Cosmeceutical Critique

Dermatologists’ role in the development of the skin care industry


This is the third in a series of columns discussing the important roles that dermatologists have played in the skin care industry. This section will discuss those dermatologists who worked behind the scenes with the cosmetic industry, rather than developing their own skin care lines.

Norman Orentreich, MD

Dr. Orentreich was a successful New York City dermatologist and the first to perform hair transplants. This new technique brought him fame and notoriety and arguably made him the first “celebrity dermatologist.” (He was also a member of the original advisory board of Dermatology News, at that time Skin & Allergy News, in January 1970.) Dr. Orentreich was a seminal figure in the trend to link the cosmetic industry and dermatology. In August 1967, Vogue magazine1 published an article on him, titled “Can Great Skin be Created?” This popular article caught the attention of Leonard Lauder, of Estée Lauder, who recruited Dr. Orentreich to help create the skin care line Clinique. Clinique was intended to be a brand with a medical look that promoted its products as “allergy tested,” with packaging that has an antiseptic look and beauty counter salespeople wearing white coats.

An interview with Dr. Norman Orentreich in this 1967 issue of Vogue led to the creation of Clinique.

Dr. Orentreich’s input into the development of a skin type–based skin care line was fundamental to the development of this brand. The four-question questionnaire with an iconic plastic lever that customers slide left or right instantly provided them with an assessment of their skin type at the beauty counter, with one of four skin types: Very Dry to Dry Skin (Skin Type 1), Dry Combination (Skin Type 2), Combination Oily (Skin Type 3), and Oily (Skin Type 4).

Although this skin-typing system was not scientifically accurate (there is no scientific definition of combination skin), it was reminiscent of the system developed by cosmetic company tycoon Helena Rubinstein in the 1940s that classified people into four skin types: oily, dry, combination, and sensitive. Clinique became a blockbuster skin care brand and was one of the first developed by a dermatologist – although Dr. Orentreich did not put his name on it.

In 1972, Dr. Orentreich filed a patent2 for an exfoliating pad for the skin that later became known as the “Buf-Puf.” I heard years ago that he got the idea from the machines used to buff the floors in the hospital. The buffing pad had a hole in the center where the machine attached. Dr. Orentreich purportedly thought “I wonder what they do with the cut-out centers?” He looked into this, and subsequently used the centers to create the Buf-Puf. I cannot find a reference for this, but I love this story and hope it’s true. If any readers have any knowledge of this, please let me know, so I can amend my story if it is incorrect.


Almay, an amalgamation of the founders’ names, Alfred and Fanny May Woititz, was the first hypoallergenic brand, established in 1931, and the first to provide hypoallergenic cosmetics, long before Clinique. In addition, the company was the first skin care brand to become available by prescription only (as it was initially), fully disclose all individual ingredients in its products (well before this became mandatory in 1976), provide totally fragrance-free products, develop a hypoallergenic fragrance – and provide patch tests and other materials to physicians to identify contact allergens.

Over 90 years, the company was also the first among skin care brands to do the following:

  • Provide custom formulations to individuals proven to be allergic to a specific ingredient, through their physicians.
  • Perform a full range of premarket safety testing on all products for allergy and irritation, and test all its products for comedogenicity.
  • Formulate cosmetics for use around the eye area (eye shadows and eyeliners) specifically for contact lens wearers.
  • Formulate hypoallergenic regimens for specific skin types in the mass market.
  • Provide a specific cosmetic regimen for acne-prone women, including a silicone-based makeup and active ingredients for treatment in cosmetics and skin care.

I recently interviewed Stanley Levy, MD, who was one of the consultants to Almay, and practices in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he has an academic niche related to skin care formulation and safety. He told me how Almay provided patch test materials to dermatologists to help identify contact dermatitis to cosmetic ingredients, and described Almay’s relationship with the dermatology field as follows: “From the outset, Almay was linked to dermatology. In 1930, a chemist and pharmacist in New York City, Al Woititz, was looking to compound cosmetics for his wife suffering from cosmetic allergies, Fannie May. He enlisted the counsel of the preeminent dermatologic expert in contact dermatitis at the time, Dr. Marion Sulzberger, to suggest ingredients to avoid. [Dr. Sulzberger was also a member of the original Dermatology News editorial advisory board.] Soon, dermatologists around New York City were recommending these formulations. This led to a product line free of the known allergens and a fledgling company trademarked as Almay. For the past 90 years, [the company] has kept a close relationship with dermatologists, well before that was the norm.”

