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For Beauty Marketers, the New Buzzword Is ‘Anti-Pollution’

Beauty companies are moving away from anti-ageing to anti-pollution, a concept aimed at wellness-obsessed and prevention-driven Millennial and Generation Z consumers. Will the bet pay off?
Image sources, clockwise from top left: Courtesy, Make; @kiehls; @renskincare; @kiehls; @sundayriley; Courstey, Make; @muradskincare; @elfcosmetics.
  • Rachel Jacoby Zoldan

NEW YORK, United States — When Farmacy co-founder Mark Veeder introduced the "Farm to Face" organic skincare line's first sunscreen, he wanted it to block harmful rays and blend seamlessly into the skin.

He also wanted it to provide legitimate protection against harmful pollutants floating around the environment that may also affect the skin, such as cigarette smoke or car fumes. It’s something his two daughters — both members of Generation Z — demanded. “Not only does it have that high level of SPF, but it also has primer technology,” Veeder says. “It’s all about embracing your skin and making it healthier.”

In past generations, beauty companies had no qualms with marketing “anti-ageing” products to teenagers, billing early wrinkle prevention as a necessary measure. (Consider anti-ageing line Olay’s memorable teen-mag advertising push in the late 1990s.) Today, however, marketers believe young consumers care more about the environment’s immediate effect on their skin than they do about 10-years-down-the-line crow’s feet.

“Today’s consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, are more conscious of the impact of their purchases on both themselves and the world,” says Kristin Castillo, an analyst at forecasting firm Trendera. “Skin health is of utmost importance. Younger consumers care deeply about their health and are really thinking about wellness holistically from all perspectives, including beauty.”


Indeed, for beauty marketers, "anti-pollution" is the new "anti-ageing", with many predicting that the former term will be as popular with Millennials and Generation Z as the latter was with Baby Boomers and Generation X. The genius in these products may be that, while the overall intention is to improve skin health, they might also help ward off signs of ageing — even if they are not being marketed as doing so. (According to one 2013 study published in the journal Clinical Cosmetology Investigative Dermatology, the sun's UV rays are responsible for approximately 80 percent of visible facial ageing signs, including wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and loss in skin elasticity.)

Although straightforward anti-ageing products may continue to dominate the market — at least for now — today there are more anti-pollution products on offer than ever. A search for the word “pollution” on generates almost 200 results, from cult favourites including REN’s Pollution-Proof Kit ($24) to Murad’s City Overnight Detox Moisturizer ($70). Ulta Beauty, which sells products distributed to the mass market, carries at least 65, from Leaders’ 7 Wonders Amazonian Acai Anti-Pollution Mask ($6) to Shiseido’s Urban Environment UV Broad Spectrum Protection SPF 30 ($33).

In the past year alone, brands including Kiehl’s 1851, Dior and Sunday Riley have all introduced anti-pollution products or collections that include scrubs, mists and antioxidant-spiked creams to help ward off free-radical damage. Elizabeth Arden, whose Prevage line has been around since 2005, rolled out several new anti-pollution products this year, including a Detox Peel-Off Mask ($78) to cater to the younger set, as opposed to their classic Anti-Aging Serum ($162).

But will the bet on anti-pollution pay off?

Like any new area of the market, brands need to invest time into having that conversation with the consumer on why this should be important.

Despite the rise of anti-pollution claims from myriad brands — mass, niche and prestige alike — the market remains nascent. “Success is still relative,” says Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD Group. “Consumers need more education about what environmental damage is and how these products work to combat and protect from such damage.”

To be sure, "anti-pollution" has a long way to go before it could dare usurp the market share owned by "anti-ageing". While consumers in the US spent $1.4 billion on prestige skincare in the second quarter of 2017, up 6 percent from the year prior, according to NPD research, it's clear that anti-agers are where skincare shoppers are still spending. The global anti-ageing market, which includes anti-pigmentation and wrinkle treatments, will be worth over $216 billion by 2021, growing at a compounded annual rate of 7.5 percent year over year according to a June 2017 report from Zion Market Research.

However, beauty companies believe that the opportunity lies in the fact that wearing SPF — the dominant element in preventative skincare— is now commonplace. (A 2015 study from the American Academy of Dermatology found that 42.6 percent of American women regularly use sunscreen on their face every day.)

However, in order for the anti-pollution category to accelerate, “the consumer will need to understand the difference between all of the environmental stressors,” Jensen says. They’ll also need to know why these products are integral to a daily routine. “Like any new area of the market,” she continues, “brands need to invest time and energy into having that conversation with the consumer on why this should be important and how it helps prevent damage.”


Several brands are on the right track, including cheap-and-cheerful line E.l.f. Cosmetics, which launched its Beauty Shield skin-protection range in April 2017, featuring a $16 vitamin-C serum and a $14 night cream.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of the damaging effects that environmental aggressors have on their skin,” says Achelle Richards, E.l.f.’s global artistic director. “We saw a gap in the market for products that offer protection in fun and innovative ways.

“The response to Beauty Shield has been encouraging,” Richards adds, although she would not offer any measurements of success in terms of sales or replenishment. “Generation Z cares about protecting their skin, without having to break the bank to do so.” In less than a year, the collection has expanded from seven to nine different products, including a protective lipstick and antioxidant-laced setting powder.

Generation Z cares about protecting their skin, without having to break the bank to do so.

Right now, beauty companies are working to prove the claimed efficacy of protective formulas. “The net effect of these potent antioxidants is to protect against the toxic avengers we encounter on a daily basis,” posits Dendy Engelman, MD, a consulting dermatologist for Elizabeth Arden. “[That means] cigarette smoke — first- or second-hand — particular matter found in air pollution, and infrared radiation from devices.”

Another brand preaching the "protected skin equals healthy skin" gospel is Make, whose minimally packaged, Instagram-friendly products aim to not only prevent UV damage, but also to ward off High Energy Visible (HEV) light pollution, the kind of blue light that emanates from computer and phone screens and may contribute — at least according to those shilling the products — to visible signs of ageing. However, research is still limited on HEV: one 2014 study found that HEV rays produced more hyperpigmentation than UVA or UVB rays, while a 2013 report — funded by a skincare company — found that HEV light produced the exact same damage as the sun's rays.

“The prevention and protection against light and environmental pollution, which are the biggest skin aggressors and contributors to premature ageing and skin health, have been central in producing our skincare collection,” says Ariana Mouyiaris, creative director of Make. “We’re interested in coming out with products and formulas that are contemporary and relevant to our lives now.” While Make’s lineup already includes plenty of protective potions — including a serum, two different primers, an all-over salve and skin gel — the label introduced yet another anti-pollution product in October targeted at neck wrinkles.

While anti-pollution is often equated with skincare, there is perhaps an even greater opportunity when it comes to colour cosmetics, which often serve as a protective barrier against harsh elements without specifically claiming to do so. However, the key to convincing Generation Z and Millennial beauty shoppers that anti-pollution products are essential to their daily routines comes down to transparency.

“By highlighting every ingredient and what it does, brands will help cultivate trust with their shoppers with each product,” says Trendera’s Castillo. “Millennials and Generation Zs just want you to be straightforward with them.”

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