Forget "40 is the new 30." Now even twentysomethings are joining the quest for eternal youth by using anti-aging products and wrinkle treatments.
Some young adults say they want to reverse the effects the sun has already had on their skin. Others already are feeling social pressure to retain their fresh-faced looks.
"Instead of starting when you’re 40 or 45, you might as well start now," says Joanne Katsigiannis, a 24-year-old from suburban Chicago who’s been using anti-aging products for about two years.
Like a lot of people her age, Katsigiannis once spent hours at tanning booths and out in the sun without using much sunscreen. She thought she looked better tan, until she realized her skin was starting to scar.
For Leslie Speyers, it’s as much about keeping up appearances as anything.
"Vanity is probably the main reason I started using anti-aging products, as superficial as it is," says Speyers, a 24-year-old who works for a publishing company in Grand Rapids, Mich. She notes that maintaining a youthful look is a common worry among her friends – including one who’s begun to dye her dark brown hair to hide some gray and another who uses skin-firming lotion on her legs because she thinks they look too flabby.
Both genders agree that women bear the brunt of this kind of anti-aging pressure – though not exclusively.
"For guys my age, investing in your face is less of a priority than investing in a house or car," says Josh Levitt, a 23-year-old in Laguna Beach, Calif. Still, even he has started using anti-aging products at the urging of his mother, who wants him to preserve his "golden boy" looks, as she puts it.
Levitt’s product of choice is a moisturizer with sunscreen made by British company Zirh. Speyers uses a Mary Kay anti-aging moisturizer on her face and neck and a L’Oreal eye wrinkle cream, while Katsigiannis uses products made by Neaclear, a brand developed by Dr. Sam Speron, a plastic surgeon in suburban Chicago.
Speron created his product line with women ages 35 to 55 in mind. But he’s found that about a quarter of those who’ve purchased it at his practice and online store are younger than 30.
"It’s a little surprising, but I can’t say it’s shocking," Speron says. He sees young adults as more educated about the effects of aging, including skin cancer, and more focused on "maintaining what you have."
Tina Wells, the young CEO of the New York-based Buzz Marketing Group, thinks the focus on skin care also has grown out of a wish to avoid plastic surgery and Botox injections down the road.
Wells has had her own facial abrasion treatments, which exfoliate the skin in an attempt to keep wrinkles in check.
"I’m 25 – and I’m trying to keep up with the ‘Desperate Housewives,’" she says, noting the youthful appeal that even some baby boomers have.
Indeed, boomer women are grabbing the spotlight in ways women their age may not have in the past. Models Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs, for instance, have been on a recent campaign to take a popular catch-phrase one step farther by touting that "50 is the new 30."
And people are buying it.
"Now younger women are looking at these boomer women and saying ‘Wow, it’s not so bad growing older,’" says Denise Fedewa, a senior vice president at Chicago-based ad agency Leo Burnett who recently completed a study on women older than 45. "Maybe they’re as much the trendsetters as younger women."
It’s a phenomenon not just in this country but in much of the Western world, says Mair Underwood, an Australian researcher who’s examined attitudes about aging among boomers and others in her country.
Still, while she applauds people who want to take better care of themselves, she worries that an obsession with fending off age will cause young people, in particular, to struggle with the inevitable changes in their bodies later in life.
"Will we end up with a whole generation of individuals with low self-esteem?" asks Underwood, who’s based at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
Amy Flink, a 24-year-old Chicagoan, agrees that societal expectations can go overboard. She recently went for a free department store facial, only to have the clerk berate her about her freckles and the beginnings of tiny lines under her eyes.
That kind of harsh response, she says, "adds an extra level of paranoia and self-doubt – and how many people in their 20s need that?"
In the end, she bought eye cream from another store – but says she plans to keep such preventative measures in check. "I don’t think you always have to look 20 or 30," Flink says. "Aging is part of life and you should embrace it."