Byline: Alev Aktar

NEW YORK — Every prestige cosmetics company on the map has developed skin whitening lines just for Asia, where the category is a huge part of the treatment business. Now several prestige manufacturers — including Shiseido, Chanel, Givenchy and La Prairie — are coming to the U.S. with a milky way of products.
In Japan, where pale skin is a symbol of beauty and privilege, whitening products are worth some $1.3 billion (160 billion yen) at current exchange rates, according to industry estimates. One of the leading lines is Shiseido’s Whitess Essence EX, which the company reports sells two million units per year.
What’s more, La Prairie estimates that lighteners represent an incredible 20 to 30 percent of the Asian treatment market.
But in the U.S., most women still prefer a healthy glow, if not a tan. So whitening seemed destined to remain exclusively an Asian phenomenon.
Then, starting in May of last year, Shiseido, Chanel and Givenchy identified niche potential here and launched whiteners.
Now La Prairie is set to launch what it claims is the first full lightening line in U.S. selective distribution. It’s called Cellular Brightening System.
Moreover, Estee Lauder is looking into the possibility of introducing all or part of its six-product Swiss Whitening line into extremely limited distribution as soon as the end of the year. The range is currently sold only in Asia and duty-free markets, including Hawaii.
Yves Saint Laurent is also planning to bring its two-product Blanc Absolu brand to the U.S., probably sometime next year.
Many brands are also rolling out to European and South American countries. Manufacturers here recognize that whiteners will never be the equivalent of fruit acids — their appeal in the U.S. is much narrower. As a result, some are restricting distribution and selling the products only in stores with a big tourist trade and many Asian shoppers, while others are repositioning the lines.
For example, Chanel’s Whitening Serum and Whitening Mask are sold only in the company’s boutiques in America, while Shiseido’s Whitess Essence EX is sold in just 90 doors out of 800.
Likewise, both Shiseido and La Prairie have rejiggered the positioning of their lines. Shiseido’s Whitess is pitched as a moisturizer that improves skin tone. Meanwhile, La Prairie’s is marketed as a “brightening” brand targeted to women who want translucent skin, or who wish to fade sun spots, age discoloration and uneven color.
Thus, the line, called Cellular Whitening System in Asia, has been renamed Cellular Brightening System for the U.S.
“[The term] whitening isn’t cosmetic enough for us, and it doesn’t appeal to a broad spectrum of customers,” explained Lynne Florio, president of La Prairie. “And who doesn’t want brighter skin?”
In terms of composition, whitening products can be classified either as cosmetics or over-the-counter drugs.
In the U.S., the sole FDA-approved active ingredient in the skin bleaching category is hydroquinone, which falls into the over-the-counter category.
The agency recommends concentrations of no more than 2 percent for use on limited areas of the body. “Hydroquinone is the only ingredient that the FDA recognizes as a safe and effective bleaching agent,” noted Morris Herstein, international research and development consultant for La Prairie.
However, most companies are now marketing lightening lines formulated with either derivatives of Vitamin C or placental extracts from either sheep or cows — both prevent the formation of melanin. In the U.S., many of the products are carefully positioned as brightening and complexion-smoothing products — not skin bleachers — and therefore belong to the cosmetics category.
La Prairie’s Cellular Brightening System consists of four products — lotion, essence, day emulsion SPF 15, and night treatment — formulated to both moisturize and brighten the complexion. The primary ingredient is a derivative of Vitamin C called magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. The products can be used alone or with other creams.
Prices range between $65 for a 125-ml. lotion to $125 for a 30-ml. day emulsion. There is also a kit containing all four products that’s priced at $300.
While La Prairie executives declined to discuss sales targets, industry sources estimate the line could generate $50 million at retail next year in the U.S., or between 10 and 15 percent of sales. The line will be backed by advertorials in magazines and in-store promotional materials.
Here’s a look at other whitening news:
As part of the relaunch of the Visible Difference brand, Elizabeth Arden is unveiling a five-product whitening line in Asia, certain Latin American countries and duty free in January. Called Visible Whitening, the line is formulated with bovine placental extracts, three types of alpha-hydroxy acids, and botanicals. In addition to skin care items, there are five different shades of whitening powder foundation.
Shiseido markets five whitening lines in Asia — UV White, WHITIA, BOP White, Whitess Essence EX and Aupres, which is sold only in mainland China. There are a total of about 40 products in the different lines, not including foundation.

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