The hottest name in the skincare world right now? Dr. Barbara Sturm. The woman needs no introduction, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick update. She’s the creator of one of the leading medi-luxe skincare brands in the world, she’s the go-to facialist for the likes of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Kate Moss, and stars such as Hailey Baldwin, Irina Shayk, and Emma Roberts can’t stop gushing about her products all over Insta. Oh, and she invented the ‘Vampire Facial’ – yes, the one where your own blood is injected into your face.
Needless to say, Dr. Sturm knows a thing or two when it comes to anti-aging, so we sat down with the leading German dermatologist to pick her brains during her recent trip to Dubai. On the agenda? How to look younger, what foods we should all be eating, the treatments that are actually aging us, and plenty more.
What’s the biggest cause of skin aging?
Inflammation, which is caused by sun, a bad diet, lack of sleep, smoking, pollution, and bad skincare treatments! It’s really a combination of those, but it all does come back to inflammation.
What do we need to do to really turn back time?
My whole philosophy is around the anti-inflammatory approach. When I started working as a doctor in orthopedics, I worked a lot with scientists from Harvard University and University of Pittsburgh, and I learned that the aging process in a joint suddenly stops when we take inflammation out of it. In 2003, I transferred this knowledge into skincare by using the same methods that I used in orthopedics: taking blood and stimulating blood cells to create healing factors, mainly anti-inflammatory proteins, and re-injecting them into the joints. I did this for the skin, and I developed what’s now known as the ‘Vampire Facial’, which is basically taking inflammation out of the skin. My whole line is based on anti-inflammation because that’s what makes your skin break out, get irritated, age, form wrinkles – everything! So by taking out inflammation, you heal the skin.
Inflammation is what makes your skin break out, get irritated, age, form wrinkles – everything! So by taking out inflammation, you heal the skin.
The second thing is hydration and nutrition, which are important because a hydrated skin barrier works better than a non-hydrated skin barrier. Every skin type needs hydration. The third is telomeres activation, which is very cutting-edge ‘new science’. It means we protect the cells from dying, and we keep the cells alive by protecting the ends of the chromosomes. My whole approach is healing, non-toxic, protective – keeping your skin in really good shape and out of trouble.
What’s the biggest mistake you see women making with their skin?
The skincare industry really likes self-inflicted damage, and we take it all home! From your little laser and micro-current to lights and acid peels – you end up rolling your face to the bloody ground. It’s just not right! You don’t want to hurt your skin because it’s not just a beauty device, it’s an organ. If you keep your organ healthy, your skin will look good! So by doing these harmful things in an attempt to look young, you’re actually aging your skin because you’re causing all this inflammation. I think that’s an approach I really try to promote a lot, especially when I see girls of young ages destroying their skin for life.
What bad ingredients should we look out for on skincare labels?
There are a lot of ingredients that are really harmful to the skin and cause inflammation! Some people, like me, have sensitive skin – I can’t use anything other than my own products. Some are capable of putting lots of harmful ingredients on, like perfumes or fragrances. They’re really not good for your skin. Or mineral oil, for example – it’s basically petroleum! Many companies put that in their creams, even the ones by big names and ‘luxury’ brands. It’s very common because mineral oils give you an instant, nice feeling but they basically strip your skin of hydration. Lip balms are full of it, too, and people can actually become dependent on it. It’s tough to make something great with really natural, beautiful ingredients.
Speaking of natural ingredients, which ones really work?
My grandmother was a pharmacist and she would always say that I need to put glycerine or panthenol in my creams, so I work a lot with those now as they really calm down and hydrate your skin. I love aloe vera, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, a little shea butter, and – of course – purslane, which is the telomeres activator and in every single one of my products. I also really like hyaluronic acid as it’s great for hydrating.
What’s the ultimate skincare routine for someone who wants to look younger?
