Skip to main content

Acne: Prestige Beauty’s New Bull’s-Eye

Prestige beauty firms are raising an issue with raised red bumps and increasingly are adding blemish-fighting regimens to their assortments.

Prestige beauty firms are raising an issue with raised red bumps — notoriously referred to as acne — and increasingly are adding blemish-fighting regimens to their assortments.

After all, most of their customers report occasional bouts with blemishes. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin disorder in the U.S., affecting 40 million to 50 million Americans. And, at some point in their lives, nearly 85 percent of people will have acne.

Experts disagree on whether more Americans are pimple-prone now than in the past, but sales of acne care products have grown steadily over the last six years. Sales of over-the-counter acne treatments in the U.S. ballooned to $601.6 million last year, from $409.2 million in 2002, and are forecasted to hit $641.7 million by 2012, according to Euromonitor International, a market-intelligence firm.

Related Galleries

Category growth has broadened consumers’ acne-fighting tools from a spot treatment bought in a drugstore to moisturizing lotions, masks, cleansers, oral supplements and handheld devices sold in department stores, spas and specialty shops. ProActiv Solution helped elevate advertising in the category from the Clearasil commercial featuring teenagers at a pizza parlor, exclaiming, “Remind you of anyone’s face?” to celebrity-hosted infomercials with a service bent. The overarching message: Adults get acne, too.

You May Also Like

“Hats off to ProActiv for identifying that monthly bumps are not just a nuance, but treatable,” said Kathy Fields, M.D., who created ProActiv with fellow Stanford University-trained dermatologist Katie Rodan and later sold the business to Guthy-Renker Corp. Last year, the pair also bought back their prestige skin care range Rodan + Fields from the Estée Lauder Cos. and began selling it direct. Fields said the brand now has about 5,000 sales representatives.

“Is there more acne now? Maybe. But there’s certainly more awareness,” said Fields. “About five or 10 years ago, it was about spot-treating acne or chasing pimples around the face. But the old era of spot and kill is like brushing a tooth with a cavity.” She added, “Now, the secret is full-face therapy.” In May, Rodan + Fields expanded that approach to below the neck with a body spray and exfoliating body wash, both of which contain salicylic acid.

Clinique also has moved beyond a spot-treatment approach.

Agnes Landau, senior vice president of global marketing for the Estée Lauder Cos.-owned Clinique brand, noted Clinique introduced its first acne treatment in 1985, called Anti-Acne Control Formula, and last year introduced a four-prong acne approach (inspired by the brand’s long-standing three-step skin care regimen) called Acne Solutions. Today, Clinique’s acne lineup includes 10 stockkeeping units. Referring to Clinique’s system approach of exfoliation, oil control, acne control and anti-irritation, Landau said: “Acne doesn’t simply just disappear within 24 hours. It’s very emotional.” Boosted by Acne Solutions, Clinique has a 70 percent market share in the prestige acne care segment in the U.S., said Landau. Product extensions are in the pipeline, she hinted, and noted that Clinique had great success with its online Acne Boot Camp, launched in tandem with Acne Solutions. Designed as almost a Weight Watchers for acne sufferers, the online program tracked users’ weekly progress, suggested updates to their regimens and encouraged users to post photos showcasing their results, explained Landau. Users then voted on the most improved participant.

“From a consumer standpoint, there is zero tolerance for acne,” declared Landau.

Aveda, a fellow Estée Lauder Cos. brand, moved up a spot to the number-two professional skin care brand — behind Dermalogica and in front of Murad — last year, helped in part by its Outer Peace Acne Relief line, according to the firm.

Introduced in 2006, Outer Peace now accounts for 13 percent of Aveda skin care sales, said Suzanne Dawson, vice president of global marketing for Aveda, who noted that Aveda salons and spas have seen an increase in acne treatment services. Last year, Aveda added the Cooling Masque, previously a professional-only treatment, to the four-item range. Early next year, Aveda plans to introduce refills for the air-pump Foaming Cleanser. True to its botanical heritage, formulas feature naturally derived salicylic acid made from oil of wintergreen, rather than the commonly used synthetic form of the blemish-fighting ingredient.

A red bump does not necessarily equal acne, but consumers are bent on ridding their faces of all imperfections, according to dermatologists.

“Acne has become the red bumps syndrome,” said El Segundo, Calif.-based dermatologist Howard Murad. When he introduced his namesake skin care line in 1989, one of the initial three products was for oily and acne-prone skin. Murad’s acne care lineup now includes concealer sticks, spot treatments, exfoliators, supplements called Pure Skin and a $35 acne kit sold via infomercial. His products also are sold in Sephora and Ulta. Referring to the diverse acne lineup, which accounts for 30 percent of the Murad business, the dermatologist said: “I have an inclusive health philosophy. Acne may appear on the skin, but it’s related to what’s happening internally, like hormones. Looking at the big picture is important.” Nodding to the emotional nature of acne, he added: “I don’t have any acne patients in my practice. I have patients with acne.”

Dermalogica, the leading professional skin care brand, boosted its acne care range with the introduction of MediBac Clearing, designed as a 24-hour treatment consisting of products intended to be layered on top of one another, said Diana Howard, Ph.D., vice president of Technical Development at Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute. Or, in other words, products in the eight-item collection are meant to “turn off the excess sebum [or oil] pump,” said Howard. She added that formulas use salicylic acid, lactic acid and sulphur to unclog pores, and calm skin with anti-inflammatories such as oats and green tea. Several of the products include Skin Purifying Wipes, Clearing Mattifier and Oil Control Lotion.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve come to understand a lot more about the pathology of acne and what ingredients are most useful in treating it.”

She noted that MediBac Clearing and an antiaging range called Age Smart are Dermalogica’s most successful lines because they are designed to address specific skin care concerns.

Acne treatments are going high-tech, too, with portable pimple-fighting devices such as Zeno and now ThermaClear from Therative, the maker of medical-grade and professional products for home use. Therative president and chief executive officer Sandra Lawrence said the company noticed the growth trends in the acne products market, and began to consider ways to improve treatment of blemishes. “The brain trust has shifted from lotions created by chemists to a device made by engineers and scientists in the medical space,” she said, referring to ThermaClear, the $149 zit zapper sold via direct TV and on

Lawrence said Sephora plans to roll out ThermaClear chainwide by year’s end. The FDA-cleared acne treatment device works, she explained, by heating the skin to neutralize acne-causing bacteria from the affected area. The heat also is said to trigger the body’s own acne-fighting enzymes and treat pimples below the skin surface. “This is a game-changing way of addressing skin care problems,” said Lawrence, who joined the company in August and previously worked at Johnson & Johnson and Gillette.

Some executives suggest that stress has made acne more of a problem, but some experts on the frontlines of treatment disagree.

“The concern was always there,” said Hollywood facialist Olga Lorencin-Northrup, who cofounded Kinara Spa. “It’s just that it took the cosmetics industry 20 years to catch up.” She acknowledged her product line, Kinara, does not include acne care products, but divulged: “Last month I gave my chemist formulas for an over-the-counter acne product.”