By and  on July 10, 2009

Tammy Faye was onto something: The former televangelist never left home without mascara — tons of it.

Women have always had a thing for long, luscious eyelashes, but in the past year, beauty brands have flooded the market with lash-enhancing and conditioning products at various price points and distribution channels.

And in January, Allergan Inc., maker of Botox, stirred up a flurry of excitement with Latisse (bimatoprost ophthalmic solution), a prescription-only lash growth product. Latisse, fronted by actress Brooke Shields, is the first FDA-approved treatment for hypotrichosis (read: thin or inadequate lashes). This once-daily treatment is designed to be applied at the base of the eyelid similar to eyeliner, and contains an active ingredient, called bimatoprost, that grows and thickens eyelashes.

New York-based dermatologist Sherwin Parikh, M.D., who practices at the Tribeca Skin Center, said many of his patients have been calling asking for Latisse or inquiring about it at their biannual Botox visits. “Those Brooke Shields ads are working,” he quipped. But, upon follow-up with patients, Parikh learned many of the women who have walked out with prescriptions for Latisse did not fill them. His hunch is that in tough economic times, “Latisse seems to be the item that gets lost.”

One of his patients, Cindy Vanegas, co-founder of Perfect Party Space, would respectively disagree. Plagued with thin, sparse lashes since birth, Vanegas said before Latisse hit doctors’ offices, she called Allergan on a regular basis to find out when she’d be able to get a prescription. “Obviously, everyone wants beautiful lashes,” said Vanegas. “I got lash extensions two years ago. They looked beautiful, but all they did was break my natural lashes.” She began using Latisse nearly four months ago and said she noticed growth at week six. “It’s expensive, but I’ll pull back [spending] on other things.”

The suggested price for Latisse is $120 for a 3-ml. bottle, one month’s supply.

Sales of Latisse in the first quarter of this year were $12 million, which includes stocking of both physicians’ offices and pharmaceutical wholesales, according to the company. Allergan forecasts sales of Latisse could reach between $30 million and $50 million this year, and that eventually global sales could hit $500 million per year, said Robert Grant, Allergan Corporate vice president and president of Allergan Medical.

Since Allergan began shipping Latisse to physicians’ offices in January, it has drummed up interest in all things lash related — over-the-counter eyelash conditioners, curl-inducing treatments and false eyelashes.

“The trend is taking hold on TV shopping [channels] and in spas and salons,” said Virginia Lee, senior research analyst at Euromonitor International, a market intelligence firm, noting that HSN sells Serious Skin Care Lash Booster and Talika Eyelash Lipocils and QVC offers Peter Thomas Roth Lashes to Die For Eyelash Treatment, along with A-D Real Lash Conditioning Eye Lash Treatment and Tarte MultiplEYE Lash Enhancer.

Newer entrants are experiencing robust growth, although some originators of the category report that sales, while still strong, have tapered off due to the recession and increased competition, most notably from Allergan’s Latisse.

Rob Trow, co-owner of Rocasuba Inc., marketer of RapidLash, expects to reach $5 million to $10 million in sales by the end of this year. The $50 product is sold in 9,000 doors, including CVS Pharmacy, Meijer, Harmon and Duane Reade, and is gearing up to enter Ulta and Rexall. “We are seeing an upward trend every week,” said Trow.

Referring to the lash enhancement market as a whole, he estimated it would amount to $500 million in the “very near future” and could reach $1 billion in three years.

Peter Thomas Roth and Fusion Beauty tell similar stories about their respective lash-enhancing products, namely the $125 Lashes to Die For, which entered stores a year ago, and the $89 StimuLashFusion, which was released April. Both products are included in an endcap display that Sephora is rolling out to showcase lash items. Talika Eyelash Lipocils, Too Faced Lash Injection, Tarte MultiplEYE Lash Enhancer and Cargo LashActivator also are in Sephora’s lash assortment.

“It was unbelievable,” said Roslyn Griner, a senior vice president at Fusion Beauty, speaking about StimuLashFusion in mid-June. “We launched and, within in month, it became the number-two [stockingkeeping unit] in our lineup. It will probably be our number-one sku at the end of June.”

Of Lashes to Die For, Thomas Roth said, “It has been amazing. It is the top seller at all my retailers….At Clyde’s [on Madison,] they can’t even keep it in. We are walking it in. We have had people from Brazil buy six at a time.”

Ariel Fantasia, senior beauty buyer at Henri Bendel, said the women’s boutique stocks Tarte MultiplEYE Lash Enhancer and has seen shoppers gravitate to its eyelash bar at Laura Mercier, where for $25 they can learn to apply false eyelashes, or have them applied for free with a purchase of the brand’s $18 Faux Eyelashes. With all the newness in the category — from colored mascaras by Benefit Cosmetics, Chanel and YSL to vibrating mascara wands — Fantasia said, “Mascara sales haven’t petered out in the least. Mascara is always in the top three sku’s for any one of the brands we carry.”

Other brands said their feverish growth has slowed. Talika’s U.S. president, Francois Laurent, said sales are “slightly down” from last year. RevitaLash creator Michael Brinkenhoff and Jan Marini of the firm Jan Marini Skin Research explained that the launch of Latisse initially diminished sales of their products in doctors’ offices, but they assert sales have begun to rebound. “In the markets where we overlapped with Allergan, we have seen a drop,” said Brinkenhoff.

Overall, brands are optimistic that the arrival of Latisse will legitimize lash-enhancing products in the eyes of the consumer. “When you have a big company such as Allergan launching a product such as Latisse with millions of dollars in advertising, it is giving credibility to the market segment,” said Laurent.

Beyond Latisse, Allergan could impact the market with its legal efforts. Allergan is targeting 13 defendants, including RevitaLash marketer Athena Cosmetics, RapidLash marketer Rocasuba and Peter Thomas Roth, in an ongoing patent infringement case involving a category of compounds called prostaglandin used in Latisse. About a month ago, Brinkenhoff said Athena countersued Allergan based on antitrust claims.

Brands are undeterred by the legal back-and-forth. They predict the lash-enhancement segment will be boosted by product extensions, technological innovation and international expansion. They’re especially enthusiastic about the global possibilities for the lash-enhancing category because it has been largely a U.S. phenomenon so far. “I can imagine the opportunity in Asia where women have short, stubby lashes,” said Trow. “There is much potential for growth for this category.”

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