The Glossy Wellness Industry Is Getting a Dose of Gen Z Realness

Written by Erica Sloan
Designed by Alyssa Gray

The new kids on the wellness block are peddling approachable, inclusive wellness products and leaving stigma in the rearview.

There’s a huge gap between the green-juice-slinging, athleisure-pushing $4.4 trillion wellness industry and the actual concept of being well. The former projects the illusion that if only you have enough privilege—you're thin, white, and rich enough—you can buy your way to better well-being with pricy products and services. The latter holds that wellness is every person’s birthright, and there’s no single “right” way to interact with it. As the second notion of wellness has gained traction in the media (it's central to Well+Good’s purpose), the gap between well-being and the wellness industry has only grown all the more apparent. And it’s Generation Z (ages ~11 to 26) that’s now working to close it, launching wellness brands that center well-being for all and aren’t afraid to tackle long-standing stigmas to do it.

The Generation Z take on wellness is expansive, inclusive, and attainable. Indeed, 76 percent of Generation Z defines wellness as “anything that makes you feel good,” according to youth insights platform YPulse.

Aptly, that very concept is in the tagline for new Generation Z-targeted wellness media and e-commerce platform Woo: “feel good here.” Its content leverages both age-old wellness practices and current internet trends in a way that “subverts the typical wellness style guide, which can feel so clinical, serious, and out of touch with youth culture,” says founder Stephen Mai. For example? A sound-healing series uses music from pop stars like Bebeadoobe at a frequency chosen for relaxation, and good-news posts include memes and viral puppy videos. The end result feels joyful and freeform—“chaotic rather than clean,” says Mai. 

It’s indicative of a whole vibe shift among Gen Z-founded and -focused wellness brands: Glossy is out, and messy is in. But, to be clear, “messy” doesn’t mean disorganized or bad here; it’s just being real—a version of chaotic good that the Gen Z co-founders of skin-care brand 4AM, Sabrina Sade and Jade Beguelin, feel is worthy of representation in wellness.

Courtesy of 4AM
Courtesy of 4AM

Disillusioned by legacy beauty brands—“which all seemed to preach that if you weren’t drinking gallons of water and getting eight hours of sleep a night, you weren’t the target consumer,” says Beguelin—they created 4AM to celebrate their habits, which a passé iteration of wellness culture might have labeled guilty pleasures: “going out, eating pizza, having fun, and just being a little messy,” says Sade. The line consists of just two products—a nighttime serum and a morning one—and the moody branding, which shows models holding martinis and dancing at a club, is a far cry from the clean, ethereal vibes of the millennial pink era. 

The overarching idea behind brands like 4AM and Woo is that, to engage with self-care products or be a consumer of wellness culture, you don’t have to subscribe to a singular predefined wellness ideal. Rather, raw authenticity is the name of the game.

The Generation Z take on wellness is destigmatizing once-taboo health topics 

Getting honest about what wellness looks like for all people has led Generation Z innovators to openly address elements of personal care and health long stigmatized by Big Wellness.

Take acne. In a mission to sell acne-healing products, skin-care brands have long used models with skin retouched to appear so clear and smooth, it practically reflected light. For most, this complexion was aspirational, never attainable. But now, Gen Z-founded and -focused brands are flipping the script, acknowledging pimples head-on. 

Courtesy of Starface

Gen Z-targeted skin-care brand Bubble, for instance, uses members of its community, rather than models, for its brand imagery and never retouches photos. “It’s a touchy subject being a skin-care brand that is aiming to clear people’s skin and then showing people with pimples in your ads,” says Shai Eisenman, founder and CEO of Bubble. “But the point is that no skin care in the world is magic, and the goal isn’t to hide pimples; it’s to treat them.” 

The same ethos underscores brands like Gen Z-focused Starface and Peace Out, and Gen Z-founded Florence by Mills, all of which make colorful acne stickers designed to be worn in public. The message? You don’t need an acne-free face in order to feel comfortable in your own skin. “It was about time that the brands we buy actually wanted us to be happy by just being ourselves,” says Florence by Mills founder Millie Bobby Brown.

In much the same way, new Gen Z-founded period-care brands aren’t attempting to conceal the reality of menstruation, but to normalize it. For example, a viral TikTok video from Gen Z-founded period-care brand August showed one of the brand’s liners soaked in period blood to demonstrate its efficacy. This was a vast departure from typical menstrual-care advertising, which, until recently, didn’t even use a blood-like fluid, opting for an unrealistic blue liquid instead.

Indeed, August prides itself on no-shame factual authenticity—using anatomical language rather than gendered or euphemistic cover-ups—as does Viv, another Gen Z-founded period-care brand aiming to empower its users by addressing menstruation in a straightforward, judgment-free way. One of Viv’s TikTok videos on how to insert a tampon has amassed nearly 4 million views with comments like, “Which hole does it go in?” showing up again and again from young people genuinely trying to learn. To Katie Diasti, founder and CEO of Viv, this kind of engagement demonstrates just how much stigma has overshadowed periods, “how ingrained it still is in our society to not discuss them at all.”

The same shroud of silence has long covered topics of sexual pleasure and health, which Gen Z is working to undo, too. Coming of age in a time of increasing sex-positivity, Gen Z is the most sexually fluid generation, masturbates more than previous generations, and is increasingly interested in non-monogamy, all of which contributes to the normalization of sex. 

