If you haven’t heard of Dr Barbara Sturm, chances are you’ll know her most famous treatment. The illustrious “vampire facial” hit headlines in 2013 when Kim Kardashian underwent the procedure during an episode of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians spin-off, Kim and Kourtney Take Miami. It involves drawing a small amount of the patient’s blood and then re-injecting it into the face.
The vampire facial is not available at Dr Sturm’s new London spa – it’s currently only offered at her flagship Düsseldorf spa – which opened earlier this month to much fanfare, with influencers and models sharing selfies of their post-facial aesthetic. Keen to find out more about this renowned celebrity facialist, who is said to be responsible for Gwyneth Paltrow’s impossibly dewy complexion and counts Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham and the Hadid sisters among her clientele, I go along to try it out.
Dr Sturm is a rare breed in the skincare world. Unlike other beauty brands, she doesn’t opt for millennial pink packaging and wishy washy language that promises to transform your life. Dr Sturm is famous for putting the science first. Her molecular cosmetics products, launched in 2014, were designed based on her own clinical research into the field of aesthetics and previous orthopaedic practice. But Dr Sturm was pushing the boundaries in skincare long before that, having developed a bespoke plasma-based cream in 2002, MC1, that reduces signs of inflammation by using the skin’s own proteins: a groundbreaking approach at the time.
It’s this science-based strategy, paired with the simple fact that Dr Sturm’s products typically trigger instant results, particularly where inflammation is concerned, that makes her such a hit with celebrities, who are quick to book an appointment prior to a red carpet event to give them her famous “#SturmGlow”.
When I visit the new London spa, Dr Sturm is in Los Angeles giving facials to the A-list stars before the Oscars. I am told that several of her high-profile fans have already visited the London site, though naturally, everyone was far too discrete to give me any names.
Situated in Mayfair’s glamorous Mount Street, the spa was designed by Sturm’s architect brother, Tobias Fretag and the building – on two floors – is a sight to behold. Clad almost entirely in white marble and with slick archways running through it, the space is a cross between a Hollywood dentist’s office and a spaceship. It has retained the building’s original paved flooring and centres around a giant slab of Italian green onyx, called the “discovery table”, kitted out with Sturm’s cult products including the Hyaluronic Serum (£235) and her bestselling Glow Drops (£110). It’s a clinical and minimal aesthetic that underlies Sturm’s distinct approach to skincare: straightforward and scientific.
There are seven facials on the menu, including one designed for men and another for “darker skin tones”. I don’t tend to have too many major problems with my skin, so I chose Signature Glow facial, which is designed to hydrate the skin, sooth irritation and provide an overall boost to the skin’s health.
A Sturm glow doesn’t come cheap. Facials range between £150, for the Instant Glow treatment, designed as a quick pick-me-up, to £250 for the Clarifying Facial, which is aimed at those prone to breakouts and blemishes. The Signature Glow facial that I am having is £225 and is a one-hour treatment.
After being introduced to my facialist, an experienced clinician with flawless porcelain skin named Jodie, I am taken downstairs to the treatment rooms. Like the rest of the spa, the treatment rooms are defined by stark fuss-free interiors: white lights, white walls, and a simple reclining chair. The atmosphere is bright, clean and quiet. It’s a stark departure from the usual dimmed lighting, cosy interiors and plinky plonky music that have come to define much of the wellness industry. But Dr Sturm’s clients don’t come here to relax and unwind. They come for results.
After having a long chat with Jodie, who examines my skin under the brightest light I’ve ever seen, I’m told that my skin is suffering from over-exfoliation and too much retinol, which I’d been using every evening as an anti-aging product. This, Jodie says, would explain why my skin had been feeling so tight recently. It’s dehydrated. I’m told that I shouldn’t be using such harsh exfoliator (my skin is too sensitive for it) and should absolutely avoid retinol. All of this is news to me.
Jodie begins my tailored treatment with Dr Sturm’s Enzyme Cleanser (£50), which has gentle exfoliating properties within it. The product comes as a powder and requires you to add a splash of water to it in order to turn it into a frothy cleansing liquid.
Extraction follows as Jodie cleans any dirt from my pores and, rather than the usual mask and head massage combination I’ve come to expect in a facial, had Sturm’s signature anti-aging facial massage. This is designed to increase blood and oxygen flow to the face, leading to a higher definition of my facial muscles. This part feels particularly great and relaxing. As Jodie moves her hands into the crevices of my face, I can literally feel my circulation improving.
Next it’s time for something new: micro-needling. The treatment uses tiny sterilised needles to cause small punctures to the blood vessels at the highest level of your skin, which stimulates collagen production and leaves your skin looking fresh and rejuvenated. I was a bit nervous about how this would feel but in actual fact it wasn’t at all painful and simply felt like gentle small vibrations running across my face. It did make my skin a bit red afterwards but this quickly went within the hour. When the facial came to an end my skin felt cleaner and brighter than it had in months.
While the lack of music in the room didn’t lend itself to the traditional spa vibe I was used to, it did allow me to speak to Jodie in a bit more depth about my skin throughout the treatment. I talked her through my full routine and she offered advice and solutions it in a way that went beyond simply trying to sell me Sturm’s products.
Having said that, she really didn’t need to sell Sturm’s products to me: I’ve tried a few of them before and despite the fact that they are astronomically expensive, they have always left my skin feeling clean and glowing. So, naturally, I did buy some more, coming away with the Enzyme Cleanser and the Hyaluronic Serum.
A week later, my skin is really thanking me. The dehydration is already improving and I no longer step out the shower wondering why my skin feels so stretched and tight. Now I can understand why Kim is such a fan.