REFLECTIONS: On the Paranoid Style
The Reason Old People Must Die

Anti-Aging Baloney

A lot of marketing and public relations people who do not bother to read or even skim this blog, send requests asking Crabby Old Lady to interview longevity experts or review books about life extension or report on anti-aging products. Perhaps it has been too long since Crabby has made herself clear: she rejects all anti-aging requests because she thinks it's all stupid, useless and wasteful.

The hope, dream and aim of all people involved in the lucrative anti-aging field (after cleaning out our pocketbooks to the tune of $50 billion a year in the U.S. alone) is, like ol' Ponce de Leon in Florida 600 years ago, to cure death so that we will all live forever.

Certainly, you are familiar with commercial anti-aging products – Botox, dermabrasion, skin resurfacing, creams, supplements, etc. These potions, procedures and pills, they tell us, will reverse signs of aging. They cannot and do not do this; they can only mask (or, rather, purport to mask) signs of aging. And they definitely do not extend lifespans.

More serious life extension enthusiasts, some of whom are legitimate scientists, advocate several theories and strategies to extend life indefinitely: cloning body parts for replacement as originals wear out or become diseased; cryonics to freeze our bodies until they can be defrosted when a disease treatment is found; stem cells for rejuvenation; genetic modification; and extreme calorie restriction, among others.

Plus, there are Ray Kurzweil and his followers who believe computer development in the form of the “singularity” will, within a few decades, allow humans and machines to merge into something they cannot describe but will, according to believers, eliminate ill health, aging and death itself. (See The New York Times for the short version.)

It goes without saying, of course, that in one of these ways or another, living forever will take place in the full bloom of youth, beauty and intelligence when their work reaches fruition.

What most drives Crabby around the bend, is that none of these people can effectively explain where we are going to put all these people who continue to procreate but never die. How will we house them? Feed them? Support them? Already the world is overpopulated. We should be devising ways to reduce population not expand it.

So Crabby Old Lady and Time Goes By will have nothing to do with these "researchers" - who lack the ethics to consider the planet - when they come knocking at her cyberdoor to promote their books and wares.

Crabby would rather tell you about geriatrician Bill Thomas, author of the brilliant book on aging, What Are Old People For? who blogs at ChangingAging. He recently posted a note about a window display he photographed while on a visit to the United Kingdom.

Bill Thomas Reverse Aging Image

Here is what Dr. Thomas wrote about it at his blog:

“I like healthy skin. I want my skin to be strong and unblemished. But. I am living in 50 year old skin and if I am lucky, someday I will be living in 70 year old skin.

“I want skin that works. I want skin that is comfortable. I want skin that is attractive. I can have all those things without the silly conceit of 'reversing aging.' In my experience, the older people live to be, the more ridiculous they consider these kinds of products to be.

“What about you? What kind of skin do you think you want to have when you are 70?”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: A Teacher's Dream


At 73 years old, I would really like to get rid of the "age spots", & I'm dead serious!:) They are not "freckles", but proof of my having been a sun-worshipper when very young, a member of the "baby oil + iodine" crowd! The sags, wrinkles & creases, I'll keep, but the "age spots" (often called liver spots)have got to go. I'll let you know when I have the dermabrasion. Dee

I'm in agreement regarding anti-aging products. I explore this in A New Wrinkle my musical play on aging when Barbie the Doll sings her song Passing for Young (which talks about anxiety about looking young, Botox, Restylane, liposuction etc) and when the Chorus responds to her song asking her:

When you took your old face off
and the wrinkles escaped
What happened to what was
written all over your face?
When you put the new face forward
When you put the smooth face on
Where did it go, the map you made
dancing along with life?
Let’s face it; you could have lost face there.

Of course with Baba Yaga the hag from Russian folklore as the play's protagonist, there's no equivocation about where A New Wrinkle is coming from.

Yes, I do miss my beautiful younger skin and wish I did not bruise so easily as I do these days, but I am happy to have lived to a healthy, curious 69.

Photo facials (can be known by different names), which are not the same as dermabrasions, do remove age spots and can tighten skin. I had them mostly in my late 50s and then tapered off with my early 60s to now I haven't had one in a couple of years but they do work. I just don't care at this point enough to pay the $100 and take the time. A series of the treatments, which is what it takes to start, does run more than $100 but it's not real expensive and it does work. BUT nothing works forever and that's basically how I see it now.

My own skin regime these days is Oil of Olay products which seem to work as well as the more expensive creams I tried way back when. I also am a believer in facial exercises but don't do them as regularly either as I do think it's okay to look old and worrying about it takes up time I would rather put into worrying about something more pertinent to quality of life-- like the right exercises to keep my knees healthy into my 70s for hiking.

Hello Crabby,

I am 81 years old and people always say "You have beautiful skin,what is your secret?"

My answer? "THANKS,MOM".....

