The health food café Kreation, Beverly Hills, is a fitting spot to meet the ‘Superderm’ Dr Barbara Sturm. Alongside the green juices and fermented teas is a fridge full of ‘syringe shots’ – plastic pipettes of concoctions with names such as ‘Beautify’, ‘Antidote’ and ‘Emerg-jui-C’. Dr Sturm has been known to wield a needle over some of the biggest names in Hollywood. However, unlike most aesthetic doctors in this town, it’s not likely to be Botox or fillers in her syringe. Dr Sturm wants your blood. Yes, really.
Any images of a modern-day Dracula or even a scary lab-coated scientist are blown away when Sturm arrives. She may have created the vampire facial – the scary-looking treatment loved by Kim Kardashian West, who famously posted pictures of her blood-smeared face on Instagram – but Dr Barbara is petite and chic in a striped blue and white linen shirt, white jeans with bright pink Versace sunglasses pushed back in a shock of platinum blonde crop. “Everyone says ‘Oh my gosh, you did the vampire facial that’s so crazy!’ and I’m like ‘Whatever, yes!’,” Barbara jokes, in her matter-of-fact German accent, rolling her eyes and waving her hand dismissively. “I’m a scientist. All I care about is the cells and the formulations of my products and the ingredients.”
It was while working as an orthopaedic surgeon that Barbara pioneered the Kobe Procedure, where plasma from a patient’s own blood cells are injected into joints to reduce inflammation and jumpstart the healing process. In 2003 – faced with her own skin problems and struggling to find a good moisturiser – she whipped the plasma from her own blood to make herself a face cream, and her cult moisturiser MC1 and the vampire facial were born.
While appointments at Dr Sturm’s clinics around the world have month-long waiting lists, and a tub of your own customised blood cream will set you back $1,400, her skincare range – Molecular Cosmetics – is an affordable way to get the Sturm look. Her products are loved by famously-glowing faces including Kate Moss, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Angela Bassett, Irina Shayk and Lily Aldridge, and she recently added supplements to the range. But unlike a lot of anti-ageing vitamins, Skin Food and Repair Food fight inflammation on a molecular level thanks to purslane,
a superfood compound which activates the body’s ‘youth enzymes’. “Kim Kardashian is obsessed with them,” says Barbara. “She calls them her secret weapon. Every cell has a shelf life because the ends of the chromosomes get shorter with every cell division, so the purslane stops the chromosomes getting shorter.”
This month, she will launch a line of products for children and babies, developed after trying to find natural, non-toxic products to use on her own daughter, Pepper. “When Pepper was born in 2014, I was like ‘What do I use on her? I don’t trust anything!’ Everything out there was scented and I looked at the ingredients and I didn’t like it,” she says. “So I thought I’ll do my own little line just to use on her, but all my friends who have children were like ‘Oh I want those products’ so it made sense to do a line. Everyone said, ‘It’s not right for the brand, you’re for adults,’ but I wanted to do it so bad that at one point I just put my foot down and said ‘You know what, this will be huge!’ So I’m very excited for it.”
It’s a story that reveals the steely determination behind Barbara’s bubbly, sunny exterior. She was four, growing up in the forest near Eisenach in central Germany, when she decided to become a doctor. “I wanted to become a paediatrician, and went to medical school. But after I had my daughter at 23, I thought no way can I do kids’ stuff,” she recalls. “I went into orthopedics and I thought it was pretty cool. You have happy patients and you can help them with the pain. But I was always interested in aesthetics. I worked my ass off from very young. I was a single mother. I left my husband when I was 27. I didn’t have money – I was studying medicine. But I also thought ‘I’m learning something. I will be a doctor. I will be able to take care of my kid so I can go and leave my husband, I’ll be fine.’ I was always this optimistic person who thought ‘It will be okay’.”
When she’s not jetting around the world seeing patients, Barbara lives in Dusseldorf with her second husband Adam, a lawyer “he’s the smartest person I know” (he also uses all her products), and her daughter Pepper, now three. Her elder daughter Charlie is 23, and studying in Munich. This month she will travel to Dubai to introduce Molecular Cosmetics to the Middle East. “I was actually treating a member of the royal family for orthopedic stuff; it’s about time we launched there. I’ve sent the products to Huda Kattan and I know people are excited.”
Clients from the Middle East typically have different aesthetic goals to those from other markets. “For sure, the mentality is different. I just came from Australia – super-natural, healthy people. And then a busy city like London or New York it’s a different lifestyle and that’s reflected in the work they want. I see most of my Middle Eastern clients in London. But everyone wants to have beautiful skin. They want a healthy glow they don’t want to hide behind make-up. Everyone wants a clean face without break-outs.”
Barbara is one of a new generation of cosmetic doctors who are moving away from the mysteriously smooth brows and puffy ‘hamster cheeks’ towards the non-invasive and the natural. “I like to educate my patients; steer them away from certain types of products like lasers and peels,” she says. “These weaken your skin barrier functions. I believe in healing the cells and keeping the cells from dying. Your skin needs to be intact to protect from sun and pollution. It’s not just a beauty device it’s also an organ.” To that end she often refuses to meet certain client’s over-zealous demands. “I like natural-looking people, I don’t want to change people’s faces,” she says. “Some people want a certain look, like someone they’ve seen on Instagram. Look around you, everyone looks like Kim Kardashian. They’re all changing their faces and it’s so weird.”
Her own skincare regime is very simple. “I mostly wash my face with water or if I’ve worn make-up, then I use my cleanser,”she says. “I use my serum and moisturiser and that’s it. Then my sun drops if I’m going in the sun, and my mask. I need simple.” The facemask she refers to, she just happens to have made with Cher in her kitchen. “It’s an aloe vera and clay mask which we made fresh in the clinic every day, but I wanted something in a jar for people to use at home. I was with Cher in her kitchen and we tried it out together, and it gave baby soft skin. It’s a super-cool mask.” Barbara is clearly a stickler for detail – creating her new lip balm took three years and 31 samples. “I have to be obsessed with every product, otherwise I won’t do it,” she says. “My motivation is never let’s make money, it’s always do I believe in it? Does it work? The big cosmetic companies don’t give a s*** about people’s skin they just want to make money.”
Both her appearance and her child-like manner make Barbara seem years shy of 46, but I ask her if she feels pressure to look a certain way now that she’s the face of her brand. “That’s a very good question – Pepper took a picture of me yesterday and I look horrifying,” she laughs, getting out her phone to show me said snap. “I didn’t delete it but I look so old. I should probably do some injections on myself!” And with that she’s off to meet a celebrity client. “We pushed him back 20 minutes already so I have to go…” she says apologetically. She leaves us, with our syringes of juice, to wonder who it might be. And when I can book myself in for my own Sturm session.
Dr Barbara Sturm will be on the pannel at Harper's Bazaar Arabia's Be Beautiful seminar on Sunday 13 May. You can watch the event live on our Instagram stories.