NEW YORK--Cosmetics companies are grappling with an apparent paradox: The U.S. population is aging, but it's getting younger in attitude. For beauty industry executives, the combination is presenting an unprecedented marketing opportunity--and a challenge. "Forty is now like 30. Fifty is like 40," said Tony Michaels, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for Biotherm, who described the trend as the "down-aging" of America. "Before, the daughter bought what her mother used," said Michaels. "Today, the mother buys what her daughter uses." Cosmetics executives say the younger the consumer feels, the more products she is likely to use. That's particularly true for treatment items. But this new group of young-thinking consumers, dominated by baby boomers in their mid-30s to 50, is not out to deceive the world about its age. Rather, executives and marketing experts describe the generation as feeling pretty comfortable in its skin. "We have entered an era of age irrelevance," explained Ross Goldstein, whose San Francisco-based consulting firm, Generation Insights, studies consumer behavior. "Numbers don't mean what they used to. There's been a significant relaxing of the standards of beauty." Boomers find the aging process "less threatening," Goldstein said, because they look around and see everyone else getting older, too. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of 45-to-64-year-olds increased by 10.2 percent from 1990 to 1994. It is the fastest-growing segment of the population. The number of women and men age 65 and older also expanded at a rapid clip, rising 6.7 percent. By contrast, the number of 25-to-44-year-olds grew by only 3 percent, and the number of 18-to-24-year-olds decreased by 6.3 percent. "It's very different growing older--reaching middle age--in a culture where you're the dominant group, as opposed to our parents, who grew older when the theme was 'don't trust anyone over 30,' " Goldstein said. "Now it's hard to find anyone under 30." Because of less culturally defined age limitations--it is no longer as uncommon as it once was for a woman to have her first child at age 40--experts say the boomer generation feels less constrained by the passage of time. And having reaped the benefits of better nutrition, exercise and medical advances, the group actually feels younger than its counterparts of past generations. This modern condition bodes well for the beauty industry in one tangible way. For their exteriors to match their interiors, cosmetics executives say, consumers are turning to the treatment category. In turn, the overall U.S. skin care market, estimated by industry consultant Allan Mottus to be $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion at wholesale, is growing at a double-digit rate. In the past, executives explain, treatment products consisted of little more than basic cold creams and moisturizers. That, coupled with an attitude that mothers couldn't lead very active lives after their children were grown, made women resigned to looking older. By contrast, Jean Hoehn Zimmerman, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Chanel, said treatment's "future is guaranteed over the next 10 years because of the incredible need for moisturizers." Chanel's treatment business increased by close to 30 percent in 1994, Zimmerman said, and is expected to grow at least 20 percent this year, fed in part by the new Day Lift Plus, targeted at women over 35. The company's skin care category has doubled in the last six years, she added. Chanel's skin care business has been estimated by industry sources at $30 million wholesale. Eunice Valdivia, executive vice president of marketing and finance at Clinique, emphasized that it's not enough for a product to be "anti-aging." Instead, she said, women are looking for skin care products that solve specific problems associated with growing older, particularly dryness. To capture that crowd, Clinique is developing an "optimum moisturizer," Valdivia said. The company also recently launched Daily Eye Saver, an eye cream that can be applied over makeup. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the baby boomers' craving for treatment is the enormous alpha-hydroxy acid market. Practically every cosmetics company offers an acid-based product, and in most cases the item is among the line's bestsellers, from Avon's Anew to Estee Lauder's Fruition. "Everything slows down as you get older," Valdivia said. "Exfoliation should be revved up, and that's the basis of Turnaround Cream." Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of marketing at Lauder, said aging women also are concerned about the loss of firmness, which led the company to develop Resilience, a firming moisturizer that was launched in December 1993, as well as oil-free and eye spinoffs of the product. "Prevention is critical," Gonzalez said. "Women today are very aware that by taking better care of themselves they can control the aging process and how they look and feel. Women want to be in control." Gonzalez said Lauder's treatment business is keeping pace with the overall industry, growing by a double-digit percentage. Margaret Sharkey, senior vice president of marketing and deputy general manager at Lancome, said the "attitudinally young" are forcing companies to be more innovative in product development. She cited Expressive, the eye treatment Lancome launched last fall, as an example. Expressive's oil-free cream-gel formula appeals to the target audience, Sharkey said, because of its light texture and environmental