They read like billboard advertisements you might see for some weirdly appealing, futuristic movie about Utopia: “Helps reduce the look of your deepest wrinkles on contact.” Or the very tantalizing “Immediately tightens skin and reduces the look of expression lines.” Occasionally, there are the numerical claims that add a pleasing scientific edge, such as “Elevates hydration levels up to 30 percent in the first hour.” Then there are ones that don’t necessarily make sense but still sound supersonic, such as “Helps reveal timeless skin in just one day.” And the simplest—and boldest—of them all: “Instant Un-Wrinkle.”
But this isn’t a Hollywood creation and these aren’t imagined products of the future. They are the newest batch of skin care products launching this season—supercharged creams that come with some very supercharged claims: results in one week, one day, one hour. Your moisturizer will firm up your skin by spring? Yawn. The new ones will make you look 18 by lunchtime.
This story first appeared in the April 9, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“In a culture where your Internet is considered slow if it takes 15 seconds to load, we’re all remarkably impatient,” says Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine. “We have instant meals, fast fashion and movies on demand. Everyone is texting while they cross the street. These creams speak to that behavior.”
As Wells points out, the phenomenon is hardly confined to skin care alone. It’s pervasive in virtually every aspect of our lives. “People can get their news in a minute,” says Elana Drell Szyfer, senior vice president of global marketing at Estée Lauder. “We used to sit for 30 minutes to hear the day’s news. By today’s standards, the evening news feels old.”
“I remember when I was little, my mother had a book called A More Beautiful You in 21 Days, jokes Wells. “Now, that would have to be changed to 21 minutes.”
But it goes beyond wanting everything instantly. Somehow, we seem to have already forgotten how we navigated life before. In effect, instantaneous is the only acceptable time frame left. When was the last time you waited in line to deposit a check or rent a movie? Can you recall picking up the phone and actually calling an airline? Or—most unthinkable of all—do you remember what it was like to be placed on hold? “Does anyone even remember what life was like before Google?” says Jane Lauder, senior vice president and general manager of Origins.
But our need for speed is not just a sociocultural phenomenon. It’s a beauty one, too. “In addition to all that speed,” says Lauder, “there’s a growth and acceptance to a lunchtime facelift and injections. It’s more and more accepted to have work done at a younger age, but it’s a myth that plastic surgery is so easy and not invasive at all.”
So it only stands to reason that, for skin care to compete with plastic surgery, it has to be just as fast and yield just as impressive results. No matter that what the public consciousness has conveniently ignored is that surgery is hardly instant. “Surgery takes planning, appointments, risk, recovery and time for the swelling and bruising to go down,” points out Wells. “Even Botox isn’t instant. But people believe these procedures are instant. They hear about concepts like ‘lunchtime lipo’ and believe that results should take an hour or so. But that’s a myth in surgery, certainly.”
That myth has created a powerful reality in skin care marketing, making skin care products that promise the efficacy of surgery with none of the downtime (or pain or expense)—a very hot prospect, indeed. “People want to use something at night and see results by morning,” says Marla Malcolm Beck, chief executive officer and founder of the beauty retail chain Blue Mercury. And—naturally—“once you see instant results from one cream, you start to expect it from all of your products,” she says.
That expectation is fundamentally altering the language of skin care. “Now you’re starting to see buzzwords like ‘fast’ and ‘instant’ in the names,” says Jill Scalamandre, chief marketing officer of Chrysalis, which owns StriVectin. Indeed, recent launches, such as Peter Thomas Roth Instant Un-Wrinkle, AminoGenesis Gone in Sixty Seconds Instant Wrinkle Eraser and Yves Rocher Anti-Asphyxiation Flash Mask, have been trying to outdo each other with the catchiest wording. (“I do love the names,” says Wells. “‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ is a pretty brave claim. But then again, they don’t say what’s ‘gone.’ Maybe it’s the cream. And ‘Anti-Asphyxiation’ is a frightening idea.”)
Eventually marketers will run out of superlatives, but we’re not at the tipping point just yet. “We haven’t seen the word ‘turbo,’” says Scalamandre. “I’ve seen ‘supercharged,’ but I haven’t seen ‘turbocharged.’ Consumers want the fastest results and this is the industry’s way of grabbing her attention.”
The ever-escalating prices of luxury skin care products have added a monetary element, as well. Whereas La Mer was once famous for being the most expensive cream on the market at about $150 a jar, today, that price seems almost like a bargain. “There’s been a drive to get price points higher and higher,” says Malcolm Beck, who points to a slew of $200, $300 and $400 creams that are flooding shelves. “The thinking that goes with it is, ‘If I’m paying more, I want to see results faster.’” Ergo, the more you pay, the faster your wrinkles should disappear.
