Hope all of you are staying safe at home during this time of COVID-19 and circuit breaker in Singapore. This week, we speak to our founder, Singapore dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin (Above: Photo, Hair, Makeup by Andrea Claire), on her passion for dermatology and skincare regimes, as well as what she does outside of her job as a dermatologist.
Dr. Teo, why did you choose to specialise in dermatology?
To be honest, I stepped into medical school not really knowing where I was headed for. I knew that I was to continue my passion in the sciences, but I was also certain it wouldn’t be in the laboratory.
I was always a wonderer, and my childhood caregivers have this to say of me — that I was always talking non-stop! I remember when I was sick once as a child in the emergency department — the doctor told my mom he had never met a 10-year old who had so many questions and thoughts in her head! I am insatiably curious about how things work, and also fascinated by human psychology, how people react and feel about things.
The human body is the pinnacle of Creation. I can only say that as awed I am, I am far more privileged to be allowed to study medicine and complete my training as an accredited medical specialist.
As a junior doctor, my inpatient dermatology rotation piqued my interest in the specialty, mainly because of excellent mentors and role models. My teachers in Dermatology then, Professor Thirumoorthy and Dr. Pang Shiu Ming, imparted to me not just their razor-sharp clinical acumen for identifying skin rashes and lesions — which was as dazzling to me then as the stars in the sky to an astronomer, but also their kindness and empathy for sufferers of dermatology skin conditions.
Interestingly, I saw this empathy the most acutely demonstrated by senior dermatologists — I had done an internal medicine posting, a surgical and a gynaecology posting by then. I remember being struck by how within minutes of Professor Thiru meeting a new patient in a ward or clinic consult, and he or she would just break down in tears.
Looking back, it had to do with the kindness and empathy he radiated, without saying much. People will feel how you feel about them, and in medicine, one cannot be coached to pretend otherwise. Diseases of the skin and hair also affect one’s self esteem, because these are visible conditions. So the beauty of being a dermatologist is the ability to heal one’s skin and soul.
Dermatology is also a unique branch of medicine which involves the study of visuals, of patterns, morphologies and colours. Coupled with our dermatopathology modules which is the cellular study of skin diseases, there are also record numbers of Latin names to remember in dermatology diagnoses. I remember giving a talk to a group of General Practitioners once, and they randomly burst out laughing when I was talking about this condition “Syringocystadenoma Papilliferum”.
Startled, I paused and asked if there was something I missed, and it was communicated to me that apparently the name was so long and complex to have me say it out as casually as one would say “french fries” was really funny. So the artistic/visual and literary aspects of dermatology really appealed to me. Dermatologists also acquire specialist knowledge about plants and insects —- due to conditions that arise from such contact, right up my alley!
You spent your dermatology residency years at the National Skin Centre before leaving for private practice at Raffles Hospital and then your own private practice at TWL Specialist Skin and Laser Centre. Why did you decide to start your own clinic?
I enjoyed my time in the institutions and forged friendships in my dermatology residency years that I still treasure dearly. However, I was passionate about many aspects of my dermatology work that would not have been fully explored had I stayed in the institution. With regards to cosmeceutical development, public education, potential collaborations and opportunities that presented, I am now privileged to share that I am able to integrate fully my passions and hobbies with my dermatology work
One core aspect which has never changed is my dedication to my patients. My professor told me when I left for private practice that patients were the only reason why we had a job, and if I were loyal to them they would be to me. I give my utmost! So far this has been shown to be so true.
TWL Specialist Skin Laser Centre is known for its cosmeceutical line Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, which has many loyal fans restocking during this circuit breaker period! When did you launch your cosmeceutical skincare products and what was the inspiration behind this line?
2016 was the launch of my dermatology practice as well as Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals. All the skincare products commercially available then were by aesthetic doctors, who are general practitioners and not dermatologists. My fellow dermatologists and I were already prescribing cosmeceuticals in our practice, but these were not publicly available to non-patients.
