Skip to main content

What's Really Going on With Millennials and Skin Care?

Anti-aging is out, masks are in.
Call it the masking generation. Photo: @glossier/Instagram

Call it the masking generation. Photo: @glossier/Instagram

Perhaps you've heard: Millennials have a devotion to all things unicorn and a penchant for a certain shade of pink, but there's one thing they're simply not into: anti-aging products — at least not nearly as much as the generations before. But often, the implication when this fact is talked about is that they're so focused on the here and now that they're unconcerned with staving off aging. Not so. "Millennials are the highest buyers, the heaviest buyers of skin care," says Kurt Jetta, the CEO of TABS Analytics, which does an annual beauty buying survey. "As far as the actual number of people in the market and the number of times they're buying, that has been growing pretty steadily."

In other words, young folks are still spending money on making sure their face is a glow-y, Instagram-worthy dream. They're just spending it differently than previous generations have. They're still buying the basics like cleansers, moisturizers and acne creams. But beyond that, the biggest categories seeing growth, according to marketing research firm the NPD Group, are the products that get your face ready for makeup, such as social-media-friendly masks, lip treatments and exfoliators. Kind of what you'd expect from the selfie generation.

But that doesn't mean that no one cares about wrinkles these days. It's just that now it's all about prevention, rather than treatment — and besides stocking up on more sunscreen with higher SPF levels, that means often heading to the dermatologist for Botox, fillers, peels and laser treatments. In fact, a recent survey by Skin By Lovely found this to be especially true of women aged 30 to 34: Nearly 47 percent had already tried injectables, as compared to only 28 percent of women 35 to 39 and 11 percent of women aged 40 to 49. "This group understands that it's easier to prevent than reverse signs of aging," says the company's founder, Lovely Laban. In this case, the splurge seems worth it. "The long-lasting results fillers deliver make the cost manageable and something they can plan for."

What that means outside of the doctor's office is that beauty brands are going to have to pivot to keep bringing in dollars — and they're going to need to do so quickly. The first shift seems to be incorporating a wellness angle, the beauty equivalent to the athleisure trend of finding ways of working self-care seamlessly into everyday life. "Beauty shoppers in general seem to seek products that promise to improve their skin health over the long term, not just cover up blemishes in the moment," explains Zoe Leavitt, a tech industry analyst at CB Insights.

One category aiming to bridge the ideas of wellness and beauty is natural beauty. When it comes to skin care, there's a feeling here of less hocus pocus with anything that comes from the earth rather than a lab. Particular drivers, according to Mintel, include vitamin C, fruit-based ingredients, oatmeal and honey.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Value is another major factor for millennial beauty shoppers. While skin care used to be a big driver in the prestige space, lower-priced products in mass stores like Target and CVS are now getting more love, according to multiple market reports. This could explain why L'Oréal just snapped up Valeant's wallet-friendly CeraVe, AcneFree and Ambi brands. Price consciousness could also be a factor in Glossier's success; while it's not a mass-store brand, price points for the startup's face serums — a notoriously expensive category — are more accessible at $28 a pop.

Besides appealing to millennials on a budget, lower price points have advantage here: They give folks the opportunity to try out a lot of stuff something young people are known for these days (proof: The TABs study found that "heavy buyers" purchased from more than six different skin care brands in last year). Plus, says Jetta, "They don't like to be told what to do, that is probably the most dramatic difference in the way millennials interact with beauty versus any other category you track." That means the days of three-step skin care systems are largely over — people don't want to be beholden to a whole regime set out by one brand.

So how are skin care companies going to push forward? Likely with more cute, cool and fun-to-use Korean-inspired products (see: CVS's recent K-beauty addition.). Another area you’re going to see a lot more of: Food-based formulas. "Startups are starting to offer products based on acai, kombucha, charcoal and other ingredients we're more used to seeing in food - the idea is to seek beauty from the inside out," says Leavitt. Is poke-bowl eye cream in our future? Perhaps.

But perhaps the real keyword here is simplicity. Says Jetta, "Most women just want basic products that work well for a good price." Consider it the new golden rule of skin care.

Please note: Occasionally, we use affiliate links on our site. This in no way affects our editorial decision-making.

Sign up for our daily newsletter and get the latest industry news in your inbox every day.