Use of “anti-age” language still high among major beauty brands

Despite campaigns around the negative connotations of “anti-age” language, it remains the prevailing way brands sell products to older consumers, according to new stats from analyst Lifestyle Packaging.

The company analysed the product pages for 41 major beauty brands that sell “anti-ageing” lines, and recorded the number of times words were used that describe the signs of ageing like wrinkles, fine lines and sagging, as well as phrases that link ageing with decline and loss, or as a negative process that should be stopped or reversed like "anti-ageing," "rewind," and "regenerate."

Phrases like “anti-ageing” appeared almost 3,000 times across 730 pages. This is despite the rise in beauty industry campaigns calling for such terms to be dropped such as The British Beauty Council’s Age Without Apology campaign.

Similarly, earlier this year, the International Institute for Anti-Ageing changed its name to be known as the International Institute for Active Ageing (iiaa) to 'proactively change the narrative around ageing' and 'encourage individuals to face and embrace the ageing process.'

Other terms that have become synonymous with the natural ageing process that infers loss and decline were also common across the studied brands’ product pages, with “loss” appearing 1,919 times.  

Words such as “youth,” “young” and “youthful” were used 2,700 times within product descriptions, strengthening the belief that younger-looking skin is the quintessence of beauty and must be conserved at all costs. Meanwhile, many brands used words and phrases that imply their products have the ability to ‘turn back the clock’ and reverse the natural ageing process. Terms including “rewind”, “renew” and “return” featured nearly 10,000 times across the product pages studied.  

The study also found that signs of ageing, like wrinkles, fine lines, crow’s feet and creases, featured nearly 10,000 times which products claimed to reduce or erase. The most used was “wrinkle”, featuring 3250 times on 694 pages.

“Anti-age messaging is so embedded in our everyday life that most of us don’t even recognise it. And when it comes to beauty products, it’s pervasive,” said Rich Quelch, Global Head of Marketing at Lifestyle Packaging.

According to Gerontologists, these terms contribute to ageism and are “microagressors” - words and phrases that have the power to normalise and perpetuate age discrimination and how we feel about ageing and ourselves as we get older. 

Ageless beauty is big business, with the anti-ageing market estimated to be worth a whopping  $120 billion a year by 2030.

Such terms could be contributing to FOGO - the fear of getting older and something that apparently 87 percent of people experience while half of UK women say they feel pressured to stay looking youthful. 

Regarding individual beauty brands, researchers were able to calculate anti-age language as a proportion of the total words used across their product pages.  

The brands studied with the lowest use of anti-age language (1% of total words) and therefore the most “pro-age” were Soap and Glory, The Ordinary, Mario Badescu, Elemis, Liz Earle, La Roche Posay, IT Cosmetics and L’Occitane. 

By comparison, Estée Lauder used the largest percentage of anti-age terms across its product pages for its range for mature skin (17% of total words), followed by Clarins and Clinique (both 10%), Shiseido (7%) and ROC Skincare (6%). 

“Despite positive steps being taken in recent years by the industry and consumers to recognise the impact of anti-age language on how people feel about themselves as they age, it’s clear from our study that there is still a long way to go,” continued Quelch.  

“However, it’s encouraging to see some brands blazing the trail with minimal use of anti-age language while promoting their products to more mature audiences.” 

 How do you feel about the language brands use to describe ageing? What are you doing to help clients feel better about getting older?