Maskne. Tech neck. Covid chin. The beauty woes ignited by the binfire that is 2020 are as varied as they are jauntily named, and they’ve been adding insult to injury for thousands over the past six months.
But for one woman, our collective decent into chaos has come with a silver lining – the sudden interest in online skincare consultation. With facials out of bounds, and self-care suddenly more important than ever, consumers who would previously have shunned the idea of skincare over Skype are now considering its benefits. And Jennifer Rock’s revolutionary approach is paying dividends.
Rock, better known as The Skin Nerd in her native Ireland where she’s something of a household name, is a self-confessed skincare geek. A highly-qualified dermal facialist, award-winning skincare lecturer and brand educator, she launched The Nerd Network, a members-only education and retail platform, in 2017. Immediately, her virtual appointments sold out, but this year, things have “gone bananas”. With more than 15,000 people now signed up to her consultation-led, personalised skincare programmes, her staff of ‘nerds’ has doubled, with appointments booked up weeks, even months, in advance.
“We’re living on phones and tablets and computers. Zoom has become our norm. We’re looking down the whole time, surrounded by synthetic light. And the effect is quite dramatic,” Rock explains, sighing slightly. “People’s skin is more sluggish, lethargic. Whether it’s computers or diet, or anxiety levels and the fact that there’s so much uncertainty in the world, there’s no denying that every single person, to some degree, has experienced some form of stress. And for me, there’s a direct correlation between what’s happening to you extrinsically, and the impact intrinsically.”
This, Rock explains, was her attitude long before lockdown. While the beauty industry is too often seen as being solely about what we put on our face, truly good skin is very much created from the inside out. How we feel, how we eat and how we treat our bodies has far more impact than any one pot of cream ever could. And 2020? Well, it’s not helping.
“The impact of this change of lifestyle on our skin health is getting people down. And while that would previously have been a conversation limited to the beauty pages of women’s magazines, now it’s becoming more commonly spoken about. We’re having to wear masks and we’re all feeling the repercussions. So, I suppose for me, it’s brilliant that the conversation is starting. What is not brilliant is that people are feeling not good in themselves.”
A fresh approach
Rock is a fun interviewee, talking passionately and at a mile a minute. Her expertise is as clear as her heartfelt belief in her network’s ability to empower women, and men, to make educated, effective skincare choices. It’s easy to imagine her being a sympathetic therapist in a clinic setting.
But while she admits she misses in-person appointments hugely, she says that online consultation – working from both a highly detailed questionnaire and brightly lit, make-up free photos provided by clients in advance – can be infinitely more powerful than a ten minute chat in a clinic or a department store, usually with a client who arrives with a full face on.
“Doing this online has advantages and disadvantages, such as life. So, the disadvantage is that you don’t get to touch and feel – but right now, that’s just not a reality anyway. The advantage is that, unlike in a department store or salon, I’m given all the information in advance, and then my 30 minutes are entirely spent talking through your skin concerns. Having worked and managed my clinic and salon in the past, the consultation part is perhaps ten minutes, and then it’s straight on to the treatment bed. And I’ll give you phenomenal treatment, don’t get me wrong. But actually, if I have a treatment with you once a month, that’s twelve hours of your year, whereas actually what you do every morning and evening, and what we equip you to do in our online consultations, amounts to a lot more than that over the 365.
“So we’re trying to empower people to feel like the manager of their own skin, and help them build a tool kit at home. Then we’re there almost like a distant skin personal trainer to check back in ten weeks later.”
Rock’s passion for the approach doesn’t stop at consultation however. Last year, she launched her own clinically-led, active product range, Skingredients, based around her belief in diet and internal health as the key to good skin. The core four products riff on our understanding of nutrition – think Skin Veg and Skin Protein – while a mix-and-match range of complementary products tackles specific, more time-limited concerns such as acne or pigmentation. “The main feedback we get is that it’s simple, it’s easy to follow, and you get results from it,” she smiles. “And sometimes, too often, that’s not the case. Often skincare can be quite overwhelming. It can be confusing. It can be a little bit misleading, at times.”
Refreshingly, while Skingredients is Rock’s baby, it remains just one of 30 brands she regularly recommends to her Nerd Network clients. “Although I own Skingredients, we still support and endorse many other brands. What we do always comes back to education, and if I know a product from another range is going to suit you better, that’s what I’m going to recommend. It sounds like such an American pageant answer, but my hope, my aim, is to actually allow our clients to take control, to feel good in their choices and enjoy it. That’s how simple skin care should be.”
We might live in an age of information, with literally tens of thousands of skincare products just a click away. But this wealth of options means confusion is rife, she says. “What’s frustrated me in years gone by is that people will try product after product, and tell me they’ve tried everything. Then I’ll ask what they’ve tried, and they’ll have been more consumed by the steps than the ingredients. So, it’s about trying to explain to people, it’s less about the brand, ironically, less about the steps, and actually more about what ingredients you’re exposing your skin to, depending on what your concern is.
