We Asked An Expert

Are Millennials Actually Aging “Better” Than Other Generations?

Sort of, kind of, yes, at least according to one dermatologist.

A woman smiles, holding her face.
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If you’ve been on TikTok lately, you’ve probably seen lots of conversation about why millennials don’t age, or at least why we’re allegedly aging “better” than other generations before and after us. Much has been made about the fact that we seem to look younger than people in their 30s and 40s once did, with the cast of Cheers being the most famous example. Heck, three of the four titular Golden Girls were only in their 50s, and they were styled to look straight-up geriatric.

There are lots of theories about this topic — even though it’s worth noting that appearance is really just a combination of genetics and lifestyle, so it’s impossible for any sweeping claim about any demographic to be rooted in truth.

Plus, we’d be remiss not to mention that women have been held to outrageous beauty standards for decades, and things have only gotten worse thanks to social media. Check out the comments section on any famous woman’s social media posts. If she’s “aging naturally,” she'll get knocked for looking “old.” If she’s using cosmetic enhancements to slow the aging process, she’ll get dragged for that, too.

Women of color, anyone who falls outside the gender binary, disabled women, and anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into the “thin, white, conventionally attractive” box face even more scrutiny for their looks. Women simply can’t win. Whether you spend time and money on cosmetic “tweakments,” or you say f*ck that “anti-aging” nonsense altogether, someone will have something to say about it.

With every image online easily curated, filtered, and manipulated, we don’t blame you for wanting to toss your phone into the sea every time you open an app and see nothing but very sexy babies everywhere.

Even though aging is totally normal and natural — and, truthfully, a gift — it can feel jarring to look in the mirror and realize your features are changing. So, there’s no shame or judgment in whatever you do or don’t do with your appearance. We’re all just trying to tread water beneath a tide of unrelenting, ever-changing beauty standards.

But, in case you’re curious, it seems like there is some kernel of truth to the prevailing theory that millennials (aka people born between 1981 and 1996) look so young, as Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology, tells Scary Mommy.

Millennials are “aging much better than individuals of previous generations, though there will always be exceptions,” in Yadav’s opinion.

“Perhaps the greatest factor here is being more informed: Millennials were raised understanding that smoking, drinking, and unprotected sun exposure can negatively affect the health and beauty of the skin,” she says. “Even many of those who might have used tanning beds as teens have ‘converted’ to regular SPF users after seeing the ramifications of their past behavior.”

Of course, other lifestyle factors can impact visible signs of aging, including balanced nutrition and water intake, regular exercise, keeping stress levels low, and access to health care and dental care. Stress — be it from work, family commitments, financial concerns, or relationships — is a proven ticket to accelerated aging.

“The other big contributing factor is advancements in skin care and medical aesthetics,” adds Yadav. “Remember, Botox was only first FDA-approved for wrinkles about 20 years ago. Millennials grew up knowing about these treatments, hearing about their parents and other family members’ sun regrets, and aren’t afraid to try treatments to maintain or improve their skin.”

But a lot of us are stressed the f*ck out, especially these days. The business of life has so many of us stretched thin, without mentioning the, uh, totally stable state of the world over the past several years. Can Botox and a perpetually filled Stanley Cup really counteract all the external forces putting stress lines on our faces?

Yadav also wants to point out that the omnipresence of screens both causes and exacerbates a lot of these concerns across age brackets. “Video chats like FaceTime and Zoom have made us all hyper-aware of any perceived flaws,” she says. “After many of my patients transitioned to working remotely, plenty came in for their first aesthetic treatments because they kept staring at their ‘imperfections’ during virtual meetings. There’s evidence that the pandemic era caused an increase in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).”

“Then there’s social media,” she adds. “Everyone uses it as their highlight reel, and of course you want to look your best when sharing that with the world, so for many people, that means photo editing. Everyone, from normal people to celebrities, is using filters, which creates this distorted perception of what we believe a human face should look like. And while everyone is susceptible to this fake reality and it can be hard to remember that an image could be filtered when viewing it, millennials at least grew up in a time before filters. Younger generations don’t have that context, and COVID exacerbated this; children had less access to their peers in real life and thus saw more altered images of one another. Findings show this increased BDD in adolescent girls.”

Though millennials were bombarded with toxic messaging from magazines, ad campaigns, and other media, younger generations now have the same messaging in different packaging… and it’s quite literally always in their pockets or at their fingertips. When you’re expected to curate a perfect image both in person and behind a screen, it’s clear why Sephora tweens feel pressure to become “baby Botox” devotees in their 20s and 30s.

But if these same products and cosmetic procedures are keeping us looking younger, why are they (allegedly) making Gen Z look older? “There’s a saying: You only see bad work,” says Yadav. “When people talk about how old someone looks because of the aesthetic treatments they tried, it’s because it is extremely apparent that they got a treatment, typically injectables — too much or poorly placed filler, or they’ve been frozen stiff with a neurotoxin.”

If all of this makes your head spin as it does mine, might I suggest stepping away from your devices and mirrors for a minute? When I get all up in my head about what I look like, that’s when I know it’s time to go for a walk with my dog, give my nearest loved one a snuggle, open up that library book on my nightstand, and remember just how many people stand to profit off my feeling insecure.

Beauty is inching toward a $500 billion (yes, billion with a b) yearly revenue. Making us all feel like sh*t is a feature, not a bug, friends. We’re all just swimming upstream in an ocean of thick, overpriced viral-on-TikTok face creams here.