Until recently, few people had heard of Bryan Johnson, a tech entrepreneur from Provo, Utah, though the odds are high he had helped most people spend their money without them knowing it. Johnson made a fortune after his e-payment company Braintree bought Venmo in 2012 for about $26 million and then sold it a year later to eBay for about $800 million, fulfilling a goal he set for himself at age 21 and making him rich enough for several lifetimes.
“Following the acquisition, a single question mattered to me,” Johnson wrote in 2018, at 40 years old. “How do we collectively thrive beyond what we can even imagine?” At the time Johnson looked not unlike a stock image for a middle-aged white American male.
When Johnson reemerged in the public this year to promote a new wellness start-up, Blueprint, something was different. His skin had a vampiric perfection, pulled snare-drum taut against his cheekbones. He looked both jacked and androgynous. His once greying hair was now auburn.
Johnson had claimed to shave two decades off of his biological age using techniques both mundane — diet, exercise, supplements — and macabre — exchanging blood plasma with his son and father.
Beauty companies have endeavoured to create an “anti-aging” market for centuries. Now, in the truest sense of the term, that market, now dubbed “longevity,” may be here — and opening for business. Prices start at $99 for a subscription to a topical supplement from OneSkin, and well into seven figures, if you’re someone with Johnson’s means looking for the full Benjamin Button, courtesy of far-flung health spas and exhaustive testing panels.
Pay to Stay
The nascent longevity market broadly describes goods and services provided with the aim of helping people age better, although it’s difficult to disentangle this from other massive economies spanning from comorbidity medicines like metformin to financial planning to at-home genetic testing. Some investors have to draw finer lines, says Eurie Kim, a managing partner at Forerunner Ventures. Forerunner’s longevity portfolio includes brands like Tally Health, which specialises in genetic testing, and Oura, the ring that gleans feedback from the pulse of your finger. “When we think about it as an investable category, we are talking about the cross-section of healthcare and wellness,” Kim said.
The age of the longevity economy is also hard to ascertain. Helena Rubenstein sold “Youthifiers” in the 1930s, but a decade ago, the AARP and Oxford Economics published the first Longevity Economy report, in which they estimated that efforts at extending human life generated some $7 trillion in annual economic activity. Another report estimated that a country’s GDP could rise one percent for every year added to its citizen’s life expectancy. (The longer people can live, the longer they can work.)
If longevity can be provided as a service, it is an almost priceless one. For nearly a century, Switzerland’s Clinique La Prairie has hosted famous faces — performers, prime ministers, and at least one pope — and many more non-famous ones, who flock to the canthus of Lake Geneva for the guarantee of longer life. The Clinique’s original founder, the Swiss surgeon Paul Niehans, preferred the term “rejuvenation” for his speciality. In the 1930s, Niehans was pioneering a form of live cell therapy, injecting human patients with cells from the foetuses of sheep and steers that endeavoured to treat critical illness like cancer and reverse the ageing process from within.
Its current proprietor, the executive Simone Gibertoni, has been working tirelessly to update the state of the art wellness clinic for a contemporary clientele. Part of it is in the language. Rejuvenation out; longevity in.
“Everything is one to one,” he explained — completely tailored to each guest’s genome, from meals to massages. The Clinique is not a hotel, “because at a hotel, you have choices.”
The main menu item is precision medicine. Clinique La Prairie’s collaboration with the Swiss healthcare company Gene Predictis furnishes guests with exhaustive genetic and epigenetic information. The latter records how external factors, such as exercise or smoking, affect one’s genome; in tandem, the scores calculate one’s biological age, a separate figure from their chronological one. A typical week could include MRIs, immunotherapy and Swiss herbal infusions, and cost $12,000, excluding airfare.
Stateside, there’s Cenegenics, with 26 locations sprinkled across the US, as well as outposts in places like Sao Paolo and Nairobi. Where Clinique La Prairie skews luxurious non-hotel, Cenegenics skews premium medical center. One package involves spending the day at one of their locations and receiving a Johnsonesque battery of tests; the full program includes “monthly nutraceuticals and prescription drugs, therapies and hormonal treatments,” as well as access to a team of physicians. A year of Cenegenics could cost between $14,000 and $21,000, which is perhaps why the company markets itself toward the C-suite, with “44,000 executives helped” and counting.
Johnson’s Blueprint meal plan and supplements subscription is also available to all who care to participate for about $1,685 a month, but the founder’s commitment to documenting his much more involved process — the panels of doctors, the 54 daily pills taken before 7:30 a.m. — provides the closest thing we have to a rough estimate of how much it costs stay forever young: about $200,000 per year, plus near-constant pill consumption.
The New Anti-Aging
On the more affordable end of the spectrum, a crop of start-up companies endeavour to bring longevity to the masses. A subscription to Tally Health (about $150 a month) provides subscribers with at-home age tests, digital content and supplements. GlycanAge also sends tests, minus the supplements, plus telehealth appointments with “health-span doctors’’ costing around $600 for a year. Clinique La Prairie offers its own supplement collection, sold at Harrods for $330 a jar.
Then there are the moisturisers. If anti-aging has fallen out of favour in the media, it and its promises haven’t for consumers. In a 2023 poll, conducted by The Benchmarking Company, of American beauty consumers, the majority of respondents preferred the phrase “anti-aging” to euphemisms like “timeless.” Euromonitor estimates that global retail sales of anti-agers increased by 41 percent between 2017 to 2022 to just over $36 billion dollars.
New breakthroughs in understanding how humans age has introduced a new and more specific lexicon. Words like senoinflammation and senescence are increasingly appearing in marketing for skin care products. The latter describes cells that no longer reproduce, but send vampiric signals to other cells encouraging them to do the same. Gilbertoni likens them to “garbage in your house.”
Senescent cells have long been understood to play a key role in immune response, but lately are being recognised as a mechanism for ageing throughout the body. This news has thrilled the skin care community.
“It’s the thing I’ve been most excited about in 20 years,” said Jennifer Linder, a dermatologist and surgeon.
Two decades ago, Linder co-founded PCA Skin, which capitalised on emerging technologies in superficial chemical peels for ageing skin. In 2019, she read Tally Health co-founder David Sinclair’s “Lifespan: Why We Age — and Why We Don’t Have To,” which prompted a research binge and resulted in a new brand, Linder Health, her pandemic baby that sells peels to spas and skincare direct to consumers, including a moisturiser that helps to “prevent oxidation and cellular senescence” using a proprietary compound called ChronoGlow.
Coty-owned biotech skincare brand Orveda is also dabbling in senescence, launching its Omnipotent Serum for $460 on Orveda’s website in August and at Saks this month. Direct-to-consumer biotech brand OneSkin offers a peptide called OS-01 in all of its products, including a new sunscreen that launches this week, that promises to switch off senescent cells. (Men account for almost a third of OneSkin’s customers.) The phrase “anti-aging” doesn’t appear anywhere on OneSkin’s website. Instead, their face cream is billed as “the first skin longevity treatment.” It probably won’t be the last.
Editor’s Note: This article was amended on Sept. 18, 2023, to amend the price of Coty’s Omnipotent Serum and its launch cadence.