In a People Chica exclusive, Dr. Muneeb Shah explains how he’s working to fight misinformation with accessible dermatology advice.
dermdoctor, dr muneeb shah
Dr. Muneeb Shah, known on TikTok as @DermDoctor
| Credit: Courtesy of Cortina

In May 2020, lots of us were downloading TikTok for the first time, looking for a source of entertainment while quarantining. However, for Dr. Muneeb Shah, TikTok proved to be the perfect place to creatively educate the masses.

"I started to have fun creating videos that I didn't think anyone would watch," he explains. "All of a sudden, the videos started to go viral."

As @DermDoctor, Dr. Shah has helped provide expert opinions on countless TikTok trends, from the harmless to the harrowing, and his over 17 million followers turn to him for tips on their own skin care woes.

dermdoctor, dr muneeb shah
Dr. Muneeb Shah, known on TikTok as @DermDoctor
| Credit: Courtesy of Cortina

"People really liked the simplicity of [my videos], and things started to take off. It was actually my mentor who said to me 'you should really start taking this seriously, and make more content because you can reach millions of people with information that they would never have access to.'"

With his newest collaboration with the all-inclusive teledermatology platform Cortina, Shah now seeks to make dermatology even more accessible with the help of AI and dermatologists that are just a click away.

In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Shah shares his tips for finding good skin care advice, crafting your ideal skin care routine, and how to combat the dreaded manchas that keep many Latinas up at night.

While there are some TikTok skincare trends that aren't bad, there are plenty of harmful ones. What are some red flags viewers should be on the lookout for?

The cool thing about TikTok is that there's almost immediate feedback. If someone posts something that's crazy, I get hundreds of tags in that video where people are asking me to debunk it in real-time, so the misinformation isn't able to travel as far as it used to. I would be skeptical of anything that has not been around for a long time. I always say: the things that actually work stay around for years and the things that are trendy tend to go away. 

Always double-check your sources. If you see something happen on TikTok, Google it and see if you can find more information on it, or go on YouTube and see if there's a longer video from a dermatologist explaining whether or not this trend is helpful or harmful. There's so much good information out there now to counteract misinformation that there's always an opposing source nowadays. 

Also, anything that looks like it overpromises or is made in the kitchen, I would be a little bit skeptical of.

What's been the most dangerous advice you've seen?

Because TikTok is so visual, the things that go viral tend to have more visual components. One of the things that I think is pretty harmful are pore vacuums, which are suction devices. They're satisfying to watch, but they create a lot of pressure which causes your blood vessels to rupture, and it can cause permanent damage to the skin. I've seen so many people end up with bruises from using those devices. 

Part of the reason people follow these trends in the first place is due to not having access to a dermatologist, but new online platforms are emerging like Cortina. What led you to join the team?

There's all this educational information out there, deep dives on ingredients that actually work to help with hyperpigmentation, hair loss, or acne, but my audience [says] "That's great, but these aren't available to me," or "The wait time [for a dermatologist] is six months, or I don't have insurance, or the nearest dermatologist is 60 miles away." 

My generation and younger are looking for simple online solutions to solve these problems. Cortina is in 50 states, they're using board-certified dermatologists, [and] you'll get a response within 24 hours. To me, this is solving a problem because I was already making all this content telling people what to do, and their response was frustration that they didn't have access. 

There are other companies that are doing this, but I personally aligned with Cortina because it needs to be done safely. They're exclusively using board-certified dermatologists that have 12 years training in skin to make these diagnoses. If somebody sends us a picture, and it's something that shouldn't be diagnosed through teledermatology, or something that needs a biopsy, or something that's more serious, we have a network of dermatologists locally that we will refer that patient to make sure that they're seen immediately. 

Cortina app
Credit: Courtesy of Cortina

What's an effective, affordable skin care routine you'd recommend to someone who's starting out? 

On my channel where I call the ideal routine Cleanse, Treat, Protect. For the Cleanse part, pick a simple cleanser, something like a Cerave hydrating cleanser, Cerave cream-to-foam cleanser, [or] something that's gentle and effective. 

Then for Treat, you pick something that's specific to your main [skin care] concern. If you have acne, you're going to pick an active that's really effective for acne, like Differin gel. 

For the Protect stage, if it's at night, you use a moisturizer to protect the skin. Aim for something simple and affordable. In the morning for that Protect phase, you would use something like sunscreen, at least SPF 30. A good skincare routine shouldn't be more than three or four steps.

Latinas frequently deal with hyperpigmentation, and can often turn to some risky DIY hacks in order to tackle them. What would you recommend they do instead to treat and protect their skin?

I always go to like the basic root cause of what causes hyperpigmentation in order to come up with a treatment. First of all, you have an enzyme that causes pigment production called Tyrosinase. If you can inhibit that enzyme, you're really going to do very well. If you can inhibit the transfer of the pigment to the skin cells, you're also going to do very well. And if you can remove the pigment, once it's deposited, you're also going to do very well. So if you target those three steps, that's how you really get rid of hyperpigmentation. 

The ingredients that actually solve this problem in real-time are ingredients like retinol, that target all three steps of the process, niacinamide [and] vitamin C, which targets several steps in the process, and using exfoliating acids that help to remove that pigment once it's deposited. 

For me, the best [over the counter] step would be adding retinol because it solves a lot of those problems, and then of course seeing a dermatologist or using Cortina. I'm South Asian so my family and I struggle with hyperpigmentation as well. Using a tinted sunscreen is the best protection you can have for your skin. The iron oxides and tinted sunscreens block against visible light and most sunscreens don't block against visible light in addition to the regular UV spectrum.