A new name in skin care: Johns Hopkins
The clear pitch to consumers is that the products' performance is
backed by science, not merely beauty hype. Behind the promise is an
extraordinary pact between a New York company, Klinger Advanced
Aesthetics, and Johns Hopkins Medicine, an umbrella organization made
up of the university's health system and medical school. John Hopkins's
name is prominent in product displays and in online descriptions of the
products, which are sold by Sephora, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis
The connection is raising ticklish questions about the venerable
medical institution's role in creating and selling a commercial beauty
product. It's a line that the university has never crossed before. "It
has been a big deal for all involved," says Frederick Brancati, a
professor of medicine and epidemiology who championed the
Cosmedicine-Klinger relationship. Prof. Brancati says he worked to
overcome significant faculty opposition.
One factor motivating Johns Hopkins Medicine to enter the
relationship was its need for funding for its traditional research and
teaching mission. "That is what sold it for me and to the leaders
around the institution," Prof. Brancati said. "We have to be inventive
and creative," he adds, because conventional funding sources are
He and other officials declined to disclose the fees Johns
Hopkins Medicine received from Klinger or to estimate how much revenue
the venture may one day bring. Klinger, a unit of a publicly traded
company, TrueYou.com Inc., plans to give the institution a
yet-to-be-determined equity stake.
Edward Miller, chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine and
dean of the School of Medicine, says that Johns Hopkins isn't endorsing
Cosmedicine product: "We have been pretty clear about our role. We are
reporting on the scientific validity of studies that were done by
outside testing agencies."
But at least one medical ethicist says Johns Hopkins is walking
a tightrope. "I can't find any evidence of a school that has associated
itself with a product line in this way," says Arthur L. Caplan,
chairman of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Medical
Ethics. "Unless you have acute vision and a lot of time to read (the
small print), this is going to look like a product endorsement."
Caplan says Klinger's plans to give Johns Hopkins equity in the company
raise a red flag. There aren't many rules for managing conflicts of
interest in the academic world, but it is a clear violation to "study
what you own," he says. Johns Hopkins emphasizes that its role --
evaluating clinical trials done elsewhere -- doesn't constitute
research. That's "a difficult stance to reconcile," Dr. Caplan says.
Dean Miller says the institution scrutinized the deal to make
sure it didn't represent a conflict between financial and research
interests. Johns Hopkins scientists who are validating the Cosmedicine
studies don't own any equity in Klinger, he says. About 10 faculty
members who are working on the project have received consulting fees
The relationship goes beyond skin care. Johns Hopkins also will
work with Klinger to develop clinical "best practices" for the
company's chain of spa-clinics. Klinger has 12 such facilities in major
U.S. cities and is rolling out new ones this year. The clinics offer
salon treatments and "light medical" services, such as Botox and
Restylane shots. Johns Hopkins also has designed an 11-week training
course for nurse practitioners at the spas.
Prices for Cosmedicine products range from $28 for a 0.36-ounce
lip "plumper, hydrator and exfoliator," to $85 for a one-ounce skin
"fortifying serum." Invoking the 130-year-old medical-research
institution's reputation puts Cosmedicine into direct competition with
such "cosmeceutical" brands as dermatologist-owned N.V. Perricone M.D.
and M.D. Skincare. The makers of many skin-care products have sought to
sound more serious and scientific, but most are regulated as cosmetics.
In recent years, several cosmetics companies have drawn regulatory
warnings from the Food and Drug Administration because of
unsubstantiated product claims, such as "reduces deep wrinkles up to 70
Most of the Cosmedicine products are classified as
over-the-counter drugs because they contain 1 percent of the ingredient
Dimethicone. Cosmedicine's Opti-mologist PM eye cream, for example,
boasts of a "24 percent increase in hydration." Backing up its claims,
Klinger says, are the clinical studies designed and evaluated by Johns
Rich Rakowski, Klinger's chief executive and an investment
banker, says he started the product line partly because he found
anti-aging claims being made in the marketplace "frivolous and
ridiculous" and recalls thinking, "What if we approach this through the
lens of healthy skin and not anti-aging?"
The company adopted what
he calls a "healing strategy" for its products. Klinger is "trying to
create the solution to a void in the market," Mr. Rakowski says. "It's
a gray area we're trying to fill in on. We don't see our product as a
cosmetic. We're trying to address health."
In 2004, he and other investors acquired the Georgette Klinger
beauty salons and rights to the brand name. Klinger Advanced Aesthetics
aimed to offer products and services with "measurable" benefits for
consumers and Mr. Rakowski approached Johns Hopkins to help design such
tests. He says he expected "they would laugh me out of my office." But
after much discussion and debate, the institution ultimately gave its
blessing to a deal.
Starting last year, in February, a Johns Hopkins panel worked
with Klinger executives to figure out what kind of safety and
performance claims could be measured in scientifically valid clinical
trials. The Johns Hopkins experts didn't test the products, but did
design the tests and, starting in August, evaluate the results. "We ...
told them that whatever they wanted to say in their marketing and
information materials had to conform precisely to the data," according
to a Johns Hopkins statement.
The executive committee of the Johns Hopkins Medicine board of
trustees gave Klinger final approval for use of the Johns Hopkins name
on the products in January.
"The ability for Klinger to use our name and acknowledge our
scientific contribution is a line that had never been crossed before,"
says Steve Libowitz, a senior administrator at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
"We think we are in a relationship that will provide safety to the
public" in a rapidly expanding field, he adds. "It's not cancer or
coronary care, but it's where the people are."