition skincare conversations away from anti-aging. “We feel the term is combative and not realistic,” says Tathiana Cornejo, Ayuna’s U.S. general manager. “We feel well aging is a mindset. It’s an inclusive, modern approach to beauty. It’s about being mindful, and our products are simply a tool to help feature what’s already beautiful.”
Tata Harper, founder of the eponymous skincare line, eschews the notion that her popular serums, masks and cleansers are designed to fight aging. “It’s confrontational and aggressive, but, at the end of the day, it’s all about semantics and language,” she says. “I do like seeing skincare differently. So instead of combat, why don’t we nourish, massage, feed it what it needs? Let’s take good care of it. I think the language has gotten a bit negative over the last 10 years to make it more of a fight. Let’s not make it about that. Let’s take care of ourselves and change our mindset.”
“I do like seeing skincare differently. So instead of combat, why don’t we nourish, massage, feed it what it needs? Let’s take good care of it,” says Tata Harper. “I think the language has gotten a bit negative over the last 10 years to make it more of a fight. Let’s not make it about that. Let’s take care of ourselves and change our mindset.”
Time will tell whether the entire beauty industry follows suit. If verbiage revisions induce sales, it’s inevitable an increasing number of brands will be sending affirmative aging vibes. (You don’t think Allure announced its word switcheroo to undo subscriptions, do you? It’s a safer bet the reverse is the case.) Skincare customers probably won’t suddenly stop purchasing serums if the products bill themselves as nourishing rather than fighting lines. However, they may feel better about plunking down bucks for them.
Bowen is definitely not giving up on youth preservation just yet, but she might be willing to let a few stray gray hairs go un-dyed a little while longer. “I don’t think we’re suddenly going to stop caring for and preserving ourselves, but I do think it’s we’re moving away from the idea of perfection and striving to look 25 again,” says Bowen. “We’ve seen that look, and it’s not a good one. So, maybe this is a backlash to that. Either way, I’m excited to see what comes of it.”