By Danielle Kennedy, CNBC.com
Cosmetics companies are waging the war against aging on a whole new front: correcting skin tone.
"For years it was wrinkles, lines, wrinkles, lines and that was pretty much the only thing you ever saw any evolution in," said Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at market research company NPD Group. However, over the past few years there has been a leveling of the playing field, where anti-wrinkle is still important, but skin tone correction is being elevated in importance in battling the aging process.
The appetite for anti-aging products has been constant, as consumers look for noninvasive ways to rejuvenate their skin as they age.
This trend isn't slowing down anytime soon, according to Connie Maneaty, an analyst at BMO Capital Market. "(Older populations) are going to drive the anti-aging wrinkle cream fountain of youth type sales for a long time," she said.
But the sea change toward focusing on correcting skin discoloration is a new focus that began only two years ago and has only come to the forefront this year, according to Grant.
"I think that Clinique's Even Better Clinical collection, when it first came out, showed what a big market that could be in the U.S. and in Europe," said Maneaty. She expects its success induced other companies to follow.
The trend is seen at all price levels. Among the more affordable drugstore staples there are skin tone correction products such as Neutrogena's Ageless Intensives Tone Correcting Moisture and Olay's 7-in-One Correcting product line. At the high-end, there are uber-expensive potions like La Mer's Brightening Essence Intense, which will set you back $260 for one ounce.
By changing focus, skin care companies are positioning themselves to attract new audiences of different ethnicities and backgrounds, especially those for which brightening, lightening and other complexion-oriented benefits are sometimes more important than lines and wrinkles. One of the key audiences? Consumers from the Far East.
"The reason you see so many companies focused on [skin tone correction] these days is that they are looking at Asian growth engine for sales," said Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha.
Tsai's recently launched skin-care line is based on ancient Japanese beauty rituals, with bestsellers including Deep Brightening Serum and the anti-aging Moisture Rich Silk Cream. Although its sales are mostly in the U.S., Tatcha was promptly greeted with three acquisition offers shortly after it launched this year. This is not surprising, since cosmetic companies see the value of expanding their appeal to the insatiable Eastern appetite.
"Asian consumers tend to be statistically some of the highest spending skin-care consumers in the world," Tsai said.
Skin care sales totaled $42 billion in the Asia Pacific region in 2011, according to Euromonitor. This was an increase of 11 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 2006, and it makes up almost half of the $96 billion dollar global skin-care industry.
Make-up and skin-care giant Estee Lauder, whose brands include Clinique, has highlighted in its fiscal year 2012 earnings that sales from the Asia/Pacific region topped $2 billion, up 14 percent from the prior year.
Asia's explosive spending power does not appear to be weakening. Euromonitor estimates that skin care sales will reach over $45 billion in 2012.
BMO's Maneaty expects that if the Asian economies do contract significantly, skin care sales might slow a bit, but "I think 10 years from now if you look, you're going to be looking at what was a very strong trend that lasted for a long time."
This is the growth that many American companies are banking on. Olay and SK-II manufacturer Proctor & Gamble announced that it was relocating its global skin, cosmetics and personal care unit to Singapore from Cincinnati earlier this year - a not-so-veiled indication of where their focus will lie.
And while increasing spending power in Asia has benefited many American skin care companies, demand in the U.S. has not disappointed. Drugstore brands have been steady performers in 2012, but it's the prestige brands, which are cosmetics sold in U.S. department stores, that have really shone.
According to NPD, sales of prestige skin care for the first eight months of 2012 rose 11 percent to $2.1 billion from the same period a year ago.
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By Danielle Kennedy, CNBC.com