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Get a line on Cosmeceuticals

July 30, 2008 |


SANTA ANA, Calif. – Cosmeceuticals might help a woman’s skin stay young, but they’re more likely to boost drug companies’ bottom lines.  Most of them also come with a guarantee — that they’ll cause pain in the pocketbook. Consumers can shell out $150 for a half-ounce of lotion recommended by an actress or by a clerk at Neiman-Marcus or Nordstrom.  Seeking a doctor’s advice might be cheaper and surely would be wiser.


That was the message from the “Lookin’ Good in the O.C.” panel at the University of California, Irvine, on advances in skin-care technology. The discussion focused on cosmeceuticals, the label that drug companies give to cosmetic treatments that promise a therapeutic effect but are less potent than products the Food and Drug Administration regulates as drugs.

Cosmeceuticals don’t impress Dr. Dore Gilbert, a Newport Beach, Calif., dermatologist, who says companies keep rolling out supposedly new versions of anti-aging treatments that actually are ineffective.

“If last year’s $100-a-jar remedy got rid of wrinkles, why do they need a new one this year that does the same thing?” he asks.

Growing market

An estimated $12 billion worth of cosmeceuticals is sold in the United States each year, and sales should reach $16 billion by 2010, says the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a Chicago-based nonprofit group that promotes medical procedures aimed at slowing the aging process.

Cosmeceuticals offer businesses and investors an “enormous opportunity,” because they are free from the restrictions and expenses of FDA regulations, said drug-company consultant John Gibson, formerly of Allergan, who moderated the panel discussion.

“Don’t get me wrong. You cannot misbrand or make false claims,” Gibson said, but cosmeceutical companies don’t need scientific proof that their products work.

Some lotions work

Many cosmeceutical treatments are worthless, doctors and researchers say, but some are effective.

Without naming specific products or the companies where he is currently working, drug-company consultant John Gibson showed the panel several slides depicting dramatic improvements in scaly skin treated with a “very well-formulated alpha hydroxy acid,” or AHA, and similar improvements caused by a “topical 10 percent glycolic acid.”

“Now don’t expect this for all AHA formulations, because most people don’t formulate them very well. But it’s showing you what’s possible,” he says. “Cosmeceuticals can really do something.”

Rex Bright, chief executive officer of cosmeceuticals maker SkinMedica in Carlsbad, Calif., says consumers rely on store clerks’ advice about skin treatments, but they should turn to their doctor.

“You should go to your dermatologist, not Neiman-Marcus or Nordstrom, for your skin care. If you go to Neiman-Marcus or Nordstrom, it will cost you more in many cases, not less,” Bright says.

Skimpy science

How cosmeceuticals work isn’t always clear, admits Rex Bright, CEO of SkinMedica.

Bright, a former Allergan dermatology expert, says consumers are confused about cosmeceuticals in part because there’s little scientific data on which ones work and how.

For example, he cites SkinMedica’s “crown jewel,” the TNS Recovery Complex skin treatment, which is sold through doctors’ offices for about $150 per half-ounce.

It contains 110 growth factors, other proteins and antioxidants, he said.

It keeps the skin young-looking, he said, yet “no one really knows which growth factors are working and which aren’t. You really end up with a biologic mush.”

Allergan spokeswoman Caroline Van Hove says Prevage and Prevage MD, the company’s premier cosmeceuticals, are part of a range of products, including Botox and Juvederm, that make people look better. Some of those need FDA approval and rigorous scientific trials but others, such as Prevage, don’t.

Celebrity power

For cosmeceuticals at least, research studies are of limited value in the marketplace, because they are more like celebrity-endorsed cosmetics than like FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, as the example of TNS shows.

When an article in People magazine reported that actress Jennifer Aniston “raves about TNS Recovery Complex, that really caused a buildup in sales,” Bright said.

Celebrity, not science, made it the company’s best-seller.


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