There is a new way to talk about skin ageing. It’s no longer about fighting or reversing it but getting strong, healthy skin.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
There is a new way to talk about skin ageing. It’s no longer about fighting or reversing it but getting strong, healthy skin. Lines and sagging are even accepted. Goh Yee Huay looks at this growing movement where beauty brands are framing this natural process in a positive light.

"Ageing is a natural consequence of being alive. To be anti-ageing makes no more sense than being anti-life."

A geing is natural, and that’s going to happen to all of us… I just want to always look like myself, even if that’s an older version of myself.” So said Halle Berry in a 2015 interview.

She probably didn’t know it at the time, but that sums up a growing movement in the beauty industry, where the focus is not so much on anti-ageing, but on ageing well. No more obsessively fighting the signs of age – it’s about keeping your skin in healthy, tip-top condition at any age.

What led to this new approach of prioritising skin health over wrinkle count? Well, for one, there’s the larger wellness trend of recent years. The shifting attention to things like fitness, holistic living and clean beauty has also changed attitudes on how to look after one’s skin. Much like how fad diets whose sole function is to shed kilos have been rejected in favour of more sustained wholesome lifestyles.

Another likely factor: the rise of numerous indie or “millennial” brands like Drunk Elephant, Sunday Riley and Saturday Skin, which generally target younger women for whom traditional anti-ageing lingo like “fighting wrinkles” and “firming skin” aren’t very relevant or appealing. Instead, these brands put a more positive and fresh spin on skincare, using upbeat words that run along the lines (pardon the pun) of “radiance”, “glow”, “vitality” and “renewal”.

“The term ‘antiageing’ just feels a little backwards, disingenuous and marketing-driven. You never hear people worrying about how their liver or stomach is ageing – they just know that if they don’t take care of themselves, they won’t be in good health for long,” says Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant.

“It’s the same with our skin, our largest organ. We need to respect its basic needs, give it more of the things that keep it healthy, while avoiding those that cause it stress. By doing this, you’re going to have skin that ages more gracefully with time,” she says.

Even the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health has weighed in on this issue. In a June 2018 report that surveyed 2,000 people on their attitudes towards ageing, the health education body found that three in five respondents believed they would become less attractive as they aged. Half the women say they feel pressured to look young.

The findings were worrying enough for the Royal Society to urge major retailers and beauty magazines to ditch the term “anti-ageing”, and rethink their narratives about ageing.

“All human beings – at all stages of life – are ageing in their own way, as a natural consequence of being alive. To be ‘anti-ageing’ makes no more sense than being ‘antilife’,” said the report’s authors.

Of course, this doesn’t spell the end for antiageing skincare per se. Not when the global market in 2020 is said to be worth US$42.51 billion (S$57.5 billion) and is expected to hit US$55 billion by 2025, according to market research firm Market Data Forecast. On top of that, a United Nations report says that almost every country in the world is seeing an increase in the size and proportion of older people in their population. Do the math – the customer pool is only going to get bigger.

What the new tack in anti-ageing has brought on is a boom in products that work towards skin’s long-term health, rather than specifically fighting wrinkles or sagging. Some are premised on supporting skin’s natural abilities so it can continue to function smoothly. Others still use conventional anti-ageing ingredients, like retinol, AHAs and antioxidants, but couch the benefits in more age-inclusive terms such as “luminosity”, “freshness” and “energising”.

Take Estee Lauder’s new Advanced Night Repair serum, for instance, first launched in 1982 and a forerunner of the current wave of health-skewed skincare. Angie Leng, Estee Lauder Singapore’s education manager, says the serum came about when Estee Lauder scientists discovered that skin has a natural repair mechanism that peaks at night.

 “The original formula was the first product developed to help skin repair and recover from the visible effects of UV light exposure. Working in sync with the skin’s own natural processes, it boosted skin’s renewal process and repaired the visible signs of ageing during the restorative hours of sleep,” she says.

Since then, other players have launched their version of “universal” products said to help users of all ages improve skin health and resilience – without explicitly calling them “anti-ageing”.

Lancome’s Advanced Genifique serum, for one, works like a probiotic supplement to balance skin’s microflora; SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence and Albion’s Floral Drip are nutrient-rich ferments said to improve various aspects of skin; and Chanel’s Blue Serum promises to keep skin healthy, using botanical ingredients drawn from the world’s Blue Zones – places where people have extraordinary longevity. Underlying these products is the assumption that healthy skin that can properly carry out all its natural processes will then look radiant, smooth and, yes, youthful.

“I’m not sure notions of skin ageing have changed as much as the preferred method of getting there. Never before have we had as many options – including lasers, Botox and fillers – to make the skin look younger,” says Masterson. “[The anti-ageing market] has also gotten younger, thanks to social media and reality TV. Now, everyone is obsessed. I think the industry is targeting all ages,” she says.