The technology used in skin care labs has also played a pivotal role in these supercharged new face creams. “We have a new instrument that measures the compression of the skin,” says Rolanda Johnson, Ph.D., senior scientist at Procter & Gamble Beauty. “We can measure wrinkles with much more accuracy, which in turn means we can measure the efficacy of the ingredients better.”
Skin care’s fast-faster-fastest ethos seems to fl y in the face of the economic downturn. While the rest of the world is slowing down and spending less, why is skin care getting faster and more ambitious? “It takes years to formulate, prepare and market a new cream,” says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. “I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these new creams were projects that started before the recession. When the economy tanked, I saw my patients give up that gluttony for incredibly fast results. There was a moment when everyone wanted perfect skin yesterday. But recently, I’ve heard more and more of people being patient, slowing down a little.”
Nevertheless, these new creams are sweeping the industry with promises to deliver line-free skin faster than you can say collagen repair. But there is—it must be said—a wrinkle in the plan. On one hand, consumers want creams to get rid of sagging skin on contact; on the other hand, they roll their eyes at such outrageous promises. “There is a credibility to offering results over time,” says Lauder’s Drell Szyfer. “Women know that some ingredients take time to deliver results.”
Back in the Eighties, Vaseline Intensive Care promised to “relieve dry skin on contact.” Forget for a moment that seawater would have the same effect. This speaks to the fact that our need for instant gratification is nothing new—but the beauty industry’s ability to deliver immediate results via sophisticated ingredient technology is. “Certainly, we have made big strides,” says Alexiades-Armenakas. “Skin care can do more than ever before.”
Typically, the quick results tackle the smaller problems—dryness, shallow lines, dullness. Generally the immediate-gratifi cation ingredients—the ones that claim “instant,” “on contact,” “in an hour”—are the ones “that work as long as you use the product,” says Alexiades-Armenakas. “In the immediate short term, you can reasonably expect emollient and barrier repair. Silicones, glycerin and peptides will give you the quick results. Anything that works by drawing water from the bloodstream into the skin will have a plumping effect, but it’s short lived because it’s due to water, not any real change in the skin.”
The holy grail issues—wrinkles, sagging skin, hyperpigmentation—may be curable, but they take time, a four-letter word to marketers. “Those are longterm projects,” says Alexiades-Armenakas. “To see a sustained result, you need to use the product over a minimum of a few weeks.
“Where companies get into trouble is when they start to promise immediate collagen production,” she continues. Alexiades-Armenakas likens it to knitting a scarf: The process may start immediately, but you won’t see any appreciable results for a while—in this case, six to 12 months. “That’s how long it takes to witness the peak of production,” she says. “Any changes you see before that are just plumpers and they’re old news.”
Language, again, plays a key role. When a product promises to “reduce wrinkles up to 50 percent,” then if it reduces them by 1 percent, technically, it’s delivering on its promise. Furthermore, anything that does something to affect “the appearance” of something isn’t necessarily addressing the real problem. “If you fi ll a line with some sort of plumping agent, you are reducing the appearance of a wrinkle,” says Johnson of P&G. “That’s not the same thing as lessening the actual wrinkle.”
Those lofty promises aren’t necessarily untrue, they just come with a footnote: To create real, lasting change in the quality of the skin, you need patience. “We have taken steps forward over the last few years,” says Lieve DeClercq, spokesperson for molecular biology at Origins. But there is no getting around one very inconvenient fact. “The basic biology of the skin hasn’t changed. We set out to give the instant benefits so that our consumers will give the cream a chance to do its real work over a longer period of time.”
“For an antiaging cream to really do anything, it needs time,” agrees Wells. “But who’s going to wait 30 days—not to mention three months—to see any results? No one I know. These creams give a sense of instant gratification so that you keep using them for the long term.”
Indeed, a longer period of time is a critical ingredient when it comes to effi cacy. Says Scalamandre: “We know that it takes 28 days to renew the cycle of your skin, and there’s no changing that. You have to work with nature.”
Ultimately, of course, if a product doesn’t work, it’s dead on the shelf. “There is more confusion than ever about what products deliver,” says Malcolm Beck of Blue Mercury. “There is so much market saturation and such bold claims now that we tell our clients to rely on independent dermatological research—you have to rely on what’s been proven to work, not just throw it all on.”
The loftier the claims get, the higher the risk of failure. “If anything has an instant result, you have to try it right then and there at the counter to see the proof,” says Drell Szyfer. “It’s the most effective way to see that a product does what it sets out to do: Try it for yourself. We’re past the day and age of big companies saying, ‘You’ll see a 56 percent improvement,’ and that’s that. Now, marketing is about the consumer trying it for herself and telling other people about it.”
