THE PLASTIC SURGEON WITH THE SPACE SERUM
Reconstructive surgery, astronauts and Middle Eastern royalty. This is the story of how they all came together for Dr Yannis Alexandrides’ 111Skin.
How reconstructive surgery, astronauts and Middle Eastern royalty came together for the most wanted skincare now – 111Skin.
“When I made the decision to be a plastic surgeon, I was in medical school in Greece. And my parents, themselves doctors, advised me not go into plastic surgery because they said no one does this kind of job, there’s no demand for it,” Dr Yannis Alexandrides says with a laugh.
Fast-forward three decades, and not only is the 51-year-old the owner of a successful plastic-surgery practice in London’s Harley Street (a sort of medical Savile Row) and a well-known name in both the industry and media, he is also the founder of science-led luxe skincare brand 111Skin, which he is in town to launch.
As he walks into the VIP lounge of Robinsons The Heeren, Dr Yannis – as everyone calls him – looks composed and polished, unfazed by the 34 deg C heat outside. He has the assured air of an experienced physician, and – as one would expect of a feted cosmetic surgeon – well-maintained looks with no telltale signs that might suggest he’s had work done.
His credentials are just as impeccable: He’s certified by American, European and Greek plastic surgery boards, is the author of scientific papers in publications like the British Journal of Plastic
Surgery, and a former resident surgeon at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, one of the largest in the United States.
While stateside, he trained as a reconstructive surgeon – specifically, in
Space is a laboratory for ageing because of its extreme conditions. This means that what astronauts use to protect themselves against biological damage has to be hands-down effective.
craniofacial surgery. “It was a tremendous experience because you’re dealing with very difficult problems like accidents, gunshot wounds to the face, and babies with congenital anomalies. But this teaches you well about anatomy and how to deal with any possible problem,” he says.
After eight years in the US, he moved to London in 2001 and set up his practice at 111 Harley Street (thus the name of his skincare line). Although going from car crashes to cosmetic surgery seems a step down from a noble cause, Dr Yannis says the work isn’t all that different. He still sees patients with birth defects and facial trauma like burns and broken bones. Just not in life-ordeath situations that require him to respond within three minutes of being contacted.
“Plastic surgery is a very broad field that includes reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, or aesthetics, as we call it. But the same principles apply. They’re not separate sciences but the same art applied to different problems,” he explains.
It was also a matter of finding fresh challenges. After years of doing reconstructive surgery, he wanted to take his work in another direction. He says: “It was a personal journey. I had done a lot of reconstructive surgery and participated in missions to South America, where we did cleft lip palate surgery. It was a wonderful time which I enjoyed a lot. However, as part of my personal evolution, aesthetic surgery was also something that intrigued me and which I was interested in developing.”
Contrary to what some might think, giving tighter skin or sharper cheekbones to well-heeled clientele (Harley Street is in a chic, affluent part of central London) isn’t all a walk in Hyde Park. According to Dr Yannis, there is more to aesthetic surgery than making someone beautiful.
“It’s about understanding the psychology of a person who comes to see you. It’s usually because they want to be happy, and plastic surgery offers a way. But you have to make the call on whether you can help them reach the point where they’re happy. That’s different from reconstructive surgery where you must treat the patients because of deformities. It’s a different dimension, because not everybody is a good candidate for cosmetic surgery. There are some people who will never be happy, and they shouldn’t be doing it,” he says. N ot only is he cautious about whom he operates on, he tends not to recommend surgery at all if he can help it – a rather odd take for a surgeon. His explanation: With so many non- or minimally-invasive treatment methods available, patients often do not need to go under the knife to get the results they want.
“I wouldn’t say invasive surgery is the last option, because that sounds like it’s not a good one. A lot of times, it is the best option. But if I have to prioritise, and there is a non-surgical way, I would choose that,” says Dr Yannis. “I try to put myself in the position of the patient: If I can get a result without surgery, would I still want to do it? And the answer is clearly no.”
He stresses, however, that there are still some problems that can only surgery can fix. That, he feels, is what sets plastic surgeons apart from GPs or dermatologists who offer aesthetic procedures – the former literally have inside knowledge of bones, tissues and muscles and how altering these will affect the external appearance.
Though he doesn’t think he knows any more about skin than a dermatologist does, what he has as a surgeon is a different feel and understanding of skin – how it behaves and how hard it is for post-surgery skin to heal compared with skin that’s uninjured or whose problem is limited to the surface.
He says: “Plastic surgeons are specialists who have spent years in training to learn the techniques and understand the aesthetics and ethos of these procedures, so we have the experience and knowledge to perform them best. As for what separates me from other doctors, I think it’s my personal choices, my experience, my philosophy of combining surgical with non-surgical treatments, and not doing surgery if it’s unnecessary.”
It’s a tack that his patients certainly seem to appreciate. On Realself.com – an online portal that offers information on cosmetic surgeries and treatments and has patient reviews of more than 20,000 board-certified doctors worldwide – clients describe him in glowing terms ranging from “an artist” and “first-class” to “kind and thoughtful”, “measured in his approach” and “highly accomplished, truthful and supremely patient”.
His skills and reputation haven’t just helped him grow his client list, they’ve also made him one of the go-to medical experts for major media like the BBC.
