Anti-ageing terminology: time for change

Anti-ageing is a term that is used widely by the beauty industry as a short-hand for products that address the appearance of ageing skin or hair. Along with anti-ageing, the inference behind words such as anti-wrinkle, anti-sagging and age-defying, is that the ageing process is something that can and should be delayed or even halted in pursuit of everlasting youth. But do consumers buy into it?

For some time, I’ve believed that slapping anti- in front of beauty product descriptions is a lazy attempt by marketers to gain the approval of mature consumers. In a new report I’ve written for Canadean I investigated how anti-ageing claims are used to market beauty products and what consumers understand by these terms. According to Canadean consumer research, the older consumers get, the less they believe in the effectiveness of anti-ageing style claims in beauty products. After decades of using skincare claiming to address the signs of ageing with minimal results, it is unsurprising that consumers over 65 are the most sceptical demographic group of terms such as anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle and especially fast or instant results. Yet the fight against the effects of ageing is the premise upon which so many beauty products are built. Surely the time has come for brands to address real skincare concerns of an ageing population, not only in terms of products and formulations but in communication?

The sloppy marketing approach to the targeting of consumers over 50 is most prevalent amongst mainstream brands, whether premium, masstige of mass. I found countless examples of brands using young and/or airbrushed models to advertise products that were either unsuitable for young skins or cannot be expected to produce the smooth, line-free complexions portrayed in the ads. There are exceptions, such as the addition of mature actress Helen Mirren to its roster of brand ambassadors, with the strapline “grow another year bolder”; and the ad for Boots No.7 Restore & Renew, aimed at 60 and over, which carried the rider stating that the model had not been airbrushed or retouched.

When addressing women’s age-related skin issues, a new vocabulary is needed. Instead of labouring on the negatives of ageing, brands should develop a terminology that is more in tune with the way women over 50 feel about themselves: positive about life, wanting to live life to the full and accepting of the skin they are in.

I see the change coming from smaller niche brands that are connecting with mature consumers through relevant products that focus on the positive aspects of skin health and ageing well. For example, Brandon Trueaxe, founder of Deciem, uses the term “pro-ageing well”. Maleka Dattu, founder of Merumaya skincare favours “youthful ageing”, although for the sake of being found on search engines felt it necessary to use “anti-ageing” in marketing material as it is such a commonly used term.

The most compelling example of a brand that rejects overused age-related vocabulary is niche body skincare brand Mio. Sian Sutherland, founder and ceo of Mio, maintains that the term “anti-ageing” is a physical impossibility, so instead focuses on the positive language of fit skin that is strong, resilient, bouncy and glowing with health and energy. She regards her bodycare line as a type of personal fitness trainer for the skin.

Consumers in their 50s and beyond are tired of beauty brands that assume it’s all about looking 10 or 15 years younger. I’ve no doubt that the industry is on the cusp of a big change. It was at in-cosmetics 2012, that Antoinette van den Berg, founder of Future-Touch, predicted that the anti-aging trend will slow as older women realise it’s not realistic to expect cosmetics to change their ageing appearance. She coined the memorable phrase: “it will be cool to be old.” I wonder how long it will be for this to become the norm in beauty.

At next year’s in-cosmetics Marketing Trends presentations, Canadean will discuss in more detail how anti-ageing terminology needs to change. Merumaya founder, Maleka Dattu, will present ideas on how to turn creative ideas into marketable products, and Mio Skincare founder and ceo, Sian Sutherland, is a participant on the speciality niche markets Round Table.

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