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11 secrets to perfect skin we learned from Dr. Barbara Sturm, the creator of ‘vampire facials’

With a loyal celebrity following including the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Cher, Kate Moss and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Dr. Barbara Sturm is perhaps best known and credited for the groundbreaking (and gory) Platelet-Rich Plasma facial treatment she developed over 17 years ago. It was later dubbed the “vampire facial,” so-named for its use of the client’s own extracted blood.


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Before Sturm became a household name in the West for her blood treatments, however, her career was in orthopaedics; during that time, she helped develop a similar PRP treatment targeting joint inflammation, later used to successfully treat Kobe Bryant’s knee injury. It’s often still referred to as the “Kobe procedure.”

After developing the vampire facial, Sturm also developed a US$1,400 “Blood Cream,” which infuses the client’s own blood into a bespoke healing concoction. For those who would prefer not to get their blood drawn — or travel all the way to Düsseldorf for the privilege — Sturm finally created Molecular Cosmetics, her line of non-surgical anti-ageing skincare that has quickly become all the rage in Hollywood and beyond.

During a private media masterclass at Joyce Beauty, which recently debuted a Dr. Barbara Sturm beauty counter exclusively in Hong Kong, Sturm told us, “If you only wanted one product, just take the cream.” It was the first product she ever created. But the authoritative-looking, all-white range boasts attractive, clean minimalism with maximalist results — we couldn’t help but covet them all.

The Molecular Cosmetics line contains no harmful ingredients, mineral oils or fragrances, and they’re non-toxic and mostly vegan (one exception is a beeswax-based lip balm). The brand also makes it a point to never test on animals. As Sturm took us through her bestselling products, she also shared a few skin secrets with us — from lifestyle changes to how to best use her products. Here are 11 things we learned from our conversation.


Inflammation is the root of all evil (when it comes to skin)

Dr. Barbara Sturm - tourquinet

Dr. Sturm’s skincare line was built on the M.O. of combating inflammation. “Inflammation causes everything — every disease regarding the skin, every breakout; redness, irritation, ageing. We die eventually because of inflammation. The number one goal is to take the inflammation out of our skin — it’s definitely the best anti-ageing effect you can have. We can do this with products, we can also do it by not using certain products that cause inflammation. We can also do it with our lifestyle — getting enough sleep, no stress (or positive stress), eating a certain anti-inflammatory diet, watching out for sun and pollution.”


Purslane, an ancient gift from nature

Dr. Barbara Sturm - purslane
Image credit: H. Alexander Talbot/Flickr

Dr. Sturm’s skincare line started with her bestselling cream, which she soon expanded to include cleansers and serums in response to her patients’ demands. “I couldn’t recommend any product because I liked nothing else on the market. So I started a little line for my patients, meaning cleanser, a facial scrub, creams for people who couldn’t come to have their blood drawn. Of course, I couldn’t put blood in the mass product cream, so I had to come up with a new scientific approach. I found this herb called purslane, used since ancient times for wound healing.”

“It’s very anti-inflammatory, it’s an antioxidant, it has beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a telomere activator, which I am very excited about, because telomere activation means that you keep your cells from dying,” she explains. Cell death is what causes ageing, but telomere-activation keeps those cells alive. ”This herb became the hero ingredient for all of our products, in a very substantial concentration.”


Cleanse gently

Dr. Barbara Sturm - cleanser

It’s almost a given these days, but you need to cleanse your skin without stripping your natural moisture barrier or upsetting its natural balance. The right cleanser for your skin is especially important as we live in a packed city — you want something that will get rid of pollution effectively. Dr. Sturm’s daily skincare routine starts with her Foaming Cleanser (HK$500 from Joyce Beauty) both in the morning and evening. “Are you sometimes afraid to dry out your skin with the cleanser? This cleansing foam has aloe vera, it has urea, it’s super hydrating, and it gets all the makeup off,” she says. When removing makeup, Dr. Sturm recommends washing twice.


