Breathing? Self-Love? A Leading Skin Specialist Gets Honest About Skincare

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Photographed by Jeremy Zaessinger for Savoir Flair

The world of anti-aging skincare can be a daunting place – we get it. But one woman who sure knows her stuff is Miss Sherina Balaratnam, one of the most renowned cosmetic doctors in the UK and founder of leading luxury clinic S-Thetics. Not only is she known worldwide for her innovations in the realm of non-surgical cosmetic treatments, but she also trains and mentors other skin specialists. Balaratnam is all about enhancing beauty with both nature and science.

“My philosophy has always been to develop a true rapport and relationship with my patients, so I can give them a holistic and personalized experience,” she tells us. “It’s important for me to assess the medical side of your skincare needs, and also understand the emotional and psychological reasons behind your decisions. How you feel can have a huge impact on how you look, and it’s my mission to help people look and feel their best.”

And on that note, this is how you really can look your best. Here, Balaratnam reveals all her top skincare tips and secrets, from the key ingredients you should be using, which ingredients you shouldn’t be eating, and how to find the right doctor for you. Her insights may just surprise you.

What are the key ingredients we should be looking out for in skincare?
Think of your skincare as bookends – your start and your finish are really important. In order for anything active to get into the skin, you need to properly cleanse it. That’s the holy grail. I’m not one for aggressive, mechanical exfoliation as it can be quite harsh on the skin and potentially strip it of its natural oils. I love my mild hydroxy acids, and I’m all for gentle chemical exfoliation. The end of my bookend? A good old broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection – that’s the icing on the cake.

After a cleanser, it’s all about antioxidants, with vitamin C being my go-to. It does three fantastic things for the skin: it lightens, brightens, and tightens. That’s really key because if you think about it, that big yellow thing in the sky is around us all the time – we have UVA rays all around us even at night. And guess what? We’re now exposed to blue light thanks to our phones! We have to be mindful that we are 20 to 30 years on in digital, and we are more exposed than ever before. Not to mention, there’s more pollution too, so vitamin C is a really good way to neutralize those harmful free radicals.

Next is thirst, so just like we drink water to hydrate, we need to hydrate our skin externally. The best thing for that is hyaluronic acid, a.k.a. HA – the buzzword in beauty. It’s present in us, it’s everywhere, we’re packed full of it, but one percent of it depletes every single year! So we have to drink water, use HA, and even use Volite to inject little drops of HA into the skin.  At night, I’m one for retinol. It’s a beautiful catalyst to produce new cells.

As you specialize in injectables, what advice would you give to someone who has never tried them?
I would start with a consultation. But let’s take a step back before that. How do you actually go into the consultation? You have to find that person. How do you find that person? You have to make connections. Start by speaking to your GP since he or she may know someone. It could also be through word-of-mouth; your friends or family may have firsthand experience with someone. Most ladies tend to keep these things very private, but you never know – once you start asking, one or two of them may reveal!

The second thing is to go online. Do your research into your local area and think about what’s near to you. I say that with great importance, because we shouldn’t be taking facial injectables too lightly – we are making changes to people’s faces! So, you want to have access to your doctor, you don’t want them to be too far away. Do your homework. The Juvéderm connect website is great as it allows you to search for who practices safe medicine in your local area. It’s a great portal to see who is closest to you and to find out more about them.

Finally, reach out to those clinics and practitioners and book yourself in for a consultation. Don’t go in for treatment right there and then. You want to meet them and see what he or she can achieve for you. It’s down to that consultation. So, research the practitioner, research the practice, research the products they’re using, and understand your facial assessment. Make sure they touch and feel your face. It still amazes me how many practitioners don’t touch their patients and actually feel their skin!

And finally, ask them, “how can you benefit me?”. Ask to see their work and their before and after images. Make sure you’re happy with those sorts of results. I like for my patients to look under the radar as opposed to looking “done”. If they look done, then I’ve failed! If I was coming into this brand new and I didn’t even know what a filler was, I would be also asking those kind of questions – and we should be.

If you have a consultation and the doctor tries to sign you up immediately or incentivize you with a discount? Run.

Are there any risks or downsides to injectables that we should be aware of?
I think with anything we do, whether it’s starting a new advanced medical grade skincare regime or high-tech facials, laser skin rejuvenation or injectables – there are certainly benefits to all of them, but there are negative side effects that could potentially happen. There are also long-term side effects that need to be discussed – and it’s our job to tell our patients this during the consultation, so well in advance of the procedure itself. That way the patient is well informed and can make informed decisions and choices.

If you have a consultation and the doctor tries to sign you up immediately or incentivize you with a discount? Run. You shouldn’t be pressed into making a decision then and there. But yes, there could be mild, medium, or more severe side effects. They could be immediate, they could be long-term – and these need to be discussed. It could be something as mild as pin-point bleeding, which we can treat on the spot, or something with detrimental effects such as blindness. Yes, that’s going very extreme, but we have to tell people that these things have happened and we don’t take it lightly. As consumers, we are misinformed. I’m an expert in what I do, but even I’m learning every day.

