PARIS — Sonsoles Gonzalez began noticing changes to her hair beginning in her early 40s. “I used to have very thick, full, long hair, and I started feeling like my ponytail was shrinking, it was very dry,” she said. “I knew it was because of hormonal changes.”
So the seasoned beauty executive — who’d worked at L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble, where she steered Pantene globally — set out to understand the phenomenon and launched the Better Not Younger brand in March.
“Nobody is talking to these women,” said Gonzalez. “I knew that most briefs were targeting women 18 to 44, and it was even a little bit of a joke inside [the industry]: What happens with women when they’re 45? They disappear.”
Not so anymore.
Generation X is starting to seem less like the lost generation as beauty brands such as Groupe Clarins, Korres and Trinny London introduce products focusing on women in their 40s and older.
“We are seeing a higher number of products that target a very specific concern, as opposed to general ‘antiaging’ ones,” said Newby Hands, beauty director of Net-a-porter. “The focus is now not on age, but on specific individual concerns, whether that is pigmentation or dullness. That means now women really can build a more personalized wardrobe of products that they use as and when needed, rather than sticking to exactly the same regimen day in and day out.”
After years of industry attention on Millennials and Boomers, a confluence of factors is today causing the spotlight to shine brightly on Gen Xers.
First, there’s the sheer number of them, who are active and living longer than ever before. The 50-and-over set is the fastest-growing population segment in many countries, including China and the U.K. By 2025, half of Japan’s population will be older than 50, according to Euromonitor International.
By 2022, women aged above 55 will make up 32 percent of the U.S.’ female population, a Mintel report said.
And next year, 50 million women in the U.S. will be 51 or older, around the time most woman reach menopause. Close to 70 million women in the U.S. are in some stage of menopause, according to estimates.
This critical mass is helping dispel the longstanding belief held by many that mentioning “menopause” above a whisper is taboo.
So, too, the advent of more mature beauty ambassadors such as Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore and Isabella Rossellini. Plus, there’s the older generation of beauty influencers, including Tricia Cusden, Park Makrye and Nichole Grice.
Gen Xers have deep pockets. A group of 40 million American women 50-plus are said to represent more than $15 trillion in purchasing power and have been called the most attractive generation ever.
“They’ve got no intention of retiring,” Vivienne Rudd, director of innovation and insight, beauty and personal care at Mintel, said of Gen Xers. “So you have got this large working population that has busy social lives, family lives. The old adage that marketing teams used to use — the over-50s don’t use beauty products because they stopped worrying about their appearances — just isn’t true anymore.
“Aging isn’t about demographics or chronology anymore,” she continued. “It’s all about how you feel about your life stage, about yourself. There’s no cookie-cutter image for older women anymore — at least there shouldn’t be.”
Some companies are listening.
“A few disruptive brands have seen the potential of this space,” said Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecaster WGSN. “U.S.-based Pause Well-Aging offers a portfolio to tackle menopausal skin concerns: a Fascia Stimulating Tool to improve elasticity and minimize sagging, Hot Flash Cooling Mist and Collagen Boosting Moisturizer, for example.
“In the U.K., Boots No7 has done a similar job, in designing huge campaigns specifically for Gen X, focused on their inner beauty as well as their outer beauty,” she continued.
According to the recent Mintel “Diversity in Beauty” report, 26 percent of British consumers polled said that “not catering for my age group” is the most likely reason for them to be discouraged from using a beauty or grooming brand. For women ages 45 to 64, that rises to 35 percent, and 41 percent of women age 65-plus.
Brands have long had trouble figuring out how to speak to the Gen X consumer.
“I’ve heard people say we are more like Millennials in our tech habits and more like Boomers in our mind-set,” said Didi Gluck, content director at Manifest LLC, an agency where she launched The Plum, an editorial platform targeting women over 40. “Personally, as a Gen Xer, I don’t think either statement is true. I think we are quite distinct.”
Often lumped together with Boomers (as in everyone older than 40), Gen X women tend to share more traits with their daughters’ generation than their mothers’.
Gluck believes that in speaking to such a well-informed demographic, a pitfall can be overselling a product’s benefits. “Keep the benefits really well-defined and realistic,” she said. “Another challenge is how to talk to us.”
“The conversation in beauty today is all about diversity. Unfortunately, I think [that’s] more around racial diversity, color diversity, even gender fluidity, but very little around age diversity, and that’s part of the big problem,” said Oscar Yuan, president at brand, marketing and innovation consultancy Ipsos Strategy3.
He noted whereas the language used to describe “antiaging” beauty — with words like “concealing,” “erasing” or “hiding” — often with the Millennial psychographic in mind, the maturer beauty consumer tends to be comfortable in her own skin (literally), so they’re more about creating a glow or radiance, looking healthy rather than looking wrinkle-free.
Groupe Clarins is targeting the 60-plus crowd with its upcoming Nutri-Lumière line, set to launch globally in February.
“What we have discovered by studying and listening to women is that there are a lot of requests from women aging, after 60, looking for a response to the dryness of their skin, that their skin was losing luminosity,” said Jonathan Zrihen, Groupe Clarins chief executive officer.
For the formulas, Clarins laboratories worked primarily with the flower and fruit of the horse chestnut tree.
“We really tried to make sure that people will see the benefit visually and feel it in terms of their skin improvement,” said Zrihen.
Clarins named Claudia Maria Ferreira da Costa, a 57-year-old champion fencer, as the face of the new line.
While Clarins executives would not discuss numbers, industry sources estimate the Nutri-Lumière range will generate upward of 100 million euros in first-year retail sales.
The line should tap into Clarins’ consumer base that is growing older as well as help recruit new female consumers, according to Zrihen.
