You’re very well-known in the industry. How and why did you choose a career in skincare?
Thank you. I don’t know if I am very well known in the Skincare Industry but the speciality of dermatology in the UK is a small world so we do all know each other! Because of my Instagram presence, many of my colleagues know of me but I still consider myself to be a ‘young’ consultant in my speciality having achieved consultant status in 2016.
My choice of dermatology as a speciality was very much a pragmatic one. I initially wanted to be a plastic surgeon but when I did surgical house jobs as a junior doctor the whole world of surgery lost its appeal for a number of reasons. I liked medical specialities and went through a process of elimination of sorts to land on dermatology; I have a very strong visual memory which is helpful, I wanted to be able to do practical procedures in my chosen field as I am quite dexterous and I wanted a speciality where I could focus on being really good at one thing. Dermatology fits those requirements. Skin is a remarkable and fascinating organ and every patient I see with a skin complaint is interesting and unique, which makes my day job very fun!
How has the pandemic affected the way you’ve thought about skincare and beauty?
The pandemic gave me more free time than I have ever had (I was very limited in what I was allowed to do during that time, and could only focus on skin cancer treatment – it was an odd time to practice medicine.) I spent most of my free time catching up on all the reading I had not had time to do for a while – medical papers, journals, textbooks. I had time to delve into topics very deeply and this made me look at the whole Skincare Industry in a whole new way. Prior to that, I had never really bothered with the skincare industry and I didn’t really realise how powerfully it affected people and how much of what is said in marketing and on the packaging is inaccurate. I was becoming more active on Instagram and I was starting to get a lot of questions from followers on cosmetic skincare. I wanted to be as accurate as possible so every time I got asked something I went back to PubMed and the textbooks to find an answer (like ‘what does niacinamide do?’ or ‘are facials good for skin?’). This led me to write the book, Skintelligent, to answer all the questions I was getting in a structured way, fully referenced.
The pandemic also made me realise that we as women are way way too critical of our facial appearance. Due to using tons of video calls etc during the pandemic, I had more patients than ever coming to see me for skin problems they only ever noticed for the first time on video calls. Cameras distort everyone’s face to an extent and it has made so many women hyper-aware of fine lines, perceived sagging facial features and skin imperfections. The skincare and beauty industry thrives on this type of insecurity and this has become much more apparent since the pandemic.
A few years ago, an article went viral suggesting that skincare was “a scam.” What did you think of the piece and the premise?
Yes, I remember this. I totally agree – the original subtitle of my book was ‘Why all skincare is a scam and what you really need to know to get great skin’!
The bottom line with skincare is that there is no such thing as ‘essential’ skincare. No one needs to cleanse/tone/moisturiser/exfoliate/use serums/eye creams/get facials etc. Your skin is extremely good at taking care of itself. We cause a lot more harm than good by using skincare products excessively. No one skincare brand or product is necessarily ‘better’ than another – hence there are thousands of brands globally all basically containing the same handful of ingredients. It’s the marketing and the packaging that make it appear that one product is superior to another – and this is the scam part. The Skincare Industry is a billion-pound business and thrives off of consumers’ insecurity and hope. It is extremely misleading.
What motivates you to have a skin-care routine, personally? Is it because it’s your job?
I don’t really have a skincare ‘routine’ for myself – I also don’t prescribe them or give them to my patients in general. I have had my fair share of skin problems as a teenager and into my 20s and 30s (acne vulgaris, then rosacea, redness, telangiectasia, oily skin) and have found that the less I use the better my skin is and if I have a problem or an issue I target that one problem or issue specifically with the correct treatment and that’s it. I use an oil cleanser at night to remove my tinted sunscreen/moisturiser and my eye makeup and sometimes either use a topical retinoid (tretinoin 0.01%) or just a light slick of Vaseline or Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm. I don’t use anything aside from a tinted SPF or a regular SPF during the day and some highlighter on my cheekbones.
So in short my job motivates me NOT to have a skincare routine!
Why do you see skin care as self-care?
I don’t really – though if it makes you feel good and like you are doing something helpful for yourself then that is of course totally fine. I view skincare as managing a problem – treating skin disease.
Do you see skincare as health?
I think if you have a skin problem or issue (anything from spots to fine lines to pigmentation) this needs the correct diagnosis and the appropriate targeted treatment. I don’t think general ‘skincare’ is essential for good health.
Some people say good skin is a matter of good genes. If you have troubled skin, can that always be remedied by specific skincare routines?
I agree that good skin is very much down to your genetics. And what one defines as good is quite variable!
If you have troubled skin, the key is to get the right diagnosis and the correct targeted treatment for that issue.
When you recommend a product, is it based on the merits of the product only? Or do you take other things into account, like the company’s values and its political stances?
I generally do not recommend any specific brand though I occasionally recommend a specific product. I will recommend a product based on its ingredients, how effective it is at doing a specific thing and its price point (nothing should cost a lot – skincare products are super cheap to make). My top recommendation for moisturiser is Vaseline (the yellow one with the blue top) – a thin layer at night locks in moisture and is totally non-irritating. It’s the best and is super inexpensive.
What should a daily skin-care routine look like?
As simple and minimal as possible. Sunscreen in the daytime if you are going to be outside, a balm or oil cleanser to remove makeup and sunscreen in the evening, and an ointment moisturiser at night if your skin is dry. After that, it totally depends on the person’s skin. Toners, serums, eye creams, masks, scrubs etc are absolutely unnecessary for healthy skin.
What does beauty mean to you?
Feeling good in the skin you are in!
What are your top product recommendations for healthy skin and why?
Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke, and sleep. If you have a skin concern, see a properly trained professional to diagnose and manage it correctly so you don’t waste your time, money or hope on cosmetic skin care products that may do more harm than good and will certainly harm your wallet. Don’t get tricked into buying lots of expensive lotions and potions with the hope that they will turn back the clock, erase your fine lines or transform your skin in some way – they won’t. I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer but that’s the honest truth!
Aside from products, what kinds of things should we add to our daily routine to achieve healthy, radiant skin?
Oh, this is a tough question – I guess being rested. The importance of sleep to our appearance and how we feel about ourselves is really underrated. I know when I am tired I don’t look and feel my best and it can lead you down to wanting a ‘quick fix’ whether it’s from a fancy new skincare product or device or a sugary snack.
What are your top tips for healthy and glowing skin?
Stay out of the sun!
What do you think have been the most important skincare trends for 2022?
Moving away from complicated skincare ‘routines,’ and becoming truly educated in understanding skin and the skincare industry. I hope I have had some influence on those trends!
What advice would you give to anyone starting up a skincare or beauty brand?
Please don’t!! There are enough brands and products that are all copycats of each other. We don’t need any more of the same overpriced products in pretty packaging. It is a super-saturated market and the new products coming out are just getting more and more ridiculous, in order to be unique and justify an extortionate price tag. A moisturiser made of chickpea flour? Or a serum made from plant stem cells or placenta? No thank you!
Finally, do you have any insider secrets you can share with my readers about maintaining beautiful skin?
Use good old inexpensive Vaseline as your nighttime moisturiser and your eye cream – just a thin layer is all you need. You can thank me in the morning.