Teens are worried about wrinkles. Here’s how Gen Z is helping to fuel a beauty boom

Leah Dolan, CNN: May 6, 2021

Before coronavirus shuttered the world, a typical month for Connecticut native Zac Mathias was packed with appointments for microneedling (a collagen-stimulating process that involves repeated pin-pricks all over the face), regular resurfacing hydrafacials, rejuvenating laser treatments and the occasional red-light therapy session.

The beauty influencer particularly misses his weekly infrared saunas, where light is used to heat the air instead of traditional steam. The technology has been praised for reversing the effects of photo-aging. Mathias is 18.

“Anti-aging was never the main goal when I was putting together a skin care routine — it happens to be a happy accident,” Mathias said via video call. “Skin care was always a self-care time; that’s how I decompress at night.”

Mathias isn’t an outlier. Young people are increasingly incorporating anti-aging products and treatments into their beauty regimes. In 2012, fewer than 20% of US women between 18 and 24 years old considered anti-aging skin care to be important, according to a survey conducted by market research company NPD Group. By 2018, another US-focused study by beauty consumer analysts The Benchmarking Company found that more than 50% of 18- to 24-year-old women said they wanted to add wrinkle-defying products into their routine.

Some younger beauty consumers say they’re acting on an informed, science-first approach to skin care, while others profess a fear of premature aging.

In the past year, Reddit’s largest skin care community — boasting 1.3 million members — has been awash with pleas from users claiming to be teenagers, including “Wrinkles at 19?!” and “Premature aging at 16. What are my options?” The subject line of another post reads, “I’m 16 and thinking about botox because of my forehead wrinkles.” The posts’ authors appear panicked as they ask for recommendations and reassurance: “If I look like this now what will I look like at 30?”

On TikTok, teens bond over their fear of getting older and penchant for obsessive sunscreen application. In a video liked over 16,000 times, an apparently youthful creator scrapes a pink gua sha — a wing-shaped massage tool used in Chinese medicine to smooth wrinkles and sculpt the face — furiously across her cheeks. “I’m scared of aging…why do white people have to age so badly. I want to be young forever,” the caption reads. “I’m SO scared of aging,” one commenter sympathizes. “I’m 15 in 2 days and I’m already using retinol, vitamin C and gua sha with my sunscreen.”


Youth as a lucrative market

Robert Pogue Harrison, a literature professor at Stanford University and author of “Juvesence: A Cultural History of our Age,” believes the peddling of wrinkle-defying products to teenagers is nothing more than a savvy business strategy.

“The youth are a very lucrative market for consumerism, because the young, especially very young, are dominated by their desires,” he said.

“The internet breeds paranoia around different things,” says Charlotte Palermino, a 33-year-old skin care influencer with 250,000 TikTok followers, in a phone interview. “I’m almost 34 and I didn’t start thinking about aging until I was in my late 20s. Now people are worried about it at 19. Social media has completely shifted timelines.”

Viewed more broadly, Harrison said our societal preoccupation with youth is a fairly recent development. “Historically speaking, the condition of youth was not a particularly desirable one,” he said in a video interview. “Even until the postwar period, the young were in a real hurry to grow up as fast as they could. Because that’s where life got, in a certain sense, easier and better.”

The social dilemma

For 26-year-old Daniela Rios, the fight against fine lines has at times proven to be “addictive.”

The social media influencer, originally from Mexico, has been receiving “preventative” Botox injections — a practice questioned by some experts — since she was 22. Now, she finds herself reaching for her injector’s number at the sight of any facial line, even if tied to an expression.

Growing up in the golden age of YouTube, Rios struggled with the perceived perfection of the beauty influencers she followed.

“I would edit (my videos) and I would see my forehead and I just hated seeing those wrinkles,” Rios said. “Then I would see makeup gurus and they had no wrinkles. I would always think ‘wow, their face just looks so smooth’. And so once I finally got Botox, I was like this is what people do, because now my face just looks perfect.”

Nifty editing tools designed to smooth, blur and brighten have become unofficial accessories to platforms like Instagram.

“The thing about social media is that we’re constantly bombarded with images that we can compare ourselves to,” psychologist Diana Zuckerman said. “(But) we can easily adjust what those photographs look like.”

While re-touching isn’t new, Zuckerman worries the widespread accessibility of apps like FaceTune mean that impossible beauty standards are even more pervasive and mentally oppressive. “Now everybody can do it, it’s not just actors on the cover of a magazine that have no wrinkles and perfect skin,” she said. “It’s your classmate or neighbor.”

Palermino vowed to stop using face-perfecting filters when posting on her TikTok account for fear of causing “dysphoria” or intense dissatisfaction among her followers. But the app has become so frenzied on the topic of aging, Palermino had to step in to defend a 35-year-old TikToker who received nearly 24,000 comments criticizing the appearance of her skin after she went viral. “Ur 35 pushing 60,” one user jibed, “I thought she was like 40-45 lol.”

For Palermino, the relentless pressure to look young is laden with misogyny. “It’s become an issue for young men too, but the fear of aging disproportionately affects women. For women, we’re told beauty and youth are one and the same.”


John Duffy, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist who works closely with teenagers, said entire therapy regimes have been built around teens’ — and especially girls’ — phobia of aging. It’s a worry he describes as “new” among the age group.

“This was not a concern I heard 5-10 years ago,” he said.

In an email, Duffy said he was “struck” at the increasing number of young girls convinced “their looks will change and ‘deteriorate’ as they get older.” The emotional impact of which, Duffy says, is a sense of “hopelessness about the future.”


Palermino agrees. “Preventative botox is botox. It’s just marketing. Botox wears off every three to four months, and then you just need to get more botox. When I see male dermatologists on TikTok telling their female followers that the best age to start preventative botox is 23, it makes me want to scream.”

To read the entire article, see https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/anti-aging-trend-teens/index.html