Getty / Maskot

Also helping shed the sex taboo is the rise of Gen Z-geared sexual-health brands like TBD Health, which humanizes at-home and in-person STI testing with sex-positive providers, and Gen Z-centric sex-toy brands, like Cake, which is named after the dessert in honor of sex (like cake) being purely for pleasure. 

“There’s shame attached to both having sex and eating cake, and we wanted to pull that back and approach the brand in a factual, don’t-worry-about-it type of way,” says Cake’s co-founder and chief marketing officer Mitchell Orkis. “We use absurdly bright packaging to grab people’s attention and say, ‘Hey, it’s cool and fun to engage with this,’ and the messaging is as clear as possible in explaining how a toy is designed to make a certain part of the body feel good.”

But perhaps the wellness arena in which Gen Z has made the biggest strides toward destigmatization—and the one underscoring all of the above—is mental health. “The prioritization of mental and emotional health—how you actually feel versus how you look—is key to understanding this generation,” says MaryLeigh Bliss, Gen Z researcher and YPulse chief content creator. “Their perspective is, unless I make sure my relationship with myself and my mental wellness is in order, nothing is going to work.” Indeed, 84 percent of Gen Zers agree that mental health is just as important as physical health, and 76 percent agree that they want to live in a world where people openly talk about their mental health, according to YPulse data.

The rise of mental fitness in the form of new digital platforms like Wondermind and WellSet (designed to make addressing mental health proactive); the growth of telemedicine services like Hims & Hers (which remove the logistical hurdle of accessing medication for mental illness); and the increased willingness among Gen Zers to seek out mental-health services all speak to the ways in which this generation is changing societal perceptions of mental health.

But as deep-set stigma persists, we can expect even more innovations by and for Gen Z to further normalize caring for your mental health—like Chill Pill, a peer-support app that launched in 2022 as an anonymous platform, “so that the barrier to entry is lower, especially for the younger side of Gen Z,” says founder and CEO Hayley Caddes. (You have an avatar and an identity on the app, but they can’t be linked to your real identity.) “Knowing that you’re talking to your peers also removes the fear of judgment so many young people still have when they first seek help for their mental health from a professional, guidance counselor, or even a parent,” she says.

Why Generation Z is dismantling deeply rooted stigmas that Big Wellness has long upheld

Members of Gen Z uniquely know better than to think they need to—or even should—conform to any narrow model of wellness that doesn’t actually make them feel well or good. And that's largely a result of the cultural moment in which they’ve grown up and the scope of information they can readily access.

“The gatekeepers of media for this generation don’t exist in the way that they did for previous generations,” says Bliss. Consider how the Gen Xers and millennials who grew up reading Seventeen or YM might all have a similar take on how to lead a good life. “There was a top-down model that’s since been replaced by the democratized YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, which offer exposure to many different kinds of narratives and to the truth.” 

Stocksy / Matt Hunt

Whereas previous generations might have grown up assuming that the people in health and beauty ads actually looked like that in real life, “Gen Z grew up with social-media content completely devoted to debunking these unrealities of body image, of skin perfection,” says Bliss. 

The influx of information at their fingertips has also pushed them to be “experts at questioning things that were once the norm,” says Diasti. “When you see other people on the internet talking about things that you’ve been personally struggling with or relate to, you start to wonder why you should stay quiet in the first place.” There’s a sense of “like-minded solidarity” with social media that didn’t exist before, says Corey Seemiller, PhD, author of Generation Z Goes To College. “You can put anything out there that might have once been stigmatized or taboo and know someone else will feel the same way.” 

Stocksy / Lucas Ottone

Plenty of Gen Zers can also seek the same stigma-free support from their parents, who are Gen Xers or millennials, “81 percent of whom tell us that they’re trying to have open conversations with their child about mental health,” says Bliss. Remember: These are the people who grew up with Boomer parents, “who know the devastation of ignoring mental health and suppressing emotions firsthand,” says Dr. Seemiller. They’re the ones who were told by their parents that they had to keep any mental-health challenges hush-hush, lest anyone should think there was something wrong with them, she adds, “and they’ve since realized that they’re not going to let their Gen Z kids wind up in the same situation.” The result is a generation that feels more empowered to talk openly about all facets of well-being from the jump.

And the sociopolitical context in which they’ve grown up has made it all but imperative to do so. The major markers of a Gen Z person’s life are 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, climate change, a reckoning with widespread racial injustice, a pandemic, and an attack on our civil liberties, says Lauren Governale, head of consumer insights at Hims & Hers. “From their perspective, the way the world was isn’t working anymore, so they’re taking a stand to shift the status quo.”

To Nadya Okamoto, Gen Z founder and CEO of August (the period-care brand above), the resulting destigmatization is a matter of being able to survive and lead fruitful lives in such a dire state of affairs. “Yes, we’re destigmatizing mental illness, but also, Gen Z has been consistently the most stressed and depressed generation each year since 2019, so we actually need to talk about it. Yes, we’re talking more openly about periods, but it also had gotten to a point where period pain was one of the leading reasons for absenteeism in this country.” 

In the face of such threats, it’s not just impractical but increasingly dangerous to uphold the kinds of stigmas or taboos that keep people from accessing well-being. And if Gen Z has anything to say about it, we no longer will. “It’s a privilege to find ourselves at a time when our community has gained enough influence to make change happen,” says Okamoto, “and when we’re armored with tools like social media to do it in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.”