09/09/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
Long hours spent in full makeup shooting Sex and the City last spring had left Kim Cattrall's face red and inflamed. Fortunately, castmate Kyle MacLachlan had introduced her to dermatologist Nicholas Perricone. Cattrall put in a call and Perricone arrived at the set the same day, bearing a customized vitamin-rich moisturizer from his Cosmeceuticals skin-care line. "My skin went from troubled to no problems," marvels Cattrall. "Now I don't use any other products besides his. They've had a revolutionary effect."
A revolution is exactly what Perricone, 54, is trying to spark. In his 2000 bestseller The Wrinkle Cure, Perricone declared that crow's feet and laugh lines are not unavoidable byproducts of getting older but a disease that can be treated—and prevented—by eating a diet rich in antioxidants (contained in colorful fruits and vegetables) and omega-3 fatty acids (found most notably in salmon), in addition to applying topical antioxidants like vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid. It was a message that left fans clamoring for more—and Perricone has delivered. His new book, The Perricone Prescription, moves beyond mere skin care, offering sample meal plans, a schedule for taking vitamins and an exercise program, all of which, the author says, will help followers look and feel younger in just four weeks. "Eating the wrinkle-free way," Perricone writes, "you will experience increased vitality [and] sharpened cognitive and problem-solving skills."
Too good to be true? Many of his peers believe so. "There's very little research behind his claims," says Dr. Jeffrey Dover, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine. "To suggest that altering your diet will slow down the aging process is not believable to most dermatologists." Yet Dover admits that "some of his products make sense; his diet is really good. And the guy is a brilliant marketer."
Apparently so. N.V. Perricone, M.D. Cosmeceuticals—carried by Nordstrom and Sephora—has grown to a $50 million annual business in just four years and counts "Julia Roberts
and country singer Emmylou Harris among its fans. Says makeup artist Matthew Van Leeuwen, who uses the line's Face Firming Activator on Kate Beckinsale
and Jada Pinkett Smith: "It's a face-lift in a bottle."
Perricone's interest in science began early. The second of five children raised in Branford, Conn., by Vincent, 79, a stonemason, and Mary, 78, a homemaker, he spent his youth alongside his father "conducting experiments in the basement"—like growing mushrooms in test tubes. But it wasn't until he was 31 that Perricone—who studied literature at the University of New Haven and served a stint in the Army Reserves—decided to enroll in medical school at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He was newly married, but the union-which produced two sons, Nicholas, 26, a law student, and Jeffrey, 19, a college freshman—ended in 1986, in part because of Perricone's long hours. "I was basically a husband in absentia," he says.
It was as a dermatology resident at the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan that he came up with the theory that wrinkles (which are often accompanied by inflammation) could be treated by antioxidants (which reduce swelling). To see if he was right, Perricone gave himself minor sunburns under a lamp and then applied vitamin C solutions of his own making to see if they would heal the skin. They did. He also tested his nutrition ideas on himself. "I would take vitamin C every couple of hours," he says. "People thought I was out of my mind. But it gave me energy."
In 1986, after setting up a practice in Meriden, Conn., Perricone perfected his anti-inflammatory creams. But when a number of companies, including Johnson & Johnson, turned down his skin-care pitch, he decided to write a book.
Today Perricone is so busy with his outside projects that he has taken a sabbatical from his medical practice. Yet he always makes time for breakfast with wife Madeleine, 35, a homemaker he wed in 1995, and their daughter Caitlin, 5. Salmon is the first meal of the family's day—even for Caitlin. "Poor thing," sighs Perricone. "Wait until she gets out in the world and finds that most people don't broil salmon for breakfast." Of course, if he has his way, Caitlin will never have that problem.
Sharon Cotliar in New York City