Dr. Corey L. Hartman on TikTok Trends and the Skincare Mistakes Not to Make
With so many skincare influencers on social media and even more skincare products on the shelves, it can be hard to distinguish between glossy packaging and sophisticated marketing versus quality ingredients that will actually work for your skin type. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, is here to help you cut through the BS. Here, he shares his favorite sunscreen for brown skin, his take on gendered skincare products and the three skincare staples he swears by.
What first sparked your interest in skincare and made you want to pursue dermatology?
I remember having a few breakouts when I was 12 or 13 and figuring it out on my own because it wasn’t bad enough that I would have sought the help of a dermatologist and my aunt told me when I was growing up that black people don’t go to the dermatologist. There was only one black dermatologist in Louisiana, so it wasn't something that was readily accessible or top of mind. If I wasn’t going to rise to the level of needing professional help, I was going to figure it out on my own. I also remember there was a skincare line, it was the first time I’d ever seen a line of products that was geared toward men. I had to have it. I didn’t get it, but I put all my effort into getting this line of products. We didn’t have the same access as we do now, where we have the drugstores and the dermatologists, but when I went to the department store near my house and saw this, I thought, ‘This is intriguing to me, I want this.’ For what was available then, that was kind of intense for a thirteen year old.
The dermatologist I’m referencing, Dr. Errol J. Quintal, was also my neighbor. Although I didn’t see him as a patient, I was able to understand that was a career that existed, and that really got me going. I was able to spend some time with him and that really planted the seed for me to do what I do today.
What are your thoughts on gendered skincare products now?
I think most of that is total garbage and marketing. We’ve seen examples where things are gendered and then exploited, and women always get the short end of the stick. The ingredients are usually the same, or they’re actually less potent but they charge women more because they know women will pay more. There are some differences in skin between men and women, but there are also differences in skin between this man and that man and this woman and that woman. It’s best to find a regimen that works for you and stick with that, whether it's for men or for women.
You have a TikTok channel where you share skincare tips. What motivated you to join the platform?
I didn’t really want to engage on TikTok, but when you see so much misinformation being shared, and you realize that you have the expertise to weigh in, it’s almost like an obligation on my part to get the word out. I do it to make sure people have a voice of reason. There’s so much out there, and everybody has a voice. But it’s like Keke Palmer said to all the people who tried to give her advice, ‘But do you have the credentials?’ I could wax poetic about how to build a brick wall — but I don’t know anything about building a brick wall, so you don’t want to listen to me.
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Are there any skincare mistakes you made prior to studying dermatology?
The one thing that I remember is just coming out too hot and trying a skincare product that really over-dried my skin. It was a mask and a cleanser, and it was basically just a bunch of salicylic acid. I remember thinking at first, Oh, this is great, and then two days in, my face was tight and burning. It like, cracked. So I feel like I just did a little too much too soon with that one.
Have you always worn sunscreen?
No! I grew up not wearing sunscreen. And even when I knew how important it was, I didn’t have good options for brown skin. I didn’t wear it regularly until probably five or six years ago when the formulas were suitable and not a pain in the butt to wear. I really like Isdin Eryfotona Actnica. It’s a thin emulsion that has zinc oxide and DNA repair enzymes. It goes on smoothly and doesn’t leave a white film.
What is the most common piece of skincare advice you find yourself repeating to friends, family and social media followers?
People always want to know my regimen, and I want people to understand how irrelevant that is to them because everybody’s skin is so different. Once you have someone to help guide you towards the goals you’re trying to achieve, using the same product consistently is the most important thing. The ingredients don’t matter as much as the consistency. The price tag doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. People have so many options and they’re marketed to all the time, you can be incited to purchase all these different things and never give anything a chance to do what it's supposed to do. So be consistent, give the product time to work and introduce things slowly so you don’t have any confusion if there’s a problem.
The other thing that I like to remind people of is that it really only takes three key components: sun protection, antioxidants and retinol. Once you have that down, you can focus on a particular issue, like if you have dark spots or redness. Those three components are 95% of the battle to maintaining good, healthy skin for the long haul. The simpler you can keep that, the easier it is for you to be consistent.
We still would love to know some of the products you use!
I don’t mind sharing, I just want people to understand that they might not necessarily be what works for you. I use a prescription-strength retinoid. There's so many benefits to it, and I do have occasional acne, so it helps to control that. I credit the retinol for the evenness and smoothness of my skin. I use sunscreen every day — I like zinc oxide. There are some great ones now that don’t leave a chalk on brown skin. I’ve been using this antioxidant inflammaging product from Heraux that I really like, so that’s my morning antioxidant. I’ve been using a novel pigment corrector called Cyspera that doesn’t have hydroquinone in it. I use that every morning. And I use a neck cream, just because you can’t forget the neck. That’s pretty much it. I’ll pull out a hyaluronic acid from Vichy if I feel like I need some extra moisture, but I don’t even do that all the time.
So no 10-step skincare rituals?
You don’t need it! If that’s what brings you joy, fine, but if not, don’t burden yourself with too many steps because it’s overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Corey L. Hartman