More than 60 women who claim that their skin has been damaged by the use of anti-ageing creams hope to sue the leading cosmetic companies which manufacture them.
Graham Ross, a Liverpool-based solicitor who is co- ordinating the action, has been inundated with calls from women who claim to have suffered severe reactions to the facial treatments.
Women have reported pain and discomfort, swelling and blistering, as well as sensitivity to light, after using the creams, many of which rely on alpha hydroxy-acids (AHAs) from fruit, sugar cane or milk, or salicylic acid from willow bark, to achieve their effect.
Mr Ross warned that doctors should refer women reporting these symptoms to dermatologists, with a recommendation that they stop using the creams, because he is now seeing cases where the condition has been exacerbated by continued use.
"Some of them are very severe," he said yesterday. "Others are less so, but the problem is nevertheless a great anxiety to the women, bearing in mind they were obviously concerned about their appearance to begin with."
Certain anti-ageing creams made by Clinique and Elizabeth Arden have been prominent among the treatments alleged to have produced irritation, Mr Ross said. Creams with alpha hydroxy-acids work by loosening dead skin cells and speeding up the removal of the upper layer of the skin.
The proposed legal action comes after several incidents raised questions about facial treatments.
Earlier this year, two face creams were withdrawn from the shops by the manufacturer Proctor & Gamble after re- ports that women had suffered irritation blurred vision and others who complained that the creams irritated their eyes.
In a separate case, Marie Smith, 41, of Osterley, west London, received an out-of-court settlement from Clinique, although it is understood this claim centred on allergic reactions and did not involve AHAs.
Mr Ross said the controls over creams in Britain were not as tight as they were in the United States and new European controls to apply from January 1997 needed to be brought forward. There was a need for more regulation and more warnings, he added.
But Dr Ian White, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas's Hospital, London, said no cosmetic product was 100 per cent free of adverse effects and the risks were being exaggerated. "All products will cause a reaction on some skin at some stage. Most are very, very minor."
A spokeswoman for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association said some there would be occasions when adverse reactions would always be seen, as products were used by many millions of people.
A Clinique spokesman said its products were stringently tested and that if a single person developed a reaction, the product was not released for manufacture.
"We remain fully confident in the safety and efficacy of all our products ... The level of testing that we employ demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that every one of our products satisfies the level of safety expected by our customers and fully meets legal standards."Reuse content