“My parents and sisters are from Lebanon. I was the only one in my family born here because of the war. So, I was raised in DC, and I went to French school—that's why my accent's all messed up. It was important to my mom that we knew our identity, our roots, and to not be completely transformed [by living in the US]. That’s why we went to a French school, because French is spoken in Lebanon. Everyone says DC is so political, but I never felt it. And when it came to growing up there, my parents told me to never depend on anyone, and to have a profession in case a war happened, so I could pick it back up wherever I needed to move to. Literally, that's what happened to my dad. He came here with just his diploma, and that's how we survived.
After high school I got accepted into a seven year BA/MD honors program at GW [George Washington University]. It was three years of undergrad followed by four years of med school, and I graduated a year early, so I was really young. I applied thinking I would go into plastic surgery. I would sculpt at home, and I would paint, so I always thought plastics would be it for me. But then, I fell into dermatology. My sister has eczema, and one summer while I was still in undergrad, I went with her to the dermatologist. I thought dermatology was just like pimples or whatever, and I remember going into the office and seeing all the different procedures and I fell in love with it. With dermatology, you can keep the identity of the person intact, where in plastics people want to transform. It was just a better fit for my personality, and for what I wanted to do.
I got married during my last year of residency. I met my husband—actually, he had been cold-messaging me on Facebook for years. He was living in London, and I was in Boston at the time, and I had just gone through a bad breakup and wanted to vent. I thought, ‘I'm going to vent to a stranger. I'll never meet him and I'll feel so much better.’ So we started talking that way for two months over Facebook and Gchat. And then we started talking on the phone, and then after two months I said, ‘This is getting weird because I feel like something is happening here, but what if we don't have any chemistry when we meet?’ And he went, 'OK, I'll come on Friday.' So he came in from London and we hit it off. He would visit on the weekends, and I'd be working hard during the week, so it actually ended up working perfectly. We got engaged long-distance, and then married long-distance, and then he moved to New York for me.
I was working out of Long Island when I first moved to New York. I ended up meeting a drug rep who forwarded my CV to Dr. [Patricia] Wexler, and because she had already heard about me through another doctor, she reached out. So that's how I ended up working under her for a couple of years. Through Pat, I really learned how to fine tune my eye and enhance people’s natural beauty. Then I left to join Union Square Laser Dermatology, where I've been for the last two years.
When people come to me, they usually come saying, 'Please fix my face.' Or they say, 'This one line really bothers me...' I always have to take a mirror and ask if they can see whatever is bothering them from a distance. We talk through it—why they look tired, why something makes them feel tired. That's how I start all my interactions.
Half my day is educating patients. That's why I started #PillowTalkDerm, because I was repeating myself over and over. When I talk about aging, I always say there are five main things you look at: lines, volume loss, color of your skin, elasticity, and your bone structure. I can't do jack shit for your bone structure—look at your mom and dad, that's probably how it's going to go. You have to make more of an investment early on. When done correctly, the combination of threads and fillers can really do a beautiful job. I have no problem saying no to patients who ask for treatments I don’t think are necessary. I'd rather sleep with a clear mind. I view what I do as a long-term relationship—I can’t take you off course from the get-go.
Because I like my work, I treat myself when it comes to Botox and fillers. Not trying to sound like a narcissist, but it's the truth. I tell my patients to look at their doctor and the office staff, because that's the aesthetic they're going to get. I try to maintain the most natural and refreshed approach. I know I'm going to sag and get more brown spots as I get older, but I just try to stay on top of it in a healthy way. I don't treat myself more than once or twice a year. I don't want to go overboard, and I don't want to look like a wax figurine—a lot of people look like wax figurines. I do Botox on my forehead because I used to have a line between my eyebrows from studying. I focus on tightening up my jawline with fillers. And then ever-so-lightly, to give my cheekbones more definition, I do fillers there, too.
I do a tightening treatment called Ultherapy once every two to three years. It's the only treatment I can't do on myself because it's too painful. It's an ultrasound heat device, and I figure if I keep my skin firmer over time, it’s less likely to sag. I have rosacea, and maybe two, three times a year, I'll treat the broken capillaries I have on my nose and my cheeks with a vascular laser. And I have pigmentation issues because I used to burn, so I try to do an IPL once a year—it’s a light Fraxel.
Facials are a beautiful adjunct, and go for them if they relax you, but I haven't had a facial in 14 years.
I never sleep with my makeup on. My favorite cleansers are from Cerave and Cetaphil, and the milkiest one I own is from Natura Bissé, the All-In-One Cleanser. I love glycolic acid—it's not irritating for me, and it leaves my skin feeling much more fresh. Right now I do Peter Thomas Roth’s 20-percent once a week. After I exfoliate at night, I usually use a serum—usually a vitamin C. I use Skinceutical's CE Ferulic, and Drunk Elephant also has a nice one, C-Firma. And then L'Oréal has the Revitalift vitamin C. I use that one in the morning because it acts as a great primer before makeup. I know people are into hyaluronic acid, but I've seen it cause inflammation in a lot of patients, so I don't really use that.
