According to Gerontologists, language plays a significant role in how we feel about ourselves as we age and our perceptions about getting older. So how does the language choice of major beauty brands affect us, especially when it comes to anti-ageing products?
The term “anti-ageing” suggests that ageing is a negative process that should be slowed or even reversed. And many products claim to be able to do just that, despite the natural biological process soldiering on month by month, year by year.
While there has been a concerted effort to counter the anti-ageing rhetoric that the beauty industry is built upon and push for it to become more age inclusive, if you look at any beauty product page online it becomes clear that there is still a long way to go.
To find out the extent of how anti-age and pro-youth language is used to market products to older consumers, the data analysts at Lifestyle Packaging analysed the websites of 41 major beauty brands.
And the results are in.
The study reveals that “anti-age” language remains the dominant way brands sell beauty products aimed at older customers.
Despite calls for the beauty industry to drop the term and pledges being made such as the Age Without Apology campaign, the phrases anti-ageing and anti-ageing appeared almost 3,000 times across 730 pages (combined use).
Other terms that link the natural ageing process with loss and decline were also common across the brands’ product pages studied, with “loss” appearing 1919 times.
Similarly, mentions of youth, young and youthful were used 2,700 times within product descriptions, reinforcing the belief that younger-looking skin is the epitome of beauty and must be preserved as we get older.
Many brands used words and phrases that suggest their products could turn back the clock and reverse the 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.
When it comes to 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%).
Lifestyle Packaging used Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider tool to crawl each skincare brand’s website. We looked at mature skin product pages and searched through their text for a seed list of 75 specific words and phrases related to ageing skin. We only included category pages on the websites for mature skin products and the product pages within these specific categories.
We have ordered the brands by ‘age words per word’ to account for the fact that some brands have more products than others, and some write more on each page about their products. The resulting percentage is how much of the text used to advertise these products is using the age-targeted language from our master list.
It should be noted that this research was conducted in August 2022, and these websites are frequently updated as new marketing materials are uploaded.