National report — The digital age has arrived at cosmetic counters around the nation, giving vast new dimensions to the oldest and most compelling skincare marketing tool ever devised: the mirror.
High-tech video, pixel-sharp imaging techniques, UV cameras and high-definition monitors offer consumers painfully clear magnifications and fanciful renderings of their skins' many foibles.
Companies launching various versions of retail-based skin analysis machines include L'Oreal, which is preparing to expand the placement of its Vichy video microscope and hydrometer which depicts skin's dryness, texture and pore size.Estee Lauder Co.s' Rodan and Fields division has launched a UV camera system at its 70 Multi-Med Therapy counters around the United States, showing customers both dermal and subdermal damage. Procter and Gamble is testing its own skin analysis system and Sephora, a division of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, is rolling out skin analysis tools that also look at the brightness of customers' teeth.
OTC vs. medicine
Such systems are fast becoming standard fixtures at many cosmetic displays, spurred by the combination of instant digital imaging and compact technology that takes up less counter space.
At the controls of the most of the devices are skin analysis "experts" sporting white lab coats.
"The (cosmetic companies') efforts are to make it all look very scientific," Deborah Sarnoff, M.D., an associate clinical professor in dermatology at New York University, tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. "They wear the white coats, although they don't really have medical training."
But physicians' ever-expanding toolbox of non-invasive cosmetic procedures has also been a big factor driving the skin analysis trend, representing significant new competition for the make-up counter.
"Invasive cosmetic procedures have fallen a little out of fashion with the aging of baby boomers, who want to look younger and want a quick fix with no cutting and no downtime," Dr. Sarnoff says.
"We have wonderful advances in terms of lasers and fillers, but I think the cosmetic companies are trying to one-up that, showing as much science as they can to sell products that look easier than getting needle injections or laser treatments."
The impact of the systems is often to shock consumers into purchasing anything and everything offering hope.
But aside from being little more than a rather overt marketing gimmick, is there anything really objectionable about the systems?
It all depends on how the products are being pitched, says Nia Terezakis, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
"My biggest issue with (the skin analysis systems) is how they interpret dry skin because there are so many misconceptions about what it really is," she says. "If they are able to magnify flaky skin, especially in the central face, for instance, that might be interpreted as dry skin, when in fact it could something like seborrheic dermatitis and over-moisturizing it could make it worse."
Magnifying skin discrepancies
The systems can also deceive by magnifying skin discrepancies that may appear problematic, but are, in fact, normal, Dr. Sarnoff says.
"The cosmetic system will often image the areas around the nose, forehead and chin that naturally produce more sebum," she says. "Under the imaging, the pores may look enormous, but in fact, it's just normal anatomy. The pores would likely look no better on a fashion model."
One area the systems could benefit patients is in raising awareness of photodamage and the need for sun protection.
The Rodan and Fields UV camera system, for example, takes one Polaroid photo and a second UV image to reveal abnormal pigmentation one layer beneath the skin's surface, including brown spots and other signs of photodamage.