Cosmetic gadgets move from clinic to home

Updated: 2008-05-19 07:30

Tiffani Bruce, a Walgreen Co employee, had her doubts about the acne-busting gadget called Zeno when her store began selling it two years ago.

A victim of the occasional pimple, she decided to give the slim, handheld device a try, and was pleasantly surprised by results of the "heat shock" treatment that destroys offending bacteria without damaging the skin.

"When you first hear about it you're a bit skeptical," said Bruce, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based drugstore chain. "But it absolutely works. You have to kind of catch it before it's huge, but it works."

Like the FDA-approved Zeno, more and more high-tech cosmetic treatments previously only available through dermatologists and high-end spas are now being sold at drugstores and on the Internet.

Now consumers can zap away unwanted body hair or punish pimples with cellphone-sized gadgets in their own bathrooms. Wrinkle vanishing devices, the ultimate magic wand of cosmetic gadgetry, are also on the horizon, retailers say.

Most of these devices are adjusted from versions used in clinics to lower intensity or temperature, to prevent injuries like burns.

"You don't need to go to the doctor's office, so it's much more cost effective," said Neil Sadick, a Park Avenue dermatologist who helped develop the $250 hair remover called no!no!

While some would consider its price prohibitive, consider this: a full leg wax in New York City can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $100, and more permanent hair reduction treatments using pulsed light or laser usually cost hundreds of dollars per session.

The no!no! uses what it calls thermodynamic technology, which helps to destroy hair follicles without damaging the skin around it. On its website the company promises "no hair no pain no noise no creams ... no stress no mess."

"The disadvantage is it requires more treatment and the results may not be quite as good (as at a doctor's office). But it approaches it," Sadick said.

Allison Slater, vice-president of marketing at beauty products retailing chain Sephora, said most buyers of such gadgets, including the Zeno and its rival ThermaClear, are moving up from creams and other topical solutions rather than downgrading from professional care.

"I don't think it's necessarily replacing the dermatologists. It's an enhancement," she said.

Growth in retail sales of cosmetic gadgets may help an industry - which includes cosmetic laser device makers Palomar Medical Technologies Inc and Cutera Inc - facing a slower economy and increasing competition.

Who doesn't want that?

Zeno costs around $150 to $200. Lee Stranathan, vice-president of marketing at its maker Tyrell Inc, said the company will start selling a smaller and cheaper version called the Zeno "mini" for around $90 in the next few months.

The weaker economy is not, so far, damaging sales, Sephora's Slater says. She said more gadgets will be launched in the coming year, and the next wave will include anti-aging skin care.

"Preventing or decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles is really what's going to be the future of this category," she said.

For now, Sephora's gadget line-up includes Clarisonic, a brush that uses sonic technology to clean pores, as well as the T3 hair dryer, which uses crushed tourmaline stones to produce "ionic energy and far infrared heat".

"If you can dry your hair with less frizz and shorter time, who doesn't want that?" she said. "I'd rather invest my money in a state of the art tool that is basically going to save me time in the end."

Agencies

(China Daily 05/19/2008 page11)