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First, Do No Harm: The Birth of the Wellness-First Antiaging Skin-care Movement

Health of the skin, and the skin barrier, is driving efforts for wellness-minded consumers — but they're not leaving Botox behind.

The antiaging segment is getting a wellness-minded makeover. 

Instead of damaging underlayers of skin in order to prompt plumping and cell turnover, a new crop of up-and-coming skin-care brands is taking a different approach to antiaging. Rather than offering harsh treatments that yield “instant” results, these lines center around the health of the skin barrier and target glowing results over wrinkle-free ones. Some advocates of the philosophy advise avoiding antiaging staples — like Retinol, lasers or acids, as well as some forms of micro-needling — altogether. 

The concept isn’t exactly new, pointed out Vicky Tsai, the founder of Tatcha, who noted that in Eastern cultures, skin health has been at the center of skin care for a long time. But in Western cultures, especially the U.S., consumers have long opted for a problem-solution approach over holistic thinking. 

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“It starts as early as our teenage years when we start developing oil production on the skin and we go straight toward the things with alcohol and dry the skin out,” Tsai said. “It’s really aggressive, honestly.” 

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But for a subset of today’s consumers, the shift to self care — skin care included — means a different approach to aging.

“To a point, there is a lot more acceptance of skin’s natural aging — wrinkles are a part of it,” said Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst for The NPD Group, who noted skin-care sales continue to gain. “When you bubble it up to what’s driving [skin-care growth], it’s wellness. It’s across every industry, not just beauty.” 

Within skin care, gains are coming from SPF products — an indication consumers are thinking preventively — and from “basic skin care…that is about maintaining the skin,” Jensen said. 

The evolution in antiaging is evidenced by the astronomical growth of brands that center around the skin-health philosophy: Tatcha, Barbara Sturm and young-but-cult-y Augustinus Bader serve as prime examples. 

“One approach [to antiaging] is the old way — damaging to start a healing process,” said Barbara Sturm, who offers high-end skin-care products and services favored by celebrities and TriBeCa moms. “But what you do at the same time by damaging the skin, you also make your skin barrier so vulnerable [to] stressors like sun and pollution and everything coming from outside.” 

The Next Wave of Antiaging Skin
Barbara Sturm’s line of drops aims to keep the skin barrier healthy.

Sturm’s products center around keeping those things out — her Sun Drops and Anti Pollution Drops retail for $145 — but welcoming other ingredients, like the Vitamin E, purslane and sunflower extract found in her $250 Calming Serum, in. 

“Instead of weakening the skin, let’s make our skin strong and healthy and functioning,” Sturm said. “Why not make our skin barrier the best place to be?” 

Sturm’s philosophy is catching on. The business is expected to double sales for 2019, according to industry sources, to $40 million in retail sales. It is slated to launch later this year with Sephora in the U.S., online and in 11 stores.

“People understand now that healthy skin is glowy skin. They understand that when you have healthy skin, you don’t need to wear makeup,” Sturm continued. “It’s a whole philosophy. We want to all try to not get sick, to keep our body in shape, do our sports, eat healthy food — healthy everything. And then, with skin care, we are so aggressive with our skin. It doesn’t fit together.”

Tatcha, a geisha-oriented skin-care line, was launched by Tsai 10 years ago with blotting papers and has expanded to a full range of products meant to cleanse, moisturize and treat the skin. Devoted customers are aiming for healthy, glowing skin. Tatcha is on track to do $200 million in retail sales for 2019, up more than 40 percent from 2018, industry sources said. Unilever just paid nearly $500 million to acquire the brand.

While the U.S. market makes up a significant portion of overall brand sales, Tsai said consumers there are frequently undereducated when it comes to skin.  

The Next Wave of Antiaging Skin
Tatcha’s product line centers around skin-care rituals.

Tatcha’s products are meant to work with the skin’s rate of declamation and synthesis, Tsai said, or the shedding and developing of new skin cells. Babies shed and create new skin cells quickly, but older people do not, and that can lead to dullness or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation showing up on the top layers of the skin, she noted. Her $65 Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder, which is meant to be frothed into a foam for a non-abrasive exfoliation experience, is meant to help reduce the appearance of fine lines, uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation and breakouts.

“When you do things like exfoliate gently every single day, what you’re doing is you’re trying to keep up the rate of cell turnover, which is what is keeping it acting like baby skin,” Tsai said. 

The Next Wave of Antiaging Skin
Augustinus Bader’s namesake skin-care range.

