Dr. Barbara Sturm is a name all skin-care lovers will instantly recognize. Not only is Dr. Sturm a top aesthetics doctor (counting the likes of Hailey and Justin Bieber, Emma Roberts, and Irina Shayk as clients) but she pioneered the plasma facial (yes, the one that involves using your own blood). Most notably to the average person, though, she is known for the success of her namesake brand of gentle, anti-inflammatory skin care.
In other words, Dr. Sturm is a fount of knowledge when it comes to taking care of your skin. Her A-list clientele keep her incredibly busy, but we managed to secure some time with the pro to ask her all the burning skin-care questions currently blowing up Google.
From how to build a skin-care routine to whether a facial toner is really necessary, here's everything we learned, ahead.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
What's the best way to get clear skin?
Blemish-prone skin may be caused by a number of factors, says Dr. Sturm, so it's important to establish the root cause before looking at skin-care products.
"Maybe your acne is because you're wearing face masks, or it could be the wrong type of makeup, not being hydrated enough, or perhaps hormones and an underlying condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes more testosterone," and therefore can lead to hormonal acne. If that's the case, Dr. Sturm suggests visiting a gynecologist or general practitioner for advice first.
Once you've deciphered the cause, you can step up your skin care. "My advice would be to cleanse your skin with a gentle, very hydrating cleanser first," says Dr. Sturm. She advises not to over-exfoliate with leave-on acid toners and serums. "Instead, just exfoliate the dead skin cells with a gentle enzyme cleanser twice a week, and balance your skin with a facial toner. Then, add a hydrating serum such as hyaluronic acid and a moisturizer that isn't too oily." Dr. Sturm recommends her Clarifying Serum, and suggests looking out for skin care that contains ingredients such as zinc oxide and tea tree oil, which help treat spots.
How can you get rid of blackheads on your nose?
Dr. Sturm is not a fan of pore strips for getting rid of blackheads, and we wouldn't recommend DIY extraction tools, but here are some solutions...
"If you have a nose full of blackheads, the best thing is to go to a facialist when you can," says Dr. Sturm. "Don't do strips — they won't work, and I would stay away from all of those aggressive things. I'd also suggest using an exfoliating cleanser." Dr. Sturm recommends her Enzyme Cleanser up to twice a week, as enzymes gently exfoliate skin and dislodge blackheads.
If you're looking for an additional fix, try a simple salicylic acid toner, such as Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, which exfoliates deep inside the pore to break up oil, dirt, and dead skin cells which can lead to blackheads.
How do you build a skin-care routine?
Start with the basics, says Dr. Sturm. You don't have to layer so many serums and products: It depends on your personal preference and what you're willing to do. According to Dr. Sturm, a good hydrating cleanser should be the mainstay in all skin-care routines, and it's important to cleanse your skin twice a day, in the morning and the evening. "I would also suggest exfoliating twice a week, but not resurfacing with aggressive products and ingredients," says Dr. Sturm.
"Next, I would recommend a balancing toner. A modern skin-care routine should have a serum, too," Dr. Sturm continues. "Try a good hyaluronic acid-based serum before moisturizer. You can repeat these steps in the evening, but in the morning, always follow with sun protection."
Dr. Sturm mentions that many facial toners can act like acid peels, but if you're already using an exfoliating cleanser or serum, opt for something hydrating so as not to exacerbate your skin.
"The Balancing Toner is strengthening and anti-inflammatory," says Dr. Sturm. "It also balances your skin's pH level after cleansing, which is essential for healthy skin." And healthy skin = glowing skin.
Cleansing should always be the first step in your routine so that your skin is primed to absorb skin-care ingredients much better. "Cleanse your face first, apply your chosen facial toner if you use one, then your serum, which always comes before moisturizer," says Dr. Sturm. "If you use eye cream, follow with that, and then last but not least, your sun protection."
A good rule of thumb is to apply products from the thinnest to the thickest texture, so that everything sinks in fast.
As Dr. Sturm is an anti-inflammatory doctor, it may come as no surprise that she isn't particularly sold on AHAs (or alpha hydroxy acids), such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, which exfoliate the surface of the skin, especially if you have dry, sensitive, or reactive skin.
"I wouldn't recommend highly concentrated acids on your face," says Dr. Sturm. "You could use an exfoliating cleanser once or twice a week, but it pays to check the concentration." High concentrations (typically above 10%) should be avoided, and if you feel pain, redness or sensitivity, stop using it. "Most acids give you a tingle for sure, but this can sometimes leave the skin red," adds Dr. Sturm. "Sometimes, people think that if it doesn't burn or hurt, it doesn't work, but that’s not a good way to think about skin care."
Lactic acid is currently trending on Google, so if you're still intrigued, we'd recommend starting slow. Dermalogica Skin Resurfacing Cleanser is a rinse-off product and therefore less likely to cause sensitivity. If you're using any kind of acid, always use a high-factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen in the daytime.
"Combination skin is when your T-zone (forehead and nose) is oily, while the rest is drier," says Dr. Sturm. "You can test this by washing your face, leaving it for half an hour without applying skin care, and then checking where your skin is oily and where it feels dry."
Dr. Sturm recommends using different products on your T-zone than the rest of your face. "I apply my chosen serum all over but use a more moisturizing product on drier areas, and something more clarifying or lighter on the oily T-zone," she says.
Naturally, our skin's collagen and hyaluronic acid reserves — responsible for plump, supple skin — deplete as we age. But if you're looking to treat fine lines and wrinkles with skin care, Dr. Sturm says hydration is key. "Two products I use are the Night Serum and the Lifting Serum, as both are hyaluronic acid-based and fill in fine lines and wrinkles."
Retinol is also a great ingredient for lines and wrinkles, but Dr. Sturm is wary of the inflammatory effects, which can cause redness, sore skin, and flaking, and so doesn't recommend it. If your skin is very reactive, it might be best to avoid retinol, but if you're interested in trying retinol products, start slow.