To spend time in Melanie Grant’s world is to realise there’s a more pared back, refined approach to take with your skin care, and possibly your life. The skin stalwart opened her first studio in 2012 in Sydney’s Double Bay, followed by her Melbourne studio in Armadale in 2016, before establishing her first permanent international presence in none other than LA’s Melrose Place in 2019. On the eve of the pandemic, Melanie put the finishing touches on her brand new Double Bay studio, celebrating nearly a decade of treating Australia’s A-list faces in her home city. Then there’s her biannual residency in Paris, which coincides with each Fashion Week and is among the hottest tickets in town for grey-faced glitterati in need of getting their glow back, and key consultancy roles with Chanel (she is the first and only person, globally, to be named their Skin Expert) and Augustinus Bader. Over the phone during her daily beach walk, and on the eve of jetting off to Paris, Melanie tells us why, in this age of chronic personal oversharing, she has decided to let her work speak for itself, and makes excellent arguments for curating your skincare routine into an (admittedly, ideally rather chic) wardrobe, containing only those products you know will make you look and feel your best.
“I don’t really remember a defining moment when I knew I wanted to work with skin (though I do know it happened when I was quite young), but certainly what triggered my interest would have been my own burns, which I received as a baby in a house fire.
I had to have skin grafts, and I took a long time to heal, so I learned from a young age to truly take care of my skin, changing dressings and that sort of thing. I haven’t spoken about this much publicly before, but I do in my first book, which is coming out in a few months.
Everyone has their own journey in life, and I didn’t want to be that person who says, ‘oh I had XYZ condition, so I understand your skin struggles’. I think that’s a very overplayed card in the beauty industry.
To me, over the last couple of years, and especially in the last twelve months, there has been a real shift towards ultra-transparency, which is wonderful, but it can be tricky. I feel like I don’t want to be all ‘woe is me’, but nor do I want to promote something that is untrue, or give this illusion that my life (or my skin) is perfect. Online it can so easily look like everything is just so, and I don’t want to misrepresent my experience like that.
Now that I’m in my forties, I am really happy with my skin and my body. I don’t expect or want to look as though time has stopped. When I consider how I looked during my twenties and thirties, all I think is ‘I had nothing to complain about!’, and yet I wasn’t as comfortable then as I am now. I guess that’s fairly true for everyone, and is part of growing up. I don’t want to pretend ageing isn’t happening, either for me individually, or to push that as an ideal or an aesthetic to be achieved for my clients. So, while this theme of transparency is important to me, partly because there are so many pretenders out there, and I don’t want women to be seeking something unattainable, at the same time I prefer my work to speak for itself and to keep my private life private. I very rarely post personal things, as I want my online presence to be about my business, clients and skin rather than self-promotion. I am not the product – my work is.
There are certainly specific skincare concerns in different parts of the world.
In LA and Sydney, sun damage is quite prominent, but then the way clients want to go about dealing with that is different. My beauty ethos is very Australian, in that sometimes I think the best look is when you’ve just been into the ocean, and I certainly don’t mind a freckle moment! I also like lines around the eyes, whereas in LA everything is very done, tight, and high maintenance. I like things more undone. And then in Paris… gosh, I really love the women there. They don’t mind a bit of pigment, and they’re not chasing perfectionism. I mean, so many of them smoke, which of course is just terrible for the skin!
I have been travelling at the moment for my first Paris residency in two years, and I didn’t realise I had missed it so much – as nice as it’s been to have so much uninterrupted time at home, I am really ready for travel again.
My style has fundamental aspects to it that remain the same no matter where I am, although having just packed for DHL to collect my things for Paris, I realise I tend to wear black more often when I am there. (I promise sending my luggage by courier isn’t quite as high-maintenance as it sounds, haha. On work trips, I’m usually visiting LA as well as Europe, so there’s very different weather and a lot to pack in order to be relaxed and keep cool in LA, and then in the Paris winter stay warm, and be a bit more elevated. If I don’t send some things ahead, I get pulled up for excess luggage, and also I’m often travelling by myself on these trips, so there’s only so much I can carry!)
When I’m in Sydney I’m in a lot of white. I don’t ever do much colour. I mean, maybe a little camel. I am quite safe and classic, and I don’t follow trends. Since the pandemic, I find on weekends I am in Yeezys, Lulu Lemon leggings and a t-shirt, just super casual. Having said that, I don’t like activewear when I’m out and about – I just like putting it on when I know I am going to exercise. For the rest of my wardrobe, I have lots of high waisted skirts, and very much appreciate high waisted, tailored pants. I love a dress, as you don’t have to think too much. I don’t mind wearing a designer brand, but I hate looking obvious. For me, it’s not about logos or tagging the brands so everyone knows immediately who you’re wearing – let’s all just take a moment and enjoy fashion for what it is, not so that we can tell everyone about it.
I opened the ‘new’ Double Bay studio two years ago now, but because of the timing with COVID it still feels like it’s new. (Yep, lucky me, trying to get that built during lock down!) It’s a beautiful space, and right across road from my office.
The next kid off the block will be a studio in London. I haven’t chosen that space yet, as we obviously haven’t been able to travel, and I like to see a place for myself and get the sense of it before I commit. With each studio so far, I have managed to find a location I love, and a building I love – one that is unique and suits the city it’s in. There’s no big development strategy; it’s happened very organically. The studios are unified with some style elements like parquetry floors and white walls, but then we choose hero pieces like art or a really special sofa, so that clients feel like it’s an elegant experience, and as though they’re in someone’s home, versus a clinic. There are no big points of sale anywhere, either. In fact, Sydney is the only studio where we even have visible product; the thinking being that if you’re in the studio, you don’t need to be choosing product from a display, because we should have someone recommending product for you.
