NEW YORK — Lately the ingredient list on many skin care products has come to resemble the back of a cereal box.
That’s because many major treatment manufacturers have taken to enriching their products with a variety of vitamins, with Elizabeth Arden, Chanel, Lancome, Estee Lauder, Prescriptives and Clarins among the department store stalwarts who have joined the vitamin game in the last few years.
Direct-sales giant Avon has taken the concept even further by launching a new brand of just the vitamins themselves, called Avon Life.
“The awareness of the importance of vitamins in health has been increasing,” said Joseph Horowitz, president of Clarins USA. “More is known about the advantages of vitamins in relation to cancer prevention, stress reduction and longevity. It’s natural that the cosmetics industry would take note of the popularity of vitamins now and respond with its own version of vitamin treatments.”
Margaret Sharkey, Lancome’s senior vice president and deputy general manager, views the trend as part of the growing consumer demand for natural products.
“We are analyzing what we are eating more and that is carrying over into our industry. People are appreciating science, but are becoming more interested in natural ingredients. Alpha-hydroxy acids were all about natural ingredients combined with technology.”
Most alpha-hydroxy acids, still a buzzword when it comes to star ingredients, are derived from natural sources, such as milk, sugarcane or fruit. The acids are then combined with technologically advanced ingredients such as moisturizers and delivery systems.
Now, cosmetics companies are taking their cues from vitamin manufacturers such as Schiff and Twin Lab and are marketing treatment products with antioxidant vitamins — ingredients used to combat free radicals.
A free radical is a form of oxygen that when activated by environmental forces becomes a highly charged and destructive molecule, according to industry experts. In terms of the health of the body, free radicals have been linked through some studies to serious illnesses, such as cancer.
According to some research, these molecules can also harm the skin by breaking through the membranes that protect the skin’s cells, causing damage to the skin’s many layers.
While firms are now vociferously touting antioxidants as essential to healthy skin, the concept of using vitamins in skin care products is not necessarily a new one.
Vitamin A derivatives, which include palmitate and propionate, have been used for years in anti-aging products, most notably in prescription-strength items like Retin-A, which was first used to combat acne. Vitamin E is an old standby that manufacturers have claimed has moisturization and healing properties.
“In the past, vitamins in skin care really revolved mostly around folklore connected with a general image of good health, although using appropriate levels of vitamin A has been shown to be effective in retexturizing the skin,” said Sven Thormahlen, Lancome’s assistant vice president of research and development for treatment. “But for the most part, there was no real understanding of whether the skin could metabolize them and how to get them to penetrate the skin’s surface.”
For many years, vitamins in skin care were seen as being more beneficial to the products themselves, rather than the skin they were treating.
“Traditionally, vitamins were used in some products as antioxidants to protect the integrity of the product itself,” said Shirley Weinstein, vice president of product development for Clinique. “Anything with oil in it can become rancid if exposed to the air over a period of time. Vitamins in very low levels have been used to keep food and products fresh for years. It was just not something the industry ever talked about.”
Recent research, however, seems to have revealed that what’s good for extending the shelf life of food and cosmetics may be good for giving the skin a few extra wrinkle-free years.
“Years ago, antioxidants were scoffed at, but in more recent years they have been validated by research,” said Dianne Osborne, vice president of skin care marketing at Lauder. “It all used to be just a theory; now there is the research to back it up.”
“There have been more studies on how free radicals effect the skin over the last few years, and we are now learning that neutralizing them can act as a preventative measure to slow down the skin’s aging process,” agreed Clinique’s Weinstein.
Clinique’s free radical fighters include products in its sun line and both the regular and dry skin version of Turnaround Cream, its salicylic acid entry. In May, the company will introduce Daily Eye Saver, an under-eye gel with sun protection, skin soothers, humectants and free radical “scavengers.”
Many companies say they now have acquired an understanding about combining vitamins and how to effectively get them to permeate the epidermis.
“Before, there was no real way of getting them to penetrate the skin,” said Jane Hertzmark, vice president of marketing for Prescriptives. “Now there are technologically advanced delivery systems that can achieve that.”
Companies are also learning more about how the body utilizes topically applied vitamins.
“At Lancome, there has been a renewed interest in vitamins because there is now a new understanding that the skin actually metabolizes things via enzymes, meaning that the vitamins are not just laying there on the skin,” Thormahlen said.
Last spring, Lancome launched Bienfait Total, the company’s first major effort in the liquid moisturizer category. Lancome claims that among the product’s benefits are hydration, added radiance (from a low level of alpha-hydroxy acid) and environmental protection from the sun with an SPF of 15 and from free radicals due to vitamin E.
The company recently introduced a cream version of Bienfait Total for women with drier skin.
“The concept of vitamins in skin care is not new; what is new is being able to put stable and active vitamins in a formula that maintains their integrity,” said Karen Rae Flinn, assistant vice president of skin care marketing at Lancome. “Vitamin C is very unstable, and it has been a big challenge to utilize it correctly.
“I think that we are on the threshold of a new generation of skin care products with vitamins,” she added. “I believe more in-depth research will prove that vitamins have different and broader applications and that long term, they could prove to have other implications beyond prevention.”
Marketers are also learning which vitamins need to be combined for the most efficacious potion possible.
“We are now learning that E and C have a synergistic effect on one another and that using the one without the other isn’t the same,” Lauder’s Osborne said. “E seems to re-activate C.”
Lauder uses antioxidants in its sun care products and in its Skin Perfecting and Time Zone moisturizers. More recent entries with vitamins include the Resilience moisturizer, which is now available in an oil-free and eye cream version, and Revelation Retexturing Complex for Hands and Chest, which contains the alpha-hydroxy acid ingredients found in the company’s Fruition, alongside antioxidants.
