Dr. Stuart H. Kaplan believes in his skincare line, so it’s not surprising that his bathroom cabinet is stocked full of it. The dermatologist of over 25 years says he’s found the key to combat aging by addressing a third component never addressed by a skincare line before: Natural Hormonal Progression. After realizing that most products only took chronological aging and environmental damage into account, and discovering a link between the decline of Hormone Replacement Therapy (due to its many dangers) and what he saw as a marked difference in women’s skin, Dr. Kaplan derived a formula to help women acquire those same benefits topically. The result: KaplanMD, a skincare line that uses a trio of estrogen mimicking ingredients (soy, black cohosh and grapeseed extract) to fight aging from the get-go. And by the get-go, Dr. Kaplan says as early as your 20s. We spoke with the dermatologist on the creation of his line, why he touts his products to both the young and menopausal set, and his argument on why men should be (and are) following suit.

I read that Kaplan MD was created in response to a study that linked Hormone Replacement Therapy to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Can you explain how you thought to create a skincare line in response to this?

In the early 2000s, the NIH came out with a study that said Hormone Replacement Therapy had a lot of dangers. Up until that time it was thought that women in their 40s and 50s who start menopause, there should be no problem in replacing the hormones the body is no longer producing. So they did a study and found that this was not correct, that there were dangers including certain types of breast cancer, heart disease, endocrine problems. Women stopped using HRT because of it.

At that time I saw a huge difference in skin – it made perfect sense because estrogen is important in making collagen for our skin strength, elastic tissue gives our skin flexibility, hyaluronic acid gives skin volume and maintains hydration and holds on to water. As the body stops making estrogen, the levels start going down gradually. So I thought that a product that mimics estrogen– applied topically gives people a vehicle to actually get those benefits.

You’ve been a dermatologist for 25 years, had you not seen a skincare line that did this before? And how long did it take to create the line?

There is no skincare line that does this – not just when I came out with this line – I’d researched it for about two years and still there hadn’t been. And no one has even mimicked it since. In terms of creation, it’s not easy to put 10 active ingredients in one product, you have to worry about all sorts of variables. In the end it took about 4 years to create, test and perfect the line.

My thought process was this: women would go to their spa or their doctor, and get one ingredient – let’s say glycolic acid. And then they’d get something else, one at a time. And then they are carrying bags of stuff. They put on 10 different products for this and this and this. I’m thinking ‘I take a multivitamin, but I don’t get each of the 31 vitamins and swallow them separately’. There is no way to use 10 different products and have time to do anything else. That was what we had to do with our line, create a vehicle that was powerful enough to hold all these active ingredients – and there’s a difference. If you are layering all those products on your skin, how effective is that? It makes a difference if there is only one product going on the same layer of your skin.

What is KaplanMD’s philosophy for skincare?

KaplanMD is based on my tagline, the 10-3-1 Concept: 10 active ingredients per product, to prevent and treat all three types of skin aging, in one concise and synergistic line. Each formula has the best ingredients so you get the benefits of a dozen products in just one. I call it a complete balanced diet for your skin. It is everything you are going to need.

What kind of science and/or trial and error went into formulating it?

I looked at the best ingredients that I could find. I wasn’t just looking for vitamin C but the best type of vitamin C. All of them have been tested by other third-party companies and by myself. I wanted to make it simple, a cleanser, a toner, a day cream, a night cream. So it was more fiddling with how to put all these ingredients in one. And they all have a Phytogenic triactive complex of soy, black cohosh and grapeseed extract. I spoke with endocrinologists and made sure soy and black cohosh would be compatible with grapeseed extract, which is a very powerful antioxidant. They worked well together, they fit in the microsphere, and they worked in conjunction with the other ingredients. The time released microsphere also doesn’t just dump the ingredient on your skin, it’s a slow release that has a longer benefit.  Of course there was a certain amount of trial and error. There has to be a little bit of sorting through and then once you’ve done that then you have to test it on patients.

Synergy is very important. When products have one active ingredient like glycolic acid, in order to improve the product they have to increase the concentration. The stronger it is, the benefits go up, but the irritation also goes up. For some reason the concept of balance has never been used in skincare. At a certain point loading up with one ingredient increases benefits but it also increases side effects. With our products, there are seven different antioxidants – so you get those benefits, but they also have very unique side effects that don’t overlap, they are working synergistically and they aren’t so high in concentration that you are seeing negative side effects.

Did you start off with the framework of your knowledge of dermatology?

I absolutely started off with my knowledge of dermatology – all this time I’ve been a doctor studying skin, and on top of that knowledge, you know a lot of the difference between what is fluff and what is not, and the overhyped products that don’t work. As a dermatologist I looked at the ingredients, starting from that base. Before my line came out, no one has been talking about HRT. The endocrine system is an important part of our body – how can it not affect our skin? There is no doubt – as a doctor – it was important to realize that our skin doesn’t just age chronologically. So it was a combination, I saw those women coming in with bags of stuff. As a scientist I have to go through the ingredients, test them, see if I can tweak it to be most effective, make sure it is cosmetically elegant. That’s why people like this line – patients with cancer that can’t take estrogen – this product helps them because it doesn’t have the dangers of taking internal estrogen.  And topically they are perfectly safe, and supported by doctors at UCLA and Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Are all your products geared specifically toward women or are they for men as well? In what age range?

