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Redefining the future of skin care

Research from Circana reveals skin care sales through August of 2023 are up 12%, the highest gains in the beauty segment. Retailers and dermatologists are working in tandem to ensure the best patient outcomes.
John Reed (CeraVe), Penelope Giraud (La Roche Posay)
John Reed (CeraVe), Penelope Giraud (La Roche Posay)

Skin care is one of the fastest-growing and most important categories in the mass market wellness category today. With the segment’s rapid growth comes a flood of new items, making shelves challenging to navigate. The dizzying array of products on shelves complicates shoppers’ journeys.

Dermatologists and retailers came together to build a blueprint to streamline the process and help consumers easily locate professionally recommended skin care products on shelves. Removing challenges at the shelf was one of several topics tackled during the third annual Dermatology and Retail Alliance meeting held in Austin, TX, in September.

With a mission to devise strategies to improve skin health outcomes, 15 U.S. dermatologists, 20 key retail executives, three partner organizations and leaders from CeraVe and La Roche-Posay met for the two-day meeting. The alliance was created to improve access to education, promote healthy skin care routines and match products with specific skin conditions by connecting dermatologists with retail merchants, pharmacy executives, beauty advisors and retail pharmacists.

“It’s been gratifying to see the impact, growth and success of the alliance,” said John M. Reed, General Manager-CeraVe US, L’Oréal Derm Sales, Integrated Health & Integrated Medical Health Comms and one of the creators of the alliance. There is more work to be done, said Reed. The need for open lines of communication between retailers and dermatologists is two-fold. First, is the importance of patients finding products recommended by professionals on retail shelves stocked with derm-approved brands. 

Second, is the opportunity for the retail community to encourage shoppers to seek the advice of medical professionals—only about 16% of Americans visit dermatologists, many citing affordability as the issue. With a united goal, retailers, derms and industry experts delved into ways to work together to improve Americans’ skin health. 

“We all have to be on the same team,” said Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, one of the “who’s who” of dermatologists participating in the alliance.

After pharmacy, skin care is one of the most significant producing categories in mass market retailers. The business has changed dramatically over the past few years. The pandemic elevated consumers’ interest in taking care of their skin. 

“Skin health has stayed at the forefront,” said Penelope Giraud, the general manager of La Roche-Posay. “People’s preferences and expectations for health are evolving to focus on preventative and science-backed products. The full beauty market is shifting toward health and aging prevention. There is a premiumization and people are willing to pay more for effective products,” she said.

Skin Care = Self Care

“People used to define wellness as the products in front of the pharmacy, but now wellness is not just physical health but has expanded appearance, nutrition, fitness, mental health, sleep and skin care,” said Andrea Harrison, vice president of merchandising-beauty at CVS Health during a panel discussion about how retailers are the connectors to better wellbeing. “The level of engagement that we see from customers is that skin is a reflection of their health to the world. It has become a critical cornerstone of that conversation.”

Joe Castellano, manager, clinical and pharmacy services at Rite Aid, said his chain has a holistic approach. “We have a goal of trying to help all of our customers and patients achieve whole health for life and skin is a very important part of that.”

The nature of the pharmacy business has synergies with skin care, according to Laly Havern, director of clinical pharmacy at Walgreens. “When I think of an oncology patient, for example, a lot of medications are going to affect their skin. We’re not just treating a condition and disease; we’re treating the whole patient.”

Walgreens engages in community events, such as through its Feel More Like You service, to help people living with cancer. The retailer’s beauty and wellness consultants help patients with everything from how to apply eyebrows after their hair falls out to issues like skin rash. “The best success we have had is when we combine beauty and wellness with pharmacists.”

Walgreens also has a DermatologistOnCall for any immediate in-store needs. 

Skin Care Sale Gains Outpace Total Health and Beauty Increases

Total skin care sales grew 12% through the first eight months of 2023—higher than any other beauty segment, according to Circana. Mass market facial skin care sales outpace total store dollar gains, up 10.1% versus 7.6%. Moreover, facial skin care is the only health and beauty care segment producing unit gains rather than just an increase in prices.

The growth drivers are dermatologist-focused brands, especially CeraVe and La Roche-Posay, the two brands producing the biggest dollar sales gains, according to Circana. Acne is the fastest-growing segment within facial skin care, with sales up almost 25%.

There are untapped opportunities in skin care, especially acne, with Circana finding one-third of sufferers do not treat their condition, according to Kristin Hornberger, EVP and practice leader, healthcare for Circana.

