Ageism and anti-aging: think differently about wrinkle prevention

What is ageism and how does it affect the beauty industry?

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Curology Team
Apr 11, 2019 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If the beauty industry is any indication, the whole world seems to believe that aging is a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. We disagree — we believe aging is a privilege. When people talk about “anti-aging,” what they’re really talking about is preventing and repairing damage to the skin. Wrinkles, age spots, and loss of elasticity, firmness, or plumpness are caused more often by exposure to the sun’s harmful rays, smoking, and various other factors that can contribute to your skin’s health and youthful appearance, so not all of the blame can be laid on the inevitable passing of time. But some of the marketing out there twists a health issue into an aesthetic one, undermining women’s sense of worth based on how “old” they look in order to sell products that don’t really work.

People have always been interested in preventing the signs of aging. Think about the legend of the fountain of youth, for example, which has been around for thousands of years. (Check out this illuminating timeline explaining the history of anti-aging!) The emergence of “anti-aging” marketing, however, is a more recent phenomenon — and it’s changed the way we think about aging.

What is ageism?

You may have heard of ageism, but what is it? Ageism is a form of discrimination that is especially prevalent in the beauty industry. Age discrimination can take many forms in one’s professional and social life, especially for women.

The term “anti-aging” first emerged in the 80s, presenting the aging process as a negative transition to be avoided at all costs. This term is used consistently within the beauty industry, but it’s not just the choice of words that matters: it’s the imagery that often sends the strongest message. To promote their anti-aging products, many brands use young models, or gratuitously airbrush or Photoshop their models, to give consumers the idea that their products made the model look that good (hello, false advertising). These unrealistic, unattainable images are compounded by a pejorative tone against “looking old.” Their message is clear: growing old = becoming ugly and undesirable. That’s not the least bit true, but that’s the feeling the beauty industry has perpetuated in order to sell products and make a profit.

Fortunately, we’ve all been wising up to this harmful and misleading narrative in recent years. In 2018, an AARP survey reported that 61% of women say they do not feel represented by images of women in media; 58% say they are more likely to purchase products from brands that use models who look like them in their advertising; and three-quarters of women say they prefer more authentic portrayals of women of various ages in ads.

The disappearing act

Women have been writing about and making art reflecting their experiences with aging for as long as there’s been a double-standard against women as they age. The story of the “invisible woman,” Akiko Busch wrote, appears again and again in classic novels such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and movies such as Hello, My Name Is Doris, starring Sally Field. The invisible woman might be the actor no longer offered roles after her 40th birthday, the 50-year-old woman who can’t land a job interview, or the widow who finds her dinner invitations declining with the absence of her husband. She is the woman who finds that she is no longer the object of the male gaze — youth faded, childbearing years behind her, social value diminished,” Busch wrote.

This is what women are taught to fear about aging: becoming irrelevant and going unnoticed, just as they’ve grown into a more mature, confident, and powerful part of their lives. We’re taught that “it’s all downhill from here,” that nobody will want us or take us seriously anymore after we’ve hit a certain age. It doesn’t have to be this way! Of course none of this is true, but much of people in our society still behave as if it is. Getting so far in one’s life, and all the achievements and hard work that it takes to make it there, are things to be celebrated — not discouraged or ignored.

That said, we believe in age-defying skincare to maintain your skin’s health and natural beauty, not to “erase” the signs of aging. While the narrative of the beauty industry around aging can be problematic, we certainly aren’t opposed to taking advantage of the effective new technologies, and prescription ingredients like what you’ll get in your Curology custom formula, to protect and repair your skin from damage that can occur over the years. Over a decade ago, Olay was promising to erase fine lines and wrinkles; now there are microdermabrasion products, retinoids, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, peels, and minor cosmetic procedures such as lasers and fillers. The conversation around taking preventive measures has become more open, too. For example, it used to be much more taboo to admit to having Botox injections or fillers done, but now plenty of younger women are getting these done as preventive measures and sharing their results on social media. Hey, no judgment here! We support whatever responsible, effective, healthy measures Curology members want to take to get the look they desire.

That said, there are a few myths around skin aging that we’d like to debunk. In case you haven’t noticed, we love to debunk myths!

Myths about aging and your skin

  1. Facial exercises can fix wrinkles. Nope. So-called “face yoga” or other facial exercise regimens may feel nice and relaxing, but they have not been proven to reduce wrinkles or tighten up the skin on your face and neck. Facial exercise regimens have been touted to help lift, firm, tone and reduce wrinkles — and maybe they do? It’s certainly possible, as we do see the benefit of exercise on non-facial areas, but there’s no telling which exercises help and which ones may give results that aren’t as… aesthetically pleasing. A regimen of at-home facial exercises maintained for 20 weeks seemed to improve mid-face and lower face fullness in one small study, which lacked a control group. The benefits of sun protection and not smoking are way more reliable! To prevent and smooth fine lines and wrinkles, try prescription-strength ingredients such as topical retinoids, which you can get in your Curology custom formula. The only way to effectively reduce existing deep wrinkles is with in-office procedures such as Botox, filler injections, or light and laser treatments.

  2. Wrinkles are formed by smiling too much. Not exactly. Even if it were true, what kind of life would it be if we avoided smiling in order to avoid wrinkles? (Answer: a pretty darn sad life, indeed.) Technically, if you never smiled or frowned or made any other facial expressions, your skin might not make certain creases, but that’s impossible! Don’t worry: smile away. To avoid wrinkles, apply sunscreen every day, and use your custom Curology formula every night as directed.

  3. You don’t need to wear sunscreen if you have a darker skin tone. Definitely not true! Having more melanin in your skin technically provides some protection against the sun’s harmful rays, but not enough to make sunscreen unnecessary. Wearing sunscreen every day is important for preventing damage to the skin, as well as skin cancer, for everybody!

Read more: 8 “anti-aging” skincare myths, debunked

Reconsider how you think about aging

We’re all for taking charge of your skin’s unique journey by using the right ingredients to protect, restore, and pamper it — but let’s not be so “anti-” about aging. As we get older, we can fight back against stereotypes and the erasure of our authentic appearance by wearing and baring our skin with pride. Curology is for everyone — whether you’re trying to prevent wrinkles and age spots, or trying to reduce them, we’ve got a custom formula with your name on it. Sign up for a free trial at curology.com and begin embracing your skin’s natural beauty, the healthy way. ❤

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