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The Interview: Dr. Barbara Sturm on debunking skincare trends and creating safe anti-ageing products for every age group

Chloe Burney
10 April 2024

Dr. Barbara Sturm is a German doctor, aesthetics expert and something of a living legend in the realm of skincare. She rose to prominence in the beauty market as the inventor of the so-called "Vampire Facial" and went on to create a cult skincare brand, in which beauty giant Puig recently acquired a controlling stake.

It was back in 2002 that Dr. Sturm translated the science from her clinical research and orthopaedic practice (in which inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis were treated using the body’s own proteins and healing factors to stop the inflammatory process and help heal joint tissue) into the field of aesthetics when she created the Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment. Dubbed the Vampire Facial, the PRP treatment rejuvenates the skin using a client's own blood. It has gone on to become a widespread treatment for many dermatological conditions and was inspired by Dr. Sturm's issues with sensitive, inflamed skin.

Shortly after this, she launched her famous ‘MC1’ cream; a bespoke, plasma-based moisturiser which harnesses the power of the body’s own proteins in a skin healing formula. Then in 2014, after her aesthetic patients requested the products used during her treatments, Dr. Sturm's full anti-inflammatory collection, Molecular Cosmetics, was born.

In a candid interview, Dr. Sturm told about her quest to educate consumers on the dangers of potentially harmful active ingredients, why, amid debate about teens and tweens using inappropriate skincare, she's happy to allow her nine-year-old daughter to use her products and her plans for her brand under new majority owner Puig.

Can you tell us about your background and what led you into the world of skincare?

I'm a medical doctor, I studied medicine and sports and later went on to the orthopaedic science. I worked with scientists from Pittsburgh and Harvard, and I helped develop pioneering treatments. We took proteins from blood and processed them in a certain way to create anti-inflammatory proteins and re-inject those into the joints to reduce inflammation and minimise the ageing process. So inflammation and ageing go very closely together.

I then translated this knowledge into the skin in 2002 and developed something you now know as the Vampire Facial or PRP. Around that time, I had very problematic skin myself. I had to go see my facialist every three weeks to clean out my face from the blackheads and was super annoying. I tried every product on the market and nothing would help me.

When you have a scientific approach, you don't accept just what's on the market. I created something new, which is more valuable and works on a molecular level - the Face Cream. I developed it with my pharmacist and used my body’s anti-inflammatory proteins. It changed my skin overnight. All my patients got hooked on that cream and they began to ask for more and more products.

Dr. Barbara Sturm is all about ‘molecular cosmetics’. Can you explain why this science is cutting-edge and how it’s different to other products available in the market?

We’re working against the ageing process on a cellular level and that's what molecular means. Every product you try from us you will love because how we formulate products is so different to what's out there.

You have garnered a cult following since launching the line in 2014. What are your best-selling products and why do you think these fly off the shelf?

I think the Hyaluronic Serum or the super anti-ageing franchise is exceptional. There are so many different products which made it onto the bestseller list, such as the Glow Drops I created in 2018. It's such a great product, it creates beautiful glowy skin while taking down inflammation.

What would you say is your clients’ number one skincare concern?

I’ve always been a doctor first and I listen to my patients. Whatever they tell me what their concerns are, I make products for them. When they told me, "Oh my gosh, what do I do with all my pigmentation?" I created a brightening line and a darker skin tone line. I always start with anti-ageing because this is an anti-inflammatory approach. But, you know, acne is also a big topic.

Why did you decide to expand into the UK? 

When I was a young doctor, I registered with the GMC and had patients in London. I had some famous patients over here, so I was in London regularly. I first launched my brand with Net-a-Porter and then Harrods called me. So London has always been one of the main places for my work.

You currently have one Dr. Barbara Sturm Boutique and Spa in Mayfair. Are you planning to expand further in the UK?

We opened right at the end of Covid and it was so great. We're always looking into where to gravitate towards. I also did a tour with Space NK and we toured stores all over the UK, so it was nice learning about the country and other cities just not just London.

How does the skincare range complement services at your spas?

As a doctor administering Botox, fillers and PRP, I always wanted to take care of the skin inside and out. Inside I do this through supplements, then in deeper layers with injections and then more superficial layers with mesotherapy. Then, on an even more superficial layer, we do this with facials.

Our spas also give us a chance to explain how you use the products to the patient. Especially when we began launching more and more products and it became quite confusing on how and when to use them.

Teens using skincare products designed for mature skin is a hot topic at the moment. Can you tell us about your kids and teen ranges?

The way I look at anti-ageing comes from an anti-inflammatory background, which is safe for every age group. You don’t need anti-ageing products from 10 years old, but mine definitely cannot harm the skin.

My nine-year-old Pepper uses the Super Anti-Ageing Serum and I'm cool with it because it's anti-inflammatory – rather than harming the skin it does the opposite. I don't mind if my kid already gets telomerase activation, I don't mind if my kid already gets intense hydration. Calming the skin is great whether you’re a nine-year-old kid or a 75-year-old grandma.

The industry unfortunately plays with harming the skin to regrow and that whole aspect in skincare I don't agree with it at all.

Pepper is obsessed with skincare and all her friends are obsessed with skincare. I explain everything to them and save them from making these mistakes. But some kids get presents from brands which are harsher on their skin, then the mothers call me that they have a rash and we have to fix it. It's like a constant emergency in that age group and I'm very dedicated to making a difference here.

Dr. Barbara Sturm and her daughter Charly Sturm

So are there any everyday ingredients that you see these brands using that you think are unnecessary and harmful?

These kids use retinol, they use glycolic. It's horrible! It's causing inflammation and disrupts your skin barrier. Essentially, it destroys the skin! These ingredients burn the skin and cause a broken skin barrier resulting in sensitivity, dryness and breakouts.

This industry has to change quite a bit. People forget that the skin is an organ and when you harm your skin, you’re causing damage to your body. It's not a joke. Your skin corresponds with the immune system. So when a product says don't use it when you're pregnant, don't use it at all! The industry is irritating me.

You've just launched the Every Eye Patches, can you tell us about this new innovative product?

My children are obsessed with eye patches. So when we decided to launch our own [Dr. Sturm's daughter] Charly was heavily involved in product development. They're amazing. Me, my brothers and everybody's obsessed with them now because they make the most glowing, beautiful skin.

In the past, I've veered away from patches and sheet masks because they're single-use and bad for the planet. But also, they're not occlusive, so you don't get the benefits of pressing ingredients into the skin.

Our Eye Patches are super occlusive and biodegradable. They have a 360-degree approach to all problems around the eye, whether it's dark circles, puffiness, or fine lines. I mean, they will work on everything and the feedback we have is unbelievable.

Are there any more upcoming launches or exciting collaborations on the horizon for Dr. Barbara Sturm that you can reveal?

There are two more launches this year, which we’re all obsessed with. It's a very strong year for us.

I’m also always working on scientific things as well. I'm looking into anti-inflammatory science not just for the skin, but for all over the body.

You’ll see more, especially on the education from us. I want to give people the power to understand and have the knowledge to make better choices. I want people to think about what they're using and what it does to their skin.

In January of this year, Puig acquired a majority stake in Dr. Barbara Sturm the brand. What are your long-term plans and will you be staying on?

I'm honoured that I partnered with such amazing people. Everyone at the company is so excellent, professional and smart. As you know Dr. Barbara Sturm is my name and my legacy so I will be watching over the products and will keep developing the science. But now, I don't have to watch over finance, operations and HR. That’s not my cup of tea.

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