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Sunday Edition: Dr Mary Sommerlad

A passionate dermatologist and skincare junkie, Dr Mary Sommerlad shares her tips, tricks and secrets to living, and feeling, well.

Tell us your story, how did you find your passion for skincare?

I had quite bad eczema as a child, and relied heavily on moisturisers. I have so many early memories of sitting on my mum’s lap, watching her apply her make-up and do her skin - I fell in love with the ritual of it.  

As I grew older, my interest in skincare grew. I became obsessed with finding the perfect formulations to suit my skin type, from cleansers to serums and sunscreens.  I became really interested in how the skin works, and skincare in general. Once I became a doctor, I almost  couldn’t believe my luck, that I could combine a passion for skincare and healthy skin by becoming a Consultant Dermatologist.

What is your London? What is it about?

I am a total London- phile! It’s my favourite city in the world, and I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit. There’s never a dull moment here. My London is about vibrancy and presence while respecting the past. I love how the modern architecture blends in with ancient buildings, how every street has a history to it. It’s about getting lost in the myriad of cultures that melt together. 

My perfect day in the city starts off by visiting a gallery, my favourite is the V&A, a walk by the Thames or one of the many canals that feed into it, lunch at one of the fabulous open air Markets followed by exploring the neighbourhood. I live in Hackney where there are endless parks, lots of independent shops, an incredible food and art scene, as well as the canals and marshes nearby, where I have often spent the afternoon picking blackberries and watching the birds.

How do you find balance, and what keeps you inspired?

I am very lucky to be able to combine my work as a dermatologist with motherhood and family life. I have two young children who always energise and inspire me: it’s amazing experiencing the world through their eyes, the sheer bliss of living for enjoyment and in the moment!

They drive me to be the best version of myself. My husband is a huge inspiration; he is a Psychiatrist specialising in Dementia. He reminds me of how important it is to make a lifetime of special memories, and to live life with grace and gratitude.

What do you do to motivate yourself, or to switch up your energy throughout the day?

I am a huge believer in dividing the day up into different tasks so that I rarely feel stuck in a rut. For instance, I may spend a morning seeing patients in clinic, but in the afternoon I will be working with a skincare brand or preparing an article or presentation. The days are always bookended with being with my husband and children. Having the week planned out is great motivation for me. 

How do you define wellbeing? 

Wellbeing to me is being in tune with the needs and wants of your mind and body, and being responsive to those needs. This can take a long time to achieve and is in a constant state of flux, as our bodies are constantly evolving. In the most basic sense, I think of wellbeing as understanding how your lifestyle impacts on you. I truly believe that you can achieve wellbeing regardless of your age or whether you have a chronic disease or condition.

Any tips for tuning into what our bodies are trying to tell us, or need? 

As much as possible, set 20 minutes aside every day at the same time of day to write down how you feel physically: bloated? Tired? Achey? Itchy skin? Just fine? Do this for 5 days and see if you notice a pattern then work out how to address that need. 

For instance, if you feel tired, spend the next 5 days documenting your sleep: how much caffeine you are having, how much alcohol, what time are you going to bed, what is your bedtime ritual, do you wake up in the middle of the night etc. From here, you can start to really drill down into what is affecting your sleep. Is it that you are drinking too much alcohol, do you fall asleep on sofa. 

What do you consider to be your haven, or space of calm?

My home and more specifically, my bedroom. I really thrive in calm, uncluttered environments.

What does skincare mean to you?

Skincare means maintaining a clean,  supple, well hydrated skin barrier that is protected from overexposure to UV light and pollutants.

Here at antomē, we’re incredibly ingredient focused. What ingredients do you look for in skincare products?

I’m a huge fan of ingredients that have many functions. For instance, Niacinamide has anti- oxidant properties, soothing properties and  anti irregular pigment properties. It’s important to me that products are safe to use during pregnancy. I’m also a huge fan of Azelaic acid, it also combines antioxidant properties with pigmentation properties, but it can also improve the texture of the skin. As a Dermatologist, I am of course a huge fan of Retinoids, which can help smooth the skin, even out pigmentation and textural issues and limit breakouts.

Beauty often starts from the inside, out. Can you talk a little bit about achieving holistic health, and how food and exercise can impact your skin and mood?

Our skin reflects our overall health. A diet that is packed full of vegetables, is rich in anti- oxidants and low in highly processed foods is crucial to achieving a diet that supports healthy skin. Alcohol is detrimental to skin health even though red wine contains antioxidants, you can get these from other foods.

That’s not to say never have a glass of wine or a slice of cake, but only do so in absolute moderation. Exercise is crucial to heart, bone and muscle health which will also impact on skin health: it will also boost your mood incredibly and reduce stress. 

Chronic stress is pro- inflammatory, which can exacerbate skin conditions like Acne, Psoriasis and Eczema. 

How do you wind down, what’s your relaxation routine?  

I love to walk while listening to music. Luckily, I walk to and from work. My children’s school is halfway between work and home, so I get lots of walking done! It’s a great way to clear my mind and I find music so relaxing. I have an eclectic taste, so depending on my mood, I’ll curate my playlist to reflect that. 

What is your mantra or philosophy to face life’s challenges?

Try and try again, stay positive and manifest the future you want for yourself. 

Something you’re looking forward to?

I am just so excited about the future! Healthcare innovations in Dermatology mean that many diseases that were previously very difficult to treat, can now be easily managed. On a personal level, I am enjoying every moment with my family. It may sound crazy, but I love the idea of being a grandmother one day! 

What are your 5 top tips for living well?

  1. Sleep well.  Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves. It’s so crucial yet often dismissed
  2. Don’t smoke. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Even the occasional cigarette is awful for your health, not even just your skin.
  3. Don’t underestimate how good exercise and movement is for your body. No matter how little time you have, try and get some form of movement in, even if it’s 30 squats in front of your desk.
  4. Prioritise a good quality, nutritious diet low in processed foods and packed full of anti- oxidants. Our diet is key to living and ageing well. 
  5. Be kind to yourself and everyone around you. Kindness fills our hearts with joy and makes life feel more fulfilling.

A bit more about Mary...

Dr Mary Sommerlad is a British Dermatologist and Consultant based in London.  She advocates skin care for all ages and skin types, and counts adults and children amongst her patients. She's involved with private care as well as the NHS, and believes in empowering  and building confidence through skin. Empathetic and reasonable, Mary provides a refreshing, holistic take on skincare that is still underpinned by the best and latest medical practices. 

Written by:
Katelijne Kotze

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