My hormones are going nutso because I’m pregnant right now. I’m doing everything I can to suppress [hyperpigmentation] in a healthy way, so after my vitamin C serum at night I use SkinMedica Lytera 2.0, which has tranexamic acid to help break down pigment. Because I can't use any retinol or tretinoin, I use things with peptides to help build collagen. I either use Defenage, which has a retinol alternative. I top that off with Embryolisse moisturizer and then I go to sleep. I use the Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour if I feel like I need more. If I'm really dry, I'll use Skin Food. It works well for me because I'm not oily. It all sounds like a lot, but it takes me three minutes.
Mornings are much easier. I wash my face in the shower with just water, use the L'Oréal vitamin C, and moisturize with Embryolisse. Then, sunscreen. I like physical blockers—things with zinc or titanium. They’re less irritating for me, and they don’t make my eyes red. Skinceuticals is a nice light one if I'm not spending too much time outside. If I'm spending more time outside, then I'll use one by Colorescience. Elta MD has a nice one, too. Those are the three that I play with, and I keep the brush sunscreen from Colorescience in my bag. Chemical sunscreens definitely work, but you have to wait 30 minutes after you apply them, and I have no patience. Also, zinc is an anti-inflammatory, so if you have rosacea-prone tendencies, it helps to suppress that inflammation. It's a total win in my book.
When I splurge, I use La Prairie’s Absolute Filler. It's expensive, but you need literally one pump for your face, and it will last you six months. It's the most amazing moisturizer, and they have an overnight mask that I'm equally obsessed with. I mask once a week. It's a thing where if the baby's finally asleep, and if I'm not doing Pillow Talk, I think to do a mask. I'll do sheet masks [specifically] for Instagram because they're fun, but other than that I don’t use those.
I occasionally might use a little clindamycin if I have a blemish. Or I use the Cosrx hydrocolloid patches. My eye cream is from Neocutis, because it has caffeine—I put that in the fridge and it helps to depuff. I use the Ole Henriksen banana cream as well. And I also love Nia 24, because it has that white sheen. You have naturally lighter skin under your eyes—that's why your eyes pop—and that cream gives off that luminescence.
We live in a time where people are force-fed this notion that you need to get [facials] to get good skin. And people are going bankrupt in the process! Facials are a beautiful adjunct, and go for them if they relax you, but I haven't had a facial in 14 years. I respect aestheticians so much, but I do not think that you should be dependent on them for good skin. The same goes for dermatologists. I send my patients to get facials if they have an event, or if they need to get their pores unclogged, but I think people should be empowered with the knowledge on how to take care of their own skin instead.
My eyebrows are an illusion—they're not real—so my favorite thing is the Kevyn Aucoin Precision Brow Pencil. I also use a little bit of concealer from Nars. I put on Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturizer, and sometimes I'll use Hourglass foundation on my sun spots for extra coverage. That's pretty much all I do. Recently I've been turned onto Cloud Paint in Puff, just to get a little bit of color. I also love Gucci Westman’s highlighter because there's no color to it. It's a balm and it gives you an inner radiance—it's amazing. If I'm going out I'll use Stila’s highlighter in Kitten, and I'll use it on my eyelids as well. I use Yves Saint Laurent’s eyeliner every day for my cat eye—I literally stamp it on. And then I never go a day without mascara. Roller Lash gives the effect that you have crazy lashes. Oh, and sometimes I use Hoola bronzer in Light as an eyeshadow if I'm going out. I accentuate my eyes, always.
BODY + HAIR
I love Mustela body lotion even when I'm not pregnant. It's so easy and it dries quickly. Another one I like is the one by Avène. For my body, my biggest indulgence is probably getting a foot massage. There's this place on 8th Street that's amazing—Four Seasons. It's not the hotel, but it's the best place ever!
For hair, I'm pretty low maintenance. I get highlights or lowlights—I don't even know what I get. I go to Laurie Daniels at Marie Robinson, and she's amazing. I say do whatever you want, just keep it natural. I try to go once every two or three months. I don't want more maintenance than that. I use this purple shampoo that she tells me to use and Kerastase's oil every once in a while on the tips. Recently, my friend who's a model put me on to this Revlon cream spray, which is a leave-in conditioner that I use on my tips—it makes them so much softer.
My fragrance is Diptyque’s Eau des sens. It smells like laundry. It's fresh and not overpowering. I spritz it and walk through, and patients always comment that I smell so clean. I'm like, ‘Thanks! But I also take a shower every day' [laughs]!"
—as told to ITG
Shereene Idriss photographed by Tom Newton in New York on July 22, 2019.