When friends ask me for skincare advice, I’m always a little nervous – what works for me might not work for them. But recently, I received two cris du coeur from friends lamenting that they felt especially old and tired-looking (thank you Zoom burnout ). Help! did I have a magic cream that could sort them out? Of course I didn’t, but I know someone who might. I introduced them to a new online skincare platform called GetHarley, which gives you access to top experts in a matter of waitlist-busting days. It had recently sorted out my own long-standing skin bugbear – sun damage - and I was impressed.
GetHarley is a portal to more than 400 top aesthetic doctors, derms and facialists, the kind you’d normally have to wait months to see such as Meghan Markle's facialist Nichola Joss, queen of lasers Debbie Thomas, who treats Dua Lipa, or This Morning’s resident aesthetic doctor, Nina Bal. They are yours for a whole 30 minutes via video consultation for just £30.
GetHarley was founded out of personal need by former Goldman Sachs financier Charmaine Chow (below), who’d had a hit-and-miss experience finding the right advice for her own skin. She’d had teenage acne scarring and tried dozens of products, which resulted in nothing but flare-ups from using the wrong skincare as well as time off work to see yet another expert, who often turned out not to be a good fit.
GetHarley was her solution: a matching service pairing consumers with the superstars of the skincare world in order to eliminate the guesswork, time OOO and waitlist. The portal gives you access not just to expert advice but to products you can only normally buy in-clinic or on prescription, delivered to your door the very next day (or up to five days internationally).
GetHarley founder Charmaine Chow
You can request a specific expert or use the site's matching questionnaire. It works on an algorithm but, refreshingly, the final match is made by a human. The team knows all their pros personally.
My personal issue is pigmentation - old sun damage coming home to roost from the days when I was shoved out to play sans SPF as a child returning with singed cheeks and angry shoulders. Now in my early 50s, I’m paying for it in many ways, but most noticeably with patches of pigmentation on my nose and cheeks.
I’m matched with Dr Fiona McCarthy, an NHS consultant oncologist and medical aesthetic doctor based in Chelsea. She has suffered badly with post-pregnancy pigmentation ( melasma ) herself and treated it with a prescription regime by Obagi, the same one that helped transform Judy Murray’s complexion recently (although the radiofrequency microneedling treatment Morpheus8 she had for what she called her ‘turkey neck’ rather unfairly gained all the attention, says Fiona).
We Zoom the next day, she prescribes me the Obagi CRX regime, which combines glycolic acid to resurface and high-strength vitamin C to inhibit melanin, plus hydroquinone to lighten. It’s not as strong as the Obagi Nu-Derm that Judy Murray used, which is a more complicated (although fiendishly effective) regime involving many more products, retinoids, and actual peeling. In Dr Fiona’s experience, many people find this hard to stick with – and besides, my pigmentation is not that bad, she says.
After we speak, her prescription pings into my personalised GetHarley basket, and the six products in the regime (two day serums and a moisturiser, a night cream, an SPF and a cleanser, scroll down for the full list) come to more than £400, but I will be using nothing but these for the next three months on my face and also my chest, which is like one giant freckle.
They arrive in an eco-friendly box the next day along with WhatsApps from GetHarley to remind me how to use them (start slowly) and follow-up messages a few days later to check how I’m getting on. While the night cream and day serums are working well, I’m not loving the cleanser (too drying) or the SPF (too grainy) and WhatsApp GetHarley to ask whether I can switch to something I like better and already have in my bathroom. They approve my picks with Dr Fiona and my skin feels happier.
For another £15, I book a ten-minute follow-up with Fiona after six weeks, where I check whether I can use fake tan with my regime (yes, but it might be patchy) and whether I can have a HIFU ultrasound facial (yes but come off the Obagi a week before) and in which she tells me to be more diligent with my SPF to avoid ‘repigmenting’ while I’m on the regime. My face feels quite dry, I’m missing my lovely pamper skincare, so Fiona arranges for a richer moisturiser, the Obagi Hydrate Luxe, to be sent to me, which is compatible with my regime. She does everything she can to help me stay on the wagon.
We chat tweakments. What if I want to zap particular pigmentation patches? She suggests good old-fashioned IPL laser, which I can have in her clinic, although she doesn't push me to do this.
Victoria Woodhall using the Obagi-CRX regime for hyperpigmentation
I’m beyond impressed with the service. I feel safe in the hands of Dr McCarthy, reassured by the fact that she uses this regime on her own face once a year too.
What’s in it for the practitioners? It’s a chance to use their odd moments of downtime to meet new clients as well as to broaden access to their skin expertise, helping more people to look after their skin. They do receive a percentage of any skincare you buy on their recommendation (they will also advise you how to use up what you already have to minimise waste and cost) but I sense that’s not their primary motivation.
Pretty much every doctor and derm I have spoken to takes a 'skincare first' approach, so if you are interested in tweakments too, getting healthy canvas first essential. Plus, a consultation such as this is a low-risk way of vetting your pro to see if their ethos matches yours.
I’m lucky in my work to have access to excellent skincare, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the right kind. Dr Fiona has taught me the value of sticking with a regime – doctor’s orders - and feel as though finally I have a plan that can really make a difference to a genuine issue. It’s been two months now and I’m slowly starting to see a difference in my skin, which has a more even tone. And my bathroom has never looked less cluttered.
Book an online consultation for £30 at Getharley.com
My full Obagi Medical CRX regime:
Obagi-C Cleansing Gel
C-Clarifying Serum (ten per cent vitamin C, four per cent hydroquinone)
C-Exfoliating Day Lotion with Vitamin C and glycolic acid
Hydrate Facial Moisturiser
Matte Sun Shield SPF 50
Obagi-C Cleansing Gel
C-Therapy Night Cream with vitamin C&E and for per cent hydroquinone.
Hydrate Luxe Moisture Rich Cream
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