A new guard of high-tech skin care has emerged. Products formulated with ingredients intended to mimic the effects of professional laser treatments are consumers’ latest at-home remedy to rid skin of dark spots, lackluster tone and, of course, wrinkles.
As the bountiful offering of Botox-in-a-bottle-type products has proven in recent years, consumers clamor for at-home — and far less expensive — options to dermatologists’ treatments to deal with their more serious skin concerns.
But, dermatologists are hardly hurting for business. In the U.S., the number of nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, which includes lasers, grew to 8.5 million in 2009, compared with 1.1 million in 1997, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
“People want to try the noninvasive procedures. Years ago, they were after the radical solution,” said New York-based dermatologist Dennis Gross, who founded the eponymous product range Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare.
The subcategory that houses corrective skin care — or products whose primary function goes beyond moisturizing to treat redness, spots, lines and the like — is the best-performing segment of the prestige skin care market, said Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group Inc. Grant noted that in 2009, while the overall facial skin care market declined by 4 percent, the corrective skin care subcategory grew both in units and dollars, up 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
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The category will likely swell further in 2010 as skin care products designed to deliver results on par with laser treatments gain popularity.
“As we begin 2010, it is this category that is again experiencing the strongest growth,” said Grant. “While prestige skin care is up 6 percent, compared with last year through May, the category with these specialized skin care products grew more than 35 percent in dollars and more than 21 percent in units. A big driver of the momentum in this segment is the new Clinique Dark Spot Corrector, which is the number-one skin care launch in 2010 year to date.”
New York-based dermatologist Fredric Brandt, whose skin care line helped kick off the doctor-brand phenomenon, tapped into consumers’ interest in lasers with the introduction of the Laser in a Bottle line, namely Laser Tight and Laser Relief, in 2005, and Laser Lightning System and the three-step Laser A-Peel in 2006. Last year, he introduced reformulated and repackaged versions of the products, called Time Arrest Laser Tight, Anti-Irritant Laser Relief, Flaws No More Lightening Serum and the two-step Laser A-Peel.
The simplified Laser A-Peel system, $75, is formulated to even skin tone, improve elasticity and remove dead skin cells to amp up radiance, much like a Fraxel laser resurfacing treatment. The formula combines glycolic acid with antioxidants, such as green tea, white tea, grape seed extract and lactic acid to gently exfoliate skin.
Brandt said more than 50 percent of his patients come to his office with skin concerns that can be solved by myriad laser treatments, which range in cost between $500 to $1,000 a session. As with most laser treatments, generally more than one session is required.
Brandt acknowledges that a topical product doesn’t have the might of a high-tech laser, but said, “What you are going to get at home is not going to match the potency of an office treatment, but if you are very diligent with your home care, you will get results.” As for the use of the word “laser” on the products, he said, “Many associate lasers with a very potent result.”
The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned brand Clinique also is boldly incorporating the word in its upcoming product called Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus Wrinkle & UV Damage Corrector, which will be launched next month.
The technology is designed to address lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture and reduced skin clarity, and is powered by three patented repair enzymes encapsulated in a liposome delivery system. Clinique said the technology represents 20 years of clinical study of molecular delivery systems and aids penetration deep within the surface of the skin to dramatically reverse the appearance of photo aging.
Above all, Laser Focus is formulated to treat fine lines and wrinkles — the number-one skin global concern, particularly as the population ages, said Agnes Landau, senior vice president of global marketing for Clinique.
Laser Focus, designed to be used in the morning and evening, comes baring big claims. Just three drops of the serum, applied twice a day over a 12-week span, can replicate 63 percent of the results of a Fraxel laser. Clinique will compare Laser Focus, $44.50, to a professional laser treatment in an ad campaign slated for mid-August.
“We aim to underpromise and overdeliver,” said Landau, who noted, at about $1,200 a session, Fraxel laser treatments are cost-prohibitive for many and, for those with sensitive skin, lasers may not be an option to begin with. “The sweet spot is to effectively treat the skin care concern, but in a supersafe formula,” said Landau.
“This is a correction product, and formulating a product with a single benefit is key for us,” she said.
Avon Products Inc.’s Anew skin care brand also is building its range of at-home alternatives to dermatologist procedures. In May, the company introduced Anew Clinical Luminosity Pro Brightening Serum, a topical product formulated with injectable-grade L-aspartic acid to fade dark spots and even skin tone and blotchiness. The $54 serum is said to brighten complexion and diminish the appearance of dark spots to match the skin’s natural tone in three days.
