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Since the 1970s, BioCosmetic Research Labs has led a quiet existence in Long Island City, N.Y., as a contract manufacturer of department store makeup lines.

Until now.

In the past two years, the private label specialist has come out of the eye shadows with a wildly successful retail line of its own, Black Opal.

Designed by a dermatologist to treat the special skin problems of black women, the Black Opal line boosted BioCosmetic's revenue by more than $2 million in 1993-the line's first year on the market. The product successfully gained entry to more than 10,000 health and beauty retail outlets, including Wal-Mart Stores, Woolworth Corp. and Duane Read.

Now the company expects to see total sales double to $18 million this year on the strength of a new item aimed at African-American men.

The new Black Opal for Men line will be launched this fall with a $2 million TV and print ad campaign, starring Minnesota Vikings quarterback Warren Moon.

"It's virtually unheard of for a small company pitted against the Plentitudes and Oil of Olays of the world to make such a big splash," said Stephanie Hayter, a buyer at Genovese Drugstores. "The line is growing fast. People actually come in asking for the products by name."

Black Opal is carried throughout the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and in Caribbean cities.

Studies indicate African-Americans' skincare needs are often dramatically different from the general population. Women commonly face pigmentation problems and excess oil, while roughly 70% of men suffer from painful shaving irritations that result in razor bumps.

Surprisingly, there are very few cosmetic wares on the market tailored to meet the needs of people of color. Department store brands such as Fashion Fair and Flori Roberts cost almost three times as much as Black Opal skincare products, which retail for less than $10.

Agency Goldberg Group, New York, focused its efforts on giving the product a contemporary and upscale image.

"The items in this category, prior to Black Opal, had been in the market for decades," said Irwin Goldberg, agency principal. "No modern black woman wanted anything to do with them."

So far ads have run in Essence and Black Elegance, while the Warren Moon ads will be seen in Sports Illustrated and Black Enterprise, among other publications.

Ms. Gault is a reporter for Crain's New York Business.

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