“Anti-aging” skincare and snake oil. What does anti-aging really mean? - Noble Body

“Anti-aging” skincare and snake oil. What does anti-aging really mean?

"Anti-Aging" may be one of the most overused and questionable terms in the entire cosmetics industry and that's quite a feat in an industry that profits heavily on far-fetched claims...  Our culture places such a premium on youth and beauty that it conditions some of us to believe that we're not as worthy or desirable as we get older. That's why we cling to the dubious and somewhat disparaging terms like "anti-aging" that really have no meaning and which have morphed into carnival barker and nonsensical claims to pitch expensive products that promise everything and deliver virtually nothing...
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       When it comes to skincare health and beauty, we’re bombarded every day with anti-aging secrets, tips, treatments, routines, strategies, regimens, remedies, clinics, and of course a bazillion products, but what does the term “anti-aging” really mean? Can anyone truly anti-age? The short answer is no, (not yet) but is that so horrible?

       Skin health and beauty is the number one visual factor people use to determine whether they find another person attractive and also to determine another’s age. Certainly, there are other factors such as hair health and color, posture, muscle mass and tone, eye color and clarity, and teeth condition and whiteness, but healthy and glowing skin signals youthful beauty and overall health and wellness.

       There is a developing branch of true anti-aging science known as “life extension”, which is an effort to slow, halt, or even reverse the aging process via gene therapy, tissue rejuvenation, stem cells, organ and body part replacement, molecular repair, drug compounds, and other means, but notable success with these methods remains in the future.

       This article is not about the real potential of life extension science, but rather is about the overuse of the term “anti-aging” to create unease and mental distress in people to promote and sell products and services.

Is it finally time to throw “anti-aging” into the cosmetics dust bin?

       Anti-aging may be one of the most overused and questionable terms in the entire cosmetics industry and that’s quite a feat in an industry that profits heavily on far-fetched claims. We now see it nearly everywhere and it certainly has taken on a snake oil salesman aura. The term also negatively implies that we all have a shelf life and we are no longer considered attractive, handsome, desirable, or beautiful past a certain fixed age number or expiration date.

        It’s time we took a critical look at what the term “anti-aging” really means and whether it should be thrown into the cosmetics dust bin of history along with leeches, mercury, Jean Nate’ body splash, mouse fur eyebrows, and Zest soap. As you will read below, the term is misused, overused, and in essence was meaningless from the start.

 Allure Magazine rocks the beauty industry catwalk

          (Allure Magazine recently promised that it will no longer use the term “anti-aging” again in its publications, stating:

“Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle … If there’s one inevitability in life, it’s that we’re getting older. Every minute. Every second … to the rest of the beauty industry, we’re calling on you now: We know it’s not easy to change packaging and marketing overnight. But together we can start to change the conversation and celebrate the beauty in all ages.”


Well said, Allure Magazine.

       The cold reality about aging is that none of us can stop it unless we have perfected time travel or life-extension science. “Anti aging” would technically mean that we can somehow delay or stop the aging process. We obviously cannot do that unless we suspend reality and the immutable laws of physics.

       We’re all placed on a timeline at birth and it never stops moving until our last day here on Earth. Does anyone seriously believe that you can reach a certain age, slather on some expensive “anti-aging night/day/youth serum” and look (X)-years younger the next day?

Can I interest you in some anti-aging snake oil?

       A quick internet search produces hundreds of expensive products (some extremely) that make dubious anti-aging promises:

  • “Staves off signs of aging.” (Has a medieval damsel in distress ring to it.)
  • “Stops aging in its tracks.” (Time travel has been perfected!)
  • “This serum is the holy grail.” (Wow! What?! They found it!)
  • “Youth Serum” (Juan Ponce de Leon finally found that fountain.)
  • “Leaves skin looking brand new.” (Like a baby again?)
  • “DNA regeneration” (Cool Sci-Fi ring to it.)
  • And to make us “absolutely ageless.” (Like a vampire, or a replicant?)

       Many of us don’t mind getting older. Looking older is obviously the crux of the issue, but are these anti-aging claims believable? Sure, your skin may look somewhat better after using some of these products, but the sheer number of products and the questionable claims has become nothing short of nonsensical. Is getting older really that bad? Every person on Earth is doing it!

 A close call for Noble Body…

       With a touch of shame I admit nearly falling into this “anti-aging” trap as I developed the branding and packaging for the Noble Body products along with my design pro. An early iteration of the Noble Body face oil for women box contained those dreaded words. I cringe when I think about it and I’m grateful I analyzed those words before the designs were finalized.

       That design process and a careful study of product design and human nature directed me to do much research and introspection about what these types of words and claims really mean and represent for a brand. During that process I concluded that those words were hollow rhetoric absent of integrity. In essence, it’s a promise that may ring some familiar Pavlovian bells in the cosmetics industry, but which actually means nothing of truth or substance.