As I entered by 30s, I started to suffer from retinoid dermatitis, caused by a prescription cosmeceutical tretinoin, and has already seen many patients who became intolerant of it. It is helpful for stimulating collagen and antiageing, but it was not without its risks.
I then created a formula with oligopeptides, a new protein molecule that mimics the natural DNA structure and interferes with Cell Talk, a biological process which is involved in ageing. This was the creation of the first dermatology product, the Radiance Fluide Emulsion, which remains our best seller today, and a favourite of models and makeup artists before makeup. It can be used as a day moisturiser under makeup and also as a night sleeping mask with our PolySaccharide Mask, the star of our newly launched Custom Mask Bar — a plant derived, fully biodegradable facial mask that increases absorption of cosmeceuticals.
Last year 2019 was a milestone for Dr.TWL, having created the Dr.TWL Biomaterials arm and the Custom Lip Lab! So far, what are your favourite product concepts?
I’ve lost count! But in terms of dermatology product concepts, it would be the following:
- Cosmeceutical Range under Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals
- A Novel plant silk – LyoSilk which is engineered to be hypoallergenic , skin cooling , having the feel of silk while being ecologically sustainable and machine washable!
- Cosmeceutical Make-up with colour correction concealers.
- We worked on incorporating our star ingredients Oligopeptides and Larecea (derivative of Brassica Oleracea) into Make-up for sensitive skin.
- Custom Lip Lab. For lips, a 100% edible formula with Salmon RoeDNA a potent antioxidant and plant based ceramides
- Devices for increasing topical delivery. Our device CollagenUP Facial Wand is the first Singapore dermatologist developed home-based radiofrequency product to enter the Singapore market and is also FDA approved. We also have the SilkPeel Microdermabrasion Kit for home medi-facial, these are all designed for use with Dr.TWL dermaceuticals Cosmeceutical range.
What are the new products you have that you’re really excited about?
I am most excited about the launch of Dr.TWL Pharmacy this year! It’s a different e-commerce platform from my main cosmeceutical arm. The focus is on an environmentally conscious concept in beauty — from refillable Make-up packaging to our all-in-one Infinity LipStain Palette which contains lab formulators that can be used to make an infinite number of lipstick colours without the clutter of having multiple lipsticks!
Our Custom Mask Bar System launched in March 2020 with our MoistureMax Polysaccharide Mask — a biodegradable, plant derived facial mask material that can enhance skincare absorption, a concept known as transdermal delivery. It comes as a Beauty Bar concept with a complimentary eco-friendly thermoelectric beauty fridge with a monthly subscription plan of custom cosmeceutical essence vials. It’s designed for use with our FDA-approved home dermatology facial devices.
The home facial bar concept is a huge step towards sustainable beauty, in every sense of the word. It’s a sustainable practice which can be done as a regular beauty treatment right in the comfort of your own home, with evidence based active ingredients which can be selected off a skincare menu based on your dermatology needs – be it skin lightening, skin dullness, acne scars, oily skin or pigmentation issues!
When you’re not working, what do you do?
Outside of my dermatology work, I have always loved nature, and I think how I feel about her serves as an unexpected allegory to my chosen career path. The plants I grow and the animals I watch over —- I am in constant awe of how their biological mechanisms, how they are alive!
With all our scientific advancements, man cannot engineer a living moving cell, let alone a being, from nothing. Even our clones are clones for a reason, copies from existing DNA data. Yet nature does not need clones, she breathes, lives, reproduces and dies. And again, she lives. I am incredibly touched by the cycle of life, for this reason I believe in intelligent design, and the existence of a Creator.
I own 2 pet canaries, Vanessa and Guiness, as well as a Jack Russell Terrier, Ash. At one point I had stick insects and fishes as well. Canaries are such small birds that when one of them fell ill the vet (an avian specialist) told me it was hard to find out what was going on(because they were so small) and to prepare for the worst.
