NEW YORK — The floodgates have opened in the facial skin care market.

And at present, marketers are finding sweet spots with products that speak to women at either end of the age spectrum.

The total facial skin care category has been expanding, although not as explosively as the heavy attention it’s been getting would suggest. According to Information Resources Inc., sales at mass market outlets grew 2.1 percent to $1.54 billion for the year ended April 20, excluding Wal-Mart. Sales of general market cleansers and moisturizers actually slipped 1.9 percent in each segment, to $531.7 million and $256.8 million, respectively.

But the antiage and acne treatment segments are robust. Minus Wal-Mart, sales of antiage creams and lotions, rose 9.3 percent to $360.9 million, while acne treatments climbed 14.3 percent to $267.6 million.

Dan Zarazan, vice president, sales and marketing at Naterra, a contract manufacturer which also markets the Skin Milk line, has seen its largest sales gains in the facial skin care segment. “It’s no surprise that people marketing antiwrinkle formulas are seeing a lot of increases.” However, added Zarazan, “antiage has cannibalized some of the core business. There is no other conclusion.”

Despite that strength in age specific areas, there are bursts of innovation everywhere. And products that cleanse, moisturize and treat facial skin are being added to the portfolios of even the most unlikely health and beauty care companies, sometimes with a unique twist.

Got2B, a California-based funky hair care brand owned by Advanced Research Labs added skin care items last fall packed in bright pink and silver tubes. Then there is SkinCola, a purified water containing activated oxygen and other nutrients. Available via its Web site, a six pack of 12-oz. bottles is $18. PH Beauty Labs, a bath-and-body company that markets the Juicy line, is adding a wrinkle-fighting collection called Botopical (see story page 10). While, Eucerin, a well-respected body lotion brand for dry skin, added facial care items targeting acne-prone adults this spring.

Other collections also new to the category include: Clearasil Total Control, Target’s Sonia Kashuk Skin Care and Dramatic Results from Pond’s.Then of course, there are the expected brand extensions from category leaders like Olay, which has unveiled Regenerist, positioned as a topical alternative to professional skin treatments. Olay has also tweaked its top-selling Total Effects cream and Daily Facials cleansing cloths. Later this year, L’Orèal will introduce a new high tech wrinkle cream, promising Botox-like results. It will also rename its Plenitude skin care brand — Dermo-Expertise — to better reflect the brand’s grounding in science and research.

Yet, there are still more players jumping into the skin care pool. Unilever’s Dove is expecting a megahit with Dove Essential Nutrients, its first major foray into facial care. The eight-stockkeeping unit collection, designed to make skin glow, hits stores this month.

Michael Cheney, director of skin care research and development at Unilever, said, “skin health is the passport to glowing skin. As long as there is a possibility to nourish skin and deliver the facial glow that women want, there will be a need to improve skin health."

Dove is not alone in taking a health approach. Pharmavite, in a licensed agreement with Procter & Gamble’s Olay brand is manufacturing and marketing Olay Vitamins, described as the “first vitamin line designed exclusively for women to address both their health and beauty needs.” And it is a serious offering. In all there are 15 vitamins to choose from priced $7.99 to $24.99 a bottle, with an average of about $10.

“We really see it as a new approach to beauty care, the traditional beauty care approach has been all about topical care solutions, now it is about internal health,” said Barbara Lindquist, senior product manager with Pharmavite. “Vitamins have a role in improving skin health.”

Added, Bill Brace, Olay marketing director, “The Olay Vitamins line is designed to help a woman choose supplements that meet her particular skin and wellness needs, whether she’s looking to address beauty needs like dry skin, firmness and elasticity, or skin texture, and address health needs like stress defense, hormonal balance, or heart health.” Each packages, he added, clearly explains the product benefit to make selection simple.

Brooks Pharmacy, in a partnership with the Vichy and Avene, both French skin care brands, introduced Dermo Skincare Centers in three stores last fall. The department, strategically situated next to the pharmacy counter, is staffed with trained skin care consultants.Michel Coutu, chief executive officer of Brooks, says drugstore chains need to stress their health care roots. The Brooks test will be expanded this summer at a flagship in the Boston area, he said.

Meanwhile, CVS has created specialty skin care areas in three of its stores within the last two months. A CVS spokesman said skin care is an important area for the company.

And there are more skin care concepts expected. Stephane Wilmet, general manager of L’Orèal Active Cosmetics which oversees Vichy, said several other retailers, both national chains and regionals, have expressed interest in adding specialty skin care departments.

Earlier this year, Rite Aid chief executive Mary Sammons, remarked that the chain was also evaluating new concepts in skin care.

Retailers think the product news could be a boon to the category.

“Introductions of new items usually stimulate activity in a category and this is very true in the facial skin care,” said Rachelle Smith, marketing manager for cosmetics at Longs Drug Stores. “Women respond to new products and we’re seeing major launches from several major brands which really creates a buzz and excitement in the whole cosmetic department.

“This upsurge in product introductions is a real benefit to both consumers and the retail category in general.”

“Growth in the skin care category is now and will be driven by antiaging products due to innovation in R & D coupled with favorable Baby Boomer demographics,” remarked Carol Hamilton, president and general manager of L’Oréal Paris. “We expect treatment entries with higher price points to be contributing growth factors.?Dermatologically driven products are becoming the new trend, demanding more from the science behind skin care.”?

Michael McNamara, president of Neutrogena Global, said all the activity could be “very good for overall category growth, and in doing so, could make the U.S. mass market more exciting at the expense of prestige.”

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