Dr. Amy Wechsler, Dermatologist & Psychiatrist


"I’ve been a dermatologist for 12 years now. I knew I wanted to be a doctor probably in seventh grade. I chose Cornell for medical school because I wanted to be in New York—I did my internship in emergency medicine, then adult psychiatry, and then child psychiatry for a couple of years. When I went back to do dermatology, I studied at SUNY Downstate—it's in Brooklyn. Dermatology and psychiatry connect the most internal aspects with the most external. There are actual connections between the mind and skin—lots of them. I had horrible acne as a teenager. I remember how that felt—to wake up in the morning and not know how many pimples I was going to have. That would dictate how I would feel about myself that day. I’d often talk about having a bad skin day, which is like having a bad hair day, and how frustrating it was, how it affected my self-esteem. Then, as my skin cleared up, how much better I felt—more confident.

In my practice, I treat acne pretty aggressively because I think it’s important to clear someone’s skin up. I don’t think it’s cosmetic—I think it affects their their life in so many different ways, and it’s totally treatable. If someone has an ulcer, that individual has to deal with how it feels—no one else can see they have it. But if you have a bad breakout, psoriasis, or eczema from stress, you have to deal with how it feels to you, what it looks like to you, how other people will respond to you, how other people do respond to you... I love treating people with severe acne because it’s really rewarding to help them. When they [first] come in, they often avoid eye contact and their posture’s not great, their grooming isn’t awesome, and their life is often not going so well. As I start to help clear them up—and it’s not overnight, it takes months—I watch them stand up straight and smile and make eye contact. They start to try new things, maybe go for a job interview, or go on a date. It’s pretty awesome to watch.

After my first magazine article in 2006, my practice kind of went off from there—I did a little bit of consulting with Clinique, so I did TV around the country. I was on the Today Show and the Tyra Banks Show. I’ve been kind of a go-to person for editors, because they know I will not lie. I’m very honest and I care a lot about science and data, and I’m critical of claims that aren’t based in truth. I’m a person who won’t B.S.—I’ll always be a straight-shooter. When I first started out, if I said no to a procedure for someone, they would just go across the street. But I think at this point now, people really trust me and my recommendations. It’s all about looking natural, looking like yourself, turning the clock back on yourself—not trying to look like someone else. There are also a lot of options now, which is fun! There are injectibles, like Botox, that relax muscles and—when used properly—really rebalance the face and help treat and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. Thin fillers like Volbella are great for lines around the mouth, and then thicker ones like Voluma lift the cheek and restore volume. And there are lots of lasers that target sunspots, acne, hair removal, skin-tightening, and fat-freezing—that’s called CoolSculpting. It works really well. There are lots of ways to nuance all of that. You can be artistic in that way.

My skin is easily irritated. It can’t tolerate a lot of harsh products or a lot of manipulation. Often it gets rashy or itchy from things like fragrances, and it has to be treated super gently. I can’t just go to a random hotel and use the products—I will get a rash. I have to use fragrance-free laundry detergent. And I have to moisturize every day, twice a day. Dove Sensitive Skin Soap or Purpose Cleansing Bar are my soaps and cleansers. I've used them in high school—a long time ago—and I just now went back to them. If something works for you, no need to change it. My everyday moisturizer is Solution 10 from Chanel, which is a sensitive skin moisturizer. It’s only got 10 ingredients and is fragrance-free, with some Silver Needle Tea extract in it. I’m really into tea, and Silver Needle has got the highest concentration of active antioxidants. This is the first product I’ve worked on from scratch. Chanel has these awesome, state-of-the-art labs in France that I go to every year. For a science geek like me, I can do a lot of really good research there.

Every morning, even in the winter, I always wear sunscreen. It’s not necessary when it’s dark when I leave and it’s dark when I come back, but I’m a creature of habit and I don’t want to ever get caught off guard. I use the Chanel UV Essentiel SPF 50. It does have a little fragrance, but I don’t react to it. It has 17.1 percent zinc oxide and some octinoxate, so it’s a physical and chemical blocker—mostly physical. It’s so thin that’s cosmetically elegant. You don’t feel like you’re wearing it. It doesn’t feel greasy, it doesn’t clog pores. It’s actually sweat resistant and it’s compatible with all my other skincare. The skin is just a good barrier at keeping the good things in and the bad things out. If we absorbed any of those chemicals [in sunscreen], we’d be dead. You don’t want to eat any of those products, but it’s safe to put on your face. Some people just want an excuse to not put on sunscreen.

I don’t use masks regularly. I have nothing against masks, I just don’t have time. The only mask I can use is a hydrating mask, and occasionally I make one at home with whole milk yogurt and honey. It gently exfoliates, moisturizes, smells good, and doesn’t bother my skin. I’ll do a light chemical peel with salicylic every couple months or microdermabrasion, and that helps to exfoliate and get the dead cells off. If my skin’s particularly bad, I have a serum. I use the Chanel Hydra Beauty Micro Sérum—that one’s really great.

