Why Women Hate The Cosmetic Industry

A recent survey of women over 45 confirms what the cosmetic industry wishes weren’t true: most of the gazillion dollars spent targeting the 40 million Boomer women in the U.S. are just making them mad.

What does beauty mean to women 45+?

As we’ve seen in several surveys (including research from Digitas Health that I summarized here,)age doesn’t mean the end of beauty to women. But it may change what “beauty” means. 

In a survey of the many women 45+ who are spending lots of money to look and feel great, Boombox Network asked them about their views of beauty and of the beauty companies. 

While women continue to feel beautiful as they age, they define it with words like “confidence” and “natural.” In our own research, women told us that their two top needs from cosmetic products were protecting skin from damage and looking healthy. Yet that’s not what cosmetic companies are selling them.



How Do Cosmetic Products Fail Women?

There is a giant gap between what cosmetic companies are offering and what midlife women say they want. 

As for what they want, Boomer women name the following beauty problems that “most need help”: yellowing teeth; hair color; skin texture; age spots; and uneven skin tone. 

Not surprisingly, these are issues that affect everyone’s looks as they age. They also represent areas where cosmetic products can deliver quickly verifiable results. 

Yet, the cosmetic industry seems to think that aging women care only about anti-aging skincare products, whose efficacy is the hardest to prove. As one respondent said, “How would anyone know [if a product works] unless they spent months or years with half their face covered in one thing, and the other half in something else?”  

No category breeds as much distrust among Boomer women as anti-aging products. Almost 40% of them find the claims made by anti-aging skincare products to be either somewhat or completely non-credible. 

What could skincare companies do instead? They could speak to the direct concerns and needs of aging women regarding skin tone, texture and age spots, and show how their products improve the appearance of these unavoidable conditions.

How do Cosmetic Ads Fail Women?

We know that Boomer women feel invisible in the marketplace. When they aren’t being ignored, unfortunately, they often feel insulted, even by companies whose mission is to make them more beautiful.

In the Boombox survey, almost 60% of Boomer women said that they can’t relate to most beauty ads; 80% say they don’t aspire to look like models in those ads. 

Women are pretty clear about what they’d like to see: more “real people” and more “people my age.” It’s shocking to me that more companies don’t give women what they want. It works. The cosmetic model most cited (in our own research) by Boomer women is Diane Keaton for L’Oreal. She’s a celebrity, but she’s also real -- and she’s 66.

Simple Lessons

It’s not always easy for advertisers to get women right, but this research offers some really easy lessons: 

  • Offer midlife women more hair products, especially products that help them manage their fading/graying color. This is a category where they can perceive benefits immediately and will pay for them.

  • Give them more information. If you make claims, back them up.

  • Use more real women in your ads. “Real” doesn’t mean “average,” it just means someone who has lived a full life -- just like the 40 million women you should be trying harder to reach.
5 comments about "Why Women Hate The Cosmetic Industry ".
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  1. Audrey Van petegem from The Succulent Wife, December 10, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.

    I would also like to add for companies to PLEASE color code and make print larger for shampoo and conditioners. I do not take my glasses in the shower and I am tired of putting the conditioner in my hair first!

  2. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, December 10, 2012 at 10:52 a.m.

    As usual, Stephen is on the money. Although the industry discussed is cosmetics, his points are generally applicable to any company selling products to boomer women. Survey after survey makes it clear boomer and older women aren’t pleased with companies/agencies that ignore or insult them. Baby boomers and older customers have close to two trillion dollars in buying power (women make up 51%) and too many companies don’t get it.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 10, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.

    Oh, I aspire to look 30 again, be tall and perfect. It's just not going to happen. It didn't happen at 30 and it is certainly not going to happen now. We look for improvements, definite significant improvements. And that is possible. There are only 7 companies that make make-up with labels aplenty along with confusion. -Add in that Audrey is soooooo on target. That teeny print that comes with all enhancements can't be read with glasses. - But it is the jowls and sagging of most women 55+ (GET IT RIGHT, 45 didn't sag) that will hurt to show in ads and hurt to eliminate.

  4. Anne-marie Kovacs from Boombox Network, December 10, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.

    Thanks Stephen for the mention of our survey. You encapsulated our findings perfectly. As Audrey, Jim and Paula commented, baby boomers are increasingly frustrated with the manner in which brands target them. Your recommendations are right on with what boomer women have told us.

    For anyone interested in reviewing the full details and learning of more insights from our "Baby Boomer Women & Beauty Survey" findings, please let us at hello (at) boomboxnetwork (dot) com.

  5. The MidlifeGals from, December 18, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.

    Here's one thing we know for a NOT let The Midlife Gals advise you on middle-aged makeup!

    And, we so agree about making the print bigger on ALL bottles we have in the shower or bath. Come on people!

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