Sunscreen containing Mexoryl, an ingredient patented by L'Oreal and widely cited by dermatologists as highly effective in blocking UVA waves, is distributed over the counter in Europe by L'Oreal marketing partner LaRoche-Posay under the name Anthelios SX. The sunscreen, which is routinely smuggled into this country from Canada and Europe, will be coming to the U.S. following its July 24 approval by the FDA.
But the bigger payday for L'Oreal could come as it applies Mexoryl to its other brands, said Jeffrey Nugent, a former CEO of Revlon and head of J&J's Neutrogena business who is now CEO of Insight Pharmaceuticals.
"Dermatologists are more concerned about sun protection than anything else in preventive dermatology," Mr. Nugent said. "This has the potential to be a huge innovation and a big mover in the marketplace."
UVA waves penetrate deeper into the skin than the UVB rays that cause sunburn. Their effects are less immediately obvious, but UVA rays can do deeper, longer-lasting damage by destroying collagen and other proteins that keep skin firm and elastic.
Other sunscreens protect against UVB rays and claim at least some protection from UVA rays, but lawsuits against major sunscreen marketers-including Schering-Plough (Coppertone), Playtex Products (Banana Boat), Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena and independent Hawaiian Tropic-claim that their products don't work as advertised.
L'Oreal already includes Mexoryl in its high-end Vichy active cosmetics outside the U.S. and began testing the brand in the U.S. without the ingredient earlier this year.
L'Oreal's Garnier skin-care products have been a vehicle for Mexoryl overseas and could be a launching pad to extend the brand in the U.S. after its success in hair care following a 2003 launch.
"L'Oreal also intends to launch daily moisturizing products containing Mexoryl SX in some of its other products in the future, and to launch more sunscreen formulations" with the ingredient, the company said in a statement, but revealed no specifics.
L'Oreal is a major player in mass U.S. shampoos, conditioners, hair colorants and cosmetics, leading the market in the latter two categories. But its U.S. moisturizing and cleansing business has trailed such rivals as Procter & Gamble Co.'s Olay, Unilever's Dove and J&J's Neutrogena and Aveeno in recent years.
Mexoryl SX could help L'Oreal compete. Neutrogena's Helioplex, launched late last year, also positions itself as a protector against UVA, but Mr. Nugent said he's heard dermatologists say Mexoryl is more effective.