"Plus, there are Ray Kurzweil and his followers who believe computer development in the form of the “singularity” will, within a few decades, allow humans and machines to merge into something they cannot describe but will, according to believers, eliminate ill health, aging and death itself."
Reminds me of C.S.Lewis' space trilogy, especially the third book, "That Hideous Strength." Fine reading too.

I saw my reflection in a log
and warped and rough as it might be
I knew quite well
that it was me

Dear old Dad, from his youth until death in his 80's had relentlessly dry skin. For the comfort factor he tried various lotions and creams, some prescribed, and being a biologist would faithfully use the new product on one leg and another on the other for weeks at a time. His conclusion, olive oil or crisco worked as well as anything else and was much cheaper, although he did end up going with a drug store product because "it smelled better and didn't oil up his clothing." Mom just naturally had good skin in spite of smoking and sunbathing. Go figure. So my secret is like Nancy's, Mom, and the luck of genetics.

I have never tried any of the anti-aging tools except for some creams. I actually am not against looking better...not getting rid of deep wrinkles or unattractive age spots or even doing surgery so that I don't look so tired and sad are not anything I am against. I am just not pro enough to get off my butt and do anything about it.

I have dry skin and am prone to skin cancer. I have had 12 malignancies removed to date and expect I will continue to do so as long as I live.

When I was young I had pale skin that burned and freckled easily. Being a foolish teenager I wanted that Copper Girl tan and cooked my skin every summer. I am paying the price now.

I do use Oil of Olay cleanser and moisturizer, but no expensive creams or lotions. I no longer care that my cheeks have sagged to my jaw, I am covered in ugly spots and the wrinkles are numerous. It is the reward of a long life and I feel blessed.

I meant to share this link. If you're interested, it says forget skin - your *bones* sag!! I can't get the link to link; I'm sorry.

My skin wishes are few. How about cancer free. I spent too many years in the sun to wish otherwize. How about still skin. :)

My skin solution has been to move to Hawaii. The soft, humid air is a natural moisturizer. My skin ages 20 years in appearance when I visit the Mainland (and every day is a bad hair day there, too). Of course I have brown spots and so on and some sun "damage," but it's pretty clear that avoiding sun all the time is not healthy. I take care but not to excess with sun exposure.
I agree with the commenter above that a lot of the beautiful skin you see on older people is hereditary. Some Italians and Filipinos have lovely skin even into old age.
Oh, and this longevity stuff. Aldous Huxley wrote amusingly about this obsession in *After Many a Summer Dies the Swan.* It's an American perennial.


Back in the 1970s, a renowned dermatologist I interviewed told me there is no commercial moisturizerk at any price that can do anything for human skin that Vaseline can't do.

Like your dad's conclusion about olive oil, he agreed that Vaseline might be a tad heavy and not as esthetically pleasing as one would want. He suggested buying the cheapest drug store moisturizer.

I've done that ever since and it's worked just fine.

As I age, I want to keep my eyesight,my hearing and remain ambulatory. I want to keep my sharp brain.

And that is already asking for a lot.

Phooey on looking younger. I had my day.
I love my face because it is mine.

Completely agree with you, COL. Who wants a 30 years old face combined with 90 year old hands? If I'm 90, let me present a healthy, intelligent, witty 90, not a fake, haphazard renovated one. I'll take apple doll looks over air mattress pumped, goggle eye visage.

An image of Ruth Buzzi on "Laugh-In" just crossed my mind.

I rest my case, plus:

If butt ugly rock stars can have a million fans, seniors who avoid the knife should command equal respect.

Forgot to add, nobody, far as I know dives out of windows, or howls at the moon when I walk down the street. I use Nivea Milk, once worked for the company that makes it, love the way it washes off with water.

Sunscreen works.

Keeping skin moist is probably the only thing extra I do. I have used Oil Of Olay moisturizer once a day for so many years and it is the only thing I am not allergic to so it works for me. I have never had work done on my face or any other body parts. Most of the time I wear no makeup. I am comfortable with who I am and happy to have reached the age I am.

First, you nailed it about the overpopulation issue, and I've never seen a single ad for anti-aging cosmetics, or for life-extension sci-fi mention how we'd solve that problem.

Two, I plan to age naturally. I think older people who TRY to disguise their age look silly to most everyone. Don't even get me started on botox or putting butt-fat in lips to make them look obscene.

Third, sometimes I wonder how PR and ad writers sleep at night. They are a big part of the industry that not only makes the older folks feel bad for looking their age, but also bilking folks for stuff that is, let's face it, too often just snake oil.

pcwinans said: As I age, I want to keep my eyesight,my hearing and remain ambulatory. I want to keep my sharp brain.
And that is already asking for a lot.
Phooey on looking younger. I had my day. I love my face because it is mine.

I love this comment! Like pc, it's important to me not to lose my mind. And for goodness sake, look at Joan Rivers! Yikes. I'd rather have a face with character than one all pulled back and waxy looking.

With you all the way. I'm dappled and dewlapped as the ethnicity dictates. My long, long neck that was so graceful at twenty, now looks like E.T.