That natural approach to finding our studios has been similar to the way my relationships with brands have developed. It started with an alignment in our attitudes and values and then relationships have happened quite naturally. I’ve been in my role with CHANEL seven years now, and it’s been a very solid, durable partnership.
If you notice your skin being reactive, you need to consider whether you have truly sensitive skin (which very few people do) or whether it’s become sensitised.
You need to listen to it and back off from whatever you are doing; don’t just try to push through. Your skin is telling you its barrier is impaired, and by trying to keep going you’re doing further damage and causing inflammation. Instead, you need fatty acids and gentle restorative oils to bring your skin back in balance. More is not merrier with skin care. I see many clients bringing on their own self-induced sensitivity layering too many products. It’s an expensive behaviour in two ways, because you’re purchasing so many products in the first instance, and then spending on more products or treatments to fix the damage caused. Keep it simple. People pay so much attention to what influencers and celebrities use on social media, and forget there’s always paid promotions and things happening behind the scenes that you don’t necessarily see. Even if it’s someone you know, or who you trust is giving you their honest opinion, remember that what works for someone else may not be what works for you. While I am super voyeuristic, and love to know what everyone else is using like we all do, I know not everything will work for my skin or budget. Take it all with a grain of salt.
I’m human, and I do get the occasional blemish. I know it’s hard not to squeeze, but there are so many better options.
I don’t even really like to say to leave it to a professional, as not many people are trained these days to do the old school extractions so very few people can do them properly anymore. I see so many clients with trauma from an attempted extraction, which can be pitting or hyperpigmentation. Instead, use a kaolin clay mask as a spot treatment to draw it out, or BHA solution, or even retinol can do the trick. Picking is not worth it. You’re actually better having the spot, and letting the body do its job of getting rid of it. Better it all come out through your lymphatic system, than be forced out through your poor tiny pore. Forcing it out leaves scarring that’s really hard to treat, so it’s honestly a no brainer to leave it alone. I know it feels satisfying in the short term, but we have to think about the long term. I think pimple patches are a bit of a farce in terms of treatment, but one thing they are excellent for is keeping your fingers off a blemish. Picking often happens mindlessly and if it’s covered up, you can’t touch it. If you’re getting more than the occasional spot, there are so many factors to consider, including makeup, diet and stress, rather than just going in for a dig!
When it comes to treatments, we can do so much for ourselves at home.
Not everyone can afford a monthly facial, and doing lovely hydrating, nourishing masks at home is an excellent choice. People are often surprised I do a lot of my facials at home, adding a mask into my night time regime in the bath. It takes the pressure off feeling like everything has to be done in a salon. There are at-home versions of so many lower key treatments like peels, and LED light therapy. If you can get one of these in a salon, then great, as they will be more powerful, but there are some pretty good options for using yourself home. The Dermalux Flex MD LED is great, although it does have a high price point. Do be careful with microdermabrasion and needling at home, though. People are using cheap derma rollers which aren’t even made from stainless steel, so they get blunt easily and cause tiny, pitted scars. When we use skin needling pens in clinic, we do the face, then change the cartridge for the neck, then again for the chest – we don’t ever reuse one cartridge in a different area, even on the same client, because even on our gold standard version, the needles are blunted after that single use.
You need to be very discerning about what you’re doing and why. Also, remember that there’s no point having certain treatments if there’s nothing to treat. I spoke with someone recently who had lovely skin and wanted me to do Fraxel on her. I refused, because she simply didn’t need it, and she eventually found a practitioner who agreed to do it. What for? You need to question the integrity of someone doing a treatment on you if you don’t need it – it’s unethical.
We can talk about lasers and products all day long, but it would be remiss not to think about the skin holistically.
In the past, certain comments I have made about diet have been taken out of context, but ultimately, we need to remember that what you’re putting in your body is the first place you start for good skin. You really feel it and see it when you’re not eating well. For example, if you have dry skin, you need avocados, oily fish, and nuts, so that you are nourishing it from within. For myself, I like to make sure I am eating a variety of colourful plants, as well as plenty of nutrient-rich foods. I am not at all scared of healthy fats, like olive oil. People get very caught up in calories versus eating nutrient dense food, and the latter is so important. I am not a nutritionist, but from everything I see in my work, our diet is everything. If you’re eating lots of Inflammatory foods, it will show in your skin, particularly as we get older. It’s about balance, too, and eating for health as well as enjoyment. I am always keen on a glass of red wine and some dark chocolate, but I see too many people who refuse to consume anything other than green juice and undressed salad, spend their weekends smoking and drinking, and then wonder why their skin isn’t at its best.
Stress has a huge impact on skin, too, and our lives are faster and busier than ever.
Being home for so long has certainly let me appreciate where I live more than I ever used to. Now I do the Bondi to Bronte walk on a daily basis, and sometimes have a swim along the way, so I get some good exercise, and it lets me switch off.
Taking moments for yourself really does matter, and you don’t need to be following some sort of guru or to be doing something specialised or high end to achieve that. I like to take a bath every single night. I make sure to put in plenty of oils, apply a face mask and give myself a bit of time to just be.”
Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Photography by Edward Urrutia.
Melanie has paid relationships with CHANEL, Augustinus Bader and Vida Glow.