At the mere mention of retinoids, Dr Barbara Sturm is aghast, her crystal blue eyes wide with disappointment. During a virtual event ahead of the June 8 launch of Dr Barbara Sturm products on Global Store on Nykaa’s mobile app, the internationally-acclaimed inflammatory doctor and skin specialist tells a virtual room of influencers and journalists that retinol is actually inflammatory and can do more harm than help. She does not beat around the bush when it comes to the urgent matter of skincare.
“Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” she orders with a laugh, as she sits in her minimalist yet uber-modern home in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The 49-year-old disruptor shot to fame as the doctor who helped save late NBA champion Kobe Bryant’s injured knee in a treatment that was known as ‘Kobe Procedure’. A deep appreciator of Ayurveda, Dr Sturm tells The HinduWeekend in an email interview that her love for skincare and holistic beauty comes from — like most people — her mother, who was a chemist, and her grandmother, who was a pharmacist.
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“They both loved milk baths and dry brushing, and would always mix creams for us as children; we would often go into the forest during my childhood and pick medicinal herbs and roots. They helped me with ingredient science and formulations, and are hugely inspirational to me,” she recalls. “I was taught early on to use nature and ingredients found in nature for their healing properties and always to treat the skin gently. This is something that is deeply rooted in my skincare philosophy and skincare line.”
- The Dr Barbara Sturm launch on the Nykaa Global Store is one success among many for Nykaa CEO & Founder Falguni Nayar. The platform already has big names such as Evolve, Rodial and Cosmedix, showcasing the shifting demands for luxury beauty. “We show brands the opportunity that India presents as a fast-growth, evolving market and spend considerable time and effort to assist them in bringing operations to the country. Seeing the overwhelming response we receive around these brands upon launch, we continue to work to build further access for the Indian consumer,” says Nayar, adding, “Beauty is not an open market and brands require registrations to operate in India. The Global Store creates an opportunity for brands to test the market and build a customer base, before entering directly.”
She shares that she merges science and spirituality, and it shows in quotidian routines, such as drinking warm water upon waking up and tongue scraping, and it also reflects in some of her products which have purslane in them.
Science of ingredients
But the framework of Dr Sturm’s Germany-made line sits in that sweet spot between nature and science. To this day, she does not understand why marketing-based skincare even exists, adding, “Advanced ingredient science is what I build my skincare solutions around — potent, key ingredients that have been widely, clinically studied for their properties and efficacy. Skin has both overlapping and unique needs, and requires science and results-driven skincare to be healthy, functioning, but also look good.”
That is why she has created so many ‘white T-shirt’ products such as the Hyaluronic Serum (₹10,660), Sun Drops SPF 30 (₹5,050), Brightening Face Cream (₹17,950), and Face Cream Rich (₹17,950) — all in her trademark sand-blasted glass bottles and tubs. A busy mom, she also has a well-received Baby & Kids line. One of her more novel and pandemic-ready inventions is her reusable Nano Silver Mask that both protects and cares for the skin (price TBC).
She is also known for her Darker Skin Tones products that aim to even out and brighten rather than lighten the skin of melanin-active Indian consumers. Dr Sturm’s products are also geared towards women’s needs, such as her V Collection specifically for intimate skin care, and her pregnancy-safe line which has been lauded by American actor-dancer Jenna Dewan and model Ashley Graham.
Yes, the products are pricey. But she says such price tags on skincare are attributed to their development and ingredient concentrations, and she knows the Indian market is aware of this. She explains, “It is inevitably going to be ‘luxury’ because it is so expensive to make it that way. I do think people are beginning to appreciate and understand that process. But, at the same time, I think about how to democratise and bring great skincare to more people. I will do something about it soon.”
The great equaliser
The skincare luminary has worked with some famous faces such as Jennifer Lopez, Venus Williams and Kim Kardashian, people who are under the gun to constantly look perfect. But Dr Sturm deems says skin health is an equaliser for her. “Skin is skin,” she insists, “there is no difference between a celebrity’s skin and yours. My fundamental advise never changes: protect and boost your skin barrier function, provide it with essential nutrition and hydration, and combat inflammation with skincare ingredient science. Avoid make-up, irritating and aggressive ingredients, acid peels and lasers. Heal and protect your skin and it will glow.”
But the coronavirus pandemic hit the beauty and skincare industry hard, and Dr Sturm found she and her teams had to pivot hard to a new normal. “For every business, the pandemic necessitated change and creativity in serving customers,” she shares. “For me, it caused an emergency acceleration [product development, expansion, etcetera] of the things that I intended to carry out anyway at my company to improve the customer experience. We all had to do our part. As a doctor, I wanted to provide education and information, and to talk with people about self-care, of both their skin and their overall health.”
One of the more popular ventures is Skin School, a series of free-to-attend, monthly live digital classes via Eventbrite focussing on the needs of young adult and teen skin; the series features celebrities such as model Hailey Baldwin, actor Colton Haynes, Nigerian singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage, and fashion designer Harris Reed. Full episodes can be seen on her YouTube Channel . A few of these sessions address cautionary truths against the TikTok-generation of ‘skincare experts’, overuse of SPF and, of course, retinoid consumption.
Dr. Barbara Sturm’s products will be available only on the Global Store on Nykaa’s mobile app