This week, Allure – the US’s best-known beauty magazine – announced it was to stop using the expression anti-ageing. “Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle” explained Michelle Lee in her editor’s letter. “Changing the way we think about ageing starts with changing the way we talk about ageing”.

Anti-ageing has been a beauty byword since the 1980s, when it was dreamed up by an advertising exec to sell products to older women. It makes sense that this category would have its own term – the global skincare market has become a lucrative one expected to exceed $131bn by 2019 and the 50-plus consumer has a huge influence and spending power. While its use on actual products from RoC and Nivea was banned by the ASA around 10 years ago – because nothing can claim to stop the passage of time – it is still used on websites, in magazines, and in everyday parlance. And now there’s a backlash: an anti-anti-ageing movement of consumers and bloggers who are refusing to accept this insidious – and sexist – terminology. A movement that brands – and now publishers – are finding impossible to ignore.

Jane Cunningham, founder of the site, stopped using the term anti-ageing long ago. When talking about products she would recommend for women over 50 she prefers to use the terms ‘age inclusive’ and ‘for older skin’ because “that’s just fact”. She regularly makes a stand against an industry that consistently champions youth by promoting a more inclusive approach. “Treating age as something that needs ‘curing’ is pointlessly demoralising for anyone over 30,” Cunningham points out, “I’d like to see brands celebrating beauty at all ages. Beauty is not one thing, it’s many things.”

“We’ve actually grown old with the term anti-ageing,” says veteran beauty writer Vicci Bentley, 66, who has worked in the industry for 45 years, “it’s a catchy phrase, [it used to indicate] that you’ve got the gold standard ingredients like retinol in there – but it’s redundant now.”

“Women’s expectations of how they want to look as they age have changed,” says global scientific director for Vichy, Elisa Simonpietri. “We are no longer fixated with wrinkles – radiant skin is the new measure of youth. The trend is to take more of a long-term view with a self-care attitude. To consider environmental and lifestyle factors like climate, sun, pollution, diet and stress.” This change may also reflect the holistic approach people are now taking towards health and wellness – with more consideration given to mind, body and soul than our physical appearance.

It is of course brilliant to see elements of the beauty industry, including Allure (which is heavily reliant on advertising from beauty manufacturers), take a stand on the use of the term. It is also reflective of a broader cultural shift away from a long-standing obsession with youth to something more accepting of the ageing process. The rise in inclusivity and increased visibility of older models and celebrities within an industry that once shunned anyone over the age of 40 is a welcome change.

So is it that we’re less hung up about ageing? Or is it simply a case of marketing and semantics? The renaming and repackaging of products has already begun – as one look at my bathroom cabinet reveals: Pro Age (Dove), Age-Defying (Olay), Age Perfect (L’Oreal) and Slow Age (Vichy) – are all new phrases being used on a selection of moisturisers in lieu of anti-ageing. According to Bentley, that’s the branding challenge – “What to call it? Companies have to include the word age – you don’t want another euphemism you can’t understand.” Still, says Bentley, using more positive alternatives to the phrase anti-ageing is a start. All of a sudden the revolution doesn’t look so dramatic after all.

Language matters, and so does representation – with older models trending and age-shaming terminology being questioned, it feels like things are improving for women over-50, if only a little. Admittedly, it’s not a walk in the park, but at 53, I’m growing-in my grey hair, embracing my wrinkles and wearing what I please. I know I don’t look 35, but I’m fine with that. I’ve found that most women of my age and beyond are interested in looking good rather than looking younger; and that it’s not about age, it’s about mindset. As Allure’s September cover star and the face of L’Oreal’s Age Perfect range Helen Mirren proved again last week with her off-the-cuff remark at a beauty industry event, “moisturiser probably does fuck all.”

This is of course about the beauty industry making a lot of money and it will take more than one magazine and a flurry of online voices to change things completely. At the end of her Allure’s editor letter, Lee concedes that this shift is in an embryonic stage: “Major props to those who have already taken steps, and, to the rest of the beauty industry, we’re calling on you now: We know it’s not easy to change packaging and marketing overnight. But together we can start to change the conversation and celebrate the beauty in all ages.”

This is a feature I wrote for the Guardian this week.

41 thoughts on “Time to ditch the term ‘anti-ageing’

  1. I’ve been opposing the term “anti ageing” almost as long as I’ve been opposing “age appropriate”, Alyson… I said long ago that I wanted to use “optimum ageing” instead! Unfortunately when working with some [beauty] brands they still want you to use the term “anti ageing” as key words – I guess all these years of having it drummed into us means that anti ageing is the expression women automatically use to search products and articles.

