Glazed-doughnut skin, latte skin, glass skin, dolphin skin. We are living at a banquet of skin. A Sea World of skin. Skin so awesome that we struggle to adequately describe its smooth, glowing, poreless deliciousness. Have you ever in your life been so inundated with skin and its various inspirations, with skin care, skin rituals, skin remedies, and rules?

Screech. Hit the brakes. Someone’s not having it.

“I really can’t take it,” says Dr. Ellen Gendler, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. The excess, the nonsense, and the complete wackery—she’s at a loss for words. But then she finds them. They include “preposterous,” and “the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Also, “My husband tells me, ‘You’re going to get shot.’”

Gendler is not a TikTok doc, but don’t mention that to the millions of people who watch her salty videos. What she is, is a legit, brutally honest dermatologist who tests new drugs, speaks at medical conferences, instructs other doctors, and just cannot hold her tongue when idiocy confronts her at every turn.

“My husband tells me, ‘You’re going to get shot.’”

She’s one of the rare dermatologists who treats both unsexy medical issues and enticing cosmetic ones (most of them stick to the $$exy). For years, she was the co-director of the Contact Dermatitis Division at NYU, admittedly not $$exy—or even $exy—but impressive nonetheless. In that capacity, she studied skin-care products and the problems they sometimes caused. Her list of recommended creams, cleansers, and sunscreens was so popular that she was called to consult for Olay (which she still prefixes with “Oil of”) and the creation of Bobbi Brown’s first skin-care line. So, ask her anything.

“I’ve probably done more injections than 90 percent of the doctors in New York,” she tells me. And I believe her. Her bona fides include working on the early development of hyaluronic acid in skin care and as an injectable filler, called Hylaform. In its original incarnation, those injections “lasted about, I don’t know, until the patient got to the door and paid the check,” she says.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth: Dr. Ellen Gendler at work.

Her Fifth Avenue practice was humming merrily along when Gendler injured her back. “I was on a high dose of steroids,” she tells me. “I could not sleep at all.” So she did what anyone would do under the circumstances: doom scroll. “I see all these dermatologists and these influencers and it was making me crazy,” she says. The steroids ratcheted up the ire. “And I said, ‘Screw it.’” She hit Record and asked one of her nurses to post the videos. Four-and-a-half-million views later, she had a new gig: TikTok Doc (but, shh, don’t tell her).

Her videos aren’t recorded on an art-directed set; it’s just her, her messy desk, and “a stupid little ring light.” What would you expect from someone who describes her territory as “No BS skin advice?”

Hang on! Gendler’s BS meter is blaring, as it does at least once a day. Let’s see what sets it off, shall we?

Sunscreens and Tans

Could you imagine going to your dermatologist appointment with a tan? It turns out, people do it all the time. And they have the chutzpah to tell their doctor—including this particular no-BS doctor—that they use sunscreen. “So I say, ‘What are you using?’ ‘Oh, Supergoop.’ Well, that’s why you’re tan!”

It isn’t the patient’s fault, and she doesn’t blame Supergoop or any other sunscreen. “A hundred percent of people use bad sunscreen,” says Dr. Gendler. “Even the ones who think they’re using a good sunscreen are always using a bad sunscreen.”

In the U.S., only one chemical filter, avobenzone, is approved by the FDA. “It’s a lousy filter,” says Gendler. “It’s unstable. And it doesn’t cover the full spectrum of UVA light.” Those are the rays that cause the most profound skin damage, including cancer. “We have nice mineral sunscreens in the U.S., so I’m O.K. with that. But in my opinion, the mineral sunscreens aren’t nearly as good as the European-slash-Asian chemical sunscreens… It’s night and day.”

That said, even a sub-par American sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all.

One of Gendler’s favorite high-quality picks is Anthelios, which she brings back from Europe. “Schlep ’em home!” she advises. In the late 1990s, Gendler convinced two pharmacies in New York, Cambridge Chemists and Zitomer, to carry these contraband sunscreens, and they did, hidden behind the counter and available for purchase with cold, hard, untraceable cash. Like a drug deal.

And if you think Gendler is holier than thou, wrong. “When I was a dermatology resident, we used to go in the sun or into the UV box before vacation,” she confesses. “We thought if we got a little base tan, it would be better on vacation. I finally stopped in, like, 1989. And I have a big skin cancer here” she points to a dot above her lip. “It’s a miracle I don’t have more.” Regrets, she’s had a few.

People Who Believe the Sun Is Good and Sunscreens Are Dangerous

“Nutjobs” and “morons.” She adds, “That should be outlawed. Those people should be banned from social media.”


And now we have the happy doctor! This fractional resurfacing laser is “One of my favorite procedures,” says Gendler. “It really does help with sun damage, and it definitely helps with pigment. It definitely helps with texture.” So, yay!

For the uninitiated, a Fraxel laser burns the surface of the skin and revs up collagen production The skin is blazing red immediately afterward, and then it peels to reveal a fresh, glowing face that’s more even in color and texture.

Ah, but Gender gets a little testy when patients ask for Fraxel to erase all their misbehavior. “I will not do a Fraxel on anybody who isn’t already using a retinoid and the best sunscreen, because they’ll never get a good result. Or it’ll be a good result for a minute and then it’ll go back to where it was.”

Which Brings Us to Retinoids

For God’s sake, just use them. And if you ask her which one, she’ll tell you not to waste your time with anything but prescription-strength Tretinoin. “There’s nothing to compare to retinoids. I look at my 90-year-old patients who started on retinoids 25 years ago, and their skin is gorgeous.”

“For most people, if they’re using a strong retinoid, they probably never need to do anything” (meaning lasers, radio-frequency, and the like). And those of us who have avoided retinoids because of the red, peel-y results? Don’t be such a baby! “Get real,” Gendler tells me, sternly. Noted.

“It’s like an exercise routine. If you’re sedentary, no one’s going to send you to CrossFit on the first day.” Instead, use the retinoid once every three nights and work up to every night.

Lash-Growth Serums (Also Known as “Those Damn Lash Serums”)

Gendler decided it might be fun to dip into a lash serum, one of the cosmetic equivalents of the prostaglandin-analog drug Latisse. And, well, it wasn’t fun at all. “I lost all the fat around my eyes and I have some permanent hyper-pigmentation on my lids,” she tells me. “It happens to a lot of people.” Including her, “fool that I am.” Into the garbage they go!

Hyaluronic Acid

“It’s a moisturizer, and it doesn’t do anything more than moisturize. It’s no better than anything else.”


This is the trend of glopping Vaseline, Aquaphor, or some equally occlusive goo over your face as the last step in your nighttime skin routine to “seal in” the products and perhaps help the active ingredients penetrate the skin. Sort of like rubbing on a diaper-rash cream. Guess what Gendler thinks? Ding, ding, ding! “Oh my God, I can’t.” And, “Where does this shit come from?”

Drinking Water Moisturizes Your Skin. And Drinking Collagen Builds Collagen.

“Who said this?” she asks. “The biggest bunch of fools,” she answers.

The Practice of Stroking a Gua Sha Stone over Your Face Before Going Out

“You do this and you look in the mirror and say, Oh, I look really good. And then 30 seconds later you leave your house looking exactly the same [as you did before gua sha–ing].” People in their 20s and 30s are especially fond of this ritual.

“When you’re 20 or 30, you look perfect. You can’t improve on that. So get out of the house. Get a job. Go. Go. Celebrate yourself!”

But before you do, for the love of all that is holy, apply sunscreen.

Linda Wells is the Editor of Air Mail Look