Exfoliate just as softly

Dr. Barbara Sturm - enzyme cleanser

You might already have a scrub in your arsenal, but that only works to scrape off already loosened dead skin cells at the top layer of skin. For those who want an extra-gentle way to slough off dead skin cells and dirt, an enzyme cleanser does the job by gobbling up all the residue. Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Enzyme Cleanser (HK$550) can be used twice a week. A powder activated with water, it contains subtilisin and lipase — Subtilisin breaks down proteins and lipase breaks down fats. “Cells have a protein component and a lipid component, so you need these two enzymes to actively take everything off,” she says.


Hydration is a prerequisite for skin nourishment

Dr. Barbara Sturm - cream

We all know the importance of keeping our skin hydrated to maintain a fresh and smooth texture, but it’s really just the first of a few important steps towards healthy skin. Dr. Sturm says, “skin cells can take on active ingredients only in its hydrated form. I always compare skin cells with grapes and raisins. If the cell is like a grape, beautifully hydrated, it has those osmosis canals where active ingredients can get transported into the cell core. But if you have like a raisin as a cell, those osmosis canals are not functioning. So it’s important to hydrate our skin. Also of course, give our skin nutrition because our skin also needs to be fed!”

Dr. Sturm’s very first product from her Molecular Cosmetics line was her Face Cream (HK$1,500), which not only hydrates, but also has ingredients that promote skin regeneration, stimulate collagen production, and are packed with antioxidants to boost telomerase. “When you have dry skin, you get blackheads, you get all these problems with your skin, and this is the ultimate hydrator. This is something I would not leave my house without.”


Get Cher’s glow with regular (and the right) masking technique

Dr. Barbara Sturm - mask

For an extra boost of hydration and firmness, the Face Mask (HK$1,300) also offers a potent dose of hydration. It uses Kaolin clay and aloe vera, ingredients Sturm claims helped give Cher her ageless glow. The story goes that Dr. Sturm developed this product based on the fresh aloe vera mask she makes for Cher at her clinic in Düsseldorf. Testing product samples together in Malibu, Sturm began to absent-mindedly rub off the mask with her fingers, revealing baby-soft skin underneath. “It wasn’t designed to do so, but I peeled it off, it came off like little worms. I was freaking out, saying ‘that’s our mask! That’s our mask!’” Dr. Sturm recommends leaving the mask on for 15–20 minutes until it’s dry before rubbing off, rather than rinsing, which makes it convenient for travel: “Now that I travel I almost use it every day.” She adds, “Another tip for you all in Hong Kong, especially when you wear décolleté dresses: Apply the mask on your face, your neck, décolleté, arms — do the whole routine everywhere. You’ll have the most insane glowy skin.”


Use top-quality hyaluronic acid

Dr. Barbara Sturm - hyaluronic

Chances are you already have a few skincare products containing hyaluronic acid, but Dr. Barbara Sturm’s products contain arguably the best in the world. You’ll find it in the Balancing Toner (HK$570; use right after cleansing to regulate the pH of your skin and help it take on active ingredients), and of course, the famous Hyaluronic Serum (HK$2,600) or the 7-day Hyaluronic Ampoules (HK$1,500).

“I always wanted to have a hyaluronic serum because that’s what I was injecting into the skin [for my patients].” Dr. Sturm boasts the highest concentration of the stuff possible in each drop, adopting a mix of short- and long-chain molecules. “Short-chain molecules to go into deep skin layers, and then long-chain molecules sit on the top of the skin layers, so they feed the cells from above and from underneath. They hydrate your skin cells, but they also restore your hyaluronic acid depots, in the layer where all the collagen and elastin is. This layer is the one that needs the hyaluronic acid there to keep it all puffy and stable. This is a must-have in the skincare routine, the one you should use definitely morning and night.”


