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The Avon lady wears a lab coat

A New Take on the Avon Lady

At 6:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, the office of Dr. Doris J. Day, a dermatologist on the Upper East Side, was packed with women in their 30s and up, wearing name tags over their designer clothes. They had each paid $50 to attend a talk Dr. Day had titled “How to Achieve Flawless Skin”: a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation that came with wine, cheese, raffle tickets and a bag filled with some of Dr. Day’s favorite products.
Valerie Rothman, 48, a lawyer who lives in the East Village, had come with her sister. “It gives us a chance to get away from the husbands and kids while learning about our skin and what we can do to fix it,” she said. After a session with Reveal, a device that shows if there is sun damage under the skin (it showed she had a lot), Ms. Rothman bought two products: TNS Essential Serum ($260) and Lytera ($125), a brightening complex, both by SkinMedica, one of three companies that had representatives at the event. (The other two were Allergan and Solta Medical.)
Kathryn Reichert, 55, who works in financial services at a pension fund, said she had seen Dr. Day privately for 10 years but still thought the evening would be beneficial. “I’m at an age where I want to reconsider everything I’m doing to look good,” she said.

After her consultation, Ms. Reichert made an appointment for a peel. “This is my first step in feeling better about myself,” she said. “I like being educated. Evenings like this let me do that, and it’s an excuse to go out and talk to people.”
Much of the noise in marketing over the last few years has been about social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, but in the beauty and skin-care industry, informal in-person beauty schooling seems to be making a comeback.
Karen Young, founder and chief executive of the Young Group, a product development and consumer trend-tracking firm, said this was precisely because of the proliferation and easy accessibility of products and information about them. “With the Internet, we no longer know what’s true,” she said. “Dermatologists or well-known skin-care companies who sit with clients offer credibility and power.”
The Avon lady has returned, in other words — only this time she’s wearing a lab coat.
The night after Dr. Day’s event, Dermalogica held a class, offered monthly, at its store in SoHo. The topic was hyperpigmentation of the skin. Sessions at 5:30 and 6:45 p.m., with 20 attendees each, included a 10-minute talk with a senior instructor from Dermalogica, as well as a so-called face-mapping skin analysis. Attendees were offered 20 percent off products (30 were sold) and future skin treatments (seven were booked) at the store.
“Events like these are about selling products, but in a low-pressure environment,” Ms. Young said. “Getting attention and feeling taken care of makes us feel special. People are more likely to spend money if you create this kind of atmosphere. It’s a very powerful marketing message.”
Many women left Dr. Day’s office with expensive purchases, but Ashley Chitwood, an office manager, said: “The evening was not about trying to sell clients. It was about educating them.”
Such classes often come with enticements, though, that one would not find at a lecture hall.
For example, a “Third Thursday” event held by Kiehl’s at its flagship store on 13th Street featured a D.J.; chips, salsa and cookies; and two masseuses offering 10-minute rubs. From 5 to 8 p.m., 84 customers who had booked free facial treatments received 20-minute one-on-one lessons; had their faces cleansed, assessed and applied with Kiehl’s products; and then, naturally, were given purchase recommendations. (The store sold 525 units that night, including 76 to customers who came specifically for a facial.)
Dr. Eric S. Schweiger, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital and the founder and medical director at the Clear Clinic, said that he had not held such events but that he saw no harm in them. “Many doctors charge $150 to $200 for consultations,” he said. “This is more acceptable and affordable.”
For some consumers, Dr. Schweiger added, an “education night” may relieve confusion. “People ask, ‘Do I need a dermatologist or Sephora?’ ” he said. “Nights like these let you go to both.” (In fact, Sephora University, which trains employees, also offers classes to customers.)
Dr. Zein Obagi, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, Calif., and medical director at ZO Skin Health, a luxury skin-care line, was more skeptical. “These events can be biased,” he said. “Specific skin-care companies offer their own products. Some dermatologists have companies sponsor their events, so those are the products they offer — which means they’re educating you on inventory rather than teaching you about different companies and devices.”
Dr. Obagi suggested going to several events and evaluating the claims made rather than making purchases during occasions designed to be seductive.
Many of the new beauty students said that they were not just having fun, but also learning something. “I don’t want just a description of a product, I want to be shown how to use it and walked through the process,” said Molly Baker, 34, who works for American Express and attended the Kiehl’s event with a co-worker. “An evening like this brings the product to life. I get to feel it on my skin, have someone apply it and tell me if it’s the correct product for me to use.”
It didn’t hurt, though, that courtesy of Kiehl’s she was freshly primed to go out to dinner with a friend. “I’m still getting a happy hour,” Ms. Baker said. “This one’s about wellness and self-improvement, rather than drinks at a bar.”

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