According to Jean Hoehn Zimmerman, senior vice president of marketing and sales of Chanel, antioxidants have been an ongoing thread in both Chanel treatment and color cosmetics since 1976, when the company launched Creme No. 1, a moisturizer with vitamins E and C as antioxidants.
In April, Chanel will introduce Day Lift Plus and Night Lift Plus, which not only contain antioxidant vitamins but a new multi-hydroxy acid complex combining beta-hydroxy acid with the alpha-hydroxy acid used in the original Day Lift and Night Lift products.
“As pollution and the depletion of the ozone become more of an issue, so do free radicals,” Zimmerman said.
Prescriptives first entered the antioxidant arena in 1985 with a serum called Line Preventor.
“At that time, free radicals might as well have been a rock band,” Hertzmark said. “Consumers had no awareness, but we did not back off of it because we knew this was an important area of skin care. People are definitely more receptive to the concept now.”
The product was first reformulated in 1988 and then relaunched in late 1993 as Line Preventor 3.
“Our ongoing research showed us that free radicals weren’t only triggered by sunlight, as we first thought, but by smoke and pollution as well,” Hertzmark. “With these findings in mind, we reformulated [Line Preventor] to protect the skin from free radicals triggered by ultraviolet and infrared rays, cigarette smoke and pollution.”
Prescriptives is taking a more intense approach with vitamin therapy this April, when it launches Insulation Anti-Oxidant Vitamin Cream, a product designed to combat free radicals in stressful environments like the ski slopes or the beach. LP3 was created to fight free radicals that are the product of every day circumstances.
Among its properties are SPF 15, vitamins C and E, oil-free moisturizers and green tea extract, another ingredient purported to be an antioxidant.
Elizabeth Arden is going after the vitamin trend in a major way. Last August, the company introduced the Spa skin care line. Each of the nine items is fortified with vitamins and minerals, whose main aim is to combat free radicals.
In a related development, the company also joined forces with the Linus Pauling Institute, a private organization focusing on the study of vitamins and health issues.
According to company executives, research information and the use of facilities will be exchanged, to the benefit of both organizations. Pauling, who died last year, was a winner of two Nobel prizes and pioneered the use of vitamins as nutritional supplements.
Clarins’ most recent push in the area of free radical fighting was with two versions of Multi Active Night Lotion. The item, launched late last year, was created to neutralize the damaging free radicals that occur during the night, according to the company. Clarins maintains that these molecules are different from the ones that are triggered during the day by the sun, pollution and cigarette smoke.
The company has also reformulated its sun line to provide more protection from environmental hazards, including free radicals.
Next month, Erno Laszlo will introduce Antioxidant Moisture Complex SPF 15. Besides sun protection, the item contains moisturizers to hydrate the skin and antioxidant vitamins.
But while manufacturers agree that the use of vitamins is becoming more commonplace, both as an ingredient and a marketing concept, the jury is out as to whether it will be a driving force in the same way alpha-hydroxies have been.
Many doubt that vitamins will have the same phenomenal sales results as acid-based products, which continue to be the major catalyst for prestige skin care sales. “I think this is a harder story to tell,” Clinique’s Weinstein said. “In some cases, a consumer can literally see the results of an acid-based product overnight. The real value of vitamins is that they are protective, and consumers don’t necessarily gravitate toward that. They want instant gratification, which the acids can give. It has been a struggle to convince them that they need to wear a sunscreen every day.” “I am not sure if the message has gotten through yet,” Lauder’s Osborne agreed. “Our focus groups have shown us that, so far, there is very little consumer awareness of antioxidants. Also, the concept sounds more technical and is more difficult to understand than AHA’s. But we have been including vitamins in our products for several years and will continue to do more of it. We see it as a major thrust in skin care.”
Chanel’s Zimmerman noted that the terms themselves — antioxidants and free radicals — are not exactly consumer-friendly.
“Antioxidants and free radicals sound scary, and five years ago, women had no idea what any of this meant,” she said. “It is easier to sell correction rather than prevention, which is what the vitamins provide. Preventative care is typically an issue with younger women, and skin care in general is not a primary concern of a 20-year-old woman.
“I do think, however, that American women are now getting almost as involved and educated in skin care as their European counterparts, and that means that they are now not only asking themselves what they can do now to correct their problems, but what could they have done to prevent them.”
Horowitz of Clarins said he feels that alpha-hydroxies have been so successful because they target a large segment of the population — aging baby boomers — and that vitamins might not have that same widespread appeal.
“The main reason AHA’s became as big as they did was that they were marketed to the immense, very age-conscious baby boomer market with a real promise of instant results,” he said. “With the support of countless editorial articles and large advertising budgets for individual products, the word spread quickly. The wide range of products and price points was also a factor, as it made AHA’s accessible to everyone.
“Vitamins will take more explanation and an educated, health-conscious client to understand the process of topical application, and also that the benefits are cumulative and progressive,” he continued. “Education is key with selling antioxidants, as most people are not aware of the link between cigarette smoke, pollution, sunlight, free radicals and aging.”
Horowitz noted that the success of vitamin-enriched treatment products may rest on two factors: the attitude of the Food and Drug Administration and the amount of advertising expenditures on the part of vendors.
“I think it will all depend on how detailed the FDA will allow cosmetics companies to be when describing the features and benefits of the products,” he said. “It is also a matter of how much cosmetics companies will be willing to invest in educating consumers.”
Hertzmark from Prescriptives said that as consumers are learning more about ingesting vitamins for the well-being of their bodies, it will be a logical extension for them to apply vitamins to their skin.
“I think people are clicking into it and are now associating vitamins with good health,” she said. “Think of the growing group of people who take vitamin C not only when they are sick but as a preventative measure when they feel a cold coming on.”