UPDATE 1-Luxury cosmetics and Asia drive strong L'Oreal sales

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PARIS, April 12 (Reuters) - L'Oreal posted better-than-expected sales growth in the first quarter on Thursday, driven by luxury cosmetics like Lancome and demand in Asia, though the French beauty giant is still struggling to kickstart its weaker mass market division.

Like peers, L'Oreal has benefited from a strong increase in make-up sales in recent years, spurred in part by young consumers seeking to look good on social media, while skincare products like anti-ageing treatments are also big sellers.

High-end cosmetics did particularly well in 2017, echoing thriving appetite from Chinese shoppers for luxury goods ranging from handbags to shoes, and at L'Oreal, brands like Lancome or Yves Saint Laurent have propelled sales growth.

That momentum spilled into the start of 2018 and revenues generated by the group's luxury unit accelerated between January and March from a quarter earlier.

The world's biggest cosmetics firm said overall sales at the company grew 6.8 percent from a year earlier on a like-for-like basis, which removes the effect of currency swings and acquisitions or disposals.

That beat expectations for 5.6 percent like-for-like growth.

But L'Oreal's largest division, which makes mass market products and is home to labels like Maybelline, posted modest growth of 2.6 percent, slightly less than expected.

L'Oreal Chairman Jean-Paul Agon said in a statement that the consumer division had begun the year with "sharply contrasted growth between the regions", citing a difficult market in France and a thriving backdrop in China.

On a reported basis, L'Oreal sales were down 1 percent in the first quarter at 6.78 billion euros ($1.23 billion), as currency effects bit due to a strong euro. ($1 = 0.8118 euros) (Reporting by Sarah White and Pascale Denis Editing by Bate Felix and Alexandra Hudson)