    But I still mention in my posts that I prefer to say optimum ageing, exactly for the reasons you’ve mentioned here. It’s not something to be battled or be against, it’s something to be celebrated and, well, optimised!

    Catherine x

  2. When it comes to skin-care, I quite like the phrase ” For mature skins ” on a pot of face cream. Simple, truthful , and helpful !
    Anti-ageing is pointless, so is age -defying. We can’t defy it. In my late 60’s,all I want is to look as good as I can, wrinkles and all.
    If I look happy, healthy and I’m interesting and fun to be with, that is what counts for me.

  3. hallelujah! so uplifting that more in the beauty industry are raising a public voice to something that many of us have felt (and have even perhaps quietly boycotted “anti-aging” products) for years! thank you for highlighting this issue!

  4. I’m coming up to 52 and don’t give a hoot about getting older. What I do object to is being made to feel bad for getting older. I think this is wonderful, progress is being made.

  5. Allure are playing catch up! I attended a talk some months ago , by ‘Voice North’ of Newcastle University. The basic theme was positive ageing & dealt, among other things, with the language we use about ourselves in terms of ageing. While magazines such as Allure are focussing on the ‘beauty’ side of things I think we have to take ownership () of what comes out of our mouths. I have since then privately banned any age focussed conversations, why reinforce it fgs! I really do practise mindfulness and as I’ve said on here previously don’t but loads of clothes, have let my hair grow and no longer colour it. I love jewellry, have loads & apparently like Dame Helen, (& there the similarity ends) am an advocate of red lippy…all I hope without trying too hard. My focus is on art, painting, my garden, books, stitch and my small granddaughter….the order of that will change from day to day! Really is no good sitting there looking, in a good light, 10 years younger if your focus is on age & ailments….so endeth this !!

  6. I do think that certain terms can be beneficial or detrimental. I remember in my dental practice, we tried to do away with the word “just” because it wasn’t a helpful term. And I think this is the case with “anti-aging” too!
    That’s why I love showcasing both my mom (who’ll be 80 next year) and my step mom (who’ll be 70) on the blog too, because we should be so proud and happy to be alive and proud of how we look!!

  7. I admire Helen Mirren and think she looks great. However, I do wonder how I might have such a firm jaw line. Hers (not just in this photo!) looks better than mine and I’m a trim and healthy 55 year old.

    Under the surface, there is still a concern about not looking too old, decrepit, vulnerable, sexless. In your piece, we read that Elisa Simonpietri still wants us to have youthful radiance… possibly with the help of some Vichy products. So, yes… semantics are part of this shift too… along with those market forces you mention.

  8. Will be interesting to see if Allure still takes the money of advertisers who photoshop their models in adverts or use 20 year old models to advertise products aimed at those of us over 40….

  9. Good reading, thank you. We have no alternative embracing every ‘age’ of our lives is what’s important either gracefully, with liberation, with dignity or with gay abandon!

  10. I have long said that we need to adopt a different aesthetic as we grow older. I will never again be a maid but I would like to look good and admire it in other people. The grey pound/dollar will change the world but not while we only admire the children.

  11. I am uncomfortable with the euphemisms. Very uncomfortable. Changing the name does not change the fact that the beauty industry is making billions, yes billions off women who are afraid to age. (Yes, I am too.) And I agree with Heidi, in the photo Helen’s neck and jaw look stunningly firm, for whatever reason, and, I would add, her lipstick appears to have been applied well beyond her natural lipline. I am not dissing Ms. Mirren, but please. In an article about anti- anti-ageing? We need a more realist model.

    1. Ms Mirren is amazing (in this photo) but I would agree that the lippie is a little bit ‘The Joker’. I spotted her in London last year sans maquillage wearing pink jeans and a t shirt and her beauty comes from within. Glam wise she looked ordinary but that lady certainly has sparkle.

  12. Shared your article on Facebook! About time eh? Thanks for all you continue to do for the cause…style and substance, not to mention a little wisdom are okay tradeoff’s for youth, methinks!

  13. Age is to do with mindset and embracing what you look like
    The best advice I was ever given was when I was 15.
    A male teacher near to retirement said that your face is a canvas and everything on it shows the life that you have lived so be proud of it
    I’m 62 and see the signs of getting older and embrace them and then ignore them and get on with living my life
    Life is too short to worry about wrinkles etc and yes I was very lucky to inherit my mum’s wonderful skin BUT I still use products to keep it well moisturised etc

  14. There is no such thing as Anti- Age and never has been. We can’t go backwards. I said that to the Clinique sales person and she had no answer. They should come up with another term that is dignified and non patronising. I don’t like the other terms either; age defying, age perfect, slow aging – all just as bad. Pfft. We are not stupid.

