LONDON — Prestige skin care sales climbed in the 20 to 30 percent range at London department stores last year, and buyers see no easing of demand this year.
“The market is very buoyant,” said Jenny O’Donoghue, perfumery buyer at Harrods. “We’ve finally arrived at the point where the English woman is serious about skin care.”
While the same level of growth isn’t being seen outside London, the overall skin care market in the U.K. grew a healthy 7.1 percent last year to $670.71 million (424.5 million pounds), up from $626.47 (396.5 million pounds) in 1993, according to A.C. Nielsen’s Beauty Care Survey.
All product categories except face packs and masks showed increases, with the strongest growth coming in general-purpose moisturizers, where sales rose 10.5 percent to $30.97 million (19.6 million pounds); hand and body creams, which increased 9.2 percent to $102.23 million (64.7 million pounds), and astringents, tonics and fresheners, which rose 8.8 percent to $41.08 million (26 million pounds).
The increases in skin care are coming despite a difficult retail market generally. The key is a continuing increase in awareness of skin and now body care by British women, buyers said.
Best-selling department store lines continue to be Clinique, Clarins, Lancome, Estee Lauder, La Prairie, Chanel and Princess Marcella Borghese, buyers said.
“Growth seems to be the established pattern in skin care now simply because there are so many new products being launched,” said Hilary Dart, perfumery buyer at Selfridges.
A main driving force behind the market in the last year has been the growing popularity of products using alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s). While buyers expressed initial skepticism when AHA products were introduced in the U.K. in late 1993, they now say these lines are among their top sellers.
“Fruit acids are the key,” O’Donoghue of Harrods said. “Their appeal is that a woman can see the impact instantly.”
Vitamin-enriched products are beginning to trickle into the U.K. now and attract attention, but not to the same extent as AHA, buyers said.
“There is a sector of the population that remains concerned about AHA products because of all the dermatologists’ criticisms,” said Daniella Rinaldi, perfumery buyer at Harvey Nichols. “Vitamin-enriched lines are coming along at just the right time.”
Several questions hang over the market, however. The retail environment remains soft, and stores are worried customers might switch to lower-priced mass market skin care lines.
The caution in consumer spending also could lead to price resistance in the future as products become increasingly expensive. Some retailers admit they are find resistance to La Prairie’s Age Management body lotion, which costs $91.64 (58 pounds) for a small bottle that lasts about 10 days.
However, the company’s Intensives Serum, with 10 percent AHA, is flying out of stores at $150.10 (95 pounds).
Most buyers said women now are picking and choosing their products from a variety of lines rather than buying entire regimens. The switch has come as more new products come onto the market and women grow eager to try the latest thing, buyers said.
However, stores said women are much more loyal when it comes to skin care than fragrance.
“If a woman finds something that works, she doesn’t want to change,” Rinaldi said.
New products expected over the next few months include Lauder’s ThighZone and Lancome’s Controle Extreme, both of which are for cellulite; Chanel’s Lift Serum tenser to tighten the pores and create a smoother finish; Lauder’s new Verite line for women with sensitive skin, and Lancome’s Reflexe Minceur Cellulite Refining Gel.
Another new line coming up is a Harrods private label line of skin care products, which the store plans to introduce this summer. The line will include a cleanser, toner and moisturizer, O’Donoghue said.
The store does not see the range as a serious challenger to the major houses, but as a quality product that customers can buy as a gift. The slew of new products this year is expected to fuel continued growth in skin care, where sales in London department stores have been expanding by 20 to 30 percent a year for the last three years.
“Skin care now is seen as a must, not a luxury, and the awareness is increasing all the time,” Dart of Selfridges said. “That market is absolutely romping away.”