You've heard and seen anti-aging everywhere—not to mention we've covered it extensively—but there is a valid case being made regarding the connotation of the word. Sure, there's nothing wrong with taking care of our bodies and wanting to look younger, but the concept of anti-aging can be pretty stressful—not to mention impossible (you can't age backwards!).
According to dermatologists, the best skincare is one of preventative action, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and listening to the changing needs of your skin. Truth be told, anti-aging products have become quite successful through their targeted marketing that makes aging seem like you're doing something wrong. That doesn't mean we should abolish retinol and other anti-aging ingredients altogether—it is a conscious concern after all. Instead, estheticians, dermatologists, and many skincare brands are now calling to consider a "pro-aging" approach, focusing on supporting the skin's natural ways of progression.
"Pro-aging is a term and a concept that has at its roots a much more positive approach to the aging process," explains George Baxter-Holder, aesthetic nurse practitioner at SkinSpirit. "We cannot stop aging! It is a normal and healthy part of life. Viewing the aging process in a realistic and positive way and working with the body's natural defenses is a much more modern concept." As the approach gains momentum, we look to less invasive skincare that supports the organic aging of the skin, working with the body, instead of against it. This, in turn, will create a healthier appearance.
Pro-Aging vs. Anti-Aging
So, what's the difference between pro-aging and anti-aging, exactly? Not only do both words have different meanings to different people, it could also mean a different approach to skincare formulation. Generally speaking, anti-aging is a skin-stimulating, intrusive approach to try and stop and/or revert the natural progression of aging skin. This approach usually penetrates the skin on a deeper level towards the dermal/epidermal junction.
As a result, anti-aging is a bit of a deterring concept, sometimes turning away the younger crowd, which might benefit from its actives. Meanwhile, "pro-aging means balance and working with your body, using moisture, antioxidants, and cell turnover to keep skin looking its best," says Baxter-Holder. Think of it like a skincare booster shot or support system.
"Pro-aging is about making small adjustments, restructuring habits as we age, and slow and steady increments that add up over the long term," says Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Your basic and essential pro-aging regimen is very easy: clean, protect, and hydrate."
This also extends to lifestyle, explains Jami Morse Heidegger, 60-year old founder of luxury skincare brand Retrouvé. Our health is reflected on our skin, which means adequate sleep, hydration, and healthy eating are equally important.
Skincare Is Self-Care
As far as aging goes, "the aging process is a biological one, not a cosmetic term," says Morse Heidegger. While her brand Retrouvé does embrace the concept of aging through a skincare line, it also adopts an empowerment platform. The secret lies in encouraging customers to feel self-confident and take time to pamper themselves regardless of the inevitable aging process, she adds. It's about feeling confident with oneself no matter the age, and yet having the freedom to shamelessly define your own skincare routine.
The founder of beauty brand PRAI Beauty, Cathy Kangas, has the same mindset. "Pro-aging has been my mission for PRAI Beauty for the last 10 years," she says. "I only showcase models or real women who are age-appropriate, 40-plus, and truly resonate with our customers. Our top performing model is Nancy, and she's 75!"
Ultimately, pro-aging touches upon a wider topic. While you might think that anti-aging is the idea of hiding and getting rid of any signs of aging—and pro-aging about embracing these signs—pro-aging also offers a more holistic point of view. "Pro-aging is about the freedom to make that choice and to opt for whatever skincare maintenance methods feel right for each individual, and not be a prisoner to societal standards," says Morse Heidegger. It's a conscious choice to do whatever one feels necessary for their routine, and most importantly, what the skin desires and requires.
The reality is that skincare can feel quite ageist and shameful, and pro-aging finds a way to both embrace and care for your skin. "I maintain that we must tear down any societal and self-imposed 'shame barriers' about growing older," says Morse Heidegger. "I do not think that choosing to look younger should be considered embarrassing or shameful. Self-care and skincare on all levels is a positive action."