NEW YORK -- When lotions failed to smooth the crow's feet around Cheryl Hoover's eyes and restore the firmness to her skin, she turned to Botox, collagen and laser treatments to ease the effects of aging.
"I try to be proactive in heading off things," said the 41-year-old customer service manager from Austin, Texas, who spent $1,500 last year on facial treatments. "Within the last couple of years, the skin around my cheekbones has started to sag, and with my eyes, the crow's feet started about five years ago. These treatments seem to help."
Many of Hoover's fellow baby boomers, particularly women, share her desire for skin care treatments. And manufacturers and retailers expect the multibillion-dollar skin care market to expand as the 76 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964 begin wrinkling.
There are more creams and potions than ever at department and drug stores to cater to boomers' desire to stay young and look that way. And the number of medical practices specializing in skin care procedures is growing around the country.
"This is a category where women know no bounds with what they'll spend," said Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a marketing consultancy. "Boomers differ from previous generations in their intensity to look as great as they can and to age differently. That means investing in and taking good care of your skin."
Indeed, more boomers are turning to skin treatments like laser, dermabrasion and Botox, a drug that temporarily paralyzes nearby muscles and erases wrinkles. Walk-in skin care clinics now compete for customers with dermatologists and plastic surgeons by advertising on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet. Some are also holding seminars to educate prospective patients about how the products work.
"Boomers are aware that the sun damaged their skin and they want to look good and they want to feel good," said Dr. Leo Borrell, who operates three Texas clinics for skin care, weight loss and other beauty treatments. His offices offer payment plans designed to make skin care more affordable - an enticement that many other clinics also offer.
But the majority of boomers seeking skin care improvement rely on over-the-counter treatments. Sales of skin care products at department stores reached $1.8 billion in 2001 according to NPD BeautyTrends. That's a 3.5 percent increase from 2000.
"The skin care products have become targeted not just toward parts of the body, but the age of consumers," said Nancy Feldman, vice president in charge of cosmetics and fragrance at Bloomingdale's. She cited the recent successful launches of products including Chanel's Age Delay, which retails for about $85 for a 1.7 ounce bottle.
Even in the weak economy, she says, skin care products are big sellers. "I don't think the customer perceives these purchases as a frivolous expense," she said.
The fastest growth is coming from the sales of skin care products at drug stores, supermarkets and discounters, which recorded total sales of $3.6 billion in that product category in 2001, a 7.6 percent increase from 2000, according to ACNielsen. Much of that growth is the result of better-quality products from mass manufacturers whose products use some of the same ingredients as fancier prestige brands but which sell for much less.
Just two ago, it might have been difficult to find skin care products above $15 at the CVS drug store retail chain. Today, some products cost as much as $20. The retailer also has its own line of beauty products and moved the beauty and skin care section to the front of its stores to encourage consumers to spend.
"This is the result of customer demand," said CVS spokesman Todd Andrews. "America is aging, so you have a greater group of people seeing the effects of aging and wanting these higher-end products in the convenient setting of a drug store."
Indeed, the mix of selection and ease is what draws Mary Kay Talbot to the drug store for her skin care products.
"They're in my neighborhood. I can pick up moisturizer while I'm filling a prescription," Talbot, 38, a publicist in Barrington, R.I. "The selection is good and at the rate I go through moisturizer, price is a consideration, too."
Corlett, the retail consultant, said the boom in skin care products might only be beginning, since many boomers have yet to hit their 50s. She expects to see more hair care products, for example, as more boomers' hair starts to thin.
The availability of men's skin care products is also expected to expand.
Talbot isn't surprised by the fuss. She exercises regularly to keep in good physical condition.
"You have to present a professional appearance. You want, as you get older, to appear youthful or at least look your age and not older," she said. Our generation is looking "for the fountain of youth, where it would have been more acceptable to age in previous generations."