How Millennials Are Changing Their Beauty Habits As They Approach 40 (Or Not)

Aging is a given. How you respond to it is not.

As the older contingent of the millennial generation born from 1980 to 1995 approaches 40, many are embracing the crow’s feet, gray hair and extra pounds that come with crossing into the decade in which Maya Angelou said she dropped pretense. They’re gravitating to products that acknowledge signs of aging while preventing the worst of ravages of time. Brands that delicately walk the fine line of balancing acceptance with addressing skin predicaments stand to grab a share of American millennials’ $600 billion in annual spending.

“I, for one, cherish every grey hair that pops up as a sign that perhaps I am gaining some insight,” says Ashley Anne Strobridge, a 36-year-old administrative assistant in Vermont who sticks with a simple skincare routine of Origins Checks and Balances face wash, Avalon Lavender Toner and Origins Mega Mushroom Serum. “Honestly, I think anti-aging creams are a rip-off, too. Those companies are preying on women’s insecurities about their self-image that have been put there by commercials and society since they were teenagers.”

Undefined Beauty
Undefined Beauty stays away from the term “anti-aging” on its website. It uses the descriptors “rejuvenate,” “replenish” and “improve elasticity.”

Meghan L. Dowling, a 39-year-old writer in Maine who makes her own hydrating and soothing moisturizer to avoid the cost and effort she feels women unfairly expend, calls the term “anti-aging” absurd. She says it “telegraphs the very clear message that women are being held to an impossible standard of appearance. The health and beauty industry barely encourages men to moisturize for crying out loud.”

Beauty entrepreneurs are paying attention to the evolving consumer sentiment. Allison Moss, founder of deodorant brand Type:A, focuses on health and body positivity in her brand’s marketing. “We aren’t trying to scare consumers into trying our product, but rather we are hoping to educate on ingredients safety overall, where there is lots of gray area,” she says. “Second, we try to embrace inclusivity in our branding and product offering. Our product was designed for and tested on a wide range of bodies. We’re striving to appeal to all ages, races, genders.”

“Aging is a natural and normal process, but certain stressors on our skin and bodies can be limited or prevented with proper care.”

Some older millennials, while not actively trying to turn back the hands of time, are interested in slowing them down. They pick up products to prevent skin issues that can become common with aging like sun damage rather than fight aging specifically. “I’d rather see products focused on prevention (of sun damage, etc.) rather than ‘anti-aging’ my face,” says Sarah Kollat, a 38-year-old professor in Pennsylvania who has begun using more sunscreen and moisturizer as she’s gotten older. “Aging is a natural and normal process, but certain stressors on our skin and bodies can be limited or prevented with proper care.”

Melissa Petro, a 39-year-old writer in New York, feels similarly. She relies on products—in particular, Neutrogena Basic Cleanser, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliant, The Ordinary Retinoid, Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Moisturizer and Paula’s Choice Tinted Sunscreen—to stave off “wear and tear” like sun damage, she says. “It’s stupid to be ‘anti-aging.’ We’re all aging,” she figures. “I want to look my best at whatever age I am. Maybe there’s an expectation that you ‘let yourself go’ at a certain age. You stop caring for yourself because you’re too busy caring for everyone else. I don’t want to let that happen. There is not a product that directly compensates for the degradation you feel as the mother of a toddler, but, if a nice lotion makes me glow a little, I’m glad for it.”

Haris Wellness co-founder Robyn Watkins
Haris Wellness co-founder and Holistic Beauty Group founder Robyn Watkins develops products that recognize the shift toward inside-out beauty, wellness and prevention.

Robyn Watkins, founder of consultancy Holistic Beauty Group and co-founder of brand incubator Haris Wellness, has observed the progression in product preferences among millennial consumers and factors it into the merchandise she develops. “The world has been slowly shifting towards beauty inside out, and women understand the role that stress, lifestyle, and toxicity plays on their skin, so I think anti-aging is moving towards prevention and wellness. Women want to look and feel healthier, not younger,” she says. “As a product developer, I focus on holistic approaches to beauty. Whether it be a supplement or a serum, it needs to function in a modern way to target specific benefits and overall health and wellness.”

When brands don’t mention anti-aging, they have to sort the language that properly communicates the results of their products that have traditionally been classified in the anti-aging arena. “I don’t use the term ‘anti-aging,’ and I don’t think about aging as a parameter for my product development,” says Undefined Beauty founder Dorian Morris. “It’s about focusing on skincare benefits and need states that transcend age and categorization.” Undefined Beauty’s website touts that the ingredients it chooses “rejuvenate,” “replenish” and “improve elasticity.”

“It’s about focusing on skincare benefits and need states that transcend age and categorization.”

Michelle Ranavat, founder and CEO of the ayurveda-inspired skincare brand Ranavat Botanics, tries to convey an Indian take on aging, which she says holds that, “as you age, you actually gain more respect.” Ranavat expounds, “I’ve always had a very accepting stance on aging—doing it gracefully and with poise—and that mentality has stayed the same.” Ranavat describes its ingredients as “rejuvenating,” and promoting “firmness and elasticity.”

Benefits like increased elasticity and skin rejuvenation border on anti-aging claims, and not all millennials buy them. Strobridge finds the skincare promises disingenuous. She says, “It’s still attempting to reverse the aging process, which is ridiculous because everyone ages, and age should be something to honor, not hide.”

Aluminum-free deodorant brand Type:A's marketing messages focus on health and body positivity.
Aluminum-free deodorant brand Type:A’s marketing messages focus on health and body positivity.

Celestyna Brozek, founder and CEO of Moss Skincare, which expanded from an anti-acne brand to include anti-aging in 2017 due to customer demand, has continued to use the term “anti-aging” because she thinks it speaks more honestly to the desires of her customers than other terms that she concludes have the same meaning. She says, “From a marketing perspective, it is a much stronger, more ‘charismatic’ term than all the euphemisms that have popped up, like ‘skin supportive’ or ‘repairing.’”

While Brozek finds society’s view of aging “heartbreakingly wrong,” she doesn’t view it as her role to change people’s minds about it. She views her role as giving customers what they want. In current society, she believes anti-aging is one of those things. She says, “People are entitled to their opinions on aging—negative or positive—as long as they’ve thought them through. I think, right now, some people are looking for anti-aging. Part of what I love about my business is discovering what people are looking for and trying to create that.”

Key Takeaways

  • Many older millennials approaching 40 state they accept of the changes that come with aging. They are shunning products marketed as anti-aging.
  • Older millennials are facing aging by focusing on preventative measures like preventing the sun damage that can cause premature skin aging.
  • Progressive brands are catching on to aligning themselves with the millennial sentiment by staying away from the term “anti-aging,” positioning themselves as inclusive in their marketing and trying not to shame or scare consumers.
  • Some beauty and wellness brands are trying to toe the line by using of anti-aging-adjacent terms like rejuvenating and replenishing.