Dr. Harold Lancer: Oprah’s Dermatologist On The #1 Beauty Killer

Meet the dermatologist who has over 40 clients walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes and is endorsed by Oprah. Celebrities instagram from his treatment rooms and even though he’s often called upon for quick fixes, he believes the real secret to great skin is a consistent skincare routine at home. 

Recently, we spent a couple hours with Dr. Lancer at his stunning office on Rodeo Drive. He encapsulated his extensive medical experience (30 years worth) into products and explained easy-to-implement tips that result in glowing skin, all of which start at home.


Interview with Dr. Harold Lancer:


Q. How do you feel a woman can strike a balance between aging gracefully and undergoing procedures or treatments? What about women who feel pressure to keep up but don’t want to use botox/fillers?

A. You’re in the right place. First of all, let me explain why I look this way and what’s happening around my eyes. I allow my staff to practice on me. I let them practice on me so I can see how the new processes work or if I want the younger nursing staff to get a feel for what things are like, so they can explain it to the patient. What this is, is a trichloroacetic acid peel. TCA is a liquid; there are at least a dozen natural chemical peels and TCA is one of the more common peeling agents for medium-depth peeling. It’s used to even-out skin color, texture, fine lines, creepiness, sort of like that cigarette paper look, for people who aren’t good candidates for lasers. I had one of the junior nurses test it out on my eyes and that was Friday at 5 p.m. We are now at 72 hours and this will be healed in about another 3 days. It will be a flawless smoothing of the lower eyelids, so that’s why I look like this.

It’s good you see this chemical peel. Today, the majority of consumers don’t even want to recover from a peel like I am doing. The majority of people don’t want to do anything that involves significant healing or experiencing downtime. Plus, with mixed ancestries being more common, if you do this peel on someone with a lot of mixed ancestry, you will get a lot of scarring; so the ethnicities shifts are one thing. There is a need for economic, high-quality skincare and the majority of people are cutting back on small, mini procedures, only wanting high-quality skincare that is affordable. That’s the way it stands now.

And I think there is also another point to it; people who care about the way they look are taking care of  their health better. For the most part, they are eating better, exercising and staying out of the sun. It’s an overall lifestyle shift. The 1950’s, when you were going to fancy fattening dinners and have four cocktails, and make up for it with  significant surgical procedures… those days are really over.


Q. Is high-quality skincare enough?

A. Well, here’s an example, a guy who’s around 28, who’s an actor-type, came in and said, he wanted to look a little better. The guy was only 28 but he had a sallow skincolor, which was probably partly ethnic and partly diet related. I have to look at that and address it; the first thing with a guy like that will not be chemical peels, it won’t be laser peels or photo rejuvenation – it will be basic skincare.

So I will put a person like that on The Lancer Method of Polish-Cleanse-Nourish first, because men are very simple; if you overwhelm them with more than 3 things, you can kiss it goodbye. Men don’t tolerate discomfort or complexity. We monitor everyone with photographs, so Polish-Cleanse-Nourish and then see them in a week or two. A week later they might be thoroughly impressed and then I may add something. I may add some glycogen polymer, or some retinoic acid. Then I will follow them for 6 months and at the end of 6 months, we may compare the photographs. They will ask what I think, and I’ll say “the skin color, texture, complexion is pretty radiant.” Then, at that point, they may say, what about my frown lines, then I have to find out what their work is, do they need a lot of expression in the face? I might then do a few drops and from there they’ve gone from skincare to adding a procedure.

Every patient here gets skincare first. Physicians are supposed to be educators, and once a person has expressed their concerns, I give them a menu of choices to address, A, B and C. It might be lasers, peels, neurotoxins or it might be mini-neurotoxins and some sort of ultrasound. The basic rule is always skincare first, with monitored progression.


Q. There are many new skincare gadgets on the market. What do you make of the emergence?

A. I think the consumer is now looking for relief earlier in life, seeking out pre-emptive skincare and achieving high-quality results at home. That’s why you are seeing all these new instruments for home use. It’s an effort, and you if keep repeating it at home, following the program and the lifestyle is good enough to see a real improvement.  The trend in beauty is that of pre-emptive maintenance. Small home-based treatments are for people in very good condition who want to maintain it.


Q. Oprah is one of your most well-known clients. Is there anything in particular you can share with our readers that has been memorable from your relationship with her?

A. She’s very fascinating as a person; she’s sharp and she is a wonderful person, she really is. She said to me one day, “you know, I love coming here and the care is phenomenal, but you know very few people can afford to come here. Your products are spectacular. Why don’t you make the products available to the general public and let them decide, because I think they are great products.”  She was the one who picked Nordstrom as the retailer.

