As a veteran of the cosmetics industry, Gabriella Zuckerman puts her experience to work every day. Zuckerman is president of Gabriella Z Ltd., a New York City consulting firm that identifies and develops new product opportunities for cosmetic and personal care companies. She's a cosmetic chemist who's steered worldwide new product development for Revlon and worked for other top cosmetic firms. But it was her experience as a consumer that spurred her to do a bit of research this past summer.

After she and other staff members realized that most cosmetic companies were ignoring a potentially lucrative market segment - women over age 45 - her firm decided to conduct the first installment of an ongoing study of the beauty, health and personal care needs of women 45-65 years of age. "I have a number of consultants working with me and it happens that three of us are between the ages of 45-53. It was apparent from our experience that this age group wasn't being serviced," Zuckerman says.

The firm mailed ten-page questionnaires to 350 affluent women in major metropolitan areas in May and June of this year. To understand how the women were dealing with the physical and emotional effects of aging, the survey included questions on their health and lifestyle and their purchasing habits and product needs in skin care and color cosmetics, fragrance, hair care, hand/foot care and eye care.

(Zuckerman acknowledges that the findings aren't projectable but nevertheless says that the opinions of this segment are valuable because new developments in the cosmetic product category have frequently started with upper-income women who can afford to pay special attention to their skin.)

Leading edge

Zuckerman sought the opinions of these women because they represent the leading edge in understanding the effects of changes in their body due to aging. (Sixty-seven percent identified themselves as menopausal or post-menopausal.) They tend to be better informed about the options available to solve their ongoing problems.

"It's always fascinated me that menopause is something that nobody talks about. When I started the survey people said no one would give me answers to menopause-related questions; no one wants to talk about it. But we got more answers on that area than any other in the survey," Zuckerman says.

Some findings:

  • Forty percent of the women felt that there weren't products on the market that addressed their aging-related problems.
  • When asked what influences their skin care and cosmetic purchases, only nine percent cited advertising. Friends (38 percent) and estheticians/dermatologists (26 percent) were the most influential sources of advice. Advertising's poor showing proves that something is wrong with the way marketers are communicating, Zuckerman says. "Advertising of a different kind is needed. It has to be more factual and believable. Companies should let the women try the product through samples so they can see the benefits. Don't just sell them hope."
  • Eighty percent of those surveyed say they are eating less fat, more fruits and vegetables, less protein and less sugar. Eighty-five percent say they read nutrition labels.
  • Over half (59 percent) of the respondents work full-time; 33 percent own their own business; 35 percent said that most of their day is spent caring for their home and family.
  • Eighty-five percent reported skin care problems.
  • The three most important factors that influence a woman to stay with a cosmetic or skin care product or brand are performance (31 percent), reliability (24 percent) and safety (22 percent).
  • Nearly three-quarters of the panel said they colored their hair. Ninety-six percent said the appearance of their hair was very important.
  • Citing a lack of time, only 31 percent belong to a health club. Forty-five percent have been to a spa at least once.

Marketing opportunities

The survey points up marketing opportunities for companies other than cosmetics makers; shoe makers, for example. Half of the panelists said they now wear lower-heeled shoes. ("An awful lot of older women wear sneakers because they no longer want to wear heels," Zuckerman says.) Forty percent reported changes in their feet (dryness, bunions, soreness) yet only 20 percent were doing something about the changes. They may have specific needs in orthopedic shoes, but don't want to wear shoes that aren't attractive, Zuckerman says.

In general, service providers have to learn that aging baby boomers will need more patience and explanation when it comes to choosing product and services.

Despite the size and potential of the market, cosmetic manufacturers aren't rushing to introduce product lines tailored to older women, Zuckerman says. "As it becomes clear that it will benefit them financially to cater to this group, more of them will do so. But very few companies want to be the first. They want to wait and make sure that they will make money before they get into it. But I don't think companies can afford not to do something."