Keeping true to her profession as a dermatologist, Dr. Patricia Wexler began her lecture to the beauty industry by asking if anyone was wearing sunscreen. While the conference was held inside a windowless ballroom, presumably safe from the Miami sun, Wexler reminded executives “a free radical doesn’t know if it’s coming from the sun or if it’s coming from the fluorescent light bulbs, but it’s doing damage either way. And it’s causing aging.”

Then she dropped a bomb.

“And how many of you are wearing a hat, sunscreen or even sunglasses? I’ve had five patients in my practice with melanoma of the retina since I started 20 years ago.”

Wexler didn’t mean to scare but rather to educate her audience, many of whom don’t know a fraction of what she does about healthy skin care. But, in Wexler’s opinion, if the industry is to be serious about spreading antiaging messages, it should begin practicing safe sun exposure.

Wexler, who last year launched a skin care line in Bath & Body Works, is an associate clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and appears on talk shows, still finds time to run her Manhattan dermatology practice. Her patients often share what they want from the beauty industry — and Wexler told her now captive audience all the details.

“She feels that the skin care and beauty industry overall frequently overlooks and disregards her real concerns. She also feels often that the industry joins with the media to present very unrealistic visions of what beauty is or should be. She knows that she’s not a supermodel, but she wants to look her best, whether it’s thinner or more wrinkle-free. She wants to look better, and she wants to be presented an ideal that’s reasonable and attainable,” Wexler said.

Wexler’s solution?

For starters, the beauty industry may be ripe for a new business model, one that’s based on listening, teaching and anticipating needs and can target young customers with prevention and good skin care messages.

“That is promoting the very idea that healthy skin is beautiful skin,” she said. “Protection, prevention and good skin care practices allow health and beauty to converge in an achievable and realistic way and provide skin care paths for younger customers to grow up following. Anticipating and providing what this customer will be expecting from a skin care regimen as she ages is our true opportunity. It’s a compelling and dynamic new model for business,” Wexler said.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

She also shared some scary data. Skin cancer, she said, is the most common malignancy in the world and is increasing exponentially. Melanoma affected one in 50 Americans in the U.S. last year. When she started her practice in 1986, the ratio was 1 in 90.

“Skin care is not just a question of antiaging, it’s a question of life and death. I’d like to say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of technology,” she said.

Wexler links the future success of the beauty industry to presenting a realistic ideal, and to marketing advancements in technology in an easy-to-understand way.

“What I’ve discovered is that my patients want something easy like a GPS [Global Positioning System] for the face,” Wexler said.

And just because a dermatologist’s name is slapped onto a package doesn’t make what’s inside the next cure-all.

“Dermatologists risk the integrity of their field if they lower the standard and give into quick fixes that are long on hype and short on performance,” she said.