Gen Z’s obsession with skincare

The skincare industry is booming – and not for the reasons you might think.

Question: What is the biggest, fastest-rising and most gen-Z approved segment of the beauty industry, as of 2021? Answer: Skincare. Ok, maybe that was a bit of trick question – while skincare products are officially classed within the beauty industry, they’re the opposite of it, right? As we all know, cleansers, toners and serums are all about inner beauty. If anything they’re a rejection of beauty standards. Well, Gen Z’s obsession with skincare might suggest otherwise …

Skincare is nothing new. People have tended to their skin since the beginning of civilisation; Ancient Greeks used honey moisturizers and women of the Shang dynasty were using lead skin lighteners as early as 1760BC. It was only in 1906 that the industry began to be legally regulated (resulting in the lack of lead in your own moisturizer). Since then, companies have been providing a steady stream of cold creams and ointments. The real question is, why are these products so popular right now, especially among teenagers?

Saying skincare is a rejection of makeup isn’t entirely wrong. Anyone even mildly interested in makeup will know that throughout the last decade, more was more. As social media sites like Instagram and YouTube took off, anyone could learn how to perfect a ‘full glam’ look. The success of Kylie Jenner’s luminous lip kits lay in their staying power, and harsh contour sticks sold out world-wide. Obviously the next big thing would be a rejection of heavy makeup – its classic trend cycle science.

Kylie Jenner lip kit

And the style-de-jour is certainly as far from that as physically possible. Gen Z’s thrown out the brow pomade and highlighter, and are opting for glowy skin and minimal makeup. After years of being taught to contour their faces into another, the look might allow some to accept the one they have. A bedtime skincare routine is also in line with the self-care trend of the last few years, allowing teens to mindfully spend some time looking after themselves. What’s more, dermatologists everywhere have been screaming at us to apply SPF since the dawn of time. What better than for it to become mainstream?

But what if there was something more devious at work than that. Something just as demanding as the full-face makeup of ten years ago. As influencers post pictures of their pore-perfected faces, and share their holy-grail 10 step skin-care routines, another beauty standard emerges like a killer from a dark alleyway. Now, the standard is effortless perfection. Not only to look gorgeous, but to look so with no concealing help. With the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ and Korean ‘glass skin’ all garnering millions of searches, it’s clear we’re in a new beauty era – that of impossible standards.

Korean 'Glass Skin'

Undeniably harder to achieve than a winged eyeliner look, perfect skin is an expensive and obsessive endeavour. What’s more, the impossible goal is marketed ferociously at young women. Online clinicians advertise preventative ‘Baby Botox’, a ‘tweakment’ that aims to stop wrinkles before they’ve even happened. Trending TikTok filters, which claim to show skin damage, allow Gen Z to show off their perfect skin accompanied with captions like ‘I’ve used SPF and retinol since the day I turned 21’. All of which, of course, is not about supporting your skin, rather ‘age-proofing’ it.


Spf is my savior #skincare

♬ stargirl interlude – ☆

As the first generation with access to 24/7 social media, it’s no surprise that Gen Z are more affected by the scare-mongering and manipulation of beauty brands than any other generation. Ultimately, the beauty standards being promoted by the skincare industry are as, if not more, misogynistic than those backed by makeup trends. If the idea that women should look perfect while appearing to do so effortlessly wasn’t obvious enough, the generation’s obsession with early anti-aging should make it clear.

Today’s skincare craze says one thing: that women should spend as much time, energy and money as possible on their appearance.

Words by Kate Bowie

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