NEW YORK — Rite Aid is “Your one-stop beauty shop.” CVS proclaims its “100% Money Back Guarantee…is a Beautiful Thing.” Walgreens has “Hot looks for cool savings” and “Low prices on skin care every day!” And Eckerd insists “Feeling beautiful starts at Eckerd!”

So goes the drugstore battle for the savvy, time-strapped beauty shopper.

As summer unfolds, the nation’s leading chains are heating up their beauty advertising. Cosmetics sales are down for the first time in four years, and a fight is on to get them back.

According to ACNielsen, cosmetic retail sales at mass, drug and food stores, minus Wal-Mart, fell 3.8 percent to $2.8 billion for the 52 weeks ended May 31. Sales in the facial makeup segment, including blush, fell 6.8 percent to $805.5 million; eye makeup is down 0.3 percent to $732.7 million; lipstick slipped 3.2 percent to $732 million, and nail polish/nail polish remover has continued its downward spiral with another 8.8 percent drop to $338.1 million.

Fliers for the four major drugstore chains all put beauty in the spotlight this week. With 10 to 30 percent off brand discounts, $2 coupons and buy-one-get-one-for-one-penny offers, drugstores showcased their deals in double-page spreads.

Beauty sales have become increasingly important to drugstores as prescription margins have narrowed. In addition, recognizing that the majority of drugstore shoppers are women, retailers are keen to maintain departments that will lure them in.

Larry Kagel, president of Competitive Promotion Report, which tracks health and beauty promotions, says cosmetics deals manufacturers are offering to retailers are up about 5 to 6 percent, although he doesn’t view that size increase as a “significant change.”

He noted the industry is still surprisingly hopeful despite the shrinking sales.

“The economy is still weak,” said Kagel. “I would say retailers are cautiously optimistic.”

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