In fact, it was his interview on a Discovery Channel programme about breast reconstruction that put him in the orbit of two people who would be instrumental in creating his skincare line – scientists who’d formerly worked in the Soviet space programme, looking after the health and well-being of astronauts.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the duo had moved to Bulgaria to work on other projects, but they held some product patents from their time in the space programme which they wanted to commercialise. Among these was a woundhealing “sponge” that injured astronauts could apply directly to wounds to stop the bleeding and kick-start the healing process while awaiting medical aid.
Having learnt about Dr Yannis through the Discovery Channel show, the scientists approached him to work on clinical studies of the healing sponge. Coincidentally, at the time, he was trying out available products on the market in an attempt to find something that could help his patients recover better, was easy to use, and didn’t require a prescription.
Dr Yannis chuckles when asked if he didn’t find it a little sinister to have two former Soviet scientists knocking on his door. Yes, it was the mid2000s and the Cold War was a thing of the past. But still.
“Of course, the background of the scientists was… different. Like with anything new, you go through a process of judgment, and I was very apprehensive about it. However, when we met and they explained what they were doing, it became very apparent to me that they could have ways to help people,” he says.
The way he saw it, “space is a laboratory for ageing”. The extreme conditions faced by astronauts in space – no atmosphere, unfiltered UV and cosmic radiation, lack of gravity, and high stress – mean that whatever is used to protect them against biological damage and accelerated ageing has to be hands-down effective. And if the ingredients used in the scientists’ wound-healing sponge could work in space, imagine what they could do here on earth.
“I explained that there were technical reasons why I couldn’t do a clinical study. But if they could come up with a product my patients could use after surgery, then we might have something,” he says. So, using key ingredients
When a member of Middle Eastern royalty ditched her usual beauty shopping at Harrods, the higher-ups at the department store offered to bankroll Dr Yannis’ skincare line.
and technology from the sponge, they created the Dramatic Healing Serum (DHS).
Within DHS is NAC Y2, an antioxidant combo of cysteine, vitamin C, and aescin from horse chestnut. It’s not the sexiest moniker, but what matters is what NAC Y2 can do: boost production of glutathione, our body’s most prevalent and powerful antioxidant.
How powerful is it? In hospitals, glutathione is an antidote given intravenously to poisoned victims – such as those who have OD’d on drugs like paracetamol. According to Dr Yannis, it prevents liver failure by absorbing and neutralising the free radicals produced by the liver because of the poison.
In 2008, having arrived at a usable version of DHS (“the original didn’t smell too good”), he began giving little pots of it to his patients as part of their post-treatment care. The response was overwhelming. Patients reported, well, dramatic results. Not only did their skin heal faster and better, it became smoother and more taut, even-toned and hydrated. The serum was also said to lessen signs of sun damage like dark spots and wrinkles.
Many patients returned wanting more of the stuff. Among them was a member of Middle Eastern royalty who was so impressed by it that she purchased it in bulk as gifts for her family and friends. When she ditched her usual beauty shopping at Harrods and raved to her personal shopper about the serum, the store’s higher-ups sat up and took notice.
They approached Dr Yannis and offered to bankroll his skincare line to get it on the market. Back then, he had around eight basic products based on DHS. The investment by Harrods enabled him to fine-tune the formulas and improve their packaging and branding. And in 2012, the 111Skin range of products debuted at the department store, headlined by the serum which was renamed Y Theorem Repair Serum.
“The skincare is something very unique. I myself never thought I would have a skincare line,” says Dr Yannis, laughing somewhat sheepishly. “It was more a side effect of my craft.”
Since then, the brand has grown to encompass five collections, with products running the gamut from cleansers to serums, boosters, moisturisers and masks. NAC Y2 is in most of them, and is in all the products with a reparative function.
Taking something meant for use in space and applying it to terrestrial skincare may seem like overkill, but Dr Yannis says it isn’t so.
“It’s actually using the best reserve that we already have to the maximum. The theory behind the original Dramatic Healing Serum is that it takes your body’s own healing mechanism and augments it. Keep in mind that all the best medical advances come either by accident – as in the case of penicillin – or in situations where the technology has to advance really quickly, such as in times of war. So a lot of applications we use in everyday life come from extreme situations,” he says. And with increasing pollution and the destruction of the ozone layer exposing us to more radiation, using spaceworthy skincare actually isn’t that much of a stretch.
For his part, Dr Yannis says he still looks to space research for ideas, though not exclusively. He professes to be a keen follower of NASA’s space programme because of all the medical findings it turns up, but he keeps an equally close eye on new developments in medical science that may have uses in skincare and wellness.
Case in point: His Cryo regenerative range, and 111Cryo chambers located in Harvey Nichols and Harrods, are medically based on cold therapy. He says that as lifestyle and beauty treatments, they deliver health and skincare benefits such as endorphin and adrenalin rushes, as well as boosted blood circulation, metabolism and antiinflammatory responses.
“Because of my skincare products, my focus is not narrowed on surgery as it was before. Now it’s broader and more about well-being,” he says. “I don’t believe that a treatment alone helps us achieve all our goals to look good and be healthy. In my opinion, plastic surgery and aesthetics treatments are only the peak of a mountain consisting of a healthy lifestyle, exercise and many other factors.”
With the fields of medicine, lifestyle and beauty increasingly blurring into one another, he predicts that the big thing in aesthetics isn’t going to be one particular treatment like Botox or hyaluronic acid fillers, but the growing ubiquity and acceptance of them all.
“I think it’s already happening. The demand has increased so much that even we plastic surgeons never thought it would be this way 10 years ago. When I was training in the States, the number of surgeries that were performed then was nowhere close to the numbers performed now.”