Allure’s anti-ageing stance isn’t revolutionary - it’s just following a shift in the industry to appeal to millennials
There are certain buzzwords in the beauty industry - 'pore-minimising', 'blemish control', 'hypoallergenic', 'ultra-conditioning', and so on. But king of them all is 'anti-ageing'. Women have been engaged in this futile war against time for thousands of years, since Cleopatra and her daily baths in donkey milk, and the anti-ageing sector of the beauty industry has long been the most profitable, with retinol (vitamin A) offering a major boon since the 1980s.
Nowadays, it seems every beauty brand is flogging the holy grail of anti-ageing and treatments are becoming ever more ludicrous, from breast milk soup to the Kim Kardashian-endorsed vampire facial. This kind of stuff has been the bread and butter for women's magazines for years, particularly Allure, the dedicated US beauty magazine.
Until now, that is. Earlier this week, Allure released its September issue, typically the buzziest edition of the year in the fashion industry. As the beloved documentary of the same name decrees, "September is the January of fashion" - and Allure has announced its New Year's resolution will be to "stop using the term 'anti-ageing'". The magazine features Helen Mirren (below), poster woman for ageing gracefully, on its cover, while inside, editor-in-chief Michelle Lee writes: "Whether we know it or not, we're subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle - think anti-anxiety meds, anti-virus software, or anti-fungal spray."
It's a view supported by Mirren (72), who says: "This word 'anti-ageing' - we know we're getting older. You just want to look and feel as great as you can on a daily basis."
Your first response is likely to be one of celebration: at last, a mainstream magazine challenging the perception of ageing as something to be feared and embracing the crow's feet and lines that come with growing older. But there are more than a few wrinkles in their worthy plan.
Mirren, of course, is brand ambassador for L'Oreal Paris and the face of its Age Perfect line. The campaign doesn't use the term 'anti-ageing' in its ads, but the milder slogan that it will "reduce the effects of ageing", which seems fairly unequivocal to me. But even she recently admitted the brand's moisturiser "probably does f*** all".
This is something today's sceptical millennials copped on to long ago and what makes Allure's call to "end anti-ageing" less revolutionary than it initially appears. The magazine is just following a shift in the industry, as brands are forced to pivot to appeal to a younger generation that has no need for traditional anti-ageing products.
And why would we? We live in an age of Insta-gratification, of light-up phone cases which provide flattering selfie lighting on the go and apps like Facetune which allow you to airbrush your face into oblivion - millennials aren't interested in waiting years for the payoff of anti-ageing formulas that might not even work - we want visible results now.
According to a report from market research firm Mintel, the anti-ageing sector has experienced a steady five-year decline, with sales down from $2.2bn in 2010 to $1.9bn in 2015. Fabrizio Freda, CEO of Estee Lauder, said last year: "Millennials are much more about immediate results than saving for the future."
Thanks to the vast sweep of products available everywhere, from high-end department stores to the village pharmacy, looking good and looking young have never been easier.
And beauty brands have caught on too - as Allure editor Lee notes, "language matters", and notice how companies now use the colloquialisms of social media: No 7's 'Airbrush' foundation, Smashbox's 'Photo Filter' powder, Too Faced's 'Selfie' palette or Yves Saint Laurent's iconic Touche Eclat reissued with a 'blur' primer.
Brands are now scrambling to give themselves a makeover to appeal to younger customers. Part of this shift involves adopting a 'wellness' angle, focusing on 'clean' skincare, eco-friendly packaging and natural ingredients.
For millennials, it's not as simple as grasping at quick fixes to create camera-ready faces. We don't trust products that claim to be able to turn back the clock and we're more suspicious of the industry than our mothers. With the proliferation of YouTube vloggers and beauty bloggers, we're more likely to turn to reviews than take product packaging at face value (according to another Mintel study, millennials source information about a product from the packaging just 22pc of the time, compared to generation X's 32pc).
We're still spending money on skincare, we're just spending it differently - think Snapchat-friendly sheet masks, hydro-plumping serums, creams with higher SPF levels and natural exfoliators. Millennials value "natural radiance" and smooth skin texture over wrinkle prevention and the pursuit of eternal youth.
So why aren't millennials scared of ageing anymore? Perhaps the stigma around wrinkles and lines is starting to thaw, perhaps we don't have enough time to think about it in an increasingly chaotic world, or perhaps it has something to do with the boom in injectables and women being more willing to turn to non-invasive procedures down the line.
While it all sounds very progressive and right-on right now, I'm not sure how this is going to pan out in years to come, when millennial women have to face up to the effects of ageing.
Negative attitudes towards ageing are unlikely to disappear in the next decade, but will we still welcome those laughter lines with open arms or will we be resorting to the easy, yet costly, solution of injectables?
Considering how popular they are now, 10 years down the line, they're likely to be as ubiquitous as any wrinkle cream. Here's hoping we'll have the salaries to foot the bill - or an app to do the work for us.