I have no intention of trying to look 25 when I'm 65. And yet I still slather my face in anti-aging cream at night, as a "preventative" measure. But, upon reflection, what the hell am I trying to prevent?
It is nearly impossible to avoid the anti-aging machine, an industry goldmine that cranks out thousands of products promising eternal youth, or, at the very least, a postponement of our natural progression into old age. There are creams to fight off wrinkles, creams to fight off crow's feet, injections to erase laugh lines, and surgeries to lift one's face up in order to create an illusion of youth. But is any of it really worth it?
Writing for the LA Times, Stacie Stukin explores the "youth in a bottle" phenomenon, finding that for many women, anti-aging creams are as essential as everyday necessities like toothpaste and deodorant. Even with the knowledge that many of these overpriced creams may not really work, women cling to them, choosing to believe they are working, if only for peace of mind." 44-year-old Sharyn Belkin Locke tells Stukin that she remains loyal to her pricey brand because she doesn't trust anything else, even if the product doesn't exactly produce the results it promises: "There are so many products out there that claim to do this or that. Do you really ever see that kind of difference? I never do."
I use a drugstore anti-aging cream that costs about 20 bucks and makes my skin feel really nice. It also doesn't burn my sensitive skin, which is a plus. I started using it at 25, in a panic, after I read that women should begin an anti-aging routine at that age to stave off the aging process as long as possible. I already have crow's feet and laugh lines, due to, you know, laughing a lot, and having an eating disorder for seven years didn't help things either. But after a while I realized that my skin was not improving because of the anti-aging cream as much as it was improving because I was maintaining a healthy weight and eating well. The internal changes I was making, versus the external, were what was showing on my face. I still have laugh lines and crow's feet, but I like them, and I don't use the cream to "fight off" the aging process anymore as much as I use it because, like Locke mentioned above, it's a nice moisturizer and I trust it on my skin.
I also got a reality check the last time I went to purchase a tube: while looking around the aisles, the Walgreens cosmetic counter woman called out, "Oh no, honey, teen skin creams are on the other side of the aisle." My first thought was, "Oh, snap!" My second thought was, "Oh, shit, she thinks I need Stridex pads. Do I have a zit? Where is it? Oh shit." You can never, ever win.
Dr. Laurence Rubenstein tells the LA Times that "There isn't a cure for aging because it isn't a disease. It's a natural and complex process that involves every system in the body." In other words, we're all going to age, no matter what we inject into our faces. There are, of course, ways to stop the aging process from happening too soon: quitting smoking, eating well, etc. But those things aren't easy for many people, and they certainly won't be boxed and sold at Bloomingdales for $200 an ounce.
Rebecca Seal of the Observer argues that even the most extreme anti-aging treatments aren't fooling anybody: "If you do get the pillow-faced look that's in vogue, you don't look better, you just look like someone who's had fillers in your cheeks and lips, injections in your brow, and perhaps a tiny little face-lift." In a youth-obsessed culture, the public is still quite aware of the difference between someone who is young and someone who "appears youthful."
I doubt that the anti-aging market is going anywhere anytime soon: beauty creams have been around for thousands of years, as evidenced by a recent discovery of a 2,000 year old cream in Italy that was comprised of "fatty acids in high abundance," the same "miracle ingredients" found in many of today's anti-aging creams.
Perhaps the best way to fight the anti-aging madness is to find a way to embrace the natural aging process while maintaining a sense of Perhaps if we celebrated older men and women in our culture as much as we celebrate 15 year olds, we'd all see that beauty isn't about a lineless face or a "youthful" glow, but about a face that tells a story of a life well-lived, a life of many laughs and smiles. My 84-year-old neighbor is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, with stark white hair and bright blue eyes and a face that matches her deep, powerful laugh. She's also fiercely independent, quite wacky, and one of the strongest people I have had the honor of knowing. If they could bottle that, I'd pay a million dollars for it.
It's not as if I still don't get roped into the anti-aging madness every now and again—it's hard not to, especially when you see your peers jumping through hoops to maintain a younger appearance, and I'm sure as I get older, it will be even harder to have a "fuck it, I love my wrinkles" attitude 24/7. There are times when it feels like you'll be the only person with a wrinkle on her face in 50 years, though perhaps it we all concentrate more on protecting our bodies from the true ravages of aging by focusing on healthy habits to reduce our risks of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, we'll find that a healthy interior will reflect itself on our exterior, as health, strength, and caring for one's body will provide the type of confidence that no cream ever could.
Eternal Youth Is An Ugly Obsession [The Observer]
Aging: You Can Hurry It, But You Can't Slow It [LA Times]
Youth In A Jar? Probably Not, But We Buy It Anyway [LA Times]
2,000 Year Old Cream Shows Aristocrat's Taste [MSNBC]