Absolutely, this is not a menopause brand.  In speaking to endocrinologists – I’ve learned that the estrogen levels don’t start going down suddenly with menopause, but they gradually start decreasing in your 20s. It made sense to me then if we want to stop that slow deterioration, then there is a third component – natural hormonal progression – and it affects men and women, all races, due to a decrease in estrogen and a loss of elastic tissue, collagen and hyaluronic acid.  So you are seeing a change in your 30s and 40s that you didn’t see before in your 20s but was happening nonetheless.

Looking after your heart doesn’t begin at your first heart attack, if you want to prevent a heart attack you begin much earlier, so the same goes for your skin and these products. Men and women both have estrogen, the levels are different, but estrogen levels go down no matter the gender and estrogen affects elasticity. Collagen is like the framework that keeps our skin strong, elastic tissue gives bounce back. These changes affect men as much as women – men are just slow to adopt changes. Men weren’t getting Botox before, but now they are. So it really is a line for both genders, and it isn’t restricted to women of any age, either.

There are several doctors and researchers that say that estrogen mimicking ingredients and parabens can also lead to cancer. Do you agree with this premise, and if so, what makes an ingredient like black cohosh safe?

As far as estrogens mimicking ingredients, I totally disagree- there are people that specialize in cancer research that disagree, there’s no way that this product would be recommended among breast cancer patients and by oncologists. Black cohosh and soy are perfectly safe topically. There is a huge difference between something topical and internal. I do agree that if you were to ingest it – THAT would be dangerous. There are different ways medicines can be absorbed into the skin, some like a birth control patch are meant to penetrate the skin into the body. Others are just meant to stay in the skin and have systemic benefit. With KaplanMD products, by controlling the microsphere, figuring out the systemic absorbtion, and also time releasing it so there is prolonged benefit, that’s perfectly safe for the skin. I checked with doctors at UCLA and other cancer centers and they had given me the green light. I did my research and spoke to people that I thought were very educated. So I can’t disagree more – it is perfectly safe, to have a product – topically – and it is proven by oncologists who give it to patients that have already experienced cancer.

In regards to parabens, they have been around for 50 and 60 years. Parabens are natural preservatives of plants that help prevent bacteria. I think it more harmful to say you’d rather have a preservative that has no real research on it than one that has been around for years and that still has no direct link to cancer. Doctors will agree that parabens are safe. There has to be a preservative so the product doesn’t rot. The oncologist at UCLA says the study that has been done about parabens isn’t a controlled study, there is no cause and relationship, no link.

If you were to introduce someone to your skincare line with one product, which would it be?

That’s a hard question, because there made such few products that we tried to make each one unique in it of itself. It’s not like we have four different cleansers and five different eye creams. It is person specific. The number one reason that patients don’t get better when they go to the doctor is because they don’t use the medicines properly. So I would say to them, are you more of a day cream person or a night cream person? Are you the type of person that brushes your teeth two times a day? Because that tells me something. If you only do it once, than I’ll say the night cream. When I think of the night cream, I think reparative, so you are repairing the day’s damage. So I’d say the night cream.

Which product have the clients been raving about? What has people most excited?

For people in their 20s, glosses and plumpers are big. But, for the most part, it is the same thing as putting oil on your lip, it makes it shiny– but essentially it also accelerates and amplifies UV rays that are damaging. Plumpers normally irritate skin – your lip swells because of the allergic reaction. That kind of expansion and contraction will cause more wrinkles. So I looked into making a product that protected and has an SPF, and that has all the peptides. I looked at things that plumped and protected from the sun. The Lip 20 moisturizes, repairs and firms with those peptides, and the hyaluronic filling spheres smooth wrinkles and cause a natural fullness. And people like the container; it opens and closes automatically.  For people in their 40s it is more the night cream because that’s when people noticeably start to see that kind of damage.

What kind of products do you have in your bathroom cabinet right now?

I use my line – all the products in my line- people ask me how my skin looks so young. It would be foolish if I worked so hard to create this line and then not use it myself when I believe in it. So I have toothpaste, aspirin, dental floss and my skincare line in my cabinet right now.

Are there any new products coming out in the near future at KaplanMD?

We just came out with a scrub. A lot of women believe the harsher the scrub the better – I totally disagree. Microscopically, a harsh scrub will cause tears. So it is better to use a very fine scrub that you can use everyday than a harsh scrub that you can only use much less frequently. Our scrub has finely ground date seeds and jojoba esters, pineapple and papaya enzymes. We are also coming out with a mask very shortly.

Now that you’ve been in the business for years, what ingredients raise red flags for you when you are looking at skincare cosmetics?

I don’t want to be disparaging – but it’s not an ingredient in particular as much as a product that overpromises. I’d be weary of single ingredient products. A lot of times, alone it doesn’t do anything, but the company overpromises and says it does. So avoid products that overpromise, look to see who is making them – and who better than a dermatologist? And look for products that are going to treat all three types of aging. You want to start in your 20s and 30s.