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Old is the new beautiful

  • October 30, 2018

The Biblical patriarch Methuselah is said to have lived to the grand old age of 969. He may be what statisticians call an ‘outlier’, but there can be no doubt that these days most of the world (not just the developed world) is living longer and will go on living longer. There are already 46,000 people over 100 years old in Japan. Other countries are catching up. The concepts of ‘old age’ and ‘the elderly’ will probably cease to exist in this new age of Methuselah, since so many people will be ‘old’ in our current sense. At 60, you will soon reasonably expect to live another 30 years or more.

But what do these changes mean for the cosmetics industry? Spending in cosmetics and personal care is already weighted toward the over 45s. This tendency will intensify. More of our products, more of our advertising, more of our ideas about what cosmetics and personal care actually is, will be driven by the needs and preferences of older people.

Here are 4 predictions of what we can expect:

First, while at present older consumers are increasingly targeted as a specific group, in the longer term there will be an erosion of distinctions in appearance and style across the generations. Older people will dress, look and consume much more like younger people. Or vice versa if you like – teens will scrutinise their grandparents for the latest trends. The idea of products targeting different age groups will fade away. We can already see this in the gradual change from ‘anti-ageing’ in cosmetic product claims, to a greater emphasis on broader concepts of wellness.

Second, any remaining generational distinctions in technology use will also disappear. Again, we can already see this with the rise of cosmetic vlogging by seniors. Social media trends will no longer be the domain of the so called ‘young’. But social media is individualistic in outlook and dominated by images. Like never before, we live in a world of mirrors. There is already evidence that social media encourages cosmetic use. The silver selfie is here to stay, and with it the impact on our industry.

Third, we will all be going out more often, meeting new people more often, and probably changing partners more in later life. The miserable prospect of decades of house-bound boredom will drive this trend. Senior generations will squeeze all the pleasure they can from the long-extended lease of life that once upon a time was called being ‘old’. And like it or not, we are going to have to work longer. The intensity of professional and social interaction which is encouraged by work and the spending power it brings will extend deep into the later years. But we will be looking and smelling our best in our silver social whirl, and feeling utterly confident in doing so.

Fourth, perhaps most importantly, the meaning of beauty itself will undergo an epochal reassessment. If you are in any doubt that the idea of beauty and associated body images are relative and contextual rather than essential and immutable, go take a stroll through an art gallery with a decent collection of Old Masters. You will see that the recent preoccupation with thinness (to take one example) is not written into our genes. In this unprecedented demographic shift, new ideals of beauty and, indeed, sexuality, will emerge. That will mean not just looking and feeling good. It will mean adapting to evolving conventions of how maturity and attractiveness are combined. Our industry will play its part by reflecting new concepts back to our consumers. Old will be the new beautiful.

All this is reason for optimism,  both for our industry and in general. None of us will live to 969, and probably would not want to. But we will increasingly see our later years as a phase of our life that is full of opportunity, a kind of beginning. There will be plenty of time for those little things we promised ourselves and never got round to. Time hopefully  to do the wise, good things that life will have taught us matter. More time to spend with those we love and more time to tell them that we love them. All with a dash of colour, and a hint of scent, of course.


John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe

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