Tina S. Alster is a dermatological dynamo. The founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and clinical professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is a gorgeous 51-year-old blonde Yalie and happily married mami with a weakness for Chanel couture and caring for her patients.
I recently caught up with Alster to discuss Latina skin care and Alster’s brand new product line, SKIN IS IN, a group of six self-contained kits individually designed for children, teens, women, men, sensitive skins, and eyes. There are other fancy dermatologists’ lines out there, of course. What distinguishes Alster’s is her comprehensive approach, targeting every family member—except, perhaps, the four-legged ones—in a uncomplicated, effective way.
Even my boyfriend could follow FaceTime for Men, whose gray, black, and navy containers (women’s are hot pink and lime green; unisex kids’ are orange and red are each clearly labeled: b.Clean Cleansing Gel AM/PM 1; b.Defense SPF 30 AM/2; and b.Strong Fortifying Lotion PM/2. That’s it. That’s the entire kit. Three easy pieces. (The biggest kit has only four. I’m already thinking holiday stocking stuffers.) No fuss, no muss. Also no animal-testing, fragrances, dyes, parabens, petrochemicals, or comedogenic and allergy-causing irritants. The products are made in America, priced between $59 and $139 for a three-month supply. What’s more, Alster donates a portion of all SKIN IS IN proceeds to The Sturge-Weber Foundation, the only nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure and improving treatment for port-wine stains and birthmarks.
Before Alster and I spoke, I kicked the freshly cleansed and moisturized boyfriend out of the bathroom so I could test my stuff: iRejuvenate for Eyes (actually meant for everybody). FaceTime for Women, and d.Sensitize (my fair, normal-to-oily skin isn’t hyper-sensitive, but I do have a lot of redness around my nose and chin, and I burn in two seconds in the sun). All of the products felt clean and comforting, and my skin looked great. Not to mention I’m a sucker for bright, pretty things in the bathroom.
Mamiverse: What’s unique about Latinas’ skin?
Alster: Hispanic skin is often the hardest to treat of all skin types because it has a tendency to be more sensitive and produce extra pigment and blotchiness when it is inflamed or injured, frequently from repeated sun exposure.
Mamiverse: Is this why Your Kind is so obsessed with SPF for daytime?
Alster: Yes. I especially wanted to get the kids early to give them a running start for a lifetime ritual of good skin care because it’s very difficult later. One blistering sunburn in childhood doubles the risk of developing skin cancer. You brush your teeth twice a day, you wear a seat belt in the car, you clean and protect your skin twice a day. That means everyone. Skin is the clearing house of the body and its largest organ.
Mamiverse: What about men? Are they problematic? I mean dermatologically.
Alster: Men don’t do anything. They haven’t been told to take care of their skin from the beginning. At best, they use whatever’s lying around. By the time a man comes in to see me, he’s already got a serious problem. I spend a lot of time with each patient righting the wrongs.
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the Number One cancer in men over 50. After age 40, men spend the most time outdoors and have the highest annual exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Mamiverse: What are women’s main issues?
Alster: They don’t get the basics. They’re all-or-nothing. They confuse their own skin type and are schizophrenic about their skin care. They think they have sensitive skin, when really they have irritated skin because of what they’ve done to it. They overdo it, over-dry it, self-diagnose, and believe that because a product’s expensive it has to be good. Nothing is worth five hundred dollars! I kept my retail price low so people wouldn’t be intimidated by it. I’m just breaking even.
Mamiverse: With all the thousands of products out there, what inspired you to create SKIN IS IN?
Alster: The decision to do this was very easy: The KISS [Keep It Simple, Stupid] principle. The idea is to point people in the right direction and simplify their basic routine with a baseline of solid products. Once you’ve primed the canvas, you can add other therapeutic products like antioxidants as needed and desired. I really put all of my brain energy and everything that I know into this for a year so you don’t have to think about it. These kits take the guesswork out of these broad categories—cleansing, moisturizing, sunscreen. I figured it out for you. It’s not your job to know what you need. That’s my job.
TESTING THE CLARISONIC
Dr. Tina S. Alster’s kits don’t contain exfoliators. For deep pore cleansing and fine line refinement, she exclusively recommends the Clarisonic. You may have seen the special sonic skin brush in stores, at your dermatologist’s office, or on QVC , where the affable Dr. Robb Akridge explains its high-tech wonders. The Mexican-American scientist is co-founder and vice-president of clinical affairs for Clarisonic, whose technology is based on the Sonicare sonic toothbrush, an item I personally cannot live without.
First, some background. Check out this video on the evolution of skin care:
Akridge explains: “When we invented this product we said, ‘Okay, what’s wrong with the current products out there?’ You have to wait for them to work. No one has time. We thought, ‘We have to have this wow, out-of-the-box experience.’”
Did they ever. The Clarisonic debuted to the pros at a 2004 Philadelphia plastic surgeons’ meeting. Instant success.
“Doctors loved it because it made their jobs easier,” he says. “Chemical peels, photo dynamic surgery, laser treatments—all those things start out with clean skin.”
Really clean skin. The Clarisonic wiggles, not rotates, over 300 times a second, rapidly moving the skin in a short, tight way. It removes makeup and yucky old skin cell build-up six times better than by hand, in one minute. And because it doesn’t spin, it doesn’t catch your hair. It’s smart and crazy-good. Very gentle but completely thorough, like having a facial at home. Which is probably why spas use it during facials, and use the body brush attachment before and during body treatments like spray-tanning and polishing. At $119, with a year’s warranty and money-back guarantee for the Mia model, this is, like, the cheapest, best facial ever, and you get to have it whenever, wherever you want.
When I tested the Mia—portable, waterproof, and battery-free, you charge it for a full 24 hours first and can use it in the shower or bath—I whipped on my extremely elegant leopard Tassie hair wrap; wet my face; applied some cleanser; and let the brush, which lasts about three months before you need to replace it, do its work. Its motor is internally timed, so you can’t externally overdo it. One minute divided by four, 15-second cycles: forehead, nose and chin, one cheek, other cheek, done.
My skin looked like my nieces’, Lauren and Natalie. They’re 12.
“Latinas’ skin is very delicate,” Akridge notes. “We always do safety studies and at first some dermatologists said, ‘Oh, the Clarisonic shouldn’t be used on patients with acne, rosacea, melasma, or hyperpigmentation. And patients with those symptoms said the products they used after using the Clarisonic were working better. It’s not a medical device, and we make no such claims. But we do know that the first step to good skin is clean skin. Otherwise, topical products can’t get past the physical barriers blocking it. Once you have a clean canvas, you’re ready to go.”