The Almay research overseen by Dr. Levy and others contributed greatly to our understanding of the allergenicity of skin care.

Albert Kligman, MD

The turning point for the interface of dermatology with the cosmetic industry was the shift from a safety-based approach (hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic) to an emphasis on efficacy claims in the 1980s. Part of the impetus for this was the Dr. Kligman’s observation that retinoids could improve photoaging.

Dr. Kligman, a well-known dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, showed that retinoids were an effective treatment for acne. For more about this, listen to my interview on the Dermatology Weekly podcast, with James Leyden, MD, about his work at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. Kligman on the development of oral and topical retinoids. During Dr. Kligman’s research on acne, he noticed that wrinkles improved after treatment with tretinoin, and in 1986, he and Dr. Leyden (and several other authors) published the first article about tretinoin’s use for photoaged skin.3 This led to a double-blind study4 conducted by John J. Voorhees, MD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coauthors that showed statistically significant improvement of photoaged skin when treated with topical tretinoin. Dr. Voorhees and his group did many more studies on retinoids5,6 and photoaging7 – so many that, at one time, he was (and maybe still is) the most widely published dermatologist in the United States. These studies showed that, not only did prescription tretinoin improve the appearance of wrinkles, but so did over-the-counter retinol.8 Retinoids remain the most efficacious prescription and cosmeceutical ingredients to treat wrinkled skin.

When studies conducted by Dr. Kligman, Dr. Voorhees, and by Barbara Gilcrest, MD, 9,10 showed that retinoids improved wrinkles, a major change in the focus in the skin care industry occurred.

During the same time period, the studies on alpha hydroxy acids by Chérie Ditre, MD, Eugene Van Scott, MD, and colleages11,12; and studies by Sheldon Pinnell, MD, on Vitamin C (see part 1 of this series) all demonstrated the efficacy of cosmetic ingredients on photoaged skin. This triggered a major change in how skin care products were marketed, with an efficacy approach rather than a safety approach.

With the shift from safety (hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic issues) to efficacy claims in the 1980s, and as nondrug active ingredients like retinol were shown to have biologic effects, the lines between the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a drug versus a cosmetic became blurred. In 1984, Dr. Kligman suggested a new classification for the ingredients that fell in the middle, proposing the term “cosmeceutical” and thus, the concept of a cosmeceutical was introduced. To this day, cosmeceutical is not an official definition and the FDA has yet to deal with it as a quasi-drug category. FDA regulations as to what constitutes a drug versus a cosmetic date back to the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Once marketing focused on efficacy, many companies made outrageous claims. During the second half of the 1980s, the FDA issued some warning letters to some companies in an effort to control these claims.

Now efficacy claims abound and we, as dermatologists, should be the experts who back up these claims with scientific data. As the cosmeceutical market has evolved and grown, consumers are bewildered by the myriad of active ingredients being promoted and the number of products in the marketplace. As dermatologic innovation has led to more efficacious active ingredients, our patients look to us as knowledgeable and credible sources of information and for recommendations about the best skin care routines for their skin issues. This is all reflected in the fact that physician-dispensed skin care is becoming the fastest growing segment in this market. It is incumbent upon dermatologists to be knowledgeable and conversant about skin care products and skin care routines, and is particularly true for those of us who sell skin care products in our offices.

Dr. Leslie Baumann

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann has written two textbooks and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers. Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Burt’s Bees, Evolus, Galderma, and Revance. She is the CEO of Skin Type Solutions, a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at


1. Vogue Magazine, 1967 Aug 15. “Can Great Skin be Created?”


3. Kligman AM et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1986 Oct;15(4 Pt 2):836-59.

4. Weiss JS et al. JAMA. 1988 Jan 22-29;259(4):527-32.

5. Goldfarb MT et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989 Sep;21(3 Pt 2):645-50.

6. Ellis CN et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1990 Oct;23(4 Pt 1):629-37.

7. Kang S; Voorhees JJ. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Aug;39(2 Pt 3):S55-61.

8. Kafi R et al. Arch Dermatol. 2007 May;143(5):606-12.

9. Gilchrest BA. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989 Sep;21(3 Pt 2):610-3.

10. Bhawan J et al. Arch Dermatol. 1991 May;127(5):666-72.

11. Griffin TD et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996 Feb;34(2 Pt 1):196-203.

12. Ditre CM et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996 Feb;34(2 Pt 1):187-95.

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