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What's best for your skin, according to Barbara Sturm

The global skincare expert talks about launching in India, Ayurveda and how the pandemic has changed the idea of beauty

As a doctor, I believe everything that touches your skin should heal rather than inflame it. So I do not recommend aggressive anti-ageing ingredients like retinol, says Sturm
As a doctor, I believe everything that touches your skin should heal rather than inflame it. So I do not recommend aggressive anti-ageing ingredients like retinol, says Sturm (Company handout)

What do Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Hailey Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid have in common? They all love Barbara Sturm, the German skincare genius. Known for her luxurious facials, a favourite of models just before fashion weeks (she does pop-ups at Paris Fashion Week and Cannes Film Festival to help the stars prep their skin), Dr Sturm started as an orthopaedic expert.

She is known to have treated the late NBA star Kobe Bryant’s knee using his own blood cells to reduce inflammation, a treatment which is now known as the Kobe Procedure in the industry. She used a similar method to create the viral vampire facial for Kardashian, a procedure which is also the basis of her cult bespoke plasma cream, MC1.

MC1 was back in 2002, and today, Dr Sturm’s skincare label (Dr. Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics) offers several products which have a cult following, and are now available in India on The Global Store on Nykaa App.

Also read: How to hydrate your skin, inside out

In an interview with Lounge, Dr Sturm talks about following Ayurvedic methods for skincare, how the pandemic has moved business and interactions online, and why it’s important for the skincare industry to not be colour blind. Edited excerpts:

How did you respond to the pandemic?

Covid-19 sped up the digital transformation of the business significantly. During the first two weeks of the pandemic we introduced up to 10 ways to interact with us as a brand. We launched WhatsApp for business; FaceTime customer care services; live chat functionality on the site; virtual consultations with Team Sturm or directly with me; digital masterclasses and Skin Schools for teenagers and we also started live streaming content via Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

You recently launched in India. What kind of a customer are you targeting based on your price and product range?

My customer is everybody. I want to offer a solution for everyone no matter what skin type or concern. I set out to make the best skin care in the world and that is an expensive proposition. I do think people are beginning to appreciate and understand that process and at the same time, I’m always thinking about how to democratise and bring great skincare to more people.

What goes into formulating truly clean skincare at your lab?

I use advanced science ingredients that are healthy, healing and safe, and those that nurture rather than attack living skin. My products contain innovative, high concentration active ingredients adhering to Germany’s rigorous skincare ingredient laws. And my philosophy of skin healing also means I won’t use substances and ingredients that are both unnecessary for the skin and may promote inflammation, including artificial fragrance, colour, microplastics and aggressive preservatives. My products are also rigidly cruelty-free; we do not test products or ingredients on animals, and neither do our suppliers or any third parties.

What are the early signs of inflammation on the skin?

Inflammation is the body’s response to irritation and injury and can show up on the skin in the form of many things. For example, acne, premature ageing, redness, enlarged pores, skin diseases and dysfunctions including psoriasis, rosacea, and perioral dermatitis.

In what way does skincare for darker skin work differently?

I created the Darker Skin Tones Line because I was aware of the scientific literature showing skin with more active melanocytes possesses a special sensitivity to the inflammation cascade, which can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and other dysfunctions. Beginning in 2014, I spent years and my own funds researching and developing an ingredient-science based skincare line to address the unique inflammation challenges of darker skin. This line contains infused with ingredients that help balance out sebum production and has ingredients like lumicol, which evens skin tone for a natural, healthy glow.

What are the other common concerns of the Indian skin type?

Sebum production tends to be greater in the skin with more active melanocytes, while the fundamental needs for hydration, nutrition and anti-ageing ingredients is the same for all skin types.

Your advice to upcoming skincare start-ups?

Focus on your passion and not on money. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. If you fall down, always pick yourself up and try again – the results are always worth the effort.

What role do you feel social media has played in the skincare boom?

My business would not have been possible without social media. It has levelled the playing field between innovative small start-ups and the goliaths in the skincare industry.

Do you feel people are informed enough to use actives without prescription?

As a doctor, I believe everything that touches your skin should heal rather than inflame it. So I do not recommend aggressive anti-ageing ingredients like retinol, which stimulate pro-inflammatory cytokines, cause hypersensitivity to sun and environmental factors, and commonly cause redness, dryness, burning, peeling and dermatitis. Retinol is popular because it has an effect, but I don’t believe the benefit is worth the cost. If you choose to use such actives, always do so under the care of a doctor versus at-home experimentation.

What drew you to Ayurveda?

I’m a big fan of Indian traditions and medicine, including Ayurveda. I personally try to adopt a lot of this medicine into my own lifestyle. I like to try and merge science and spirituality.

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