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Claims by Skin Cream Called Into Question

March 04, 1986|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

Famed heart surgeon Dr. Christaan Barnard takes on role as spokesman for new products touted as rejuvenators of tired, wrinkled skin.

With a world-famous heart surgeon beckoning them along the path made famous by Ponce de Leon, Southern California women made their ways to department store cosmetic counters over the weekend to ogle the latest product line to make an old, old claim--that it can rejuvenate, even renew, cells and induce tired, wrinkled old skin to feel young again.

Women bellied up to makeup counters at local Robinson's stores to listen to sales pitches carefully scripted by a thin, white loose-leaf sales manual distributed by the makers of Glycel, the new line of products.

In a section called "sales basics," the manual instructs clerks, who the manual refers to as "Glycel consultants," to tell women that the products' active ingredient "not only regenerates skin cells but also rejuvenates them, enabling old skin to act young. It is concentrated to combat facial lines or wrinkles."

Some shoppers--and some sales clerks--were wary, finding all of this reminiscent of the hype and hoopla that has surrounded countless cosmetic product launchings in the past--most recently the arrival products containing collagen in the 1970s.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was watching the Glycel promotion with some skepticism, but, pending review, including possible government laboratory analysis, was viewing the product as a cosmetic, not a drug that must meet certain standards of proof. The manufacturer says it makes no claims of a drug or medical nature in its packaging and advertising of Glycel.

While the claims of more youthful skin appearance through chemistry is not unusual in the cosmetics industry, it is the image of Dr. Christaan Barnard as spokesman for the product that gives Glycel the air of a medical breakthrough. One dermatologist, while suggesting that the new product might be an effective skin moisturizer, said it would be "bizarre" to claim that wrinkles can be removed and skin cells renewed. But Barnard does not make that claim.

The South African heart surgeon, who is pictured prominently in Glycel ads, instead has talked about his interest in a key ingredient in the cosmetic as a potential promoter of wound healing in surgery.

"I'm not qualified to talk on the skin-care line, but on the ingredient," Barnard told The Times in a recent telephone interview. "GSL (glycosphingolipid) is not used at all in the medical community. My research cannot authenticate age reversal."

For six months, the speculation has built that this new cosmetic line may have the capacity to reverse the effects of aging--particularly to make wrinkles disappear.

And as the tempo has picked up--with Barnard as Glycel's spokesman in appearances on television talk shows all over the country--the stock price of Alfin Fragrances Inc., the line's distributor, has risen sharply.

Per share prices have ranged from $8 to as much as $40 with the stock hovering around $35 Monday. One woman at the cosmetic counter at the Santa Monica Robinson's on Sunday afternoon bought a sackful of the products--which range from $30 to $75 a jar--after telling the clerk she wished she had never listened to her husband, who told her not to buy Alfin stock when it was trading at about $22.

The $75 item is a one-ounce jar of "anti-aging creme." One jar of each of the nine products in the line would cost a total of $430 but a package of five selected items is being sold for $195.

Sales Claims

At three Robinson's stores--Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks and Santa Monica--visited by a reporter over the weekend, customers and clerks also focused on Barnard's out-front salesmanship, the new gimmick Alfin Fragrances has thrown into the intensely competitive cosmetics business. Though Barnard's published medical research since 1979 has been dominated by papers on such things as preserving baboon hearts for transplantation, his media spokesman status for Glycel has captured the imaginations of would-be makeup customers hoping to find the secret of youth.

Adroitly, in a variety of media appearances, Alfin Fragrances has used Barnard to lend an air of medical legitimacy to Glycel products even though close scrutiny of what Barnard has told interviewers establishes that the heart surgeon not only makes no claims for the effectiveness of Glycel's key ingredient as a means of making wrinkles disappear, but he says he doesn't have personal knowledge of such things.

Barnard has not published articles in scientific journals on his work with glycosphingolipid, the ingredient said to provide the new anti-aging effect in Glycel, and he said he hasn't studied the effects of the chemical when rubbed on the skin. Barnard said he has done research on the possible effectiveness of intravenous use of glycosphingolipid in wound healing, but it also remains undescribed in scientific media.

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