I didn’t know much about makeup growing up. I was such a tomboy for so long that I kind of missed the boat on that. I remember my friends making me up for fun, because I didn’t know how to do it. I started wearing eyeliner, but that was about it. Since then, I’ve gotten a few makeup lessons. My daughter is excellent at it—she’s teaching me a few things. I always do my eyes in the morning. I usually do eyeliner, a little upperlid eyeshadow, I curl my lashes and do mascara, and then I’ll do some undereye concealer. I’ll either use the Chanel Le Volume Mascara, or I like Covergirl LashBlast. My eyelashes are long but thin, so I need a mascara to make them thick without being clumpy. It literally takes me 10 seconds to put it on and it doesn’t irritate my eyes.

I’ve gotten some makeup advice from some great makeup artists over the years, and my eyes are my best feature, so I want to define them and bring them out more. To do that, I’ll do a liner on the lid margin. Then I usually use a neutral eyeshadow from the Les Beiges Healthy Glow Eyeshadow Palette in the brown/gray/taupe family, and I put on a little blush—Chanel Les Beiges Blush in No. 23. That one is rosy, not peachy—I don’t think I look good in peachy. I use a brush from Chanel…I’m so lucky! [Laughs] As long as you wash and take care of your brushes, you can keep them forever. I don’t know how to contour, but I wish I did. I’ll finish with Rouge Coco Stylo in 218. I have it in my desk at work and I have it here at home. I feel like it enhances my natural lip. It’s a little bit darker, and it’s appropriate for work. And I use Vaseline to moisturize my lips. People always say, ‘You can’t use that!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m putting it on my lips, I’m not eating it!’ And as a rule, I don't use lip plumping products. If something is plumping your lips, it's just because it's irritating your skin.

I have very fine hair, which is annoying. I kind of splurge and get my hair done a couple times a week, but it lasts for a few days so that’s good. I go to Julien Farel. Julien’s French, and most of the women who work there are French, and for some reason whenever I go to France, French hair people always understand my hair—they’re really good with fine hair. They’re able to give it some movement and some curl and it lasts. They’re so nice in that salon and really low-key. It’s not a scene at all. I get [my hair] highlighted—I do that every three months. I think it just brightens my face to have a little bit of gold around it, but I also think it gives a little bit more texture to my hair.

To style, I use Phyto’s Volumizing Spray. You put it on your wet hair before it’s blown, and gives me a little bit more volume without being sticky. To wash my hair, I use the Julien Farel Shampoo and Conditioner because it’s good and it’s easy. They cut my hair there [at the salon], and I get my nails done there too. I don’t wear polish, I just have them buffed. I’m in and out of gloves all day, so I just want them to be neat and clean.

After I shower, I moisturize my entire body. I probably don’t do my ears, but I moisturize my face, my neck with the same products. Neck down, I use body products. Right now, I’m using Cetaphil’s Restoraderm. If I don’t moisturize after I shower, my skin actually feels tight and uncomfortable. Sometimes I'll do a scrub or some microdermabrasion because afterwards your skin is like a sponge—it absorbs moisturizer really well. But I think Americans overly scrub and cleanse their skin and remove the natural oils you're supposed to have. A lot of people come to me and their skin’s irritated and when I go through what they do, they’re just over-scrubbing.

My deodorant is by Dove. Aluminium deodorant is totally safe—it does not cause cancer. This one has a light fragrance of green tea and cucumber. I don’t wear it every day because I’m not a sweat-er.

Stress also affects the skin so many ways, and it affects all of your organs. It’s not helpful to just tell people to 'relax.' If somebody tells me to relax, I yell at them, or give them a glare. [Laughs] Stress makes everything worse, for sure, but I don’t think stress causes something de novo. Like, if you’ve never had acne in your life, and if you’re not prone to acne, you probably won’t break out just because you’re stressed. You could, but probably something else would happen to you. I think being mindful and taking a look at what’s going on in your life is always so helpful. If I see a patient whose acne has been cleared, and they didn’t change anything since they started breaking out, everything is the same, then I ask, 'What’s going on in your life?' and there’s always something.

Sweating is fine for your skin. Increasing circulation in the skin is a good thing for it. When you work out, you’re creating betaendorphins, which are healing and anti-inflammatory molecules for your brain, your body, and your skin. My most important self-care things are Pilates and working with my trainer and my physical therapist. Having had 16 orthopedic surgeries in my life, Pilates has never hurt me. I’ve found something that is whole body-focused, helps with posture, and is so healthy. And I have an awesome Pilates instructor, Kevyn Zeller. And I definitely focus on getting enough sleep—I try to get 7.5 or 8 hours of sleep for sure. I can’t skip on that. It’s helps your mood, it helps to heal, it’s helps to stay young… It helps everything.

I take Vitamin D3—I eat dairy products but I take D3 because I think it’s important and to offset the sunscreen I wear every day. I also take calcium. Women really need 1000 miligrams of calcium per day and it’s hard to ingest all of that. I want to have strong bones my whole life! I take calcium in a chewable form called Adora, the dark chocolate one. I’m lactose-intolerant and there’s no lactose in that.

I think less is more with Botox and fillers, but I definitely have Botox and filler in my face. I use low doses myself. I’ll do fillers every two to three years and it lasts. A lot of what I do keeps people out of the plastic surgeon’s operating room, or is a bridge, so they can hold it off for 20 or 30 years. I’m hoping that’s the way of the future. People don’t like aging! In our heads, we’re younger than we look and when the disconnect is so big, it doesn’t feel good. And people have abused their skin so they’re aging prematurely. So if there are ways to safely turn back the clock, why not?"

—as told to ITG