Sunscreen containing Mexoryl SX, an ingredient patented by L'Oreal that is widely cited by dermatologists as highly effective in blocking UVA waves, is distributed over the counter in Europe by L'Oreal's European marketing partner LaRoche-Posay under the name Anthelios SX. The product, 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.
The bigger payday
But the bigger payday for L'Oreal could come as it applies Mexoryl to other existing or new brands in its portfolio, not only in sunscreens, but also makeup and moisturizers, said Jeffrey Nugent, a former CEO of Revlon and head of Johnson & Johnson'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. Though their effects are less immediately obvious, UVA rays can do deeper, longer-lasting damage by destroying collagen and other proteins that keep skin firm and elastic.
Though other sunscreens protect against UVB rays and claim at least some degree of protection against UVA rays, their performance has come under growing scrutiny after several lawsuits charging the products don't work as advertised. A California Superior Court judge in May consolidated nine individual lawsuits into a single case against five major sunscreen marketers -- including Schering-Plough (Coppertone), Playtex Products (Banana Boat), Neutrogena and independent Hawaiian Tropic.
In the U.S., said Mr. Nugent, L'Oreal won't be hindered by arcane distribution rules that limit its growth via LaRoche-Posay in Europe. L'Oreal already includes Mexoryl in its high-end Vichy active cosmetics outside the U.S. It began testing the brand, without the ingredient, in the U.S. earlier this year.
Mexoryl also could become a launching pad for L'Oreal's Garnier brand of skin-care products in the U.S. as Garnier has been a mass vehicle for the ingredient overseas. And retail and industry executives have long speculated that L'Oreal will look to follow Garnier's success in U.S. hair care following its 2003 launch by expanding into U.S. skin care.
For its part, L'Oreal is mum on its timing or precise plans, other than to indicate it sees Mexoryl moving beyond Anthelios. "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.
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 lagged the growth of such rivals as Procter & Gamble Co.'s Olay, Unilever's Dove and Neutrogena and Aveeno in recent years.
Strength against competitors
Mr. Nugent believes Mexoryl could give L'Oreal a much stronger platform against those competitors in years ahead -- or even spawn a successful cosmetics line for older women in a space where Revlon's Vital Radiance has struggled mightily since its launch earlier this year.
Neutrogena's Helioplex, launched late last year, also positions itself as a protector against UVA and has met with success, Mr. Nugent said. But he said in talking with dermatologists he's heard that Mexoryl is more effective.