At Augustinus Bader, the brand’s three products center around TFC8, a proprietary technology that aims to guide nutrients to the skin’s stem cells to prompt renewal. The idea, according to cofounder Charles Rosier, is “about empowering the body and helping natural processes.” 

For Augustinus Bader, that means using The Cream or The Rich Cream (both $265) to get the right nutrients into skin cells “so they can potentially work at their best,” Rosier said. He noted that skin cells naturally are programmed for good skin, but external factors and aging can make it “harder and harder for them to do their job.” 

“We can have a positive influence on them to have them do their mission in the best possible way,” Rosier said. “Basically, this is wellness.” 

With just three products — Augustinus Bader introduced a $165 Body Cream in July — sales are expected to quadruple, to $24 million, for 2019, industry sources said.

While Tatcha, Barbara Sturm and Augustinus Bader have been able to develop cult followings, several other brands are taking a similar approach — especially when it comes to protecting the skin barrier. Kiehl’s, for example, has a section of its web site dedicated to the skin barrier, and influencer Liah Yoo’s Krave Beauty, an indie brand, just launched Great Barrier Relief serum, $28, which is meant to restore damaged skin barriers. In London, Harley Street plastic surgeon Yannis Alexandrides launched 111Skin in order to help heal skin.

According to celebrity aesthetician Georgia Louise, taking a more holistic approach to skin care often comes as part of taking a more holistic approach to everything — diet and mental health, included. 

“We all know that if you have a healthy lifestyle, if you have a healthy immune system and if you have a healthy gut, you have healthy skin,” said Louise, who counts Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett among celebrity clients. 

She sees patients regularly, and between visits encourages them to keep up their skin treatments at home with devices like her own Pulse and Glo Ion Enhancer, $165, which is meant to help push skin-care ingredients deeper into skin and stimulate blood circulation. 

Louise has given more than 35,000 treatments during her career, and said caring for skin gently can definitely yield age-defying results, though not immediately. “The other side that’s nurturing their skin for a long time I think will get even better results [than those using harsh treatments],” she noted. 

Despite her noninvasive approach to the skin, which includes things like light therapy, microcurrent and “gentle peels,” she acknowledged that not all her antiaging-minded clients are looking to eschew needles, lasers and the like. 

For that subset of the population, healing-centric skin-care lines are part of a broader skin equation that includes fillers, Botox, lasers and other more invasive procedures. 

“You get certain clients that are vegan and are more into running and [making] health-conscious decisions and will stay away from anything invasive, but the majority of my clients want the machines and invasive treatments,” Louise said. For her clients, the brand has included procedures like threading, where a thread under the skin helps lift it and stimulate collagen; fraxel, a laser that can target wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and scarring but takes upward of a week to recover from, and, for one 35-year-old client, a face lift. 

For those consumers, it’s about “instant results,” Louise said. 

Clients at Good Skin, which offers Botox, fillers, lasers and other aesthetic services in New York and Los Angeles, are generally seeking to look “healthier, fresher, younger,” said Lisa Goodman, physician assistant and founder. She’s become known for the “untouched look,” where considerable amounts of work could have taken place, but the client winds up looking rested rather than like a Kardashian lookalike. Clients span ages 20 to 90, she said. 

Goodman, who worked as a dermatologist for 10 years, said she curates “clean lines that are also based in science, meaning clinical level ingredients” at her offices.

She is not on the healing-skin-to-antiage train.

“In terms of exfoliation versus healing, what 12 years of clinical has taught me, and also lots of lasers…is that you need both. One does not supersede the other,” Goodman said.

Her clients are conscious of what they’re putting in and on their bodies, Goodman said, but once she explains that fillers have no preservatives and Botox is basically old bacteria mixed with salt water, “[they use] science to make that judgment.”

Goodman acknowledged that lasers without proper pre- and post-care — including avoiding the sun on both sides of the procedure — can cause hyperpigmentation, but said the idea that lasers make skin thinner over time is not true. The key, she said, with lasers, acids, etc., is “not overdoing it.”

“The only people I’ve seen harm their skin are the people who are like, ‘I’m going to put these two acids on every day without a cream to help my skin barrier.’ It’s all balance,” Goodman said. She  “fundamentally disagrees” with the idea that one wouldn’t need to damage under layers of skin to prompt cell renewal, suggesting advocates of that practice should “wonder why Retin-A has worked so well for like, 30 or 40 years.”

There is one ingredient — bakuchiol — that falls on the gentler side and is said to mimic the results of retinol, that has piqued her interest, however. She’s even considered creating a skin cream with it, she said.

“Show me a clinical study, and I’ll be like, ‘OK, this is amazing.'”