When Sonsoles Gonzalez, a 25-year veteran of the beauty industry, noticed her hair greying and thinning in her late-40s, she knew she was experiencing a wider, untapped ‘cosmetic’ issue: the menopause.
“Greying required me to colour every four weeks and my thick black pony tail became thinner,” she tells Future Women. “I started struggling to find products that could work with my changing hair. I noticed how really no-one was talking to me. I wasn’t surprised, having been part of that industry for many years. I can tell you we spent no time on this target.”
She’s right, of course. Just like in Sonsoles’ native New York, the Australian beauty industry is booming from Brisbane to Melbourne – with beauty sales topping $6.5bn in 2018, following 10 years of uninterrupted growth. Frustratingly though, most mass market skin and haircare companies continue to have one woman in mind.
“I myself wrote many briefs all of which targeted women ages 18-44,” she says. “The playbook for most CPG [Consumer Products Goods] companies was based on size of the market (which was up until now Millennials) and the belief that [we should] ‘hook them early and get them for life’. It was traditionally believed that ‘older’ women were set in their old habits, and therefore were not eager to try new products. This is obviously not right as there is data that shows 82 percent are willing to try new product.”
This may explain why some household names have been slow to recognise the shift in discussions around the menopause and ageing in general. Beauty at 50 is no longer in line with the traditional (and tired) anti-ageing trope, just as “going through the change” is now seen as an outdated adage for something that eventually impacts us all as women – and not necessarily negatively.
“Women’s attitudes towards ageing have changed,” Sonsoles says. “Twenty or 30 years ago, women our age were expected to go into retirement and spend the rest of their lives watching over grandkids, traveling, gardening. Women today have different expectations. Many see the 50’s as an opportunity to reinvent themselves: either starting new careers or beginning to date again.”
Whitney Gosden, co-founder of menopause-focused beauty brand Pepper and Wits, says this attitudinal shift has led to much-needed frank conversations around the upside of getting older.
She tells Future Women: “No one can stop the ageing process, and it’s important for women to feel good about themselves during every stage of their lives. Menopause is a natural process and it’s simply the start of another phase of women’s lives. Today, a lot of our society’s broader cultural conversation is focused on women’s issues.
“Topics that had not previously been discussed quite so openly are now being destigmatised, and menopause is certainly one of them. But there’s still such a lack of education and understanding among women at all ages about this topic overall. We’d like to fill that gap and help women embrace the ageing process as part of a healthy life experience.”
On top of this shift, it’s clear that menopausal women have huge untapped spending power. “[In the US], these women control over $15 trillion dollars,” Sonsoles adds. “They spend 2.5 times more than the average consumer, and are the largest demographic with income over $100M.” Yet this age group has remained virtually invisible in the beauty industry, except when it comes to creams, lotions and potions that promise to rewind the years, until now.
One 50+ shopper summed up the frustration perfectly: “I’m not the person I was at 20 and wouldn’t want to be. Why are beauty brands so obsessed with turning back the clock? I want products tailored to my hair and skin now that actually work.”
It turns out that a pioneering faction of the beauty industry is listening, with a new wave of pro-age products shaking up the virtual aisles. French favourite Vichy and British brand Stratum C have both launched skincare lines that promise to tackle issues like dryness and acne brought on by menopause. While new US brand Pause Well-Aging and the Procter-and-Gamble-developed Pepper and Wits are offering hormone-free solution-based products to soothe physiological symptoms such as hot flashes, brain fog and vaginal dryness. The luxury press is also leading the charge. British Vogue recently teamed up with L’Oréal Paris to challenge stereotypes around age with their Non-Issue Issue. For her part, Sonsoles has spent the last few years developing Better Not Younger, a haircare range specifically designed to meet the needs of menopausal hair.
So what do the experts think? Dr Louise Newson, a specialist at the British Menopause Society, recently told The Sunday Times Style that hormone replacement therapy or HRT is “the best response, even to mild symptoms of menopause” because it replaces lost oestrogen, strengthening collagen and preventing dryness. She says there’s no need to use menopause-specific skincare, although most of these new products are designed to complement HRT rather than replace it. But, Sonsoles’ customer feedback clearly demonstrates that simply feeling good in your own skin can make a huge difference when navigating the changes that come with the menopause.
“We get so many consumers writing to us, simply saying ‘thank you for thinking of us’,” she says. “It feels good to be excited again!”
Best Of Future Women
Your inbox just got smarter
If you’re not a member, sign up to our newsletter to get the best of Future Women in your inbox.