Living in Los Angeles comes with a certain set of expectations: cage-free boarding for your dog, ready access to hot yoga, kale and huckleberries on every gastropub menu. Expectations about appearance — and the list is long — are sometimes harder to fulfill.
The roster of exclusive skin products and services that have been developed to meet these expectations seems endless. Consumer research firm NPD Group says that the upper end of the market — skin-care products priced at $150 or more — generated $500 million in department store sales in the U.S. during the 12 months ending in September, a 20% increase over the preceding year.
Amid so much product, how can one line distinguish itself from another?
Ioma, a beauty brand from Paris that launched in 2010, emphasizes its high-tech approach, with a number of devices designed to analyze your skin, and, of course, a series of serums, creams, emulsions, masks and lotions to repair it. If you are brave enough to confront your UV damage, hydration (or lack thereof), "bacterial activity," fine lines and wrinkles, a stop at the Ioma counter at Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills or South Coast Plaza may be in order. But know that the price of beauty can be steep: the average customer spends about $300, according to Mojdeh Amirvand, Ioma's director of business development in North America.
Step up to the Ioma counter, and a representative (yes, they all have amazing skin) will guide you to a machine that will photograph your face with different types of light —"parallel polarized light," "crossed polarized light," UV light, blue light — as part of your assessment. You will soon be able to see why it was a bad idea to refuse sunscreen for the first 30 years of your life. The Ioma rep will also use a probe-like device to touch the skin on your forehead and cheekbones to measure hydration and fine lines and wrinkles.
Each customer receives a report, complete with photos, and it can be a humbling experience. My skin was dehydrated and moderately dry with some redness showing up in the pigmentation analysis. Fine lines? Check. Wrinkles? Yes. Bacterial activity? Lots. Pores? Not so bad.
Product recommendations were plentiful: night cream, the "Ioma Youth Booster," exfoliating emulsion, astringent anti-wrinkle mask, eye cream, an exfoliating emulsion and astringent toning lotion. Ioma holds onto each customer's original assessment; when he or she returns, presumably after using company products, the hope is that the newest analysis will show improvement. Regular customers are offered complimentary monthly facials.
Ioma offers seven different product "families" that are geared to the fixing (or, perhaps, easing) of various skin flaws. But hands down, the most compelling offering is the Youth Booster (sold at Saks for $220), if only because the bottle cap contains a MEMs (micro-electro-mechanical system) sensor and a series of LED lights that are triggered when you place the sensor on your cheek. If more than three LED lights appear, you are instructed to apply the cream twice, rather than once, a day.
Whether any of these high-end products reverse or show down the aging process remains to be seen.
For youthful skin, Dr. Jenny Kim, associate professor of dermatology/clinical medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, emphasizes sun protection. "We can control photo aging. Early on we tell patients to protect their skin from the sun. That's the first and least expensive thing you can do. "
But there's something to be said about the psychology of skin care. "The woman who is investing in high-end skin care is a highly engaged consumer," says Karen Grant, vice president of beauty for NPD. "She is usually more interested in her own health as well" and she will "feel a sense of worth in terms of investment." And the woman who takes care of herself is likely to have a leg up on looking good.