Step away from the glycolic acid and retinol

Dr. Barbara Sturm

Don’t forget that your skin is an organ — whatever you put on it will penetrate into your system. Dr. Sturm particularly heats up about acid peels and harsh chemicals in skincare: “I get asked a lot from pregnant women — ‘Can I use this? Is it safe to use in pregnancy?’ — I don’t even understand how you can produce products which are not safe in pregnancy! Whatever you can’t use when you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t use anyway when you’re not pregnant! So let’s be nice to our skin — why would you want to hurt yourselves?” She adds, “When people do acid peels, acid peels make your skin super waxy and shiny and it’s mistaken for glowiness, but the shininess is basically raw skin. When you put something on your skin and it hurts, just wash it right off.”


Sunscreen is important… to an extent

Dr. Barbara Sturm

Dermatologists will proclaim from the mountaintops that SPF is essential if we’re trying to prevent skin ageing and destruction. Dr. Sturm agrees… to an extent. If you regularly use acid peels, lasers or other treatments that render your skin delicate and sensitive, you do need the extra protection from the sun. Those that swear by acid peels for hyperpigmentation issues may find themselves in vicious cycles. “You take off all your healthy skin layers, your skin is raw, vulnerable, and doesn’t have any protection anymore, then you invite the sun back in. Then they tell you put SPF 50 on because you will destroy your skin if you go in the sun. That’s correct. But if you keep your skin in a healthy shape and strengthen your skin barrier function, then yeah, go outside and get some sun — you do need certain amounts of sun for your vitamin D production because [if you don’t], you will get osteoporosis, and all these problems with your bones later on.”

Dr. Sturm adds that sunscreen, particularly when it’s included in a moisturiser, actually destroys the active ingredients within the formula. “That’s why I’ve created the Sun Drops (HK$1,100) so that we can use and mix it in your cream, on in your hyaluronic serum, whatever you want, and you put it on your skin right before you go in the sun. This way, you don’t wear it all day long when you’re inside. Give your skin freedom to also produce vitamin D!”


The danger of digital light is real

Dr. Barbara Sturm

Just as the sun can be damaging to vulnerable skin when we’re outside, we’re not entirely safe indoors either, where people are spending most of their hours in front of a screen — whether laptop or mobile phone. “It’s not just the sun. If we think the sun is a problem for us, the [phone] is even more a problem for us because digital light penetrates the skin deeper and stronger than UVA and UVB combined. So if you think you need to use sunscreen, you need the Anti-pollution Drops (HK$1,300) because it has ingredients to block out [digital] light.” Also, you might want to put your phone on night mode to reduce blue light emissions in your day to day life.


Good skincare starts from day one

Dr. Barbara Sturm

“When your child is born, what you put on their skin, how you treat their skin, very much affects their skin quality. When I was pregnant again five years ago with Pepper, I was all wrapped up into this skincare brand, so I created products for her — face cream, body cream, butt cream. But actually when she was born, I didn’t wash her until 10 days later. My husband’s family, they all have neurodermatitis so they had a history for her to run into problems. What I did then was I bathed her in water and a gallon of milk, and a drop of almond oil. That’s what I bathed her in for a year. This kid [now] has the most amazing skin.”


Eye wrinkles can be fixed in two weeks

Dr. Barbara Sturm - eye cream and super anti-ageing serum

For those with crow’s feet lurking at the corner of their eyes, this couldn’t be more of a reassuring tip. “We did a study, we used the Super Anti-ageing Serum (HK$2,900) together with the Eye Cream (HK$1,200) around the eyes for two weeks, morning and night, and with this combination you reduce eye wrinkles by about 50%. You can even do it on top of your makeup. The eye cream is amazing because it’s super light and gets the job done, and it really allows your skin to rehydrate. But it also takes care of fine lines, dark circles and puffiness.”


Detox clogged pores with rice starchDr. Barbara Sturm

Dr. Barbara Sturm

Are large, clogged pores the bane of your existence? It’s all to do with inflammation and sebum production. “If you go on this regimen, your pores will all shrink. Of course, it’s important that you exfoliate because if you don’t, dead skin cells oxidise with the sebum and that’s how the pore gets stuffed — and then you get the blackheads and big pores.” Sturm also recommends her newest Clarifying line, which boasts a pore-shrinking secret weapon: modified rice starch.

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.