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The High Cost of Maintaining the Bottom Line

August 22, 1996|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The ideal skin, as we all know, rests squarely on a baby's bum.

But you'd think the infant epidermis were in distress, judging by the plethora of upscale products designed for that tender little hide. They can, their makers say, ward off diaper rash, cradle cap, drool-chafed faces, scary visitations of alien-shaped bumps and even crankiness.

Baby boomers' obsession with flawless skin, it seems, has extended to their progeny.

"I spend a lot more on my baby's skin care than on mine," says Gilda Safei, a Woodland Hills mother of Sasha, 9 months. She doesn't wince at shelling out more than three times the cost of popular baby shampoos and soaps for high-end versions. "He got rashes when I used [a mass-market baby shampoo]. When I used Mustela, he didn't have any pimples on his butt or anything."

Paris-based Mustela, the Chanel of the baby lines, is stocked by such stores as Bergstroms, Bellini and the Right Start. Moms-to-be often list it on their gift registries. Some cite a "nothing-but-the-best-for-my-baby" motto in explaining their attraction, while others simply like Mustela's "qualite, securite," to quote the company literature.

To keep baby pore-perfect, Mustela offers 24 items (Quelle horreur for babies who get off to a bad start. Dermatological extractions at 12?), including the best-selling 2-in-1 Hair and Body shampoo ($10 for 6 ounces). The company also makes baby wipes ($8.50, 40 in a box), Hydra-Bebe lotion ($9 for 1.4 ounces), Dermo-Cleansing Solution ($15 for 16.9 ounces), Musti Eau de Soin spray, ($25 for 3.5 ounces), Skin Freshener ($10 for 6.8 ounces), Environmental Protection Cream ($10 for 1.4 ounces) and insect repellent ($10.50 for 5 ounces).

"A baby's skin is extremely immature and it is more permeable than an adult's," says Lynn Rothschild Gagnon, president of Mustela U.S.A. in Cedarburg, Wis., who refers to the line as cosme-ceuticals. "The sweat glands are not developed until 2, and their skin is exposed to all kinds of things. Mustela is made from nontoxic, nonaggressive, edible ingredients."

Yes, because as Mom knows, a baby's palate is profoundly undiscriminating. And no one is more discriminating than the granola-eating set.

A growing number of unscented, botanically based baby products beckon from the shelves of stores like Palmetto in Santa Monica and Whole Foods Markets (formerly Mrs. Gooch). Among imports like Logona and Lindos is the Beverly Hills-based California Baby line. It appeals to the homeopathic-aromatherapy minded mom who might attempt to wash that brat right out of her kid with Overtired and Cranky bath oil drops ($9.50 for .5 ounces).

Another line, Aromatherapy for Kids, claims the same Jekyll-Hyde powers in its For Cranky Kids bath soap ($10.50 for 8 ounces). (Send 12 cases, please.) Aromatherapy also offers oils called Lullabye Lavender, Jumpin' Juniper and Ah-choo-calyptus ($8.50 for 4 ounces).

"I used [Aromatherapy] Rosebud Rub [baby oil] on Harrison when he was a newborn," says Venice mom Michele Sutter. "Now, if Harrison [age 4] plays with someone who has a stomach bug, I will put him in Lavender Lullabye and he doesn't come down with it."

Even the ever-expansive Disney and Guess have joined the fray. "The girls' shampoo and body wash is pink, the boys' shampoo is blue [both $7.95 for 8.4 ounces] and the lotion is a pale yellow [$8.95 for 8.4 ounces]," gushes Jackie Applebaum, Guess company spokeswoman. The caps match the product. . . . It is very fashionable."

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