A holistic approach to beauty is key to changing our attitudes towards getting older
If one effort has transcended culture and history, it’s the quest for eternal youth. In an industry that champions “anti-aging,” creams, lotions, and potions have been joined by injectables and invasive surgery, promising years off your age. While some help, others are a marketing maneuver. However, women are becoming more educated, taking back the power of what it means to be beautiful – and with it, a more positive outlook on the inevitable.
“Eighty percent of skin aging is due to the environment and the way you are living,” says Armelle Souraud, scientific communication director at Chanel. Even after a seven-hour flight to Dubai for the launch of Chanel’s new generation of Le Lift, her skin glows. “Only 20% of skin aging is connected to your genes. That means you can do something about it.”
In 1927, Gabrielle Chanel set the philosophy for the house with her first collection of 15 skincare products, which included toners, creams, lotions, and soaps. She believed that luxury began with healthy skin and wished for her products to be simple, allowing women to take control of their natural beauty.” At Chanel, we don’t speak about age,” says Souraud. Instead, the focus has always been on the woman’s needs. “It’s not about using a product that is trendy, it’s about using it because you need it.”
Consistency is key with skincare. With busy lives, many women don’t always take the time to apply their skincare properly. Yet application is a vital moment and should both start and end your day. “It’s connected to wellbeing. It’s about feel-good beauty. Your mood should change. You want to do it because it feels good and you see the efficiency,” explains Souraud. It is also important to listen to your needs, especially when using active ingredients. “For young women, moisturizing comes first. Then you could start with Le Lift at 25 or 30 years old, when you feel that you need to reinforce your skin from within to avoid the appearance of visible signs of aging,” she says.
The pursuit of a youthful appearance dates back thousands of years almost to the dawn of civilization. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization in modern-day Pakistan were the earliest to develop powders to improve their complexion. The first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, sent members of his administration on a quest to discover the herb of immortality. Egyptian queen Cleopatra was said to have bathed in the milk of 700 donkeys to achieve her glow.
Only in the 19th century did anti-aging skincare enter its golden era, when mass production arrived alongside advertising and scare tactics. This became particularly prevalent in the 1920s. An Egyptian poster featuring American actor Jean Peters promoted Lux soap. In the advert, she says, “It makes your skin beautiful and hydrated. I always look youthful.” In the US, a poster for Palmolive soap read, “How can a wife expect to be alluring to her husband if she lets her complexion get dry, lifeless, old-looking?” This continued until the Seventies, when second-wave feminists began to question the industry. Images and slogans became more empowering, with the Nineties seeing big brands employ older spokespeople for campaigns. This, however, did little to change century-old beauty standards. “There are many fake terms in the industry in order to attract the attention of women,” says Lebanese beauty consultant and face fitness instructor Nathaly Chumachenko. The 44-year-old says of the phrase anti-aging, “It’s a fantastically unfortunate term.”
Social media further magnifies women’s insecurities about the process of aging. “Media and technology play a great role in today’s perception of beauty,” says 52-year-old makeup artist Hala Ajam. “Photoshop, filters, great lighting, and plastic surgery… Many people are doing everything.” Thirty-five-year-old Emirati/Iranian Zahra Lyla Khalil agrees. “With the rise of social media, aging can be damaging to your self-esteem because everyone is always so Facetuned and so young looking.” The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery shares that in 2018, the use of injectables had increased by 39%. Skin by Lovely, a provider of medical aesthetics in the US, noted that 30% of the women between 30 and 44 it surveyed had tried injectables, compared to less than 6% of women aged 50-70.
Women are more well informed than ever before. “I like to enhance what I already have with a little Botox. That never hurt anyone,” says Khalil. “It’s not about changing your entire face, it’s about enhancing it.” She uses injectables as part of a more holistic approach. “The steps I’ve taken to age gracefully are first and foremost to be happy. It does show on your face and skin. I eat right and drink lots of water and I never leave the house without sunscreen.”
A resounding feeling shared by every generation is that with age comes confidence. “It is this confidence that makes you look beautiful,” says Souraud. “It’s important to age gracefully.” With education and a better understanding of the beauty industry, women’s views on aging are shifting. They aren’t shying away from the inevitable, but rather planning for and embracing the changes ahead.
Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia