Older women outside smiling at the camera

What is the "Anti-Aging" Message?

“Age-defying.” “Wrinkle-reducing.” “Look 10 years younger.” “Anti-Aging.”

Every day, women are bombarded with messages that tell us aging is something to be ashamed of or resisted at all costs.  Our culture places value on youth, with aging seen as something to 'fight'. The term 'anti-aging' comes with obvious negative connotations as a judgment:  youth is good, aging is not. 

When it comes to skincare, you’ve probably come across multiple anti-aging skincare products, some of which claim to erase every single wrinkle, spot, and fine line from your face. Anti-aging products hook us in– who doesn’t want to look younger? 

One of the reasons women are attracted to products that claim to reverse signs of aging is because they are regularly told that aging is bad and a youthful appearance is good. For decades, these age-shaming messages have been perpetuated by the beauty industry and society, in general.  The beauty industry continues to promote harmful stereotypes of aging because they play on women’s fears and insecurities. Unfortunately, this approach to marketing and messaging is ridiculously effective at driving sales and profits.

Scientific research suggest that any cosmetic beauty product sold over the counter is relatively ineffective at erasing the lines and wrinkles associated with aging skin. Anti-aging products are an ugly truth behind the beauty industry.

Cosmetic Anxiety: Selling a Problem When There Isn’t One

Woman in 50s smiling looking away from camera


We’ve learned to pretend to celebrate older women, but we haven’t learned to accept what happens naturally to their skin. We celebrate older women but not the un-intervened-upon face. This fuels a multibillion-dollar cosmetic and skin care industry dedicated to driving women to pursue the elusive goal of trying to look younger than they are.

For years, youthfulness has been something of a social currency and the beauty industry has been exploiting our insecurity about aging and our physical appearance. Countless skincare and makeup brands have been implicit in perpetuating fear and shame around aging skin, labeling creams and serums "anti-aging" or "anti-wrinkle.

Language matters, and when we consider the words most often used to describe aging, it quickly becomes apparent that getting older is considered something to try to avoid at all costs. We're told to prevent and erase wrinkles; that someone looks good for her age; and, of course, there's the ubiquitous phrase "anti-aging," used by everyone from cosmetics companies to the media.

"Anti-aging creates anxiety for a lot of women because they’re told their worth is tied to youth,” says Jenny C. Yip, PsyD. “This reinforces the mindset to purchase more products for more worth."  

Don’t despair, though.  “From a social perspective, we’re becoming more aware of age discrimination and ageist ideas,” says Dr. Candace Konnert, a professor in the psychology department of the University of Calgary. “Also, there’s a cohort effect. For boomers who grew up with the feminist movement, the anti-aging ideal is just not cutting it. And the discourse is changing, too. An anti-aging message goes against the idea of celebrating diversity.”

Navigating the physical and emotional effects of aging can be difficult for any person, but many women in their 50s and 60s and older actually say that age has given them a stronger sense of freedom and self. Which is good news. And, many of these women are not buying into the tactics of fear and age-shaming perpetuated by the beauty industry because they realize that trying to look 18 your entire life is an exhausting beauty ideal to live up to.

Anti-Aging Skincare is a BIG business

Why do so many beauty and skincare brands promote themselves as anti-aging solutions, promising to erase wrinkles and turn back the clock? Because it’s big business, that’s why.  In the US, sales of skincare products labeled as “anti-aging” reached $20 billion in 2022. This means that millions of people, women primarily, are spending money to “solve” a problem that is actually a fundamental aspect of being human: getting older. Even worse, billions of dollars are spent each year on products that may or may not deliver tangible benefits and results.

Companies continue to promote and sell anti-aging products because there is an enormous financial incentive to do so. First of all, it works to perpetuate age-shaming and play on the insecurities of women.  You have a wrinkle? A spot? Your skin reflects your age?  Well, you can’t look like that – you have to fix it!

If it sounds insidious, that’s because it is. “Anti-aging is probably the most popular and lasting promise of any sort of skincare brand or injectable,” said Jessica DeFino, a beauty writer and author of The Unpublishable, a newsletter focused on the darker sides of the beauty industry. “Youth is the ultimate goal, and obviously very convenient for the industry, because it’s an impossible goal.”

What the Dermatologists Say

From the American Academy of Dermatology:

“Have realistic expectations. Exaggerated promises, such as look 10 years younger overnight or quickly reduces all signs of aging, are too good to be true. It’s important to remember that anti-aging skin care products deliver modest results. You cannot get the results of a facelift from a cream.”

According to dermatologists, the best way to approach the aging of our skin in a healthy way involves preventative action (i.e., wearing sunscreen), maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and listening to your skin's changing needs. Stuff we already know: eat a healthy diet, get a good night’s sleep and exercise.  That means making small adjustments and restructuring habits as we age—whether that be in the products we use or the food we consume—in slow increments that add up over the long term.  A simple approach to skincare that is gentle and supportive is optimal for skin health.