  15. Time never stops it just keep on running then why we are using such terms even you simply cannot reverse the procedure.we grow with the time infancy to old age ,all different period of growing gives us or rather bless us with so many beautiful things and in process we have to leave certain things behind.i believe time paints beautiful picture of us by adding some extra lines and strokes that we have earned while making our life more meaningful and should be proud of our journey.So look confident , content and be happy for living long enough to see the perfect picture of you.needs cosmetic just to feel natural and healthy as we need medicine to keep your self and look gracious

  16. There’s only one alternative to ageing – I can’t help thinking, especially in today’s very scary world, that it’s a privilege few of us have. Hard not to notice all the unwelcome signs of ageing but hopefully, with more articles like this and more emphasis on celebrating the age we are, we can learn to embrace it instead of fear it. Great piece!

  17. Some good points expressed here as usual. Personally I’m not worried about the name on my tubes of creams I use daily. But in this instance I did check. Two refer to ageing : Ren eye lift cream and Clarins Creme de Jeunesse hand cream. The second roughly translates as Youth hand cream. Both are effective products I’ve been using for years. I am more concerned about the developing stereotypes of older models. Today’s Guardian has its regular Saturday fashion spread on All Ages models. Pam the older grey haired one is angular and extremely slim as are the majority of older models featured. Helen Mirren is usually pictured wearing made to measure Dolce and Gabbana wonderful dresses probably with built in corsets. She does look great “for her age” and is earning a handsome extra living as a face cream model in addition to her acting career. In a recent copy of French Elle, which I read regularly online and in hard copy, the cover girl is nearly 60 year old former model Ines de la Fressange. Now a business woman, retailer and muse who writes a newsletter online she still models in French publications. Again she looks splendid but that is no surprise she is still very slender and longlimbed with brown tousled hair. She was once the model for statues of Marianne across France. What is needed is examples of older women who are attractive and appealing and look good in their clothes but are maybe rounder, less chisel hard than when in their prime. Catherine Denevue is a good example of an older still beautiful woman who is heavier about the jaw, bosom and waist but still looks good.

  18. I would agree with Mrs Tonia that most ‘older’ models are stick thin (Ines de la Fressange, Maye Musk, Daphne Selfe, Pam Lucas, Eveline Hall etc. etc) and they all look amazing. I would agree that more realistic bodies such as Helen Mirren, Catherine Deneuve are perhaps easier to relate to, but they too have had ‘surgical assistance’. Maybe we should use these models as just a simple guideline and then translate it ourselves into the real world. No-one is realistically going to be sartorially inspired from Mrs Bloggs up the road, are they?

  19. Helen Mirren has had a face lift; there’s nothing wrong with that but let’s be honest.
    It’s not all a good attitude and a vibrant lipstick.
    Ah well, we women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

  20. I feel it’s a great privilege to get older and annoying to then be made to feel it’s a problem by the beauty industry and women’s magazines. I also find the perennial magazine topic of ‘being a better you’ irritating, as if we’re all in need of constant improvement. I’ve accepted myself and all my imperfections and don’t want to be’improved’. Helpful ideas on being stylish into the future are always gratefully accepted though.

  21. I love the article but we are still so judgemental. So many are bashing Helen. I am 64. I want to look nice and healthy. I want my skin protected. But don’t compare me to a 14 year who is advertising makeup. We can do so much better, by supporting each other and embracing the wisdom of our elders. And elder should be something to aspire to, not to hide from.

  22. Good post and words do matter, I am in the enjoying my age gang. Frustrated though by being addressed as Mrs. (3 times in the last week) and feeling like bloody Dick Emery when having to correct. In all these years why is Ms not in use?

  23. I will celebrate my 58th birthday next week! I always say, “It’s just a number”, a number that doesn’t reflect how I feel on the inside. What’s the alternative, right! I want my outside to reflect the youthfulness I feel on the inside! I will continue using my R+F products and live life full-out!!! You’re as young as you feel! Let’s show the younger generations what the older generations are made of and celebrate and fully embrace whatever age we are!

  24. Just read Timeless edit by Zara. One of the three model states that she likes getting older although “(o)bviously it would be nicer to not get old and ugly.” Shame on you Zara, for headlining this particular quote. Shame on you, model in question, for equating age with ugliness.

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