Discolorations and imperfections are key skin concerns, said Alina Gonzalez, executive director, global product innovation for Avon. “The over-the-counter products have not been effective and have left consumers disappointed,” she said.
Avon’s consulting dermatologist, Cheryl Karcher, cited a study done by scientists at the University of Göttingen in Germany, where researchers were able to show that facial skin color distribution, or tone, can add or subtract as much as 20 years from a woman’s perceived age. At her New York City practice, Karcher uses intense pulsed light treatments, or IPL, to rid skin of unwanted pigment. She generally recommends five sessions at a cost of $750 each as a course of treatment.
As for who Luminosity Pro is suited for, Karcher said, “It’s for the patient who has dark spots, but doesn’t want to spend thousands of dollars — and that’s what it would end up costing — or for the person who doesn’t want any downtime [for recovery]. This product doesn’t replace the laser, but it’s the next best thing.”
Bianca D’Elia, a 34-year-old marketing consultant in New York, turned to professional laser treatments last year in a bid to undo what she said was years of damage. “I used to go tanning once a week,” said D’Elia, who is now a reformed sun worshiper. “I’ve always had freckles, but I starting getting these thumb-print [sized brown spots] on my cheeks.”
A friend, who is a professional makeup artist, recommended she visit the practice of dermatologist Howard Sobel on the Upper East Side for Aurora laser treatments. A package of three treatments costs $1,500, and chemical peels for $250 are recommended in between sessions. To protect her investment and minimize recovery time, D’Elia said, “Now I wear [SPF] 80 on my face, a hat and walk on the shady side of the street.” Asked if she has an interest in topical creams that mimic laser treatments, she said, “I kind of roll my eyes at them, because I am doing something so drastic.”
At his practice, Gross has devised the $850 Alpha Beta Laser Peel, a combination of a professional peel and a V-Beam laser that he said delivers results with no recovery time. “Your face may look a little pink, like after a hot shower,” he said. “I don’t like anything that injures the skin.”
A decade ago, Gross also formulated an at-home alternative to the exclusive treatment, the two-step Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, and next month he will introduce an extra-strength version. Extra Strength Alpha Beta Face Peel, $85, contains higher concentrations of alpha beta acids, and newly added antiaging ingredients, including ubiquinone and resveratrol. The formula, delivered on pre-soaked cotton towelettes, is said to diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, pores and dark spots.
Gross does not plan to market the extra-strength product as an alternative to lasers, which he said only adds more confusion to the skin care category.
“There is overlap in a professional treatment and a retail product, but there is also a divide,” said Gross. “Nothing can come as close as in-office results.”
Dermatologists have a battery of lasers to choose from — Fraxel, V-Beam and Titan to name a few — and consumer confusion over the devices and their use is rampant.
“If you have done laser treatments, the word [laser] will resonate with you. But if you haven’t, the benefits of the word may not be immediately clear,” said Marla Malcolm Beck, chief executive officer and founder of the beauty apothecary Bluemercury. As for Beck’s firming product of choice? Serums laden with vitamin C. “Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients for building collagen,” said Beck.
Glen Anderson, Ph.D., director of global research and development at Avon, said it simply: “It’s not just about wrinkles anymore.”
Dr. Brandt Laser A-Peel, $75
Professional inspiration: Fraxel laser resurfacing
Benefit: Tightens pores, firms skin and increases radiance.
Star ingredients: Glycolic acid, latic acid and QuSome, a patented ingredient delivery system.
Avon Anew Clinical Luminosity Pro Brightening Serum, $54
Professional inspiration: Intense pulsed light (IPL), as well as YAG and Fraxel lasers.
Benefit: Fade look of dark spots, even skin tone and improve clarity.
Star ingredient: Injectable-grade L-aspartic acid
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel, $85
Professional inspiration: Dr. Gross’ in-office Alpha Beta Laser Peel, a combination of a professional peel and V-Beam laser.
Benefit: Diminishes fine lines, wrinkles, pores and dark spots.
Star ingredients: Alpha and beta hydroxy acids, retinol and resveratrol.
Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus Wrinkle & UV Damage Corrector, $44.50
Professional inspiration: Fraxel laser
Benefit: Reduce look of fine lines and wrinkles and repair and prevent UV damage.
Star ingredients: Micrococcus luteus, photolyase fermentate and OGG-1 fermentate.