For this week's edition of the Glowday Practitioner Spotlight series, I spoke to the incredible Dr Ahmed El Muntasar (AKA The Aesthetics Doctor). He discussed his journey into aesthetics, his enormous social media following, and his favourite cosmetic treatment, as well as his thoughts on safety in the industry...
Hi Dr Ahmed! It’s great to meet you! Tell us about your journey into aesthetics.
I was such a talkative child, so I think my mum wanted me to go to school early! Rather than starting at six, which is the usual age to start in Libya, I started at four, and then, for one reason or another, I managed to keep up with the other kids, so I stayed two years above and ended up starting my A Levels at 14 and finishing at 16. Then, I applied to study medicine at St Andrews, where I was the youngest student in 50 years.
Studying at St Andrews was quite difficult and lonely at times A) due to my sexual orientation, and B) due to my age and background - I was the only Arabic student there. But I just put my head down and got my medical degree. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, and had some great times and made many friendships; there was a very tight student community. I then graduated from St Andrews in 2013 and then transferred to University of Manchester to do my clinical years. It was a completely different world there.
Throughout medical school, I was very interested in plastic surgery. In my third and fourth year studies in Manchester, I had the pleasure of working on a very interesting project at the Christian Hospital - one of the biggest cancer centres in the UK - where I worked in the oncol plastics department. This is where patients often go for plastic surgery after treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and was very interesting. I looked at thousands of cases of the most dangerous kinds of skin cancer to be able to map out the lymphatic drainage of the cancer - so, for instance, if someone had cancer in the abdomen, you’d be able to map out where it goes based on the location.
That really pushed me towards plastics. I’m such a nerd at heart! During that time, I was able to assist with lots of plastic surgeries and I got to see a side that not many people do, which is the post surgical side and recovery. For some patients, this can be a 12 month+ period, and that’s where I struggled. I wanted to achieve surgical results with less waiting time and less recovery time. It was then that I started looking at different alternatives - and that’s when I fell in love with non-surgical aesthetics.
How did you prepare yourself for a career in aesthetics?
Aesthetics is such a new field - and such an unregulated one. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there who are just not medically qualified, so I started looking at it and wondering whether I could attend courses and conferences. I plucked up the courage to attend some courses but afterwards, even though I was technically ready to inject, I just didn’t feel ready. The nerves kicked in at that stage and I ended up doing many more courses. Each course was enough to say, OK, I’m ready, but I wanted to know as much as I possibly could before getting started.
Some people will just do a one-day course and will, technically, be injectors, but the problem is that they don’t know how to deal with the complications that come with aesthetics. I get messages almost hourly from non-medical injectors, asking for advice on how to deal with complications.
Unfortunately, during the first lockdown, reputable clinics were closed due to Covid restrictions, but there were some practitioners who continued to work. One lady messaged me to say she had been to see a man who invited her to his kitchen to perform tear trough filler, and she was worried about the effects she was experiencing after the treatment. She sent me a photo and I identified that she had a blocked blood vessel, so I gave her immediate treatment, as she was hours away from blindness and days away from death. It’s terrifying that this sort of thing happens! Some people don’t have a moral compass. They just carry on without a care in the world.
I think things are on the up though. There’s been so much talk around regulation for the last few years and I think it will come. My main goal is for the public to be well-informed about treatments and complications. There are so many practitioners who like to keep the mystique around treatments and how they perform them, but I want to get all of that out in the open so that patients know what to expect and how they can deal with any issues that might arise.
Every single day, new injectors are ‘qualifying’ that shouldn’t even be trained in the first place.
Talk to me about your huge social media following. How have you built up such a strong and loyal following over the last few years?
Consistency, consistency, consistency! I have a posting schedule that I approve - months in advance sometimes - that involves numerous stories and grid posts a day, and with constant engagement. I invest a lot of time and money into my Instagram to get it to the best version it can possibly be. But the main point is that I really put my patients at the forefront of everything I do. I always think of my mother, who grew up in Libya at a time when education wasn’t as accessible to women, and I always think about whether she would understand my posts. Most of your readers are patients or potential patients and they need to be able to understand what you’re talking about.
People also want to know the person behind the account, and many practitioners forget that.
When it comes to social media, I also think it’s really important to consider diversity. I think that because of my ethnic background, I get a lot of women of colour coming to me because they feel comfortable with me. A lot of clinics only show before and after shots of white women on their social media, but, I’ve made it a point to show women of all ethnic backgrounds on my channels, because it’s important for everyone to be represented in aesthetics.
What’s your ethos as an aesthetic practitioner?
A) Putting the patient first - that’s the most important thing, always. B) Providing the best and safest results for my patients, and C) not being shy about turning people away. I turn away around 15% of people I see because I feel that they’re getting treatments for the wrong reasons. It’s really important spending time on a consultation, and that’s why I spend an hour getting to know the patient and what he or she wants. Not everyone does this. The magic is not just in the injecting, it’s in the consultation itself, and it’s so vital to understand why someone is coming to get an aesthetic treatment. Is it because she thinks that getting her lips done will bring back her ex husband, or that her friends and family will like her more if she gets a new nose? Exploring the reasons for the patient getting a treatment is so important. Nice new lips won’t give them back a relationship so, therefore, they’ll likely come back and say they’re not happy with the lips, because they’re expecting the wrong results.
You work across London, Leeds and Manchester. What does a typical working week look like for you?
My working week is anywhere between 80 and 100 hours, which is a lot. But when you love what you do, it really doesn’t feel like work! I get so much joy from what I do, and I’m in such a unique position that I get to do NHS and aesthetics work because each of them satisfies a different need that I have. Internal validation, for me, comes from the work I do. I now do roughly three days NHS and three days working in-clinic as an aesthetic practitioner.
After Covid, I’d love to expand to another couple of cities as well, and I’ve got some very exciting international opportunities on the way too.
What’s your favourite aesthetic treatment?
Hmmm, it’s like picking between my kids! But I’d have to say tear trough fillers and non-surgical rhinoplasty, which have become my signature treatments. Tear troughs have become my bread and butter and they make up roughly 70% of my clinic time.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt since working in aesthetics?
Don’t follow trends. Trends come and go. And don’t compare yourself to others. You’re the best version of yourself at this specific moment - you’re not them. When you start comparing yourself to others, you’ll only find negatives, not positives. When you’re comparing, it comes from a negative place in your soul. You never compare your highs, you only compare your lows, and because of that state of mind you accentuate the negative. So, I recommend trying to move away from that mindset.