Oprah said, “it would be worthwhile to release it to the public and a nice thing to give a little bit of Lancer to the public. You might as well have part of your practice distributed to the consumer because your products are terrific.” 

She was instrumental in that and that’s because I live a very sheltered life; it never occurred to me. These products were originally developed by me 17 years ago and they’ve gone through multiple evolutions. Every 6 to 12 months, the products go through new chemistry concepts, but as the chemistry improves, the overall Lancer Method is what is important – the Polish-Cleanse-Nourish concept.


Q. What brought about the Limited Edition Lancer Luxury Collection you did with Oprah?

A. Oprah wanted something for the 2012 holiday season. We did a special packaging for the Polish-Cleanse-Nourish. Same Lancer Method, but in larger sizes. She helped design the packaging for that limited edition and she invited women who were all in somehow related to people in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it was her special gift for those 30 or 40 women. There were 1000 units made, and the rest went to the general public. She came into the office and indicated that this would be a great thing to create as one of her favorite things; it was literally that, one of her favorite things.


Q. How does eating protein affect the skin and what percentage of the diet should be protein?

A. Well, my personal theory from watching people for over 30 years is that in most diets, western civilizations or otherwise, protein is expensive compared to carbs, fat, salt and sugar. As a result of this, the majority of people eat around 12%-15% of protein. I ask them to calculate what they ate for the day. The majority of people, like the RDA, recommend 25%-30% protein. I really feel it should be much closer to 40%. I think to make protein bearing human tissue, you need to eat protein; you need the amino acids from protein.

35%-40% of the diet – protein

So it should be somewhere between 35%-40% for the average healthy consumer.  That takes an effort. That’s where grilled fish, poultry, beef, etc. come in, because for the majority of people who aren’t raw eaters or vegetarians or vegans, I think there is nothing better than animal source protein. For the other people, when you have to substitute beans, nuts and soy for protein, it’s not a close second. I can tell you that people who are true raw vegans and vegetarian types, they don’t heal as well.  When I do a laser procedure on a person who is a vegan – no eggs, no dairy, no nothing – they heal very slowly. It’s just an observation; they are healing significantly slower than the normal dietary intake people.

60% of the diet – selective carbs and fats

For the remaining 60% of your diet – you have to be very selective in the carb world and fat world. They have to be really leafy green or green vegetables, maybe a little bit of cucumber or tomato, but you need things that have a lot of vibrant color. You have to keep carrots to a minimum, because that’s really high sugar content. You want the lower glycemic vegetables and the lower glycemic fruits. So in the fruit world, the apples are good, but papaya and melons are a little too sweet. Things that are really sweet and tropical have a very high rapid conversion to sugar, so it throws your insulin off. You have to pick your fruits and vegetables carefully, because with random fruits and vegetables, you are likely to  end up with more sugar conversion with slower uptake. The protein is really the key to it though.


Q. Are there any other food products where you’ve seen a cause and effect with the skin?

A. I personally think salt – besides an overly low protein intake, a relatively unselective carbohydrate intake and a random fat intake – is the main killer of beauty and physical well-being. The majority of things bottled and canned have some sort of salt in them. I feel that the body doesn’t look at the skin as an essential organ. The body looks at the heart, lung, liver, kidneys as the life-preserving components from a brain stem concept.

The skin is considered by the body as a reservoir/radiator for fluid storage; when the body senses high salt intake, the body will try to drain fluid out of the skin, so that the internal circulation gets a little boost of water to dilute the salt.

Do you know why the entertainment people have chefs and nutritionists? It has nothing to do with weight, it has to do with keeping their skin looking good and radiant on high definition television and film. That means preparing their foods so freshly that it reduces their salt intake. Even alcohol intake is minimal, because it has salt and sugar and it dehydrates them; they start looking very pasty on camera. The entertainment people watch their dietary intake; it’s very hard to sculpt a figure when you’re bloated from alcohol intake, salt intake and high carb intake. They are so well controlled because they have to always look radiant. My observations have resulted from the experience of seeing 50 patients a day for 30 years. I’ve seen everything. I watch people and watch what they do. I don’t have any associates; I see every patient myself. Some of the staff has been here for 28 years. Staff don’t come and leave here because, as my wife has said, you’d have to be nuts to leave this job when you get to see some of the most fascinating people on earth everyday.


Q. What were you looking to formulate with your line that wasn’t on the market

A. Up until Oprah came around, you couldn’t get the products unless you were a patient. There were patients who ordered ten times what they needed to distribute to their friends. There were patients who would get 3500 polish, cleanse, nourish kits as gift sets for guests at their wedding. It would take the staff a month to fill an order like that.