“You and I might have totally opposite skin, but we still need SPF, hyaluronic, vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants… There’s a checklist that we all need as core. Sure, then you play with your sheet mask and your eyes and your spritz. That’s the fun part, the sexy part, the part people want to talk about. But I do believe that there’s perhaps a little bit more of the basic, fundamental, integral pieces that people don’t know they should be looking for. That’s what our whole approach is all about.”
It’s also the approach of her newly-released second book, The Skin Nerd Philosophy, a bible to all things skin of which she is justifiably proud. “The book is all about going under the skin of the skin. So, I discuss the industry on a whole, how it’s changed in recent years and, ultimately, become somewhat saturated. What I wanted to do was try to create a concise book that spoke about the sector and about the different qualifications within it.
“Cosmetic surgeons aren’t just all about nose augmentation – they can actually be helpful when it comes to scarring. Dermatologists shouldn’t be feared – sometimes a therapist or a facialist like myself isn’t sufficient and you do need to go down the medical road. There’s lots of different disciplinarians in there, people I hold in high regard, from nutritionists and dieticians to stress experts. It’s trying to get in deeper to ensure that people can take something away from it.”
Between the book, the skincare range, the Nerd Network and her countless high-profile TV and radio appearances, Rock has a lot going on. Yet it’s safe to say she’s her own best advert – if she’s feeling the stress, it isn’t showing in her skin. The secret, she says, lies in viewing skincare as an ever-changing process.
“It really is a jigsaw puzzle, and every time we meet with somebody, something has changed,” she laughs. “Whether they’ve fallen off the bandwagon, their budget has tightened, their medication has changed, or their skin is amazing but they don’t need that actual ingredient anymore, it’s an evolving beast, and I don’t believe in that terminology of before and afters.
“The challenge of constant change is actually very motivating. If you had said to me 15 years ago that my business would be predominately digital – coming from a facialist background and being a tactile person, I would have been slightly uncertain. But the rewarding part is seeing people become confident in what we do. The results that we get are undeniable and our client retention rate is through the roof. That says to me that we’re actually doing something right.”
“I’m definitely not the easiest client”
Our editor, Jennifer Crichton, tries out The Nerd Network’s digital consultation service – and has her cynicism crushed…
I’m pretty sure, going in, that my skin is beyond the hope of anything that can be achieved on Zoom.
Four weeks post-hysterectomy, I’ve barely seen daylight in recovery, and it shows. For someone who’s been spending endless hours in bed, I look pretty damn tired. There’s also the small matter of the endless hormone treatments I underwent in the run up to my surgery, each of which made itself felt on my face and left me with an unenviable baseline of dry patches, late-thirties ageing and hormonal acne. Fun times.
But if my ‘Nerd’, Benjamin, is daunted, it doesn’t show. The poor man has been subjected to my make-up free photographs a week prior to our consultation, and I’ve submitted a lengthy questionnaire, detailing all of my medical adventures, as well as every product in my bathroom cabinet and make-up bag. Clearly, he’s pored over them, and tells me he’s also been researching the impact of hysterectomy surgery prior to our ‘meeting’.
The result is a consultation far more thorough than anything I’ve ever had in a clinic or spa. And while it’s skincare I’m here for, the first thing he covers off is supplementation, recommending four vitamin blends designed to help reduce inflammation, support healing and put me on the path to equilibrium.
When it comes to skincare recommendations, while Rock’s own Skingredients range features in my personal menu, so too does Environ – the focus is on products he believes will help both my surgical and facial scarring, and the approach refreshingly free of any hard sell or brand bias. Critically, I’m shown exactly how to use each product, when, how often, and in what order. The prescription cream I’ve been using is factored into the process, my recommendations designed to complement rather than replace, and I’m left feeling not only that my problems are fixable, but that I, myself, have the capability to do it – without dedicating hours of time and frustration to the process.
When the consultation is over, I’m given a detailed homework sheet, which I’m advised to download to my phone for ease of reference, as well as a follow up appointment and contact details – checking in with questions is positively encouraged. When I log into The Nerd Network site, I find my own personalised shop, containing only those products recommended for me, rather than the full range stocked – critical, Rock explains, to overcoming that magpie tendency so many of us have to seek out products that will look good on our shelves, regardless of suitability.
Only time, I guess, will confirm whether Benjamin has hit the nail on the head, but I log off feeling confident and completely in control. And after years of feeling the opposite, that alone feels like progress indeed.
For more information on The Nerd Network, or the Skingredients range, click here.
The Skin Nerd Philosophy: Your Expert Guide to Skin Health by Jennifer Rock, is out now, published by Hachette Ireland (£17.99). Buy your copy here.