At last, state-of-the-art biotechnology has come up with a product for the common man: shaving cream.

Wilkinson Sword Inc. of Atlanta did some research and found that half the men who shave each morning end up with irritated skin -- "despite," said Wilkinson Sword, "the most effective technology in razor blades."

So Wilkinson Sword turned to Biomatrix Inc., of Ridgefield, N.J., a biotechnology company that developed some fancy chemistry to purify hyaluronic acid from the combs of roosters. The common protein normally lubricates and cushions joints, preventing bones from grinding against each other in the joints, and binds water.

Horse trainers inject a form of hyaluronic acid into the joints of race horses to treat lameness. It may help treat arthritic human joints as well. The clear fluid also is used during cataract surgery to protect delicate tissues.

Biomatrix has created a modified version of hyaluronic acid, called Hyladerm, to put in the new Wilkinson Shave Cream. Wilkinson hopes that the material will keep the skin moist, to help it feel less dry and irritated, and act as a lubricant so the blade slides across the skin without skipping along like a plane making a bumpy landing.

"It helps protects the skin as a shock absorber and as a lubricant," said Philip Band, research director of Biomatrix's dermal unit. "We assume it leaves some on the skin and that it keeps the skin moisturized."

Shaving cream is not hyaluronic acid's first cosmetic application. It was the secret ingredient in Este'e Lauder's "Night Repair" skin-care product. Band said Biomatrix is working to develop other hyaluronic acid skin-care products, but the company is careful not to make pharmaceutical claims or say that the material penetrates the skin.

After hearing about the product, Dr. William Jordan, professor of dermatology at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond and a member of an American Academy of Dermatology board that reviews the contents of cosmetics, said it actually may work. "If your beard and skin are real hydrated {saturated with water}, that reduces the blade's plucking and skipping across the surface of the skin."

Dermatologists have long been looking for a way to hold moisture in the skin without the greasy feeling of petroleum jellies, Jordan said. "It is quite reasonable that hyaluronic acid may hold water there." But, he said, the jury is still out.