"Your basic and essential pro-aging regimen is very easy: clean, protect, and hydrate," says Paul Jarrod Frank, md, board-certified dermatologist in New York City


Most of the anti-aging interventions consumers are shelling out for are more about marketing than function, despite the lofty promises that many brands make around their formulas. “There is no anti-aging product that can erase 10 to 20 years of sun damage or a compromised barrier, [which are] two of the main external factors associated with aging," says Fayne Frey, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and author of The Skincare Hoax: How You're Being Tricked into Buying Lotions, Potions & Wrinkle Cream. "The FDA considers over-the-counter skin-care products as having no medical value, so the efficacy of these claims doesn't have to be proven.”

“Clinically proven” means that the product was given to consumers to try. It does not mean the product underwent clinical trials and received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Many companies fail to back up their claims of reversing the signs of aging, and some products actually irritate the skin and make it more vulnerable to the elements, not less. 

All cosmetic and skin-care products are designed to beautify and promote attractiveness, not help cure, treat, or prevent an ailment. So if an eye cream or moisturizer could truly change the skin’s structure, it would have to be classified as a drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “If you are looking for ‘the fountain of youth in a bottle,’ you will not find it in over-the-counter skin-care products,” adds Dr. Frey .

Getting Sideways with the FDA

You’ve heard the term “cosmeceuticals",: right?  Sounds scientific and official.  Well, according to the FDA, it’s just another made up marketing term that is lifted directly from the word pharmaceuticals, a practice that lends a sense of actual science but is little more than a marketing ploy. "The term has no meaning under the law," says Linda Katz, director of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

Extravagant assertions and high-priced products are common in the beauty industry. Over the past 5 years, the FDA has sent more than 50 warning letters to cosmetics manufacturers who made excessive or unsupported claims about their products. "There were a lot of products that had crossed the line," says Katz. The violators range from boutique brands like ZO to industry giants such as Avon and L'Oreal, which was flagged for its Genifique line of creams that the company said altered the DNA of users' skin and was advertised with the slogan "Boost Your Youthful Radiance." L'Oreal also settled a separate action in 2014 with the Federal Trade Commission, which accused the company of deceptive advertising for claiming the same products would yield "visibly younger skin in just 7 days."

In fact, most "anti-aging" products have never been shown to actually do the things claimed on their labels. "Show me a placebo-controlled double-blind study that's been submitted to the FDA, and then we'll talk," says dermatologist Baxt. "There's not a lot of what I would call scientific rigor" in this facet of the cosmetics industry, adds Tanya Kormeili, a Los Angeles dermatologist.

Reframing Aging – The Beauty Industry Needs to Catch Up

Older woman outside looking at the camera


The older a woman is, the more invisible she becomes, and the more society views her as less productive and less valuable.  Women should demand to be seen, regardless of how old they are, and society needs to accept all versions of beauty, no matter someone’s birth date.

Many women are already there and they are fed up with beauty companies’ misguided attempts to make them feel bad about themselves.  These are women’s comments in response to one company’s advertising campaign:

"Age means nothing. Seriously, don't ask yourself 'how old' you look. I'm sure we look amazing regardless of age or whatever new insecurity is being sold. We have so many amazing things to look forward to. I don't need companies telling me to find problems where there are no problems whatsoever." 

Another commented: "How old do I look? For real? Let's help people to get over their insecurities and don't give them more things to worry [about]. To all the women on this planet, never ask yourself this question! Ask yourself how amazing do I look today."

Women need to overcome fear and shame about aging, celebrate who they are, and proudly claim their experience and power.  It’s time to flip the script and start talking about healthy skin and overall wellness as we grow older, rather than turning back time. 

It’s about reclaiming our own agency versus feeling forced to take actions because we’ve been made to feel “less than” by beauty companies and society.

True Beauty Comes from Within


Two women in their 50's smiling at the camera


Age is just a number, but it’s safe to say that none of us want to prematurely age. Truth be told, anti-aging products have become successful largely due to not-so-subtle marketing that makes aging feel like you're doing something wrong. The reality is that you can't stop the clock from ticking forward, but you can view the aging process in a realistic and positive way that both embraces and cares for your skin at every stage of life. 


"Now more than ever, we must come to terms with the idea that beauty does not equal youth. beauty does not come from a lack of wrinkles, the color of your hair, or a perfect complexion. True beauty comes from within, from our presence, from our wellness, and from the youthfulness we exude just by being our true selves." Zac Bush MD


Studies have shown that the answer to slowing down the signs of aging isn’t found in any bottle. A healthy diet, moderate exercise, proper hydration, and avoidance of the sun have a much greater effect on skin appearance than any cosmetic product.

So what are the core tenets of taking care of your skin as you age?

  • Hydration
  • A whole food, predominantly plant-based diet full of antioxidants
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Clean organic skincare 

To maintain your skin's vitality as you age comes back to simplicity. You want to use skincare that supports your skin, working with your body instead of against it for long-term skin health rather than short-term results.

In the US, sales of anti-aging skincare is a big business.  But remember, all the treatments and technology aimed at slowing down aging won't amount to much if you don't have meaningful relationships and an optimistic view of the future. Renew your sense of purpose and self-worth by moving beyond damaging and outdated storylines about aging. We’re in control of how we age and our attitude toward it.

Growing older is a wonderful thing because it means that we get a chance, every day, to live a full, happy life.

February 02, 2024 — Laura Coblentz

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