Are Brands Ready to Do Away with the Term "anti-aging" for Good?

With Allure magazine having officially banished the term from its pages and the announcement that CoverGirl has hired 69-year-old model Maye Musk, we wonder if terms like "anti-aging" have finally reached their sell-by date

(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Last month, following the release of its September issue featuring Helen Mirren on the cover, Allure issued a statement saying it would no longer use the term “anti-aging” in its pages. On September 27, Covergirl announced that it had added 69-year-old model Maye Musk to its gorgeous roster. And expressions like “revitalizing” and “rejuvenating” are ever more present on the packaging of our favourite prods. All of these developments have left us wondering if the notion that aging is something we need to fight against has finally expired.

That’s certainly how Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee feels. “Changing the way we think about aging starts with changing the way we talk about aging,” wrote Lee in her September editor’s letter. “Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle—think antianxiety meds, antivirus software, or antifungal spray.” But is the industry ready to follow suit?

The term “anti-aging” began being used in earnest in the 1980s when it was used by advertising executives to sell products to older women, writes Alyson Walsh in The Guardian. Since then, the negative connotations behind the word have become increasingly hard to ignore. “There has always been a yearning for the fountain of youth and it will continue. That’s human nature,” Dr. Vivian Diller, a New York-based psychologist specializing in self-image, tells FLARE. “But in past few decades, the combination of Photoshop, cosmetic surgery and social media has made this yearning into a global obsession. Youthful imagery that appears real, even if digitally altered, has played into every man and woman’s desire to look and feel younger.”

Allure’s resolution to ban the word was met with praise as well as some trepidation. On the one hand, the magazine was commended for taking a stand against an industry that’s obsessed with aging and often criticized for preying and profiting off the fear of getting old. But the announcement wasn’t without its fair share of critics, who argued that the decision was to appease its largely millennial readership, which doesn’t really care about anti-aging anyway.

So was it a sincere step towards starting a more positive conversation about aging, free of fear-mongering, or a clever strategic shift to accommodate a demographic who could care less about anti-aging? And beyond that distinction, is Allure’s stance a sign of things to come or are they catching up with a market that’s already started to eschew the term?

As the current narrative supposedly stands within the media at large, millennials don’t want anti-aging products because they’re self-loving and prefer products that offer instant gratification, which is why beauty brands are pandering to give them what they want.

But Allure isn’t bending the knee to millennials so much as it’s getting with the times. Yes, it’s true they aren’t necessarily looking for anti-aging products. And sure, they seem to be more interested in immediate results (they are the selfie generation, after all). But millennials are also the generation that knows SPF is GOAT, are well-versed in the multi-step rituals of K-beauty, and understand the importance of preventive skincare. They might not care about crow’s feet yet but they care about hydration. In fact, they happen to be the highest buyers of skincare as Kurt Jetta, the CEO of TABS Analytics, told Fashionista.

The sometimes forgotten over 35 market is seemingly just as invested in skincare—according to Amy Chung, a beauty analyst for The NPD Group in Canada, the skincare market was growing at a rate of +12% in the previous 12 months as of August 2017 and while NDP data doesn’t capture age/demographic info, “60% of sales in the total face skincare segment trace to products with a secondary anti-aging benefit which could point to women over 35 being invested in skincare.”

And while age specialist products may not be seeing any growth in terms of dollar sales, the real problem may be that the label “anti-aging” just doesn’t cut it anymore. “It’s a big blanket statement,” explains Chung. “It’s not very specific about what it’s going to do. Consumers like knowing what their product is going to do for them. Really, what does younger skin look like?”

According to Chung, skincare companies aren’t using terms like “anti-aging” either and that’s a direct response to consumers, whether they’re over 35 or under. Rather, skincare products are targeted to specific needs, labeled with words like brightening, luminous and smoothing. “If your skin looks a little fatigued, you look for brightening. If you have fine lines, you now look for smoothing.”

Dr. Diller agrees. “New phrases that are more realistic are beginning to replace anti-aging, like ‘revitalize’ and ‘replenish.’ There are products women can use that prolong the health and beauty of their skin and bodies. Consumers have become wiser, having access to info about aging with the click of a button, so products that resonate with real possibilities will become more popular.”

Allure hasn’t just abandoned a dated term that no longer applies to the beauty landscape (because what does “anti-aging” really mean?), it’s also acknowledging the importance of language.

While it could be argued that words like “brightening” or “smoothing” are simply euphemisms saying the same thing and perpetuating the same belief, what we choose to say does matter. “Words are powerful,” says Dr. Diller. “‘Anti-aging’ has been a catchy phrase for a long time, implying a return to youth, but women are beginning to feel fatigued about it all. They have caught on that while it’s easy to promote products that promise ‘anti-aging,’ they know it’s not possible and are beginning to feel insulted by what it implies.”

Perhaps it’s time to revisit other terms that are entrenched in the vocabulary of the beauty industry and glossies like “bikini body.” In the meantime, a big beauty magazine doing away with a label like “anti-aging” sure seems like a step in the right direction. “There is a general move away from trends that disempower and insult the everyday woman,” says Dr. Diller. #Preach.

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