Time to ditch the term ‘anti-ageing’

— by Alyson Walsh

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.

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