In our fifties, we become more interested in medi-cosmetics. Charlotte Metcalfe meets Howard Murad and Erich Schulte, two doctors passionate about using science to transform our skin
Here’s a question. Out of the countless beauty products lining your bathroom shelves, how many do you use regularly? I’d say only a handful, and it’s not because I’m psychic. A survey conducted last year on behalf of Vaseline revealed that British women use, on average, only two out of every eight beauty products they own.
The amount of beauty products languishing unused in our bathroom cabinets was estimated, at the time of the survey, to be worth £964 million.
It goes to show that women perhaps are more interested in the dream of flawless, ageless beauty than in the products themselves. Interestingly, statistics show that spending on products falls after the age of 55, suggesting that this is because these women have become happier in their own skin (literally).
However, the truth may be more complex. In this age group, the emphasis has shifted towards medi-cosmetics and health rather than beauty, which – particularly in a recession – is dismissed as egotistical and time-wasting.
Jane Henderson is global president of the beauty and personal care division at Mintel, the independent leading provider of market intelligence to the beauty industry. “Doctor brands appeal to older women for three reasons,” she says. “First, there is the heritage of seeking solutions to any issue via the doctor’s surgery.
“Second, the scientific aspect makes them feel confident of the brand’s efficacy.
“And with the recession, older women are under increasing pressure to look young in the workplace with so much competition from younger women for the same jobs.”
Dr Howard Murad, pharmacist and associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, and Dr Erich Schulte, aesthetic surgeon and lecturer, are both recognised international authorities on skincare. They are at the cutting edge of a new trend that is about far more about signing up to a healthy regime than simply rubbing anti-ageing cream on to your face. Both doctors are passionate about the ability of science to transform skin.
Dr Murad has already conquered the American beauty market and his Murad product range is available at Urban Retreat in Harrods and in 200 salons and spas nationwide. His skincare method is based on the theory that you cannot look or feel young unless your cells are hydrated, and his life’s work has been about using his scientific knowledge to do that.
I quizzed him about his theory, the science of cellular water, explained in his book The Water Secret.
Dr Murad, slender and elegant in an immaculate suit, instantly recognises that I am stressed. Stress, he tells me, is a major cause of dehydration. I drink coffee while he sips green tea and I see him note my choice.
“Many women around the menopause start to feel like fat, ugly losers that no one loves any more,” he says, eying me sympathetically. I wince.
“Do you have kids?” he asks. I tell him I do and he smiles knowingly: “I bet you love buying them treats.” I nod.
“And do you ever buy treats for yourself? No, I thought not. Now is the time to treat yourself as royalty, to reframe all your negatives and to understand that the best is yet to come.”
Just as I’m on the verge of scoffing at all this as easier-said-than-done psychobabble, he starts on the science. As babies, 75 per cent of our bodies are made up of water. But by the time we’re 50, our body’s water content can be as low as 50 per cent. He explains that as we age, our cell membranes become thinner, more porous and start to leak.
Stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, bad diet and the fact that we stop producing oestrogen all accelerate this process. To rehydrate our cells we need to ‘eat our water’, consuming more raw vegetables and fruit (particularly broccoli and pomegranates) as well as (more surprisingly) eggs, walnuts and black cod.
“Water in fruits and vegetables is structured and surrounded by molecules so it gets into the cells easily and quickly,” he says.
Dr Murad has made this easier for us by sourcing hydrating, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients for his Murad Recipe (both topical and internal), to rebuild our cells’ resistance and ability to hold water.
His daily supplements and skincare include essential fatty acids, phyto-lipids, polysaccharides, glucosamine, amino acids and phosphatidylcholine for hydration, liquorice extract, Arnica and Zinc to calm systematic inflammation and antioxidant compounds derived from plants including turmeric, goji berry, pomegranate and durian that were used in traditional healing.
His Resurgence range is made for women hitting the menopause and beyond. It contains plant-based oestrogens that help inhibit facial hair growth and hormonal outbreaks.
For all the science involved, they are easy to use. You take the supplements twice a day then cleanse, exfoliate, tone, add serum and a different moisturiser for morning (with sunscreen, of course) and night.
The hard part is to stick to the ten-step plan outlined in The Water Secret. It involves all those things that a middle-aged working mother like me finds so impossible: sensible diet, relaxation, self-discovery, more exercise and, above all, finding our ‘passion’.
Dr Murad suggests making it manageable by introducing one new thing a week rather than trying to change everything at once. And I believe him enough to want to give it all a go (though I’m not sure I’ll able to find either the money or time to pursue my passion this week).
As I was bidding Dr Murad farewell, he looked at me intensely and asked, “Who’s the most important person in your life today?”
By then I knew the answer he was seeking and found myself shouting, l’Oreal-style, “I am!”, winning an enormous, affirmative grin from the ‘father of internal skincare’.
Dr Schulte is equally convinced he can provide the remedy for ageing skin, and has pioneered his medi-cosmetics brand, QMS Medicosmetics. I meet him at his flagship store in London’s Cadogan Gardens; a pristine white, turquoise-lit space that feels like a serene, strangely beautiful spaceship laboratory.
Rather like a character in a futuristic fairy tale, Dr Schulte is a jovial patriarch, working with his three smooth-skinned blonde daughters: Quirina, international managing director; Valentina, in charge of marketing; and Anisa, who manages the London spa.
In the way Dr Murad is fanatical about cellular rehydration, Dr Schulte is vehement about the benefits of collagen.
“What creams do you use?” he asks sternly. “A mixture,” I stammer, feeling his observant eyes on my skin. “You must simplify your regime,” he orders.
He explains that many products contain paraffin or mineral oils such as lanolin, which are disastrous for the skin as they simply create a surface film, blocking the pores.
Exfoliation is the doorway to good skin, because the ‘glue’ that holds our dead skin together becomes more stubborn with age and needs dissolving. Scrubbing with grains is not as effective as it’s only moving a few cells around.
Skincare technician and therapist Halima Mohamed, white-coated and enviably youthful looking, takes me down a futuristic white corridor for a skin assessment.
“Your skin is smooth and soft,” she begins, encouragingly, “but it could benefit from better elasticity. You have some sun damage, sensitivity around your nose and your neck is dry and dehydrated.”
She expands on the science and explains why QMS collagen is the answer. It transpires that almost any product can claim to have collagen in it but many have as little as 0.1 per cent, whereas Dr Schulte’s products contain 70 per cent and have been scientifically structured to infiltrate the skin’s surface.
“The collagen molecule is too large to penetrate the skin,” Halima says, “so Dr Schulte has used science to split it into three separate amino acid chains, each one small enough to penetrate the epidermis. Once beneath the skin, they regroup to form the molecule again.
“Dr Schulte makes it easy to understand by saying, ‘Imagine three English guys going to Spain on different planes but ending up in the same bar.’ That’s how our collagen works.”
Three months’ supply of exfoliant fluid plus day and night collagen will set you back £215. “Less is more,” Halima assures me, as I wince at the price. “This is pharmaceutical-grade collagen and you only need a tiny amount.”
The message is clear: put your faith in the scientists and let them split molecules and work on how to mend cell membranes on our behalf, because, as they’ll be the first to tell us, we’re worth it.