Becoming a doctor is a calling, a vocation—so it’s not so surprising to hear someone decided upon that profession as a child. But someone saying as a kid that they want to be a dermatologist? That’s special.
“I had eczema from when I was eight years old, and went to see a really inspiring woman dermatologist,” says Dr. Shannon Humphrey, medical director of Carruthers & Humphrey in Vancouver. “When she opened the samples cupboard to give me treatment … I remember [Handel’s] Hallelujah chorus playing. … Fast-forward to me now, and I’m so grateful to her.”
These days, Humphrey is a renowned expert on skin care and non-invasive esthetic procedures like Botox, fillers and Thermage. She’s also a clinical assistant professor at UBC, international speaker, researcher, scientist and the go-to for writers who need a frank, straightforward, unbiased point-of-view for their beauty stories. She is also frustrated at the pervading notion that seeing a cosmetic dermatologist is pure vanity, or that being interested in your appearance and trying to modify it is a new phenomenon.
“We are genetically programmed to prefer people who have traits of reproductive fitness; it comes down to mate selection, picking a mate that gives you the best chance of carrying your genetic material forward. It can be traced back to the beginning of time!” she says. “In Ancient Egypt they were doing treatments to even out skin tone. It’s not just vanity and it’s not new. I’m not letting us off the hook—there’s a social responsibility to keep this in perspective—but we also have to understand where it comes from.”
That said, Humphrey is making a stand for socially responsible esthetic medicine by ditching the term “anti-aging” in favour of “positive aging,” and including one’s physical appearance as part of holistic wellness.
“Wellness is not just the absence of illness, but the presence of health and vitality, and one part of that is appearance,” she explains. “There are often physical changes that come with aging that mean appearance doesn’t match the way a patient feels. If we can bring self-image and appearance into alignment, it will support patients in feeling healthy and well. This is the philosophy around positive aging, and it’s very much opposed to simply trying to look younger. I think there’s a mounting body of literature and I see it in my clinic on a daily basis, that if you look happy and approachable and rested you feel that way, and the inverse is true.”
Some people still hold the notion of the cosmetic dermatologist as critic—that an appointment will involve the doctor pointing out flaws that need to be fixed, leaving the patient depressed and self-critical. That’s the opposite of Humphrey’s approach.
“That highlights a paternalistic approach to patient care that’s antiquated. The positive aging approach is collaborative. I can only help the patient if I understand their values,” she says. “Often I will ask patients if they’re interested in hearing my thoughts. It’s quite different to, ‘you need this’ or ‘this is a problem.’ It’s, ‘How do you want to feel when you look in the mirror?’”
Regarding her own, personal positive aging approach Humphrey doesn’t like the term "beauty routine," preferring the idea of a wellness regimen. “I think of it as the whole pie: trying to live the balanced life, which is tricky with the clinic, travel, four kids and a husband I adore. So it’s thinking about how I spend my time, focusing on being present where I am and allocating time for self-care and yoga.”
She adds, “As part of that, I take care of my skin. Sunscreen is paramount because prevention is much easier than reversing. I also have gentle conservative treatments including IPL and micro-needling. I’m particularly loving Volite—hyaluronic acid microinjections that improve skin quality. This has changed the way I feel about my skin. The greatest impact is Sunday mornings at home in PJs with my kids, because my skin feels healthy and smooth, and looks luminous.”
At 41, Humphrey says she’s happy and contented with life. “I am undeniably ambitious. By na-ture I am goal-oriented, but I think my headspace right now is reflecting on where I am and where I’ve come from,” she says. “My life is filled with abundance and my top priority is my family—my husband and my children. Next to that, I’m deeply passionate about my work life and think it’s a great privilege to partner with patients in living their best life, as I am mine.” —Aileen Lalor