       It’s still a stretch, but the term “anti-aging” can only presently mean taking actions that make you appear healthy and perhaps even younger than your chronological age. As we know from the many billion dollar cosmetics industry, appearances are indeed everything. (You’re not really “anti-aging,” you’re simply taking the best care of yourself that you can in many ways and therefore you feel better, look better, and perhaps even a bit younger.)

       Someone recently told me I looked to be in my 40s. It’s a great compliment because I recently turned 55 and it’s not because of any magical serum or “anti-aging” treatments. I take meticulous care of my body and my skin every single day via diet, exercise, hydration, sleep and skincare. There is no magic, no snake oil elixirs, and no shortcuts. (This is a topic that I’ll detail in a future article.)

       I was also gifted with good genetics for which I’m thankful, but which I had absolutely no control over. Can I keep it up? Yes, I’ll sure try, but I will never realistically look 30 or 35 again and I’m perfectly fine with that. Do any of us really have a choice when it comes to aging? No, we don’t and the harder we fight it, the more desperate and futile it feels and looks.

 Factors that impact your apparent visual age and what matters most.

       So, let’s examine those factors that influence what I call the apparent, or “visual age” of our skin and then those actions we can take to improve that apparent or visual age. I would first broadly divide the factors that impact the visual age of our skin into internal and external categories.

       First, internal or endogenous factors include: genetics (DNA), metabolism, hormonal and overall health factors including illness or prior illness. Next, external or exogenous factors include: environmental, sun exposure, weather exposure, pollution, chemicals, and toxins.

       I would also include various body modifications including piercings, tattoos, Botox, and other invasive body modifications since they do impact skin aesthetics, sometimes profoundly. (Whether you view certain body modifications as positive or negative are obviously based on many factors of individual taste and your own assessments of what ‘quality’ is or is not.)

 The factors we can control.

       My third category accounts for internal and external factors that we DO have the most control over including: diet, water intake/hydration levels, drugs/alcohol, exercise, sleep, stress, smoking and every action that impacts skin health and care including: neglect, cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing/hydrating makeup application, and the myriad of products you may be regularly using on your skin, (some of which do good, some nothing, and some probably cause harm.)

       My fourth and final category is your mindset, attitude, outlook on life, and overall level of contentment and ‘happiness’ with yourself internally and your life as a whole. Think of that person that always seems to be smiling, happy, and content. It’s as if they are glowing. Now think of that person that always seems dour, sullen, sad, and depressed. Which one presents as more youthful, handsome or beautiful? The answer is obvious.

       Yes, mindset and attitude matter and they matter a great deal as to how we are perceived on an aesthetic (and other) levels by the people we interact with. If you are constantly frowning, the most powerful anti-wrinkle/anti-aging cream in the universe won’t erase those deep-set frown lines.

 Beauty is skin deep? Yes, but not so fast…

       Skin health and beauty requires a holistic mindset. Even then, there’s only so much we can do as our individual time lines continue rolling along. All of the above factors matter and they need to be consistently applied over the course of your life.

       We can’t abuse our bodies and skin for decades and then expect to slather on some overpriced time-machine serum to magically repair everything overnight and look (X) years younger. Life simply does not work that way.

       Everything we do impacts how our skin looks and feels and the effects of our conduct compound on our skin health over time. Lifestyle and skincare choices have consequences and they can be as harsh as using Zest soap on your face, eating 24 donuts every week, broiling your skin in the sun for hours on end, or staying up late and partying every night.

       Our culture places such a premium on youth and beauty that it conditions some of us to believe that we’re not as worthy or desirable as we get older. That’s why we cling to the dubious and somewhat disparaging terms like “anti-aging” that really have no meaning and which have morphed into carnival barker and nonsensical claims to pitch expensive products that promise everything and usually deliver virtually nothing.

       We really are better than that. There is much to be said for a casual and graceful approach to aging and of course to life as a whole. All that it takes is a slight shift in our mindset.

 Getting older truly is a blessing.

       We simply cannot anti-age and the term should just be scrapped. But remember this: getting older is a gift. Many people in this life are not fortunate enough to grow older. The older we get, the more storms we have survived and the greater the experiences we have accumulated—both pleasant and unpleasant. Our personal libraries of wisdom and memories enlarge as our younger selves fade into the light of our past.

       Our faces and bodies are a canvas that tell our own personal stories, and every single one is amazing. And this is one of the wonders of this life we live. Beauty is a gift that comes from the inside and it can be present in anyone and at any age. If you think it; so it will be. And there’s no magical serum that can ever top that.

With pure, true, and healthy regards.

Johnny Noble

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