I took her back, hand-fed Vanessa and nursed her for about a week in a little hospital cage I set up for her. I felt so bad watching her attempt to perch and fall off everytime. In the end, she just hobbled around on the floor of the cage. One of the pet shops I went to, the lady saw Vanessa falling over and was so full of pity for this little yellow bird, she immediately gave a box of cat litter made of paper, for her to perch on the floor.
Vanessa got better and from a skittish canary (they hate human contact) she transformed into one that would call out to me, and eat out of my hand! The moral of the story here is that living things are not just fascinating biologically, they bring out the humanity in us — the purest love, kindness and care in a depraved world.
Practising medicine is a true calling, because our response to the sick, it calls for altruism, empathy and love for mankind. In the dog-eat-dog corporate world I hear about from my non-medical friends, medicine offers a ray of hope for humanity.
I still fence once to twice a week and train with a coach. I started fencing at the age of 15 and was in the national team for several years, and continued to represent Singapore up to my late twenties. I enjoy fencing because it requires a complex series of motions and tactical planning on top of training lightning fast reflexes — it’s likened to physical chess. Did you know that the tip of the fencing weapon is the second fastest moving object in the Olympic Games (after the bullet)!
I think fencing shaped my personality, our bouts are 3 minutes long and hits can be scored in just a fraction of a second. I do know I measure time differently from others —- I think it’s really because of the world I lived in fencing. I am very goal oriented and accomplish many tasks in a short time largely because I am decisive. My coach said once “in fencing you don’t think of what the opponent wants to do, you think of what you want to execute”. Any moment of indecision to me is a risk, but at the same time, one cannot be impulsive or reckless. The key is a calculated balance of attack and defence.
I only started dressage slightly over a year ago but have been riding almost every day since I started!
I am hooked on dressage, I am awed at how the intimate relationship with a powerful animal – communication with non verbal aides, culminates in such control finesse and beauty. Dressage is horse ballet! I am no where near accomplished but I am dedicated to improving my skills.
I learnt a lot from equestrian — all of the communication aides with the horse are non-verbal, and the most amazing thing I learnt from being a dressage rider, is how our emotions are always transmitted to the horse, good or bad. So mastery of an 800kg animal starts with mastery of yourself.
What motivates you and what drives you to keep innovating?
My interests span the sciences (including dermatology) and the arts. Molecules, plants and astronomy get me really excited! I paint and write poetry in my spare moments. People have asked me why I bother (perhaps it seems like a childish activity and I should have “better” things to do) and how I have the time for it (apparently I should be too busy).
The answer is — I cannot remember a day in my life without imagination. Inspiration comes naturally to me, and I can only describe it as me “catching” an idea from the air around me! My staff are part amused and part stressed whenever they hear me announce “I have a new idea” because I have a new idea almost every day —- and they know that I turn 95% of my lightbulb moments into reality. A lot of my colleagues and friends are also amazed that I don’t seem overworked while appearing like a workaholic and generating a ton of ideas all the time.
I think the secret to my boundless energy, motivation and determination lies in this — I take my ideas seriously, but never myself! I laugh at myself a lot as I always have a ready caricature of “me” in my head whatever I am doing. That way, I’m actually not held back by ego, fear of failure — everything that constitutes the word stress. This allows me to be happy in most circumstances, and even in the face of obstacles, I make sense of everything by writing learning lessons to myself and that’s how I remain positive.
On I motivate and lead — I like to infect the people around me with my energy and enthusiasm for my ideas. And I believe that’s the most contagious of all!
I’m also very disciplined by nature, I don’t watch TV, I stick to my sports schedule like a clockwork, and sleep every day by 11pm. I eat a healthy diet packed with antioxidants and start every day with a fresh mindset that it’s going to be a great day!dermatology, dr teo wan lin