Photo: Courtesy of @Sthetics_Clinic

Does diet affect skin? And if so, what should we be eating?
That’s a good question. I get asked about things like wheat, sugar, and dairy a lot. We are hearing of more people being intolerant and sensitive to foods like that, but I think a lot of it is anecdotal – I’m not too sure how much scientific evidence there is behind it. But I do believe in one thing, and science has proven it: sugar causes glycation. Excessive sugar consumption can actually break down the proteins in collagen and elastin fibers. I do see increased glycation and loss of elasticity in patients who consume far too much sugar. I certainly see an increase in oxidative stress, too, and all this contributes to signs of accelerated aging.

Oxidative stress causes free-radical damage, which is neutralized by the body every single day as we have our own inherent vitamin C in the skin as well as enzymes that help neutralize them. But guess what? They also deplete as we age, so we need extra help. Drink green tea, and use vitamin C and high-tech antioxidants. I love Superoxide Dismutase, that’s a great one.

Self-care, self-love, meditation, and even something as simple as breathing is so important. We just don’t breathe any more.

What lifestyle habits can really affect skin?
Number one? Stress. It’s actually the number one cause of accelerated aging. I see it in most of my patients, and we therefore need to bring in practices to help. It could be stress from anything – we’re high-performance women, we’re dynamic, we’re succeeding in the workplace and having kids. Of course, that’s a good thing, but we function at a high level. This can present itself as stress on the skin or internally, which can also affect gut health.

The skin itself is triggered by adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol. This can cause red, inflamed, spotty skin. Self-care, self-love, meditation, and even something as simple as breathing is so important. We just don’t breathe any more. We’re too fast, and we spend so much time hunched over our desks and phones, which keeps our muscles contracted, so our lymphatic system doesn’t get the opportunity to be long and stretched out so it can flow. We have to start with basic breathing. Oxygen is the life of everything! That’s why I just launched an oxygen-delivery system to help deliver oxygen into the skin.

Madinat Jumeirah Talise Spa sunset yoga
Photo: Courtesy of Talise Spa

Debunk the biggest skincare myth you’ve ever heard.
The first is: “I don’t need SPF in the winter or when there’s no sun.” Actually, there are UVA rays around us all the time, every day – even when there’s no sun! The second myth is that people with skin of color or darker skin types don’t need SPF. I’m Indian, and my family laugh at me for using it, but everyone should be! Darker skins are just as susceptible to skin cancer and damage as lighter skins. It can be challenging to find the right SPF for skin of color, especially when they have too much titanium oxide or zinc and leave that white, zinc-y film on skin. But there are so many great formulas now, you just have to find the right one.

What are the biggest mistakes women make with their skincare?
We use too much! I mean that in two terms. Firstly, we use too much product. Just use the right amount and slap the skin, tap it – boost that circulation. Secondly, we’re using too much in terms of how many products we use, and we’re even choosing the wrong type of product. Just because mom’s using it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Strip your skincare right down. Go back to the ingredients that you really need and use the amount that’s actually required.

When should I start using anti-aging products?
We should start a positive aging regimen once we start seeing symptoms, which can be irrespective of age. No one young should struggle, and children should have access to great skincare that helps with things like acne, sensitivity, and redness. They should have the opportunity to have gentle cleansers introduced into their regimens rather than struggling through their teenage years because all that’s going to do is accelerate a problem that will lead into their 20s, when they’ll then need more active ingredients.

What is your top tip for getting a gorgeous glow?
Sleep! And drink more water – we never drink enough. Invest in a good cleanser and an SPF because that’s your clean, repair, and protect all in one. Also, have a high-tech facial! That will give you that instant, red carpet glow. Our Hydra Facial or Intraceuticals facials are super for that instant glow.

What’s the solution to waking up with puffy eyes?
Again, sleep is key! De-stress, and avoid sugar. Because of our modern lifestyles and all the things I mentioned before, we are so congested, so de-puff your skin by massaging it. Massage the eyes as well as the neck and chest, as that helps open the lymphatic system so you can drain.

puffy eye tips
Photo: Courtesy of @DrDennisGross

What big things do you predict in the world of skincare?
I come from a plastic and reconstructive surgical background, and spent 20 years as a doctor and 12 years in the NHS, mainly specializing in burns reconstruction. I spent a lot of time in wound management and the rehabilitation of skin, but around 2004 onwards, lots of other things were coming into the picture. Microneedling, lasers, energy-based devices – all those things you can use to harness the body’s natural healing process by triggering it.

That’s what led me to this world of non-surgical science and the physics of lasers; there’s a lot that can be done by triggering these responses. We manipulate that in beauty. We’re looking at a more global population as well, so we have to be equipped to work with and treat anybody – both lighter and darker skin types. We need more gender-neutral treatments as well as more color-neutral treatments. We need these kinds of technologies to move forward, and we’re starting to see amazing machines that can work with darker skins and read melanin levels in the skin.

My challenge has always been treating darker skin types, so I’m excited that we are about to have a picosecond laser that is amazing for treating darker skins. We’re in a tech world now, and energy-based devices have become phenomenal in the last ten years. Things like picosecond-laser technology is what I see being the future. I see the introduction of lasers as a form of natural treatments, and lasers being incorporated easily into our day-to-day lives. We’re exposed faster now, so we need to address the problem quicker.

Complete the sentence: To me, beautiful skin is…
Something you’re living in, not just wearing.

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