Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Dr Vanita Rattan for her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Dr Vanita Rattan – Doctor V – is one of the leading pioneers of research and treatment of hyperpigmentation-linked skin conditions in people of Asian and African origin. She qualified from University College London Medical School with two degrees, her degree in Medicine (MBBS) and a degree in Physiology and Pharmacology (BSc). After graduation from Medical School, she spent the next 3 years studying clinical trials for hyperpigmentation treatments and putting together ingredients to reduce melanocyte activity without causing damage to surrounding tissue. Once the products had been created trials for safety and efficacy took place.
Her skincare brands include The Hyperpigmentation Clinic, Dark Circles Clinic and Dr V Sunglasses. Doctor V recognised that the Skin of Colour community was being neglected within the skincare industry, so she launched Skincare by Dr V where she formulated kits that specifically target Skin of Colour issues that had never been addressed before which ultimately empowers people to feel more confident and lead a better quality of life.
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Dr V, you are currently myth busting claims and poor guidance given by bloggers, video forwards and informing your followers of the science behind all manner of potentially unsafe beauty hacks. What prompted you to start and do you worry about how much misinformation and poor guidance is out there?
My one regret is that I didn't start myth busting sooner. All aesthetic professionals are aware of the misinformation epidemic online but a lot of us are nervous to step outside our comfort zone and correct the situation.
I initially thought influencers had to be young and beautiful, Instagram seemed completely geared to this. Whereas I am a mum of two children in my late 30s and did not consider myself worthy of 'Influencer' status.
On the other hand, you would hear absurd treatments that would burn skin of colour being made up in kitchens. One common hyperpigmentation 'DIY Hack' is with lemon juice, which was then echoed by hundreds of online bloggers turning nonsense into a fact. Lemon juice actually burns the skin leading to more pigmentation. Even though I knew this, I still didn't have the courage to put myself on camera to teach about skincare.
I only started my YouTube channel properly as Covid began, in an effort to use my time productively. We all had to close our clinics but I still wanted to add value to my skin of colour families lives. For too long we had been neglected.
The cosmetic beauty industry in parts is unregulated and the Internet is full of “advice”. What professional advice would you give to those who are looking to enhance their appearance in what do you think is vital research or due diligence that should be undertaken before going forward with any such treatment?
Firstly, prevention is always better than cure. This means using NAFE SAFE skincare including a moisturiser and a mineral SPF50.
NAFE SAFE means: No Alcohol (denatured) – Dries the skin; Fragrance – number 1 cause of contact dermatitis; and Essential oils – skin sensitiser.
With skin of colour our melanin producing cells are large and easily triggered. I always say "One scratch, one bite or one burn and we pigment". This means we need to be even more careful with our skin.
I would avoid aesthetic procedures that can scar the skin or lead to excessive inflammation.
I would look for a practitioner who has extensive experience dealing with skin of colour. I also teach how to modify professional treatments eg hydrafacials or microneedling for skin of colour on my YouTube Channel.
Unfortunately there aren't any skin of colour qualifications right now as it is an under-researched area of aesthetics.
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How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
I was raised learning Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Bollywood movies were our weekly outing, which gave me the blueprint of what I wanted in a husband!
India is where half my in-laws are from and I always have a wonderful time when we go. Recently I have been able to serve India through YouTube. As my channel has never been sponsored, and will never be sponsored, I am able to give unbiased reviews of Indian skincare brands. These videos reach over 100,000 views and cause enough impact for brands to reformulate and repackage based on my recommendations.
We will soon be selling the Dr Vanita Rattan range on NYKAA.COM too, this is the largest beauty platform in India. I am grateful in a small way I can contribute to the skincare standards and the information companies should disclose to consumers. Indian cosmetic law is different to EU cosmetic law, which means previously companies in India could write whatever marketing they felt like without showing the exact ingredients in the products.
What has been the lesson you have learned during the Covid-19 lockdown?
We are all capable of becoming more flexible and courageous when we need to be. There was no comfort zone!
We had to close clinics during lockdown I had to think of how else to use my time effectively. I felt the terror of public speaking on the Internet and blindly threw myself into it, just praying people would be kind.
This led to a few realisations which shaped the next chapter of my life:
1. The vast majority of skincare on shelves is not ideal for skin of colour.
2. People were making mistakes with skincare as it was overly complicated.
3. Skincare companies were misrepresenting what their products could do.
Through education and empowering our global skin of colour family we grew to over 1million followers across our platforms.
We also create products that didn't exist eg The World’s first Dark Circles Kit for skin of colour and the World’s first 100 per cent Mineral SPF50 with no white cast called InZincable.
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The online world has allowed you to reach a vast audience but has also come with personal unkind targeting. How do you feel about both aspects and what is your advice for people with an online presence about potential negativity?
Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. The first few rounds of hate posts, forums and fake accounts hurt a lot. I cried and felt scared. My body reacted as though I was being chased by a lion. I didn't sleep, I lost my appetite and my excitement for life. I knew rumours people make up and repeat online become fact in people's minds.
I then had 2 options, do I stay silent or do I speak out and risk sounding defensive? I decided to write down all the rumours and my responses in as honest and vulnerable way as possible. I then made a YouTube video called "addressing online rumours". I have to say it felt incredible to use my voice and be heard.
We live in a media world of sensationalism and scandal. Gossip drives sales of everything in media including you tube videos and Instagram accounts. I explained the psychology of trolls and how they find each other online then hunt in packs as there is safety in numbers. It's a fun sport for them and they do it to many brands and personalities.
I was nervous releasing that video. I felt it was make or break for me. That video got 45,000 views, 4,500 likes and 69 dislikes. It is those 69 people who will generate hate content on various platforms but in reality it is a tiny absolute number when you have a large following.
This realisation forced me to focus on those I am helping not anyone else. Reading the 1,500 supportive and loving comments under that video gave me strength and perspective. Me stopping meant I was letting my skin of colour family down globally which seemed ridiculous. So now to manage my mental health, I consciously don't read or watch anything negative about me. I don't want to feel low then be unproductive. I want to be happy and add value to people's lives every day.
I know people will enjoy the gossip but I found even trolls will want to keep following and learning from me as I help for free with no sponsorship so my information is never biased.
My advice to those in the public eye or trying to increase their personal visibility online is to focus on what you can control I.e. your work. Add value and don't be afraid to show your weaknesses, be vulnerable and you will see people will connect with you and want to be on the journey with you. If I can help you at all then I will. My Instagram handle is @drvanitarattan
Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for iGlobal, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist catches up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons. (The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.)