Patches are being affixed to supermarkets' facial racks. It's the latest health and beauty care segment to be infiltrated by the cross-over technology.
The cosmetics-oriented "transdermal delivery systems" claim to do everything from smoothing age-related wrinkles to hiding scars, and they are trying to forge as close an attachment to supermarket shoppers as the nicotine patches and nose strips have. But to be successful, they'll have to overcome high price points, competition and consumer skepticism, say HBC executives.
"It's too early to tell how these will do," noted Al Jones, vice president and HBC merchandising manager at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. "But we're starting to see them from several manufacturers."
Last month, Imperial began last month distributing Hydroxy C, a skin care transdermal by Medi-Cell Labs, Fort Worth, Texas, that retails for about $10.
Hydroxy C is only one of several skin care transdermals hitting the mass market. Others include Face Lift Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Patch by University Medical Products USA Inc., Irvine, Calif.; Sudden Change by CCA Industries, East Rutherford, N.J.; ReJuveness by RichMark International, Ballston Spa, N.Y.; and Le Pont by Doak Dermatologies, Fairfield, N.J.
Transdermal patches, first used in prescription treatments for antismoking, hormone replacement and motion sickness, are perhaps best known over-the-counter for their use by smokers who are trying to quit. But the technology has a bevy of other uses.
Here's how they work. Patches are loaded with an ingredient -- whether nicotine, estrogen, or, in the case of many skin care products, vitamin C -- and attached to clean, dry skin. Once attached, the patch releases its dosages continuously, giving it a leg up on pills or other delivery systems that offer only one-at-a-time hits.
The primary difference between a nicotine patch and a cosmetics patch is that the former is designed to enter the bloodstream, while the latter goes only skin-deep. As a result, the term "transdermal," which means beyond the skin and into the bloodstream, is actually a misnomer when applied to cosmetics patches, although it's widely used anyway. Makers of skin care patches prefer the term "dermal."
Many new cosmetics patches are targeting baby boomers concerned about the effect of aging on their skin. They come loaded with vitamin C and packaged in air-tight envelopes to seal in ingredients. The patches are adhered directly to wrinkly areas on the face and typically worn overnight, allowing the skin to soak up the substance.
Skin care patches typically use vitamin C as their mainstay ingredient. Face Lift Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Patch, introduced in January, complements University's Medical's five-year-old Face Lift skin care line, which includes creams and lotions.
Its product comes in an eight-patch box that costs $9.99. "You peel it, you apply it, you go to sleep," said Debra Tiberi, University Medical's director of purchasing and product development. "It's very effective."
Tiberi said the company is so excited about patch technology that it is planning to roll out two other adhesive products later this year. She wouldn't describe them.
Sales from the Face Lift patch alone are expected to ring in $30 million this year, according to Tiberi.
Whether cosmetics patches prove to be a fad or a true innovation in the skin category depends on the comfort level consumers develop for the adhesives. To a large extent, the way for the new patches has been paved by the nicotine patches and, more recently, by nose strips such as Biore. Andrew Jergens Co.'s Biore pore strips have commanded about a 15% share of the overall $1.1 billion facial-cleanser market since debuting in May 1997, according to the Cincinnati-based company.
"Biore has created a whole new group of products," said Lynn Dornblaser, editorial director of New Product News, Chicago. Baby boomers are flocking to skin care products to ward off signs of epidermal aging, and the new patch technology appeals to them, she said.
Biore's success may give newcomers hope, but Biore category marketing manager Kenny Robinson said there's a distinction between Biore, which he calls a pore-perfect strip, and the new transdermal, or dermal, patches.
"We're taking things out of the skin that people don't want," he said, and patches "are putting things in that people do want."
Biore capitalized on its nose-strip product with a face-strip modification that it rolled out in January. The nose and face strips are available in a six-count package for about $5.99; the nose strips also come in a 12-count version for about $9.99. Supermarkets account for 20% of Biore's sales, Robinson said.
Robinson notes the strips haven't cannibalized sales from foam cleansers and other deep-clean facial products. Indeed, sales data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, show that the facial moisturizer/cleanser category has blossomed. Category sales rose nearly 14% to $1.4 billion. Mass merchandisers posted the greatest gain, about 20%, with sales of $488.8 million. Supermarkets generated a 15% increase to $321.4 million, and drug stores' sales, with the greatest dollar volume, $572.5 million, advanced 8.9%.
Susan Lavine Coleman, president of NCI Consulting, Princeton, N.J., said she expects other patches to migrate to the mass market from niches on the pharmaceutical side or in department stores.
"Patches are not considered as drug therapy any more," she said. "There are more patch manufacturers, the prices are coming down, and it's being viewed as a reasonable new delivery system."