June 13, 2024


Define Beauty Yourself

Why Gen X Is Prestige Beauty’s Biggest Opportunity

Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, Gen X has always been the proverbial middle child of beauty marketing: often overlooked and frequently undervalued. But what they lack in attention, they make up for in importance, growing their spend more than any other generation on prestige beauty, according to data from Circana.

And their power is only growing.

“Gen X is going to be bigger than the Boomers in the next four years. It’s time for the beauty industry to focus on them,” said Larissa Jensen, senior vice president and global beauty industry adviser at Circana. “Why? Because beauty is not just about youth.”

Jensen sees not just potential, but also a need. “As you age, your skin changes. Consumers need to be educated about that. And there is also a need for connection,” she said. “It’s almost like as we get older we age out of beauty — we become less important. But we still want the connection.”

While the cohort will be bigger than Boomers in the near future, their shopping behavior is very different. “Even though we’re aging, our behaviors align more with younger consumers than older ones,” said Jensen. “Beauty can’t approach them like Boomers.”

For one, it’s more about mindset than price and value, two factors that drive purchasing decisions for both Boomers and Gen Z and Alphas. “Consumers say it’s more important to them to feel good than to look good. It’s about the mindset with Gen X — inclusivity and ease,” said Jensen.

“There is so much opportunity with this cohort,” she continued. “The beauty industry has shifted their focus to the Alphas, because that is a hot topic, but what about the Xers? It’s important, because there is not just opportunity — there is need.”

To better understand how brands and retailers can tap into the opportunity, WWD Beauty Inc and Circana teamed up for an exclusive look into the mindset and purchasing behaviors of Gen X. 

Here, the results.

By the Numbers

Within the next four years, Gen X will outnumber Baby Boomers in the U.S. Already, it is double the size of Gen Alpha (8 to 14 years old).

Total Gen X: 69,658,318

Total Gen X Female: 35,011,718

Total Gen X Male: 34,646,600

Total Gen Alpha: 29,042,689

Total Gen Alpha Female: 14,176,936

Total Gen Alpha Male: 14,865,753

Big Spenders

Gen X spends about $173 billion annually on general merchandise. Within that, the largest categories they spend on are apparel (21 percent), technology (14 percent) and home improvement (12 percent). Prestige beauty represents 6 percent, about $10.38 billion, but it is the fastest-growing category in terms of spend.

Prestige Beauty Growth by Age

55+: +11 percent

45 to 54: +14 percent

35 to 44: +11 percent

25 to 34: +5 percent

18 to 24: +9 percent

Share of wallet is greatest for fragrance and skin care, with makeup representing about 25 percent of their overall beauty spend. They are heavier purchasers of makeup and fragrance than other generations. 88 percent report they will maintain their overall beauty spend in the upcoming months.

Hair Care: Purchases Over Last 12 Months

Gen X: 94 percent

Boomers: 91 percent

Gen Z/Millennials: 90 percent

Skin Care: Purchases Over Last 12 Months

Gen Z/Millennials: 86 percent

Gen X: 81 percent

Boomers: 74 percent

Makeup: Purchases Over Last 12 Months

Gen X: 72 percent

Gen Z/Millennials: 64 percent

Boomers: 59 percent

Fragrance: Purchases Over Last 12 Months

Gen Z/Millennials: 58 percent

Gen X: 53 percent

Boomers: 32 percent

Top three Gen X Beauty Retailers



Ulta Beauty

Fastest-growing Beauty Retailers Outside of the Top 3

Kohl’s and Sephora


Their spending patterns are more closely aligned to younger generations than to Boomers, and they are more likely to shop online and in specialty channels than older generations.

Percent of Gen X shoppers by channel

Mass: 66 percent

Drug: 42 percent

Online only retailers: 38 percent

Specialty stores: 38 percent

Off-price retailers: 23 percent

Food grocery: 21 percent

Department stores: 16 percent

The Age of Influence

Like their younger counterparts, one in three Gen X consumers research products online before shopping. Loyalty programs are also very important to them. And their kids have an outsized impact on what they buy; among those influenced by their children, 34 percent of Gen X report their children have a “strong influence” on what they buy. Other key factors: Free samples, recommendations from an adult friend/family member and in-store displays.

Gen X is more comfortable with aging terms than other generations, but eschews anything that makes them feel old. Here, in order, the top antiaging product descriptions:

  1. Antiaging
  2. Preventative
  3. Age-defying
  4. Regenerative
  5. Age-prevention
  6. Ageless
  7. For mature skin
  8. Timeless
  9. Menopausal

Buying beauty products is considered a great way to treat yourself.

Gen X: 75 percent

Gen Z/Millennials: 67 percent

Boomers: 64 percent

This Is Me

Representation matters. Gen X is highly invested in beauty — and wants to see their hopes and aspirations reflected back. Circana asked Gen X survey respondents what they wished the beauty industry knew about them. Many spoke about their top concerns, including rosacea, acne and wrinkles, and there was a strong thread to celebrate aging, too.

“Age doesn’t mean you’re old.”

“I don’t like gimmicks. Do advertising that is true. We are not all alike and all women are beautiful in our own way.”

“I need help with age-related skin issues and I need things that really work.”

“It’s important to stop using young women who aren’t even close to getting wrinkles to promote antiaging products.”

“I’m busy and I want products that have good results.”

“Aging is natural. Don’t make someone feel bad for the normal progression of aging. Laugh lines mean I live and laugh.”

“It’s all about the products! Describe them as they are, and make sure they work as promised.”

“I’m middle-aged, not dead!”