Dr. Robin Schaffran is the first to admit that she’s kind of obsessed with skin. Her curiosity was piqued during a research stint in medical school at the University of Toronto, when she was paired with a dermatologist and saw up close the positive change he had on people’s lives.
“His clients had a whole range of issues, from more cosmetic concerns to serious skin conditions,” she says. “These issues had a huge impact on their outlook and their day-to-day life.”
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The experience had a profound effect on her. After completing two residencies — one in internal medicine at Harvard Medical School’s world-class teaching hospital and another in dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland — she joined a full-time practice in sunny Beverly Hills, where she now treats some of the world’s most famous faces.
Twenty years into her career, Dr. Schaffran is still driven by the same motivation — to help people feel comfortable in their skin – and it’s what prompted her to start developing products as chief dermatologist for BalmLabs. Here, she talks about the issues she sees among women in her practice, what’s behind them and why she always lets science be her guide.
What are the most common concerns that women in their 30s and 40s come to see you about?
Acne has become a very common complaint in this group. A lot of women are also concerned about dry skin, increased sensitivity, dullness and the early appearance of fine lines and discoloration.
So … there’s a lot going on for this group.
Yes, especially when you think about how all those issues play into each other. For example, one of the main causes of adult acne is the hormonal shifts that take place as women enter perimenopause. [Read more from Dr. Schaffran about how hormones and chronic stress wreak havoc on skin.] But the products typically used for acne on younger or adolescent skin — both prescription and over-the-counter — usually include ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinol, and they weren’t working for many of the women coming to see me. They also dried out and irritated their skin.
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I realized there was a big gap in the cosmetic space that needed to be filled. That’s when I realized I wanted to create something unique — something that targeted the specific needs of women 35 to 50.
Once you had the idea for ClearBalm, where did you start?
With science! Always with science. I started to study various plant-based ingredients. Natural AHAs are great exfoliators that are also super gentle. Hyaluronic acid and squalane were also high on my list. They’re some of the hardest working hydrators out there. And niacinamide was a no-brainer — it’s such a versatile ingredient. It’s been shown to improve the look of pores and skin tone and is very well-tolerated, even on super sensitive skin.
Why did you decide to include hemp-derived CBD?
In developing the system, I was amazed by the research that showed the potential benefits of CBD on the skin — as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxidant and a way to reduce oil production. Its potential to help the appearance of acne-prone skin, without irritating it, really stood out.
“I wanted to create something unique — something that targeted the specific needs of women 35 to 50.”
But I was wary of thinking of it as some magical cure-all. So our team worked with some of the top cannabinoid scientists in North America and we approached it with the same rigor as we would any other ingredient. I knew the CBD had to be high-quality, consistent in potency and present in a high enough concentration to be effective.
It also had to play well with the other clinically proven active ingredients I knew would be effective for this demo.
Did you use CBD in all the ClearBalm products?
No. The Gentle Foam Cleanser doesn’t require CBD to be effective, and it would all get washed off anyway. I’m a big believer that every ingredient should have a purpose. CBD plays a more important role in the Power Elixir and Serum Hydrator.
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What other actives did you investigate?
I came across a small placebo-controlled clinical study about bixa orellana seed extract and its ability to decrease oil production. It struck me as a perfect complement to the CBD, since it also exhibits anti-oxidant properties.
What’s been the most satisfying part of this process?
It’s been enormously satisfying to work with skincare scientists at the top of their field and with the whole team at BalmLabs, who know first-hand what a positive difference a product like this can make. What’s most meaningful to me, though, is delivering on the promise of creating an effective and accessible solution for women in this age group. There are so few products out there that put their needs first. I hope ClearBalm can help change that.