Byline: Alev Aktar

PARIS--In the race to launch alpha-hydroxy acid treatment products, Europeans have walked, not run.
In the U.S., the highly hyped alpha-hydroxy ingredients have worked their way into skin care items for virtually every body part--even hair and nails--and recently have been brought into some makeup formulations.
In Europe, however, manufacturers were late to the starting gate. Most checked into the game a year or so after the Americans, and now, despite the growing demand for alpha-hydroxy products, they continue to drag their feet.
While some European manufacturers were just slow to recognize the trend, others said they preferred to wait and see how the market developed, and many even argued that the fruit-derived acids were a skin irritant and weren't yet safe.
No brand illustrates the schism better than Lancôme. Although the company makes the same efficacy claims worldwide for its Bienfait Total moisturizer, the product's alpha-hydroxy content is made explicit in American advertising and omitted in the French campaign.
Still, despite the lag, sales of alpha-hydroxy products in Europe have been gathering steam. Here's an update:
Germany is the biggest prestige alpha-hydroxy market in Europe, followed by France, the U.K. and Italy. This stands in contrast to the overall facial care market, where France is the leader, trailed by Germany, Italy and the U.K.
Alpha-hydroxy products are cleaning up in the mass market arena: L'Oreal's Plenitude Excell-A3 sold more than 5 million units in eight European countries from March through October. At an average of $11 per unit, depending upon the exchange rate, that translates to a volume of around $55 million.
L'Oreal claims that Excell-A3 is the top-selling treatment item in France across all distributions. The company also added a line of alpha-hydroxy cleansing products in November called Revele-A3.
Some French holdouts are finally joining the fray with products that they claim are non-irritating. Guerlain will launch Alphabella next month, with worldwide volume in 1995 projected at 300,000 units at $55 (295 francs) at current exchange rates. That could mean more than $16 million.
Guerlain is tackling the irritation issue by packaging Alphabella in a transparent dual-chamber container that emphasizes its safety; the acids are on one side and a "hydro-calming" lotion is on the other. Users are supposed to blend the two in their palms.
In addition, next month Sisley will introduce Hydra-Flash, a beta-hydroxy acid-based moisturizing and anti-aging emulsion. The item is projected to sell over 100,000 units in France in 1995, which at 450 francs ($85) for a 60-ml. tube would mean a volume of $8.5 million. The company says the product is not an exfoliant, and is therefore non-irritating.
The anti-aging prestige skin care sector--currently being given a boost by alpha-hydroxy products--was up 21.2 percent in France in the first nine months of last year, according to the French market research group Secodip. In the period, the category had a turnover 900,000 units at an average of 250 francs ($47) per item, or over $42 million at retail.
Anti-aging is now the fastest-growing skin care category, although hydration and firming products still sell better than alpha-hydroxy-based anti-wrinkle products, according to retailers.
Clarins's Bio-Ecolia was launched last fall in Europe and by the end of the year had sold 130,000 units at $45 (240 francs), or nearly $6 million, in France alone. The cream will make its debut in February in America, with a sales goal of more than $2 million for the first year.
Both Alphabella and Bio-Ecolia are positioned as highly effective and safe. Still, a handful of major players--Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Lancaster among them--continue to skirt the trend completely.
Christian Courtin, president of Clarins's international division, said, "In France, the companies that dominate the selective distribution are French, and most aren't AHA-driven," he said. "American companies have a smaller market share here."
Courtin added that many vendors are still wary of potential side effects.
"The French prefer gentle products. We are suspicious of products that can strip the skin," he said.
However, Jeanette Wagner, president of Estee Lauder International, claimed European women hadn't shown any resistance to the exfoliating properties of Lauder's Fruition or Clinique's Turnaround Cream, which contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid.
"We had very strong acceptance," she said. "It was a question of results."
Fruition is Lauder's top-selling skin care product in America and in major European markets. More than 2.5 million units, meaning well over $100 million worth, were sold worldwide during the fiscal year ending in June 1994, with 1.4 million of them sold in more than 30 markets outside the U.S.
Turnaround is Clinique's bestseller in France, but its Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion is the brand's top seller in Germany, Italy and the U.K.
In France, more than 350,000 units of Turnaround have sold since its January 1993 launch, and at $27.50 apiece, that would mean near $10 million worth. The company is launching a version for dry skin in Europe this month.
In Germany, a spokeswoman at Douglas--the country's biggest perfumery chain, with more than 350 outlets--said Turnaround Cream is a top seller and "fits the Zeitgeist of the times."
At the Parfumerie Reiner Gilfert in Vechta, Germany, Turnaround and Fruition are big sellers. The company said the concept of using acid products is easily grasped by shoppers.
Acid-based items are doing "very, very well--incredibly well," at Harvey Nichols in London, according to Daniela Rinaldi, perfumery and cosmetics buyer at the store. Clinique is her biggest skin care brand and enjoyed a 44 percent increase in 1993, mostly due to Turnaround, she said.
Fruition, Prescriptives' All You Need and La Prairie's Age Management products are also big sellers.
While French vendors may be reluctant, French retailers said that women are becoming familiar with the term "fruit acids," even if they don't know exactly how they work, and they are starting to ask for them in-store.
All the French merchants named Turnaround as a strong seller, and several ranked it first among acid products. Marie-Francoise Stouls, director of Bon Marche's beauty department, said the alpha-hydroxy category is now a success, but the hands-down winner is Turnaround, which continues to rack up strong sales two years after its introduction.
Bio-Ecolia has kicked off impressively, according to the retailers, who predicted continued success in 1995. In addition, around half of the retailers listed Fruition and Elizabeth Arden's Alpha-Ceramide as other vital acid-based contenders.
"Women are informed about the AHA trend," said Valerie Chaleyssin, skin care manager at the Printemps flagship here. "It's in fashion, and they talk about it a lot."

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