Starting fresh: Cosmetics industry targets women 50 and up

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Lynn Jamroz is 51 and stuck in a makeup rut, still wearing the same beige frosted eye shadow and circles of eyeliner the same way she has for the past 12 years.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette photos
Yvonne Namey, 50, a product consultant for Sephora in Shadyside, after a makeover.
Click photo for larger image.

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"I look tired. I don't know what to do," she told Sybil Brathwaite, a beauty specialist for Vital Radiance, Revlon's new line of makeup for women 50 and older -- suddenly a sought-after demographic for cosmetics companies.

"Let's open up those eyes," said Ms. Brathwaite, who was giving makeovers for the new cosmetic line as part of the AARP road show in Pittsburgh recently.

She pulled out her bag of line-softening tricks: primer to prevent eye shadow from creasing, matte eye shadow instead of frosted, and light eyeliner and mascara on the bottom lid to divert attention from pesky circles under the eyes.

"Just like the clothes you used to wear when you were 20, you can't wear them anymore," Ms. Brathwaite told Ms. Jamroz, a dental insurance representative whose territory includes Pittsburgh. "Well, you can't wear the same makeup anymore."

Women 50 and older were once an afterthought of the youth-crazed, wrinkle-resistant beauty industry, but suddenly they are on center stage.

Christie Brinkley has become a Cover Girl again, saying in ads, "I don't want to be younger. I just want to look it." Diane Keaton hawks L'Oreal's age-perfect skin products. Sharon Stone is the new face of Christian Dior's skin-care line.

Admittedly, these still-gorgeous celebrities have aged better than the typical 50- or 60-year-old. You won't see hound-dog bags under their eyes. But then again, they are not the fresh-faced 20-year-olds featured in most beauty advertising.

Whether this is inspired marketing or a silly pitch is a matter of debate.

"It is brilliant. It is high time that cosmetic companies realized that women still have faces after 40," said Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project, a consulting and research firm in Richmond, Va.

But Paula Begoun, the author of the cosmetics Web site Cosmeticscop.com, is astounded that makeup is being marketed to women 50 and older.


"Dallas," a powdered blush by Benefit, is applied to Yvonne Namey's cheekbones in a C motion starting at the temple.
Click photo for larger image.
A lavender-colored eyeshadow called "Asphyxia" by Urban Decay is applied to Ms. Namey's eyelids.
Click photo for larger image.

"What is this friggin' over-50 group?" said Ms. Begoun, a 52-year-old herself. "What do I have in common with every other 50-year-old on the planet, an African-American woman, an Asian woman, an 80-year-old white woman?'

"How large of a group is this? I can't believe that we are letting ourselves be railroaded together and we are naive enough to believe it. I think it is the most bizarre marketing insanity I have ever heard."

Others say marketers are finally waking up to the buying patterns of boomers.

In 2004, the 50-plus population purchased 66 percent of all cosmetics and toiletries -- a whopping $20 billion, according to AARP The Magazine.

That's why the magazine, with the world's largest circulation at 22 million subscribers, has seen its beauty and cosmetics advertising grow from nothing a few years ago to millions of dollars' worth today.

"This is the first time historically they have presented these products to older consumers," said Jim Fishman, vice president of group publishing of the AARP magazine. The edition of the magazine that goes out to seniors age 60 to 69 is especially thick with beauty ads. "Marketers who missed marketing to boomers when they turned 50 are determined not to miss them when they turn 60."

But the field is getting crowded.

Revlon, which launched its Vital Radiance brand in January in drug and mass retailers, said sales were less robust than expected because of increased competition for this demographic. The company forecast lower-than-expected sales growth for this year.

But it still has high hopes for the brand as women get to know it. Customers can call beauty consultants seven days a week for on-the-phone consultations and for free samples.

"We are not targeting women who are defying their age," said Sheila Munguia, public relations manager for Revlon. "She is embracing her age. It is about enhancing natural beauty."

But marketing a beauty product to an older audience can be a tricky, said David Wolfe, principal of Wolfe Resources Group, a Reston, Va.-based marketing consulting firm specializing in the 40-plus market.

"Women in their 50s don't feel 50. People don't generally feel their age."

Some beauty specialists say instead of 50-and-over makeup, it is a better idea to help women use makeup in different ways.

At Sephora in Shadyside, Sabrina DeCarolis, a youthful-looking 50-year-old product consultant, steers women in their 50s, 60s and older to products such as Benefit's Eye Bright and Boi-ing to conceal dark circles and Lip Fusion Plumper from Fusion Beauty.

"Our lips get thinner as we get older," Ms. DeCarolis said. "It won't turn small lips into Angelina Jolie, but it will make lips fuller. It fills them in and makes them look pillowy."

"At this point, our intelligence, our strength, our compassion and our humor show up in our faces. I like to use a subtle bit of makeup to enhance this beautiful time in our lives."

Ms. DeCarolis also advises some of her 50-plus customers to flip-flop the traditional shading of eye shadow so that the lighter shade is near the eye and the darker shade is near the brow.

"It's a cool trick," she said. "We should rethink the products we have and get a fresh look."

Of course, 50-plus beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Ms. Brathwaite of Vital Radiance tells her clients to put the dark shadow near the lid.

She said Vital Radiance makeup is especially formulated with 50 and over skin in mind. The primers, she said, help fill in the lines -- not wrinkles -- so that the makeup doesn't cake on the face.

"We hear it all the time -- the lines, the lines, the lines," said Ms. Brathwaite. "They are spending a lot of money on other makeup, and it is just settling into the lines."

She finished up Ms. Jamroz's makeover and let her look in the mirror at her new face. "Oh, wow. Very nice," Ms. Jamroz said. "So different from what I usually do."

Later, Ms. Jamroz said she doesn't buy the concept that women in her age bracket need their own line of makeup. But even so, she plans to give Vital Radiance a shot the next time she goes to the makeup counter, casting one vote in the competitive boomer beauty wars.


Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at crouvalis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1572.


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