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Maturing Beautifully : Aging boomers have captured the hearts and minds of yet another industry: cosmetics. Companies are out to convince millions of women that their products will fight--or hide--the inevitable wrinkles.


For a moment, forget the innocent-little-girl waif looks on fashion runways and magazine covers and consider model Lauren Hutton, 50, who has just signed as the "face" of a new Revlon product line called Results. Hutton's renaissance is evidence of a new mantra in the cosmetics business: You don't have to be young to look great.

What? Is this altruism from the industry that has typically thrust 19- and 20-year-olds in our faces as the benchmark of beauty and desirability? Has the cosmetics biz been liberated?

Get real.

Aging baby boomers now represent the largest slice of the cosmetics/consumer pie, and manufacturers are out to convince 63 million potential customers that new products--makeup and skin treatments--will fight--or hide--wrinkles better than old ones.

Attractive "older" models (Hutton, Isabella Rossellini, 41, Patti Hansen, 37, Maud Adams, 48) are the first dramatic hook. Then comes the bombardment of product hype--on TV, in magazines, at makeup counters.

Whether you're shopping in a drugstore or supermarket, a department store or health-food emporium, you will find find the new products. High-tech lotions and serums and makeup targeted at the 35-and-older crowd are filling shelves and counters everywhere.

Many of the product lines promote a family of ingredients--"alpha hydroxy acids"--as the newest anti-aging device. Cosmetic companies advertise that AHAs reduce wrinkles, fade age spots and generally improve skin texture. They are, in a sense, the next "big thing"--after collagen, retinoic acid and liposomes, the "miracle" ingredients of the '80s.

"It's more than a fad. People are repurchasing the AHA products," says Allan Mottus, publisher of the Informationist, an industry newsletter. He estimates that retail sales of alpha-hydroxy-treatment products in 1993 will be $325 million to $375 million.

AHAs--which include glycolic, tartaric, citric and lactic acids--are peeling compounds derived from plants, fruit or sour milk. The possible benefits of AHAs were first reported in the '60s by Dr. Eugene Van Scott, then a clinical professor of dermatology at Temple University in Philadelphia. Van Scott was using glycolic acid to treat acne, and his results eventually inspired the cosmetics industry to use and promote AHAs as anti-aging ingredients.

Do they work? Many dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons agree that AHAs, especially when used in strong concentrations (above 18%) will noticeably smooth the skin by causing it to shed the outer coating of dead cells, thus encouraging new cells to replace them at a faster rate.

But the concentration of AHAs in most cosmetic products is only 4% to 12% And Dr. Robert Kotler, a clinical instructor of head and neck surgery at UCLA and one of the nation's specialists on skin peeling, has doubts about the effects of AHAs in those concentrations.

"Low concentrations of AHA, for example, less than 10% glycolic acid, will have no effect on wrinkles, but they make the skin a bit fresher and smoother to the touch," he says. (A spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the agency does not regulate AHA concentrations in cosmetic products. Cosmetic companies are simply required to manufacture "safe products" and tend to use the lower concentrations to avoid liability problems.)

Regardless, consumers are buying up AHA products such as Estee Lauder's Fruition Triple ReActivating Complex, Chanel's Day Lift Refining Complex and Dermalogica's Skin Renewal Booster at a pace almost equal to the rush on dermatologists' offices five years ago when it was announced that the acne treatment Retin-A smoothed wrinkles. (Clinique's Turnaround Cream is another hot seller, but it includes salicylic acid, a non-AHA, that also acts as an exfoliative chemical.) In addition, many dermatologists are dispensing their own AHA formulations.

"Alpha hydroxy acid products are the treatment products of the season. We're selling tons of it, and every line that carries it is on our best-seller list," says Margo Scavarda, general merchandise manager of cosmetics for the Broadway.

Although there's been barely enough time for a majority of consumers to try the AHAs or know what they are, "new and improved" versions are already cropping up. Revlon says that Results, which will debut in August, contains Alpha Recap, an ingredient "more advanced" than AHA. The non-acidic ingredient makes skin peel, says Revlon, but more gently than AHAs.

"AHA can be corrosive--that's why they carry warnings not to use them around the delicate eye area," says Leslie Paladin, a Revlon marketing vice president. "So we used a cousin of AHA."

While AHA potions are creating the biggest buzz, a flotilla of other new treatment and makeup products has invaded counters and shelves. But some of the new moisturizers have some old ingredients:

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