NEW YORK — With its newest Plenitude skin care product, L’Oreal plans to take alpha-hydroxy acid products two steps further.

It is also doing what it takes to get the word out.

L’Oreal’s Cosmetics and Fragrance Division is planning to back the new item, called Plenitude Excell-A3, with as much as $20 million in advertising, according to John Wendt, senior vice president and general manager of the division.

“This is the heaviest launch support we have given to any one skin care product,” Wendt noted.

Plenitude Excell-A3 (as in “to the third power”) will be billed as a triple assault on aging. According to company executives, the item provides the exfoliating benefits of alpha-hydroxy acids and contains two bonus ingredients: antioxidants to combat free radicals and sun protection.

“We believe that we are one of the first companies to offer a single product with all three of these components,” said Stephen Mormoris, vice president of marketing for the division.

Excell will hit mass market shelves in early May in two forms: a 2-oz. pump of lotion with an SPF 8 and a 1.4-oz. jar of cream with low level sunscreens. The suggested retail price will be $11.50 each. They will be distributed in L’Oreal’s 20,000 mass outlets.

Sources estimated that Excell will have a wholesale volume of about $30 million in its first year. That would represent roughly one-third of PlÄnitude’s projected $90 million wholesale volume for the same period.

The Plenitude line includes 25 other skin care products, among them Eye Defense eye treatment, Advanced Wrinkle Defense cream and Advanced Over Night Replenisher night cream.

The company plans to back the new product with extensive advertising, promotion and sampling.

The $20 million budget represents two-thirds of Plenitude’s total 1994 ad budget, Wendt said.

Print and TV campaigns will break in early May and run through the rest of the year, Mormoris said, adding that L’Oreal is planning to distribute 18 million samples of Excell via direct mail and through packets inserted in magazines.

Informational pamphlets about the product’s ingredients and benefits will be placed on PlÄnitude displays in stores. In addition, key accounts will have demonstrations from cosmeticians, Mormoris said.

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The company will also have a pre-sell promotion of four-day trial sizes, sold for $1.99 each. A $1 coupon toward a purchase of the full-size product will be given away with the trial sizes, which will be on counter in April.

“This is such a technological story that it’s essential to get the message out in as many ways as we can,” Wendt said. “Especially if you want to communicate clearly in a self-service environment.”