protection. In addition, she said, the pump bottle, in place of the traditional eye cream jar, gives the impression of "extreme pureness." Executives also pointed to strong growth in sun protection products and the overnight sensation of anti-cellulite treatments as signs of the boomers' desire to look as young as they feel. But executives are quick to note that the burgeoning treatment market does not mean this audience is an easy sell. In fact, they say, the opposite is true. Each executive interviewed stressed that women have become far savvier consumers, and Goldstein said he has seen a subtle shift away from the "magical remedy" campaigns of the past. "Certainly you can't overpromise," Sharkey said, adding that consumers "are more inquisitive." "They want to know how and why," she added. "It's a more sophisticated customer." Although executives agree the treatment market is the primary beneficiary of the "down-aging" trend, many said the makeup business is also reaping the rewards of a more youthful middle age. Companies are hard at work developing color cosmetics, particularly lipsticks and eye makeup, that stay in place, as well as products with light-reflecting properties flattering to aging skin. Zimmerman said the color category is "exploding because of the longer span of working years." "We have people working in their 60s and 70s," she said. "Twenty years ago, that was unheard of." Lipsticks that are long-lasting, non-feathering and non-bleeding, such as Chanel's new Matte Creme variety, are especially hot right now, Zimmerman said, noting, "Those three claims are the primary claims for women over 40." She said Matte Creme triggered a 15 percent increase in the company's color cosmetics sales in February. At Avon, where most of the products target the over-35 customer, recent makeup introductions have included Perfect Wear lipstick, which the company claims does not bleed; Anew Perfect Foundation, a base makeup with alpha- hydroxy acid, and Incredible Lengths Mascara, which was designed to fill in the lashes that aging women complain they are losing. Lynn Emmolo, vice president of cosmetics, toiletries and fragrance marketing at Avon, said Incredible Lengths sold 10 times the number of units a regular Avon mascara launch would. Avon is preparing to launch another treatment-infused foundation later this year. Emmolo said it will offer light coverage. "We're really focusing on enhancement versus covering up," she said. Similarly, Lauder launched Enlighten, a light-coverage foundation, in January, and Clinique plans to follow suit in May with Almost Makeup, a lightweight, sheer foundation. "It used to be you had to hide something," Valdivia said. "You don't have to hide anything today." Many of the changes taking place in the industry go beyond product development. Executives contend that as the consumer's attitude toward aging evolves, so must the industry's. "It changes the words you use to communicate. Maybe 'young' is the wrong word," Sharkey said. "Maybe we shouldn't say 'young,' but we should say 'rejuvenated.' " Clinique went so far as to remove the name "Young Face" from two blushers it introduced back in 1968. Valdivia said the name "sounded as if we were applauding being younger." The company decided that youth as a goal is not only unattainable but also silly. "It's really important to be blatantly loud in saying it's OK to add a year," Valdivia added. The images a company uses are just as important as the copy, executives say, in communicating the self-acceptance boomers crave. The trendy use of older-than-usual models has been well documented, but these women are generally supermodels of yesteryear, from Christie Brinkley to Lauren Hutton. Avon's Anew ads, on the other hand, feature women solidly in their 40s and even 50s who are not only attractive, but look like real women. "It's not to say we don't want to give [consumers] aspirational beauty, but we also want to give them reality," Emmolo said. "I don't think they necessarily relate to younger, trendier models. We want to show beauty in a different place." Clinique began using portraits of women of all ages at its counters about two years ago, and Valdivia noted, "We don't air-brush out their wrinkles." Speaking in her dual role as cosmetics executive and a consumer, Valdivia proclaimed, "There's nothing wrong with having a wrinkle here or furrows or a frown line. That's living." After a lengthy model search in which Uma Thurman, a poster child for the Generation X group of consumers aged 18 to 30, reportedly was considered, Lauder signed an actress with a more mature image--Elizabeth Hurley. Although Hurley herself is only 29, Lauder's Gonzalez said she appeals to women of all ages. "Elizabeth Hurley has a timeless face," Gonzalez said. The company may even use Hurley in its Resilience campaign. Chanel opted out of the model debate altogether for its new Day Lift Plus campaign, choosing instead to feature a "product as glory" shot. "We feel the model we use for color cosmetics is too young," Zimmerman explained. "People object to the use of a very young model for skin care, particularly for women over 35. It doesn't ring true." Still, women don't want to be told they're old. As a Yankelovich Partners study for Clinique found, the age that women believe to be the "end of youth" is 54. Comparing her own outlook with her mother's, Valdivia said with some astonishment, "I remember what my mother used to say when she was hitting 40--that life was over."
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