For now, expect supercharged creams to continue staking their claim to the marketplace. “The psyche of the American animal wants what’s new and this is the new generation of skin care,” says Alexiades- Armenakas. But it won’t be that way much longer—the industry is already looking ahead. “Today, the market is about fast, effective DNA and cellular repair. In the future, we will focus on more effective, faster pigment control. That’s the next frontier.”
When time is of the essence, these treatments claim they can deliver results in the blink of an eye.
Professional Pro-X Intensive Treatment Mask And Skin Tightening Serum
This two-step regimen, fortified with extracts of dill seeds sourced from India and Hungary, purports to improve skin structure for increased firmness. The mask contains caffeine, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to plump cells, while the polymer-rich serum fills expression lines on contact. $62 (mass retailers)
Peter Thomas Roth
Vitamins A, C and E are formulated with skinplumping hyaluronic spheres in this moisturizing formula, which promises to immediately smooth deep wrinkles, fill expression lines and shrink enlarged pores. The treatment, which drys to a powderlike finish, also delivers free radical protection. $45 (Sephora, peterthomasroth.com)
Instant Moisture Repair Daily Hydrator
With density-building oligopeptides, this instantaneous moisturizer purports to smooth, plump and encourage the production of elastin fibers below the skin’s surface in just one hour. $59 (Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, select Saks, Sephora, Ulta)
Cellular Performance Hydrachange Cream
This gel-cream blend of emollient oils and a proprietary hyaluronic acid network claims to work on contact to activate skin’s internal hydrating mechanisms. Koishimaru silk and nourishing purple orchid extracts create a barrier to keep moisture locked in, while beta carotene fortifies skin’s defenses. $160 (Bergdorf Goodman)
Gone In Sixty Seconds Instant Wrinkle Eraser
This wrinkle filler contains peptides, micro-collagen and firming proteins and claims to promote immediate firmness. It also delivers muscle-relaxing gamma-aminobutyric acid for a “faux-tox” effect. $19.99 (aminogenesis.com)
Bremenn Research Labs
Instant Forehead Smoother
The line-smoothing formula contains peptides and fastacting polymers from the sap of the tropical plant sorghum to purportedly fill forehead furrows and crow’s-feet alike. Sweet almond proteins are said to provide immediate lifting and plumping, while a skinbrightening agent works to even tone instantly and the overall complexion over time. $69 (bremennlabs.com)
Bio-Performance Super Corrective Serum
Harnessing the powers of its exclusive yeast and safflower complex, this serum claims to turn back the clock on aging cells in just one day. After a few weeks of use, the brand reports overall lifting, toning and skin-brightening results, with an epidermal growth factor that boosts collagen and elastin production. $80 (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom)
‘Treat’ Yourself Triple Oxygen+C Energizing Cream
“Supercharged” vitamin C provides the instant glow of a freshly scrubbed complexion, helping to brighten and even skin tone over time. The fast-absorbing, cell-revitalizing formula purports to promote collagen synthesis and combat sallowness. $54 (Bliss, Sephora, bliss.com, sephora.com)
Cure Solutions Anti-Asphyxiation Flash Mask
In minutes, this complexion-calming mask promises to restore skin and deliver instant luminosity, thanks to its combination of organic aloe vera gel, sesame gel and extracts of the tropical tree, moringa. $32 (yvesrocherusa.com)
Starting Over Ageerasing Oil-Free Moisturizer With Mimosa
In less then a day, this creamy resurfacing blend of mimosa tree bark, argan leaf, caffeine, turmeric and green algae purports to amplify skin’s natural collagen production. Extracts of cucumber, scutellaria and apple address uneven skin tone, while natural moisturizers from corn, wheat and barley provide long-lasting hydration. $45 (Origins counters and stores, origins.com)
Brilliance Day Activating Serum And Day Rejuvenating Crème Spf 20
Designed to combat the slowing process of cell renewal in aging skin, this two-step regimen features a patented “E-Pulse” micro-current technology that penetrates skin with a flow of energy and ion minerals for increased radiance and visible firming in just three days. ($49.99; mass retailers, rocskincare.com)
Perfectionist Targeted Deep Wrinkle Filler
To deliver on its promise of reducing expression lines on contact and banishing them over time, this antiager contains plumping volumizing spheres, elastin-producing peptides and an optical blend of pigments to blur skin imperfections. The amino acid–rich treatment also contains silicone for density building. $39.50 (Estée Lauder counters, esteelauder.com)