Ladies, there’s a war out there. The battleground? Your face. If that sounds indelicate, it’s because the beauty business isn’t always pretty. With sales of $159 million last year in Canada alone, the anti-aging skin-care category is exploding. Now, everybody from Aveda to Zeno is fighting for the privilege of erasing your wrinkles.

In one corner, the high-tech contenders — like Lancôme’s Absolue Premium Bx Advanced Replenishing Cream and Estée Lauder’s Perfectionist Correcting Concentrate — vow to immobilize creases and defend against signs of aging. In the other corner are mother-nature’s favourites — such as Curel’s Natural Therapy line and Origins’ Youthtopia — offering an arsenal of botanicals to soothe, correct and boost your skin’s texture. Both sides have their share of converts. “People who are more environmentally concerned are into natural skin care; those who are looking for the next big thing will probably opt for clinical skin care,” says Laura Kenney, a beauty reporter for global cosmetics retailer Sephora.

But if you’re neither an earth goddess nor a high-tech devotee, which approach holds the right anti-aging strategy for you? As it turns out — and you’ll forgive the pun, we hope — it’s a fine line.

Time fighters
The interest in looking younger certainly isn’t new — paging Joan Rivers — but demographic changes have caused the category to boom like never before. “Women have more average per capita income now, and there are more single women, fewer children being born and smaller households overall,” says Svetlana Uduslivaia, a Montreal-based market analyst for global research firm Euromonitor International. “So these women are spending more money on beauty; they are dating longer and want to take care of themselves.”

And when it comes to pampering, those cutting-edge formulations can be pretty darned appealing. Stroll through the beauty section of your local drugstore or department store and the sterile lighting, gleaming jars and white-coated clerks might make you think you have stumbled into a laboratory. Vichy Laboratoires, the top-selling drugstore label, plays up its scientific personality, even creating dermatological centres within drugstore aisles for shoppers to have their skin analyzed and a personalized skin-care routine created. But in spite of Vichy Laboratoires’ high-tech image, it has a natural secret weapon.

New molecules from the world of science
This fall, the company launched Neovadiol Intensive Densifying Care, a product created after seven years of clinical research that includes a new anti-aging molecule — Pro-Xylane — that’s said to rejuvenate skin. And while the ingredient Pro-Xylane was derived from a natural sugar, the product itself is focused on science.

Sarah de Joybert, marketing director for Vichy Laboratoires Canada, emphasizes that women’s interest in science-based products is part of a larger high-tech trend. “We live in a high-tech world, and skin care is no exception. Women are searching for innovation and solutions for their skin, just as they search for the latest innovations in everything.” But how far are we willing to go? It turns out that we are still nervous of the needle and looking for topical products that mimic the results of injectable treatments.

• (Top) Crabtree & Evelyn Naturals Botanical Body Buttter with Illipe Butter, Lemongrass & Sugar ($30, at Crabtree & Evelyn stores and select retailers across Canada.
• (Bottom) Chanel Precision Sublimage Essential Regenerating Cream ($325, at Chanel beuaty counters across Canada)

Product images courtesy of Geoffry RossLess surgery, more product
Dr. Fred Weksberg, a Toronto dermatologist who has been practising for almost 20 years, says that his clients are moving away from surgical procedures. “Sure, I have some women who say ‘I don’t care as long as I get rid of the lines!’ But, overall, people are more curious than they were 10 years ago. They ask many more questions and are concerned about side effects.”

This consumer apprehension also means that manufacturers must promote their high-tech launches with care and common sense. According to a Euromonitor International study released this year, when it comes to outlandish claims, Canadian women aren’t buying — literally. When Avon released its Anew Clinical Laser System last year, it was touted as a home replacement for wrinkle-smoothing injections. But the product did little to put consumers at ease. “Last I heard, they were planning to discontinue it,” says Uduslivaia. “Even the name made people wonder whether it was safe to try at home. Canadian consumers are educated and not as trusting. Manufacturers must be extremely careful about what they promise.”

Natural wonders
While you may think of organic products as the preferred skin care of sandal-wearing Whole Foods shoppers, they are actually becoming as sophisticated as their high-tech counterparts. As Joseph Gubernick, chief marketing officer of Estée Lauder, recently said, “There is nothing more high-tech than nature; it’s the ultimate Einstein.” Now, many companies are seeking mother nature’s expertise. “The truth is, modern natural skin care has grown leaps and bounds since the woodsy-goodsy, homegrown formulations of the ’70s,” says Kenney. She points out that many natural-based companies are now using botanical versions of clinical ingredients. “For example, Juice Beauty has added plant-derived versions of DMAE, coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid,” says Kenney. “These ingredients are the naturally derived versions of ingredients that are used by scientific brands like Perricone.”

So, with the two worlds colliding, what’s science and what’s nature anymore? The real struggle within the industry, according to Lauren Thaman, global director of beauty science for Procter & Gamble (P&G), is that the data for botanical products is based on experience, not trial. “There are only a handful of botanicals that have actual scientific data, such as tea tree oil,” she says. “Australia has spent a tremendous amount of time and money researching tea tree oil, and it does have anti-inflammatory efficacy. I have seen many papers on it. But the question is, Can you make claims based on your actual product formula and not just on the ingredients?”

Product images courtesy of Geoffrey RossOrganic or not?
And while the organic trend is growing, these products still account for a small share of industry sales. Euromonitor International’s Uduslivaia thinks it could be because some products that claim to be organic aren’t totally so — most of them need synthetic stabilizers so they will have a longer shelf life. Currently, there are no regulations in Canada about what can be called “natural” or “organic,” says Uduslivaia. “Some products are packaged and marketed as natural, but they are only based on natural elements. If anyone really looked at the ingredients, they would see they aren’t really that different from any other product.” But all of this could change — very soon. Health Canada has introduced regulations that call for cosmetics companies to list all of their ingredients. This full disclosure could impact consumers’ feelings about botanicals. While Thaman does see a future in natural products (and explains that P&G Beauty is currently working with the Indian government to learn more about Ayurvedic medicine and botanicals), she believes that any skin-care product should be held to three criteria: “It should deliver meaningful, noticeable and measurable results.”

Split decision
So with nature borrowing from science and science finding inspiration in nature, why should women have to choose? Kenney says that the two sides are starting to meet in the middle; she points to L’Oréal’s acquisition of The Body Shop this year as just one example. As for Weksberg, he sees no need to take sides at all. In his office, he uses a clinical anti-aging kit from Dermatologic Cosmetic Laboratories (DCL) that contains small amounts of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid. He also distributes Yon-Ka, a line known for its essential oils and aromatherapy products. He says that patients love the products because they make their skin look and feel better and, really, that’s the bottom line. “Often, we suggest a combination of the two,” says Weksberg. “I think if you can blend them both, you can have the best of both worlds.”

Product images courtesy of Geoffrey Ross