Use a nice hydrating cleanser, a hyaluronic serum or our ‘Super Anti-Aging Serum’, and then a cream and an eye cream if you want it. That’s basically it! You can then add the extras you need, like the ‘Calming Serum’ if you have redness or have been out in the sun. Today, I have my ‘Glow Drops’ on because I had my makeup done. When you’re in climates like that of Dubai, you want something that cools down your skin, like my eye cream, which gives you a super refreshed look. All my products are hydrating and cooling. When a woman is hot and sweaty all the time, she doesn’t want thick, sticky products! It’s all about the “Sturm glow”, which is what everyone wants and talks about.
Are there any lifestyle changes we can make to help with anti-aging?
We cause inflammation to ourselves all the time by not getting enough sleep, being too stressed, exposing ourselves to pollution, etc. We should avoid stress and get as much sleep as we can and, when it comes to food, it’s pretty logical. Harvard put out a study on inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods, and things that are anti-inflammatory are green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, olive oil, mackerel, salmon, almonds, walnuts, oranges, and cherries. They are the best anti-inflammatory foods. What causes inflammation are fried foods, processed foods, over-processed meats, bad carbs, sodas, etc.
Going forward, what do you predict in the world of anti-aging?
All that self-inflicted damage, all those acid peels and lasers, will go away. I’m sure of it. My line is the opposite of this, and I feel like women now are more educated and interested in science. Brands can easily claim to use this “super blah blah blah complex”, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. People want to see the science, real studies – they don’t want to get tricked into that nonsense. The whole world is changing as we become more aware, and there’s now this big health movement where we want to protect against aging and getting sick. People want to look after their bodies.
How can we protect our skin against the harsh elements like pollution, humidity, and air conditioning?
Humidity means you’ll want things that are easily absorbed and don’t feel greasy and slimy, so keep things light, like my serums. Pollution is a very important topic, which is why I created my ‘Anti-Pollution Drops’ that form a shield on your skin to prevent pollutants from getting into it, even from the blue lights emitted from your phones! They also help chelate the heavy metals from pollutants, too, and you can mix it with any of your skincare products. Our ‘Sun Drops’ are SPF 50 broad spectrum, and they don’t clog your pores whilst giving you a glow and protecting you from sunburn. You can use them alone or add them to your products whenever you need them! They feel more like a serum, not a thick SPF, and that makes it so easy to use sun protection.
Is it true that the more expensive a skin cream, the better it is?
I don’t think that’s true. There is a lot of nonsense out there, like I said, so a lot of brands make theirs expensive to suggest it’s something more valuable, and that’s not true in most cases. I don’t think you should go for really cheap products because the percentage of the good ingredients is usually super low, and you don’t want those nasty, cheap products like mineral oil. But a serum that costs thousands of dollars is ridiculous.
What if I wake up with puffy, swollen eyes?
My eye cream is amazing because it cools and takes away puffiness and dark circles, but you can also put cold teabags on your eyes as they help reduce puffiness right away. You can also do lymph drainage by doing a light facial massage out and down to your lymph nodes. Be careful with salty food, and try sleeping with your head a little elevated. Also, don’t drink too much water at night! This makes the puffiness worse.
Dr. Barbara Sturm ‘Eye Cream’
What’s the biggest skincare myth you’ve heard?
People think doing a lot helps a lot, but the skin is actually very able to help itself, so we shouldn’t take over our skin’s tasks. By overpowering your skin, you’re basically irritating it and stressing it out, in turn causing inflammation from all the ingredients and treatments. So it’s about taking a step back and really giving your skin what it needs. Less is more.
At what age should we start using anti-aging products?
My approach is very healing and protective, so my products are for every age. My three-year-old can use them! I know that’s not for anti-aging, but it’s for anti-inflammation and protection. I just actually brought out my kid’s products which focus on soothing, calming, and protecting. You can do a lot when you’re young, but in a very healthy way, and that really does start the day you’re born. We shouldn’t be scrubbing babies with soaps, we should be gentle with their skin and bathe them in milk, not chemical-filled crazy bubble bath! Your skin, from day one, is a huge organ that needs to have the best care.
Complete the sentence: To me, beautiful skin is…
When you look in the mirror, and you’re happy with what you see.