NEW YORK -- Nearly two years after alpha-hydroxy acid treatment products burst onto the prestige beauty scene, many in the industry say there's no end in sight to the phenomenon.

Skin care companies are continuing to put the spotlight on acid-based items, and the efforts seem to be working: According to many retailers, consumers are returning to counters again and again to make repeat purchases.

"The fruit acid story has added a huge layer to our business," said Linda Petersen, cosmetics buyer for Dayton's, Hudson's & Marshall Field's in Minneapolis. She reported a high-single-digit percentage gain in treatment sales in 1993 and predicted similar growth for 1994. "This is a long-term trend."

The bandwagon is not at full capacity. Despite the reported blockbuster success of AHA's, several treatment companies, among them Christian Dior, Clarins, Shiseido, Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy, have opted against marketing alpha-hydroxy products.

Still, the big three of Lauder, Lancome and Clinique is moving ahead with a bevy of acid-based plans.

Lauder has put AHA's into two self-tanning products. SuperTan, intended for use on the body, and SuperTan for Face together are expected to do about $11 million at wholesale this year, sources said. Lauder's primary thrust, though, is building its Fruition franchise.

"Fruition has been the most successful launch in the company's history," said Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of marketing. As reported, Fruition sold almost 1 million units in its first six months, and Gonzalez said the fruit acid product is now beating its launch numbers.

Lauder's strategy is to broaden Fruition's audience by emphasizing the product's specialized benefits. Lauder claims Fruition can help men, who experience irritation from shaving; black women, whose skin can sometimes look ashy; teenagers with extremely oily skin, and customers who want to improve the appearance of their cuticles.

Lancome is preparing for a major launch of a moisturizer, Bienfait Total, in April. Although the product contains an acid complex, the company is not billing it as an alpha-hydroxy product.

"Our feeling is that we will not introduce something at Lancome that is potentially irritating," said Margaret Sharkey, deputy general manager and senior vice president of marketing.

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