All in skin
Before Sarah Chapman opened her Skinesis Clinic in London’s Sloane Square – a flagship that is, for devotees including Victoria Beckham and beauty editors across the city, to skincare what the Apple Store is to mobile technology – she spent all her time looking at skin from every vantage point in the skincare industry. Her initial contact with skin was as a make-up artist, which led to a career trying to perfect the canvas itself so
that there would be no need to conceal and cover. Subsequently training as a facialist – Chapman worked for botanical brand Darphin followed by a spell at results-driven cosmeceutical brand Environ – she developed a unique holistic approach that insists on performance.
“I don’t believe in skin type,” she says. “I think we have skin conditions. Your skin changes. It changes with seasons, with age, it changes with stress. I have people that I’ve treated for 20 years and I do something different every single time they come because their skin will have changed.”
Chapman’s range reflects its founder’s philosophy, integrating a core daily range with boosters to support and treat specific conditions that arise with changes in skin. Her standard for each formulation is rigorous and unrelenting.
“Our approach is face-to-formula,” she says. “We’re diagnosing skin all the time. What’s going on? What does it need?
And then creating the product to do that.”
“I’m always pushing to get the maximum potency. A lot of chemists tell me that most people put four to five active ingredients in but I’m asking for 15. But I have them all in for specific reasons. So it’s getting the chemist to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. I take a long time. I do loads of research. I give them all the actives and I also take up 20, 30 different samples before we get to the right texture, the right smell, the right results on skin.”
These days, facials at the Skinesis clinic involve Sarah Chapman products along with a supplement of effective brands she has used over the years, including Environ. Her team members spend six weeks of full-time training, learning about everything from microneedling and Dermalux to IPL and radiofrequency treatment, as well as the brand’s own products, additional brands and the signature massage technique – relearning the way hands move in order to manipulate muscles precisely and in staccato to lift and drain according to Chapman’s choreography.
Chapman’s own commitment to skin over sales is paramount. She says, “I think in our treatments, it’s all about getting the best results for whatever skin comes in. My range is still relatively small, so as of now we can’t treat everything. If somebody comes in with acne, we need some other products. It’s important, even if I have my own range, always to have every solution for every need.
“What I’m doing is creating an edited mix of products that are right for the skin. You’ll notice Sarah’s Edit at the back of the boutique, so people have the resources, whether it be books about diet or nutritional supplements for a comprehensive approach to skin.”
The doctor is in
I bet if you try to imagine what Cher does during her down time, that vision would not include her sitting in the kitchen with her gal pal Barbara Sturm, making face masks out of aloe and other fresh ingredients. These aren’t your average Pinterest-recommended concoctions, either – Dr Barbara Sturm happens to be one of the most respected skincare saviours in Hollywood, whose achievements include inventing the crazy Vampire Facial, and (perhaps more important) having amazing skin tone despite – gasp! – rarely bothering with face wash or sunscreen.
Sturm doesn’t just have Cher at her side – she has science, too. A former orthopaedic doctor who contributed to the development of a groundbreaking anti-inflammatory treatment that combats osteoarthritis, she’s also a lab junkie who decided to apply her findings to skincare. “Inflammation is pretty much the cause of every skin concern. By taking out inflammation you’re basically healing your skin,” she explains.
Much of what Sturm has to say contradicts modern beauty wisdom. As big brands with mega labs patent ingredients found in the deepest oceans and on the highest mountains, she’s selling serums packed mainly with hyaluronic acid, the moisture-making ingredient found in pretty much every skincare product on the market today. Her hyaluronic-acid formula is packed with a combination of short-chain and long-chain molecules, which she sees as the key to moisture that penetrates and is long-lasting.
“Short-chain molecules are important to get them into deeper layers [of the skin],” she says. “And the long chain, they are good for instant glow and hydration on top of the skin. The short chain – they have effects even after six to eight weeks. I always wanted [this serum] because I think it’s cool to put on topically what you would inject in your skin.”
Sturm has also created a special sun serum that’s got a sun-protection factor of 50 but doesn’t clog pores and can be mixed in with any stage of skincare, or even tapped on over make-up. But, she says, if you’re not going to be in the sun much, then a sunscreen isn’t necessary – as long as you aren’t messing around with invasive fads like retinol, laser treatments or glycolic peels.
“Cells have a cycle. They start as baby cells and they grow into mature cells. Babies have no abilities – they’re just cute and young. Adults have wisdom, they have abilities, they can accomplish things. Once you treat your skin with retinol, all this aggressive stuff, and you do this anti-ageing rejuvenating thing, it basically keeps your cells at a very young level. It’s not good for your skin, you need to protect those cells.” Less, indeed, is more.
And Cher isn’t the only A-list believer in the brand. Sturm has launched a separate skincare line for darker skin in partnership with Angela Bassett, in addition to the eponymous main line available on Net-a-Porter.com. And her fans include everyone from Kim Kardashian to Bradley Cooper.
“We have a huge following in Hollywood. Everybody is getting hooked – they just write me love notes all the time, it’s so sweet. That makes me happy.”
Vitamins C and E are the popular kids in the world of skincare. But if you ask Dr Des Fernandes, it’s Vitamin A you need to add to your arsenal.
“[Vitamin A] controls DNA,” he says. “It controls – they think now – about 4,000 genes. The estimate is that we have between 20,000 to 30,000 genes. So 4,000 is a massive chunk. So [Vitamin A] just gets cells working normally – the skin, the brain. The brain is a form of skin. The gut, the lungs, all those cells are very dependent on Vitamin A. But the problem with Vitamin A is that it’s light sensitive. As we’re sitting here, the light that comes through onto us is destroying some of the Vitamin A.”
Vitamin A has taken a bad rap in skincare, and few companies dare to work with it, because as the sun destroys the A store it also depletes receptors. “That’s why people can’t take Vitamin A. Adults, they’ve damaged their skin in sunlight, so the average company doesn’t want a cream that causes sensations of dryness, pinkness. It can look like they’ve got an allergy – but it’s just a chemical irritation, which gets better the more you use the cream. I meet people and they say: oh no, I’m allergic to vitamin A. And you think, actually you aren’t, because if you were, you would be dead already.”
Fernandes’ skincare line Environ, which is available at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, includes a range of serums in a sequence. Start with the Youth EssentiA Vita-Peptide C-quence Serum 1, then once you’ve gone through two bottles, move up to Serum 2, then 3, then 4. Your skin will adapt more easily if the Vitamin A dosage is increased in steps.
According to Fernandes, his skincare is suitable for everyone, because everyone who’s seen the sun is subject to the same depletion – so whether you have wrinkles, acne or freckles, there are benefits to be seen.
To boost absorption, Fernandes was also an early adopter of dermarollers, which beauty bloggers have adopted for their ability to puncture the skin and invite healing collagen to run to its rescue. Fernandes uses a 0.1mm-needle roller (as opposed to the 0.5mm or higher recommended by some brands), the Cosmetic Roll-Cit, to pierce the top layer of skin and increase penetration of active ingredients. “If you want changes, you have to use it at least five times a week. I’ve done research in about the year 2000, and only in the group who used it five to seven times were we able to distinguish improvement.”
This is skincare that’s super-effective – as long as you’re using it the right way. “That’s why we only sell through well-trained people,” he says – like those at the Mandarin Spa who can take the time to walk you through the system’s benefits and pitfalls. “We’re never going to be a massive product in Selfridge’s. The person guiding you is very important, and that’s why it can’t be an internet product – what online system can take you through careful analysis of your skin?”