There's only so much time, energy, and money available; I'm not going to waste it on trying to imitate someone else's genes. And the same lotion I use on my hands works just fine on my face and neck. If serious science proves me wrong, there are still better things to think about. I love you for posts like these.

In my mind's eye I have my unlined young face, even though the mirror sings a different song. My mom has beautiful, soft skin and she's constantly surprised at how wrinkly it is. Perhaps she, too, sees herself at 20?

As a relative newby to this site, this was my first exposure to a full shot of Ronni philosophy. Right on. I like the skin I'm in. Those few sentences on overpopulation carry a message everybody on this planet should take seriously and act on however they can.

well put. when younger I worked briefly in a hospital. I entered a patient's room and looked at her bruised and blackened face. No, she had not been beaten. She'd had a face life. Right then and there I determined never to have a face lift.

Actually my mom and dad both had very few wrinkles and mom often got compiments on her beautiful skin. Me, I love to sit out in the heat of the sun so probably will not follow suit.

At this point, who cares?

The original Star Trek had a prescient episode in which the inhabitants of the Planet Gideon lived extremely long lives. Their planet had become so overcrowded that they arranged to have one of their people contract a deadly virus in the hopes of thinning the population to livable levels.

Japan is already so overcrowded that they've proposed building Sky City 1000 in which they say around 36,000 people will live and about 100,000 people will work. I read that if Sky City is actually built, some people will likely live their entire lives in it.

Not pretty pictures.

Seems like maybe it's our fear of death that makes us want to find, and drink from, the Fountain of Youth.

Be careful what you ask for.

Thank you, Ronni. I need your recurrent reminders to ground me in the reality of aging -- which is where I want to be.

I have been struggling since my 40s against the allure of a facelift -- even though I see the results all around me in wealthy South Florida of women whose faces now more closely resemble rigid masks of their former selves.

Please do not think because you have written about this, you need never give the message again.

Can't wait to check out Bill Thomas's site.

Thank you.

"What most drives Crabby around the bend, is that none of these people can effectively explain where we are going to put all these people who continue to procreate but never die."

Except that it won't happen that way. You should look at this post:

and this demographic study on what longevity does to population:

"A common objection against starting a large-scale biomedical war on aging is the fear of catastrophic population consequences (overpopulation). This fear is only exacerbated by the fact that no detailed demographic projections for radical life extension scenario have been conducted so far. This study explores different demographic scenarios and population projections, in order to clarify what could be the demographic consequences of a successful biomedical war on aging. A general conclusion of this study is that population changes are surprisingly slow in their response to a dramatic life extension. For example, we applied the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005. Even for very long 100-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 60), the total population increases by 22% only (from 9.1 to 11.0 million). Moreover, if some members of society reject to use new anti-aging technologies for some religious or any other reasons (inconvenience, non-compliance, fear of side effects, costs, etc.), then the total population size may even decrease over time. Thus, even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation. Therefore, the real concerns should be placed not on the threat of catastrophic population consequences (overpopulation), but rather on such potential obstacles to a success of biomedical war on aging, as scientific, organizational, and financial limitations."

I vote for healthy looking skin and I'm fairly happy wearing my 70 something version. But, coincidentally, just a few days ago I was walking down 7th Avenue in New York City and finding myself with some time to kill, I slipped into Macy's. As I strolled through their cosmetic canyon a sweet young thing stepped out from the major restoration product counter to ask me if she could interest me in the product. Feeling just a bit impish I replied, "No thank you. I've decided to get old and wrinkled." I have rarely seen such a shocked look on anyone's face. I thought she would weep for me. Just to make her feel better I admitted that I do use moisturizer and sun block. I wanted her to be able to sleep that night.

From a friend:


As usual, your words are thoughtful and grounded, and provide a finely calculated balance on this difficult issue. At the heart, you are calling for individual integrity. And that is worth fighting for.

As a cardiologist, I once thought the “ideal” death was to die suddenly. I’ve changed my mind. Two things combined to change my view. One was watching the families of people who died suddenly. They were traumatized, often filled with guilt that their last contact with their loved one had not been loving….

The other factor was watching my wife handling her death. As she became sicker, her soul grew. She became less anxious. She fought her illness until it was obvious that there was no realistic hope. And then turned down her surgeon’s suggestion of surgery in favor of the inpatient hospice. There, surrounded by that loving environment, made comfortable by the skilled practitioners, she had time to speak individually with all of us. She told us she loved us, and how good we all were, and how she appreciated all of us. She apologized for her shortcomings….

We had fun at hospice, sitting outside in the sun. Going together to concerts. She did arts and crafts. We had large raucous parties for our family and friends. And then the pain returned full blown. She asked for more pain medication. I reminded her that she would probably lose consciousness, something she had earlier resisted, and she said “Just do it”. We did. She went to sleep, and 3 days later died as the sun rose.

So I’ve changed my mind. I want time to say goodbye. And “I love you. ” I want to use my time well. Then, when it is time, I want to be able to say “Just do it”, and have my pain eased.


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