The tell-tale sign to good cosmetic work? Nada, says dermatologist Dr Shawana Vali. “Now that the true indicator of wealth is looking like a flawless version of yourself, the luxury industry wants its bone structure back instead of a cookie-cutter compilation of Instagram filters and other people’s noses.” The London-based specialist and Muslim woman has curated a dedicated offline following, thanks to her resistance to the over-injected, Instagram filter-mimicking trends. Previously a secret weapon played close to the chest by A-listers and international royalty, the dermatologist offers a softly-does-it approach, honoring each client’s unique features. “I don’t want you to look like anyone else,” she directs. “Let’s respect your ethnicity, your bone structure, your heritage. Let’s look at your genetic makeup and use that to create the best version of you.”
A cosmetic doctor for two decades, twice certified by London’s King’s College and UCLA, Dr Vali has a total of seven degrees. Known for her micro-contouring – making small, considered adjustments to enhance natural beauty – she launched her collaboration with Selfridges in late 2022, opening her clinic at the London luxury department store as a companion to her original LMS Wellness clinic. At the By Dr Vali 360 Experiential Centre, clients can experience her “protocols” using bio-hacking treatments and high-tech tools including a Nasa-designed hyperbaric chamber, IV therapy, lasers, medical grade facials, hair restoration, and a suite of wellness therapies to destress and balance body and mind. “We take a 360 approach – yes, we contour your face to be able to go makeup free, and we contour your body. But then I also want to look at the inside, we look at your mood, your energy and your gut, healthy fertility, your immune system,” she says. “It’s important to be able to inform how any work will affect your bone structure, or fat pads, or skin vessels, not just immediately or in six months, but in one year, three years, seven years down the road.”
In addition to her clinics, the entrepreneur’s newest launch is a duo of what she calls “adaptive skincare.” Both Dr Vali serums use BAC12, a patented compound which, in short, stimulates cellular regeneration deep within the skin membrane for inside-out skin barrier repair. The Hero Concentrate: Brightening adds bakuchiol, glutathione, and tranexamic acid to ease UV damage and pigmentation, while her Superstar: Game-Changer harnesses medical- grade retinol to target anti-aging goals for a refined, smoothed-out appearance. Why just two products? Dr Vali says that she wants to be real with consumers. “Keeping my integrity is so important to me, which is why I can honestly say you don’t need to be using like 15 different products at home.” Her efforts to make her treatments more accessible also led to the 2021 launch of the Cutis Skin Tech, a device that mimics in-clinic work. A hand-held tool, the Cutis vibrates at up to 14 000 oscillations per minute and works across Dr Vali’s five protocols of depuffing, radiance, lifting and tightening, tension relief, and micro-contouring. Likened to a gym membership for the face, there’s precise movements to follow, pulling up the contours of the face, stimulating the lips, and tightening the skin with each vibration. A quick online survey gives users a customized schedule to follow, with notes on how to escalate usage for continuing results.
Dr Vali says that her bespoke care philosophy was not always an easy sell in the clinic’s early years. “I was seeing these young girls come in and they just wanted these big, big lips. Here I am, trying to educate them on their acne or pigmentation or how to stop covering up with makeup, and they were just fixated on getting a big lip look,” she says, with mock horror. “I realized it was more about re-education about how faces are perceived. The first thing looked at is your eyes, then your teeth, and the shape of your face. No one’s actually looking at your lips, so if you are overinflating them, they will register as an obvious distraction.” Often having to rewind an earlier doctor’s work – “the Russian lip trend was terrible, there’s no complete coming back from that,” she balefully warns – she will then rebuild. “It’s crucial to me to be able to treat someone as a whole, not just select the lips or eyes and adjust them in isolation,” she explains. Her LMS Wellness clientele soon became invite-only, with patients having to be vouched for and recommended before having the coveted invitation extended. However, the Selfridges clinic takes a more democratic approach, opening up its books for appointments. Her original location remains closed to the general public, favoring those undergoing full-on medical transformations.
While she thrived as a member’s- only derm, Dr Vali appreciates the visibility her Selfridges location offers, as the daughter of immigrants who has achieved huge success. “When my parents came to the UK as Indian immigrants in the Seventies, they had to fight that racism. I was the first in the family to go through private school, the first girl to go to university and I had to succeed for my community.” Dr Vali doesn’t shy away from recounting her earlier years, pointing to her lack of privilege as something that helped propel her upwards. “I wanted to open doors for other girls like me, that you don’t have to come from a wealthy, well-connected background. Heart and drive can’t be bought.” Her desire to give back is reflected in her immersive work with Children of War, a pediatrics charity founded by Amel Najjar. “We fund it ourselves from our own revenue, and fly out doctors to war-torn countries, to refugee camps, to perform complex, complicated surgeries,” explains Dr Vali. The charity’s work has touched some of her most exclusive clients too. “We’ve had quite a few royals from the Middle East who have funded missions directly. One of the princesses flew out a whole jet plane of supplies.” Proving, although she modestly wouldn’t admit it, that Dr Vali’s influence again runs further than skin-deep.
Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia