Skincare specialist Dr. Barbara Sturm’s client list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood. Everyone from Kim Kardashian and the Hadid sisters, to Irina Shayk, Rachel Zoe, Nicky Hilton, Huda Kattan and Hilary Duff are loyal disciples of her pioneering ‘vampire facial’ and MC1 cream.
Sturm's so good in fact that skincare aficionado Victoria Beckham, who regularly uses Instagram to wax lyrical about the German scientist's molecular cosmetics skincare line, even took her seven-year-old Harper in for a “baby facial” at Sturm’s clinic in Dusseldorf recently.
But despite being a go-to glow giver for some of the biggest stars in the business, Sturm (who never wears makeup herself) didn’t set out to work in the beauty industry. “It’s strange because I’m not a beauty junkie, I was always a tomboy as a child,” Sturm tells the Standard. “The first time I used mascara was when I was 24. It just wasn’t my thing.”
Her first career was in fact in orthopaedics, where she helped pioneer a treatment known as the “Kobe Procedure” (as in Kobe Bryan) where a patient’s own blood cells are used to produce proteins and reinjected into the joints to reduce inflammation and slow the ageing process. “By taking inflammation out you basically stop the ageing of the joints,” she says.
In 2003, she applied the same principle to develop her famed face cream, Dr. Barbara Sturm MC1. In order to make the cream a patient’s blood is drawn and the blood plasma is then kept in a syringe at body temperature and filled with glass beads, which the blood then “reads as a wound,” says Sturm, forcing it to keep producing "healing factors".
The resulting blood plasma (apparently 147 times more concentrated than what we have in our blood naturally) is then reincorporated into a moisturiser, which Sturm describes as being “like whipped cream” in texture.
“When you have a scientific approach… then the cream has to have functions. And the function here is anti-inflammation and regeneration through your body’s own healing proteins,” says Sturm, who initially developed the concept to address her very own sensitive skin issues. “I had to get a facial every week, I tried every product on the market and nothing worked," she says.
Soon, her A-list clientele (who saw her for filler and Botox), were hooked on the MC1 cream, and began pestering Sturm for a full skincare regimen. “I didn’t like anything on the market that I could recommend them to use with it,” she explains, “so I began to make my own range.”
In 2014, Sturm launched her non-toxic Molecular Cosmetics line. An uncomplicated, highly effective skincare regime that heavily features an anti-ageing ingredient called Purslane, which activates the immortality enzyme telomerase in our cells and delivers anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects to the skin, and ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid.
The Molecular Cosmetics line is one of the top performing skincare brands on Net-a-Porter, and has grown by over 100% in the last year. “Skincare is our most popular beauty category and our customer is seeking products that deliver excellent results, with a large focus on glow and hydration.” Says Newby Hands, Beauty Director at Net-a-Porter. “We’re seeing Sturm’s brand go from strength to strength to strength, continuously launching new and innovative products that treat the real concerns of women today, from dehydration to pollution to sensitivity. Net-a-Porter’s top performers include the Hyaluronic Serum, the Super Anti-Aging Serum and the Glow Drops, all of which resonate amazingly well with our customers globally.”
We spoke to Sturm and asked her for her skincare rules to live by. Read on for her tips on everything from harmful ingredients to when to start getting Botox...
On how to combat ageing
"Inflammation is what makes our skin get thick and age. It’s the root of all our problems.
Inflammation is caused by stress, lack of sleep, the environment and aggressive skincare products. It leads to cell degradation and causes all sorts of problems for our body.
You can address it with an anti-inflammatory skincare regimen but also lifestyle; by making sure you get enough sleep, you’re not too stressed, you don’t drink too much alcohol, you don’t expose yourself to pollution (London, for example, is a very polluted area)... it’s not easy but it’s good to do what you can.
Personally I have an unhealthy life as I travel a lot, but sometimes I will go to bed at 8pm, I try not to drink too often and I take supplements to help with inflammation (our Repair Food) and stress situations (like our Anti-Pollution food)."
On the key ingredient for anti-inflammation: Purslane
"It’s our hero ingredient in all our products, both supplements and skincare. It’s highly anti-inflammatory, it’s rich in beta-carotene, it helps keep cells from dying, and it’s a superfood. You should make smoothies out of it!
Also thyme, rosemary, sage, legumes, oranges and cherries are all natural anti-inflammatories that you should incorporate in your diet."
On why Hyaluronic Acid is the skincare ingredient everyone should use
"The most important acid in skincare, and one that I use in my skincare and medical work, is hyaluronic acid. HA is already present in our cells and is the body’s natural moisturiser, and is very effective both as a surface moisturizer and for replenishing moisture reservoirs in deeper dermal layers.
Hyaluronic acid can help with everything from redness and dryness to ageing, acne and dullness. If enriched with healing substances such as Purslane or Lumicol, it is an effective ingredient to ameliorate redness and reduce spots. It’s deeply hydrating effect will help with dry skin and refill the skins own moisture depots, which helps with fine lines and wrinkles
It’s way more important to have active ingredients in your hyaluronic acid than in your moisturiser as the HA can transport the actives deeper into the skin."
On the best approach to adult acne
"Sometimes acne is super active and you may need to go on antibiotics.
When it’s milder though, I think all these aggressive treatments and acid-based products can actually make the problem worse. They upset the skin barrier function and dry it out so that it actually ends up creating more sebum to combat the dryness and the spots get worse.
Even if you have acne you still need to hydrate your skin, with hyaluronic acid or a nice moisturiser, because that keeps the skin barrier function. And then you should just treat the spots themselves, not the whole face. Toothpaste for example works."
On the cosmeceutical treatments she thinks work
"Microneedling is nice from time to time – no more than once a month – because it creates pathways through which actives can be transported into deeper layers of the skin.
I personally wouldn’t recommend laser at all. It pretty much destroys healthy skin layers. You destroy the function of the skin in the long term, which then makes sun damage and pollution damage even worse and sooner or later you’ll have pigmentation issues."
On the skincare ingredients to avoid
"Fragrances, mineral oils, acids (apart from hyaluronic acid which isn’t actually an acid). I would avoid acid peels. Any acids you do use in skincare (say salicylic for a spot) should always be below 5 per cent concentration – anything over that disrupts skin barrier function.
I don’t recommend aggressive acids (salicylic, glycolic etc) in a skincare regime because they cause damage and promote inflammation. They will strip the skin of the mature cells which protect it, while also causing inflammation and dryness. My philosophy is always anti-inflammatory, and acids are generally pro-inflammatory."
On why she wouldn’t inject Botox in someone before they’re 30
"You weaken the muscles and get a way worse problem later. If someone has genetic issues, say sunken eyes or saggy cheeks, I will inject fillers when they’re in their twenties, but Botox I don’t inject in anyone before they’re 30.
I think the fact you can get Botox on the high street now is crazy. Everyone can do what they want with their skin but they need to be educated, to know the pros and cons. As a medical professional you have a duty of care.
My approach to injectables is more about lifting the face than changing structure. If for example you just put filler in the nasolabial fold, you change the actual appearance of the face, whereas I would rather lift your face back up by injecting fillers at the edges near your hairline, and give you back the appearance you had when you were younger."