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Mental Health

Ageing Like Milk—Gen Zs Are Getting Older, Faster

We’ve all heard the term ageing like milk. Gen Z, especially seems to be hyperaware of ageing. We explore the causes of their claims of accelerated ageing and why there might be some truth to the statement.

Feb 28, 2024

6 min read

Written by Rhea Kadakia
Medically Reviewed by 

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A graphic image depicting how Gen Z are ageing faster; despite being young on the inside, their outward appearance is that of an older person.

“Old age is no place for sissies”—Bette Davis

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age”—Lucille Ball

“Age is inevitable; ageing isn’t”—Marv Levy

We’ve been conditioned—Spotting your first grey hair, a line on your face, or an age spot on your body is a fear-inducing moment. Age has gone from an abstract concept to a visible reality. Sephora kids are the norm, and anti-ageing products are flying off shelves, bought by 12-year-olds. Why are younger people so acutely aware of their age? Is it true that Gen Z is ageing like milk?

According to the NIH, ageing can be defined as a time-related deterioration of the physiological functions necessary for survival and fertility.  With numerous Gen Zs flooding the internet with claims that they’re ageing like milk, we wanted to explore the reasons behind this.

Who are Gen Z?

A graph depicting all the different generations and their age ranges

Source: Pew Research Centre

Born after 1996, the oldest Gen Z, also known as digital natives, are now 27, the youngest being 12 (born in 2012). Gen Zs were born into an age of stability when the economy was strong and there was record-low unemployment. However, after Covid-19, the very stability they were used to had been shaken to its core. Political landscapes, healthcare and interpersonal relationships were all redefined. Gen Zs, while young, have had a very unique entrance into adulthood. A factor that could affect the way they view ageing. 

What makes Gen Z believe they’re ageing?

Recent videos emerging on social media platforms, put out by Gen Zs claim that they often get mistaken for people older than them. A video by Josh Howlett a 26-year-old, has gone viral with nearly 20 million views where he claims he’s “younger than Zendaya” yet constantly receives comments about being older. Another Gen Z social media influencer, Taylor Donoghue received comments on her videos that she looks to be in her 30s while she is only 23. They attribute their more mature look to the stressors in their life. Others seeking to cast blame put it down to vaping, the overuse of makeup up and Gen Z's penchant for cancel culture. 

What are stressors for Gen Z?

Psychosocial stress encompasses numerous factors, ranging from early life adversity,  low socioeconomic status, stressful life events, caregiving, work-related stress, financial strain, discrimination, low social support, interpersonal conflict, loneliness and over-parenting. Over-parenting is when a parent over-nurtures their child and makes decisions for them when they are capable of doing so themselves; as a result of this, children tend to have increased feelings of loneliness and social anxiety, preventing them from fostering meaningful conditions.

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“Having people around, supporting you and helping you through the tough times in life is a gift you often take for granted.”

Tanushree Baikar, Clinical Psychologist, Samarpan Health

Ever since the pandemic, Gen Z has claimed worsening mental health every year. The American Psychological Association attributes the rising level of stress among Gen Zs to inflation, healthcare access, the aftermath of COVID and a lack of ability to form and maintain interpersonal connections. Moreover, the APA’s stress survey found that 74 per cent of Gen Z find it difficult to connect with people, thereby often isolating themselves. These increased feelings of loneliness add to the stressors in their life. 

Tanushree Baikar, a clinical psychologist at the Samarpan clinic, emphasised the importance of strong social connections when combatting stress, “Having people around, supporting you and helping you through the tough times in life is a gift you often take for granted.” She went on to iterate, “I have so many young people who come to me. Most of them are struggling; they can’t get work easily, there’s so much pressure on them to live a certain way, and they don’t know how to cope with these problems, oftentimes shutting down. In more severe cases, you can see them developing anxiety as well.” 

Stress and Ageing (how one affects the other)

Stress plays a big factor in ageing, internally and externally. When the body is distressed, it releases stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Usually, these hormones help with providing short-term energy and focus to help with the stressful situation at hand. However, chronic stress, such as what Gen Z are facing, could result in harmful hormonal imbalances. Excess stress hormones have been linked to conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and a weakened immune system. 

As per the Mayo Clinic, long-term activation of the body’s stress response and over-exposure to stress hormones increases the risk of:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle tension and pain.
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Weight gain.
  • Problems with memory and focus.

So why is Gen Z ageing faster?

Taking into account the relationship between stress and ageing, there are a number of factors caused by stress that can lead to premature ageing. Sleep problems can impact skin function and ageing. A clinical trial commissioned by Estee Lauder and carried out by  University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Centre found that poor sleepers demonstrated increased signs of skin ageing and slower recovery from environmental stressors. Moreover, poor sleepers had worse assessments of their own skin and facial appearance. 

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Gen Z are born into a digital age, they spend so much time dissecting and observing the lives of other people, they feel like their lives fall short.

Rituparna Patgiri, Sociologist and Associate Professor, Thapar School of Liberal Arts and Sciences

More superficially, chronic stress and the constant production of cortisol blocks two substances that keep your skin looking plump and vibrant: hyaluronan synthase and collagen. The lack of collagen and hyaluronan synthases contributes to an increased rate of ageing. 

These are only a few of the reasons why Gen Z are looking older. Rituparna Patgiri, a sociologist and associate professor at the Thapar School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, also claims that “Gen Z are born into a digital age, they spend so much time dissecting and observing the lives of other people, they feel like their lives fall short. They spectate the lives of others, and when they fail to match up, it causes them stress. This leads to the idea of inadequacy and increased pressure on themselves to match up to unrealistic expectations of the internet. I believe this is why more young people are buying into anti-ageing products and treatments.”

So, as it turns out, Gen Z might actually be ageing like milk

Gen Z is ageing faster, through no real fault of their own but as a product of their circumstances. A culmination of stress, exposure to the so-called perfection available on the internet and coveting eternal youth has led to Gen Zs ageing faster while simultaneously working to slow the process down.

Medically reviewed by:

Dr B. S. Mahesh, Clinical Psychologist

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