“Patients often ask me, ‘What do you do?’” said Dr. Francesca Fusco the other day from behind a large antique desk in her cream-colored office in the Wexler Dermatology practice on East 32nd Street. “And then I tell them, ‘I do chemical peels; I use, for example, Retin-A, I use Vitamin C, I have had Botox …’”
“I’m due,” she whispered, casually gesturing towards her smooth forehead with a French-manicured hand.
A petite brunette with large brown eyes who will admit only to being “in her 40’s” (she’s been practicing for 18 years), Dr. Fusco is, in a word, gorgeous—just one in the city’s growing brigade of attractive female dermatologists, who, even more than their famous clients, serve as “faces” of the treatments they peddle.
“Appearance does matter,” said Dr. Grace Pak, a private practitioner on lower Fifth Avenue who wears her hair short and sleek and, at 43, lacks any trace of a wrinkle. “I go to great lengths to present a consistent image,” she said.
Long gone are the days when women went to see skin specialists just to get a zit popped or a mole checked. With injectable face fillers, glycolic acid treatments and new lasers zapping onto the market every minute, patients shopping for a dermatologist these days are really “shopping for a new face,” said Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, 34, a former colleague of Dr. Fusco’s who now practices at Park Avenue Skincare further uptown—and practices what she preaches! “People say, ‘Give me exactly what you do,’” said Dr. Gerstner, a lithe blonde pictured in windswept black and white on her practice’s Web site. “It’s really sweet.”
Vamping In Vogue
Of course, one expects one’s dermatologist of either gender to have a smooth complexion. But no one ever compared, say, Dr. Zizmor to George Clooney.
“I think there is a kind of a high bar as a female dermatologist,” said Dr. Anne Chapas, a fetching young specialist who practices at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. “Men are just as into keeping up their appearance as the women in the field, but there’s probably a little more pressure on the women. “Patients say, ‘Oh, I want to have skin like yours. Your skin is gorgeous.’ And I always wonder, ‘Do they ask my male colleagues that?’”
In the past, dermatology was hardly a glamour field. “Historically, they were geeks,” said Dr. Ellen Marmur, chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center. But over the past decade, the specialty has changed radically, thanks to developments like the mass marketing of Botox and the blockbuster idea that the fat on one’s ass would actually look better puffing up one’s cheeks. Baby-boomer demand for safe, noninvasive anti-aging procedures has taken dermatology from the unpleasant realm of acne and rashes and elevated it to “a lifestyle specialty,” to use Dr. Pak’s lofty term.
And such a specialty requires the right kind of ambassador, at least in competitive Manhattan. Like socialites, designers, magazine editors and fashion publicists, female dermatologists now tend to be a youthful, well-coiffed bunch, blending seamlessly with their patients at high-profile society gatherings, even popping up occasionally in Vogue’s party pages.
The most recognizable face of the bunch is Dr. Lisa Airan, a photogenic Northwestern University-educated (and frequently designer-clad) dermatologist who trained at UCLA before setting up shop on Fifth Avenue, marrying a plastic surgeon, appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show and achieving ubiquity on the benefit circuit (she refused to be interviewed for this article).
Then there is Dr. Gerstner, a Princeton-educated former chief resident at Mt. Sinai with two young children who currently works six days a week, while still finding time to pose beside socialite patients Marjorie Gubelmann and Cristina Greeven Cuomo and friend Tory Burch, herself a client of grande-dame glamour derm Pat Wexler.
“It’s true with anything,” said Katherine Pearle, an Upper East Side mother of three who sees Dr. Gerstner every one to three months and also brings her husband and kids in when they need it, explaining her choice of a dermatologist that dazzles. “You want to go to a dentist with nice teeth.”