NEW YORK — Lancôme has added critical mass to the dermatologist skin care revolution.

The division of L’Oréal has struck up arelationship with Dr. Tina S. Alster, founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatological Laser Surgery, as Lancôme’s dermatological consultant.

L’Oréal has therefore become the latest big player — along with archrival Estée Lauder Cos. — to subscribe to the mushrooming influence of dermatologists in driving the budding upscale skin care category. In July, Lauder acquired a brand that was created and marketed by Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, two Stanford-trained dermatologists based in Oakland, Calif. That move followed an announcement last November that Lauder’s Prescriptives division had retained dermatologist Karyn Grossman as an exclusive skin care consultant.

“Skin is in,” quipped Alster on Wednesday during an interview at the Fifth Avenue headquarters of L’Oréal USA.

Dalia Chammas, senior vice president and general manager of Lancôme USA, underscored the import of L’Oréal’s entry into the dermatology game. The company spends more than $350 million a year on research and development, employing 2,700 scientists and technicians.

As a lecturer on cosmetic laser surgery and the author of medical articles and books, like “Cosmetic Laser Surgery,” “The Essential Guide to Cosmetic Laser Surgery” and the “Manual of Cutaneous Laser Techniques,” Alster is certainly well versed. In the course of seeing as many as 30 patients a day, she describes her practice as an impromptu focus group.

One of her primary roles will be in advising Lancôme on the development of new products, which promises to be a critical function in the increasing demanding high-tech skin care category. Or as Alster said, “helping focus development of future products based on what consumers are asking for.”

Alster said she sees her new role with Lancôme as functioning as a “liaison” between the company and her patients and also her colleagues in the medical community. She noted that more and more women are interested in using at-home treatments and with so many products on the market, women are constantly asking her advice on using them. They even come to the office with copies of ads they’ve ripped out of magazines, Alster noted, adding that the more she learns about products, the better. “The more I know about Lancôme, the more I can tell them,” she said.Odile Roujol, deputy general manager and senior vice president of marketing at Lancôme, stressed the importance of Alster’s vantage point in knowing what women need. “On a daily basis, she meets with women who have concerns and want simple answers,” Roujol said.

Alster also will be able to speak for the company and plans on making department store appearances. L’Oréal will participate in the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Washington in February, during which Alster will be honored by the Sturge Weber Foundation. Edgar Huber, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA, stressed the importance of Alster as liaison between Lancôme and the dermatologist community.

Alster sees herself as “bringing dermatologists up to speed” on the ingredients and benefits of Lancôme’s products. “I was impressed by what they sent me,” she added, acknowledging that in the past, there has sometimes been a lack of appreciation between the two camps.

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