Sunday, February 29, 2004

Anti-wrinkle strips get big lift from Hollywood, baby boomers

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

MORAINE, Ohio - A company that counts on old age has been energized by a plug from Hollywood and demand from baby boomers.

Annual sales for the maker of wrinkle-fighting facial adhesive strips called Frownies have jumped from $150,000 to $1.5 million in the past three years.

"It's really a product whose time has come," said Kathy Wright, general manager of 115-year-old B&P Co.

The company, born of a mother's inventiveness, catered to a loyal list of customers and took its time growing up.

For many years, only one person took the orders and packaged Frownies, with occasional help from friends and relatives of company officials.

By 2000, there were still only three production workers, who shipped out about 20,000 boxes of Frownies a year.

Then, actress Rene Russo mentioned in a 2001 Good Housekeeping magazine article that she used Frownies to diminish a crease in her forehead.

New customers started calling; current clients wanted to reorder.

Wright installed 15 new telephone lines and had six operators working two shifts. She rented more building space and hired 35 more production workers.

"Good Housekeeping just took us off the charts," she said.

Customers, who used to get their orders within a few days, were told to expect a wait of up to two months.

It took about eight months before the company got a handle on the surge and downsized to the 15 employees it has now.

B&P shows few outside signs of its newfound prosperity.

It shares - with several other businesses - a narrow, one-story brick building that is nearly invisible in a suburban Dayton industrial park. The production area amounts to a small room where workers cut, fold and package Frownies.

In the front office hang posters of movies in which actresses wore Frownies: from 1950's Sunset Boulevard to Cocoon, Death Becomes Her and Mars Attacks. In that 1996 spoof, actress Glenn Close as the first lady wears the adhesive strips in the scene when she and the president learn of the alien invasion.

Frownies - generally advertised by word of mouth - have long been known in the entertainment industry.

Marvin Westmore, a Hollywood makeup artist since 1958, estimates that 10 percent of the age-40-and-older actresses and actors he has worked with have used Frownies.

"You can't get any more natural than this," said Westmore, who runs the Westmore Academy of Cosmetic Arts in Burbank, Calif. "I think the popularity is that it is a simple tool."

Frownies were invented in Cleveland in 1889 by Margaret Kroesen, who wasn't satisfied with the way makeup covered a crease between the eyebrows of her daughter, a stage actress.

The strips - identical to the original Wrinkle Eradicators - are weighted pieces of skin-tone paper with a backing of vegetable-based adhesive. The formula is a company secret.

Users wet the back of the strip with water, smooth out creases in the skin with their fingers, and then apply the strip to hold the skin in place.

There are triangle-shaped ones for the forehead and around the eyes and butterfly-shaped Frownies for the corners of the mouth. A box of 144 is priced at $16.95.

It's an admittedly temporary fix for the loss of elasticity in skin.

Wright said Frownies retrain the muscle and must be worn for at least three hours at a time to be effective. It takes up to a month of regular use for improvements to last a day.

Arielle Kauvar, associate professor of dermatology at New York University, said the improvement is temporary because the structure of the skin is not changed.

Karen Perry, 51, of suburban Washington Township, decided it was worth trying for even day-to-day freedom from wrinkles.

"It was really on my forehead," said Perry, who started using Frownies in December. "I could see these lines really disappearing."

The strips started out in small and independent stores, spreading within the past few months to about 3,000 chain stores. They're also sold in Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Korea.

Sales have more than tripled in the past two years at Zitomer, a New York department store that has stocked Frownies for 15 years.

"It's something old that has become new again," said Sophia Noyer, manager of cosmetics. "It's almost like people have rediscovered them."

Thank the baby boomers. The oldest of the generation born in the post-world War II years are now in their mid-50s.

"The baby boomer consumer is not going gently into that good night," said Jim Neal, a strategist for Kurt Salmon Associates, a consumer-products and retail consulting firm.

"We don't want to acknowledge that we are reaching those milestones that we identified with our parents," he said.

Similar products on the market include facial strips that release vitamins into the skin, gel patches that mask wrinkles with cosmetics, and face patches designed to increase the metabolism of the skin with ointments.

Such treatments also satisfy a need for immediacy, said Wendy Liebmann of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based marketing and retail group that consults with beauty-care companies.

"Men and women are beginning to think how they can look younger and how they can do it in a very quick, instant, fix-me-now kind of way," Liebmann said.

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