“The science behind skin care and anti-aging has made the beauty sector more trusted and credible for this group,” said Clare Varga, head of beauty at WGSN. “This is a consumer group that values results and is happy to spend on something that works.”
Greek beauty company Korres is poised in January to roll out abroad its year-old White Pine Meno-Reverse collection of products for post-menopausal women, which comes with the tag line “aging is a fact of life — looking your age is not.”
The Volumizing Serum-in-Moisturizer and Deep Wrinkle Plumping + Age Spot Concentrate contain white pine bark, said to restore skin density and volume to pre-menopausal levels.
Korres’ all-female research-and-development team wanted to better understand the biological impact on skin with the onset of menopause.
“You lose 30 percent of collagen, 30 percent of lipids and there’s a 36 percent reduction in cell reproductivity,” said Robert DeBaker, president of Korres.
That can result in loss of skin firmness, enlarged pores and sensitive skin. Women might find that their moisturizers remain on the top layer of their skin, which has become thicker, and they also get a surge in age spots.
“Up to this point, the common thought process was you hit the age of 50, and suddenly you go for thicker, dense, super-hydrating formulas,” said DeBaker.
But that’s not what is needed, according to the Korres team, which sought to launch high-performance products with a thinner texture.
“The formula in our White Pine Meno-Reverse product is 11 times more effective on women going through menopause than women who are pre-menopause,” said DeBaker, adding: “It’s still effective if you’re pre-menopausal.”
How best to talk to women older than 45 has long eluded marketers.
Through focus groups, Korres learned that women of that demographic are looking for a sense of community. So the company started a social media community where people can virtually come together to share information on what they’re experiencing and discuss what works for them.
Korres had kept expectations low for Pine Meno-Reverse, but the line’s been doubling targets, according to said DeBaker.
Better Not Younger’s Gonzalez noticed that advertising addressing women over 45 or 50 typically employed old stereotypes — women in retirement, with their grandchildren or taking cruises.
“I couldn’t see myself in that picture,” she said. “I knew none of my friends would, because they’re all starting up new things or still working.”
Instead, she “wanted to show women celebrating age, feeling empowered.”
For her first photo shoot, Gonzalez couldn’t get any modeling agencies to send her women older than 45 or 50. So she called two close friends to model.
“We did not retouch a single picture,” she said. “They are gorgeous as they are.”
For the second shoot, the executive contacted other people she’d met, noting, “Women really want to be part of this movement.”
For her product line, Gonzalez hired an MIT scientist who helped clarify that as women get older, follicles shrink, causing hair to be thinner and with a slower growth cycle. Further, one’s body produces a lot less sebum, making hair dryer and more brittle. Graying is due to less melanin, and the scalp’s skin becomes thinner, too.
“Because of all these changes, you are trying to compensate,” said Gonzalez. “You start using more styling products…and start coloring every four, six weeks. It’s like the perfect storm. Your hair is going through enormous changes — it’s a lot more vulnerable — but you’re adding the harshest chemistry you can possibly think of on your scalp and hair. Your hair is starting to feel very dry. Your scalp is very vulnerable and irritated with all the chemistry. Your pores are clogging, and that’s also hindering healthy hair growth.”
Her 12-unit product range works on the scalp, hair and at the nutritional level. There is the Activated Charcoal Scalp cleanser with a brush built in; a serum without alcohol; products with vitamins, and gummies with collagen, for instance.
“Our philosophy is really to work from the inside out,” said Gonzalez.
And to get to the point on Instagram and Facebook.
“[Women] respond very positively to our advertising,” she said. ”They don’t want us to beat around the bush. Whenever the ad or the communication says ‘hair care for mature hair’ or ‘for women over 45,’ they get it and click on it. Our highest click-through rates are the ones that directly say what we are.”
Beyond skin and hair care, makeup for Gen X has its own set of challenges for companies.
Gen X women are “looking for brands that give you inspiration, that don’t feel they are too young for you and make you feel cool — or a little bit more than safe,” according to Trinny Woodall, the British TV personality who launched her upscale Trinny London color cosmetics collection in October 2017.
“They’re also rethinking their routine,” said Woodall. “I think we can do our makeup in stages of 10-year stints, and then we wake up and think, ‘Hmmm, my face has changed. Can I still do that smoky eyeliner I learned when I listened to Debbie Harry, age 13?’ And I think there is far more about the woman today wanting to feel totally ageless — not younger.”
Woodall prefers creams over powders and fashioned little transparent pots that click into stacks. Customers choose their colors and foundations based on questions about their eyes, hair and skin, then build up their own stacks or buy pre-made sets with names like Statement Lip.
At launch, Woodall thought the average basket would be about 55 pounds, but it was closer to 75 pounds, with women buying two or three items before returning to purchase more.
The bulk of Trinny London’s business is online, but it has three brick-and-mortar locations.
Rawness is important to Woodall, who says her brand’s media feed isn’t perfect and features women of every age. “I think that makes women feel very comfortable if they see somebody like themselves,” she said.
Together, Woodall and Trinny London’s social media platforms have about 1.5 million followers. On YouTube, the brand’s average watch time is 14 minutes. “I believe it’s all in the content, telling a story. It is so little in photography,” she said.
Woodall has real women try the brand, then images of that are posted on social, which she believes helps others buy online. The “Trinny Tribe” look book features 83 women, ages 16 to 81.
“You choose somebody who looks like you, and then you can see five or six different looks on each woman. That works very well; a lot of women buy through that,” she said. “I think what you want as a woman in this Generation X [is] to walk in a room and feel the energy in your face. You don’t look tired, just feel great. You don’t feel like somebody else.”
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