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Garth Thomas (L'Oreal Dermatological Beauty), Dr. Peter Lio, Dr. Ted Lain, Dr. Cliff Perlis, Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd
Garth Thomas (L'Oreal Dermatological Beauty), Dr. Peter Lio, Dr. Ted Lain, Dr. Cliff Perlis, Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd

Simplifying the Shelf

The average number of skin care products on drug store shelves is 790 per store—and there are more than 1,000 items in mass market skin care planograms, per Circana research.

Retailers and dermatologists hammered out strategies for easing the shopping experience, especially since shoppers are in a time crunch. “We only get them for seven minutes,” said CVS’ Harrison.

CVS sought to ease the obstacles of selecting products with its Skin Care Centers, said Harrison, where shelves are organized around problem/solution merchandising sets, such as acne or “best of derm-recommended” products.

“We found this to be an impactful approach. We learned we can see a different level of conversion when customers are engaged in a simpler story,” she said.

Hy-Vee is also testing ways to streamline the shopping experience, including planograms with signage calling out dermatologist-recommend products. The chain also employs technology with its own retail media business using 7,000 TVs across its locations. That allows the retailer to bring information from the brands to its consumers.

During a panel discussion, several of the nation’s top dermatologists shared ideas for how retailers can build upon their recommendations.

“One of the things I do in my clinic is bring up a picture on my phone of the product because it can be very overwhelming when I walk into a drug store and look at the hundreds of products looking back at me,” said Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd who has a practice in Miami.

She creates “homework” for every patient for three or four steps in the morning and then at night. Woolery-Lloyd clarifies which are prescriptions and which are over-the-counter. Customers can take screenshots of the products to help at the point of sales, she said.

The visual aid can be handy, added Austin-based dermatologist Dr. Ted Lain, because often patients come into his office disappointed with their results when, in reality, they are using the wrong product.

Taking it to the next level, Chicago-based Dr. Peter Lio addressed the idea of each patient having a customized portal or a QR code to have all their needs archived that could be used in the store to find their regimen. That would mitigate shoppers “randomly” picking up products that might not be a fit for them.

Dr. Lain added that many of his patients go to the pharmacy for their prescription items but shift to online for the accompanying OTC topicals because they are overwhelmed. “How cool would it be if they got a kit with everything they need? It could stop people from going online [to non-drug store sources] and get those products while picking up prescriptions.”

Brian Owens (VMLY&R), Andrea Harrison (CVS Health), Laly Havern (Walgreens), Shelby Stritzke (Hy-Vee), Joe Castellano (Rite Aid)
Brian Owens (VMLY&R), Andrea Harrison (CVS Health), Laly Havern (Walgreens), Shelby Stritzke (Hy-Vee), Joe Castellano (Rite Aid)

Derms Give a Glimpse of a Future That Could Impact Skin Care Assortments

The derms foresee an evolving healthcare industry that will impact the dermatology practice—and retail environments.

There’s a broader theme emerging in dermatology today, said Lio. “We are all going to be whole body physicians instead of just one specific specialty.” The group agreed that derms will need to be versed in foods, supplements and systematic agents that treat not only the skin, but the body as well. Drug stores, they said, can make use of the synergies since they sell everything from prescriptions and OTC to personal health products and energy drinks.

“Imagine if you could cater to that patient on that journey in the store and say, we have this here for you in aisle seven over here. We have this for you behind the counter. Imagine how cool that could be,” said Lain.

Technology will also play a bigger role in skin health as AI can be used to track improvements following treatments that will encourage people to adhere to their regimens. Too often, patients abandon skin care products if they don’t see immediate results.

“The average patient walking in for acne treatment has already tried 13 OTC products,” said Woolery-Lloyd.

Attendees agreed there is a great deal of misinformation flooding the skin care market, especially on social media. Many derms are building up their own followings to dispel myths and dispense their own validated advice.

Misinformed posts on social media can even result in people delaying visiting a derm if they try OTC products that irritate their skin.

During a presentation entitled “Influencing the Acne Journey,” Brian Owens, senior vice president, commerce strategy at VMLY&R, encouraged derms to ramp up their social content. “I believe derms could drive more demand to a retailer than coupons in a circular. There is the ability to leverage the community more effectively that will give a better ROI.

The professionals also alerted retailers to a movement that could impact shelf sets—the trend from “clean” beauty to science-backed formulas with proven results. Some ingredients once on the “no no” list, could gain traction for their efficacy. Supplanting clean, the derms said, will be more discussion of the microbiome, live bacteria and hair growth products.

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