“The products, the ingredients and the quality of production make a huge difference.”

The skincare is not made in mass quantities. It’s a different concept and the consumer appreciates it; we are coming up on two years since we launched in Nordstroms.


Q. The majority of skincare programs are designed to cleanse first and then exfoliate. Why does yours require exfoliation before cleansing?

A. The Lancer program is always a Polish-Cleanse-Nourish, which allows you to disrupt the barrier.  The polish is always disrupting the stratum corneum first (the outer most layer of the skin), and that involves a controlled disruption. It’s sort of like programmed exercise. When you go to the gym, you benefit most from a programmed method of exercising to create a controlled inflammation of the muscle. Think about it, if you talk to any trainer, they will tell you, you need to create some degree of controlled muscle inflammation in order to get a cardiovascular benefit and muscle enhancement. In the skin world, all skin products have been deficient because it’s always been a concept of nourishing the skin with some magic potion; when no one has been paying attention to the fact that you have to carefully disrupt the surface stratum corneum to allow penetration of the various active ingredients in products.

Of course, if an actress has very heavy red carpet makeup on, she’ll have to cleanse first to remove most of it then proceed with the Polish.


Q. Can phyiscal exfoliation be too irritating to sensitive skin?

A. Cheap exfoliants with kernels or rough textures can damage the skin. The Polish is made of smooth-edge fine granuals; you control exfoliation. It is effective yet so gentle people with rosacea can use it. 

The Polish is the #1 selling product in the line, but the consumer has to use it correctly. You have to pay attention to your skin. In LA, you may use the Polish everyday, but if you’re in Apsen, you may use it twice a month. The consumer has be in tune with their skin and its changes. There are no skin types; sometimes you may be oily, other times feel dry. Skin changes are based on climate, the temperature indoors or outdoors, diet and other components. The Problem Skin version for the Lancer Method is for blemish-prone skin and the Skin Revival Lancer Method will work on all other skin types.


Q. There isn’t a toner in the Lancer Method, why is that?

A. True toners that are alcohol, witch-hazel based serve no function in skincare.

“Decades ago, in the Coco Chanel era, there was a need for toner because there were so many oil based products that required toner to mop up some of the oil that was being generated by those products.”

There are toners that exist now simply because people are accustomed to using them as a habit. There is no need for toner. If someone is oily, the Polish-Cleanse-Nourish for Problem Skin works incredibly well.


Q. What are peptides and how do they work?

A. Peptides come in countless variations. There are countless peptides. About ten years ago, the theory was proposed that peptides, which mean amino acid fragments, synthetically created or from some natural animal, plant or marine life, when applied to the skin with normal cleansing, stimulate protein production. It is a theory that has never been proven to be true, but the concept is right, because sometimes amino acid fragments will stimulate the fibroblast, to go into collagen elastin production. But the big flaw is that not one of them will penetrate the outer layer of the skin. That’s why the Polish-Cleanse-Nourish is the way it is. When you selectively disrupt the stratum corneum of the epidermis, those peptides in The Nourish, and some of the other products, will penetrate. They are in the formulas and now they have access to the dermis where no other brand does that.

When you are using some sort of neck firming product on bare skin, you might as well be using Crisco. It’s an absolute waste. Amino acid complexes are way too large to penetrate the epidermis, if it hasn’t been disrupted.


Q. Is going to bed with makeup on really that bad and is makeup containing skincare effective?

A. Yes. Cosmetics are complex chemistry sets. During the hours of sleep is when the skin repairs itself. When makeup is left on, the entire respiratory process of the skin is disrupted.

“Going to bed without washing your face causes a decay of the tissue, similar to when you eat a meal and don’t brush your teeth.”

As far as makeup containing skincare, it’s a marketing concept. It’s not effective. Adding anti-oxidants and vitamins to color treatments is not good science either.


Q. What are some last minute things a woman can do at home to get her skin glowing for Valentine’s Day?

A. Use the Lancer Method in the shower and allow the steam to get going before using the Polish. Begin at the middle of your forehead and work your way down in gentle, circular motions. Be consistent and you will see radiant skin. Also, Intensive Night Treatment is great for dry/dehydrated skin – it works quickly and can create a glow just in time for Valentine’s Day. Being consistent with your skincare will allow you to wear less makeup. Men can’t stand the scent or taste of cosmetics, so the less a woman wears the better.


Harold Lancer, MD, FAAD is the expert dermatologist located in Beverly Hills, trusted by Hollywood’s most recognizable faces, including Oprah, Sofia Vegara, Victoria Beckham and more.