A Cambridge-educated skin expert with passions for Alaïa frocks and Aquazzura footwear? We may just have found our dream doctor. Dr Sam Bunting brings an American-inspired approach to aesthetics as well as her own quintessentially Irish humour and pragmatism not only to her Harley Street practice but now, thanks to her very own skincare range, into the homes of would-be patients worldwide. Chatting to us from her modern, light-filled London home, Sam told us about what 2020 has taught her, finding balance between fixing what bothers you and learning to like your appearance as it is, the beauty approach she takes when getting properly dressed up, and the one makeup item she is never without.

“Nearly ten years ago now, I moved from medically-based hospital practice to private practice, which was a big move, and one which was quite scary and took a lot of strength.

Ultimately, it was the correct choice for me, because I wanted to be able to offer patients not just the ability to correct their skin issues but also to enhance their complexions and to really make the most of their skin. This was something which wasn’t really happening much in medicine in the UK back then. I was very much influenced by how US derms were practicing, and I wanted to offer that same approach to my patients.

I think any of the big periods of transition in life are very challenging, and 2020 so far has been one of those for so many of us, including me. I think this period has been really tough: it’s been challenging to keep up a clinical practice and support colleagues through COVID, and at the same time manage a team working remotely on the brand. This has been a real year for personal growth and development, and has taught me a lot about myself and what’s important. It has honed my priorities, and in particular highlighted the importance of connection with friends and family.

I feel very fortunate that I almost accidentally fell into my dream job.

When I was younger, Dr Lisa Airan in New York was someone I admired, and really had the job I wanted one day. She was a dermatologist and also very stylish; she went to all the big shows and really looked the part. I thought, “gosh, that’s a cool job, you get to combine the desire to help people and make them feel better about themselves, and also get to brush shoulders with the fashion world”. In a way, I now do something similar, which is wonderful.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

From a very young age I was completely obsessed with shoes: my very first word was ‘shoe’! I was reading Vogue avidly by the age of 12 and was into Alaïa even back then, if you can believe it.

My mother and aunt both loved fashion, so I was a keen consumer of anything to do with beauty and glamour, and then I was also quite academic, wanting to work in science and medicine. Those two loves were really nurtured during childhood and I think shaped the career path I eventually took, albeit in a rather delayed way! I was also a competitive athlete, so I guess it has always been in me to do the best I possibly could, and to be a high achiever.

AT HOME IN NORTHERN IRELAND.
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I think a lot of people don’t actually realise that I’m Irish! I’m from Northern Ireland and very proudly so, but haven’t lived there for a long time.

I was always academically inclined, so worked hard to get into Cambridge, and after uni I completed my medical training in London. In the UK you have to do general medicine before specialising, so I spent a year doing that in Sydney. I really enjoyed living in Australia: I loved the food and wine culture, and the beauty of the outdoors. I struggled a lot with the time difference and found staying connected with people at home really challenging, which is probably the main reason I didn’t stay longer.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

During my time in Sydney I realised that combining medicine and skin was going to be the truest path for me, so I set about getting onto a dermatology training program and then set up my own practice in 2010.

At that same time, I started to work with brands, and then ended up presenting a TV show for TLC called Extreme Beauty Disasters. It was around the time that beauty influencers were starting to really take off and become the new way that women discovered beauty products. They were the new trusted source of information, and I guess I felt that the beauty space was missing a doctor’s perspective, which compelled me to start my YouTube channel and Instagram account.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I was head hunted by Dolce & Gabbana to work as their brand ambassador when they were launching their skincare range globally, which was a very interesting time – it involved a lot of travel and meeting lots of fascinating people – but always in the back of my mind was an intention to do my own range.

When I did launch Dr Sam’s Flawless range, everything came together rather organically. I had gleaned so much working with different brands, and was always interested in the chemistry behind formulas that really delivered. I studied pharmacology as part of my medical degree, so that side of it was a natural interest for me. I had built an audience and gained really useful insights into their wants and needs when it came to the skincare market. In particular, I guess I’ve become something of an acne specialist over the years – certainly it’s one of the commonest things I see in my Harley Street practice – and was seeing numerous products get discontinued that I felt were really essential to the way I practiced. It seemed there was a true gap in the market, as products people really liked and relied on were being taken away or reformulated by brands who clearly weren’t listening to their consumers, so I decided to launch my own range, starting with a cleanser.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I always knew I wanted to work with aesthetics in some shape or form, and I really do think I now have my absolute dream job. Having the power to transform someone’s skin can never be underestimated, and I get that joy in my clinic when I directly sort out someone who has a skin problem, and I’m getting that joy as people use my products.

Having my own brand, I get to communicate, I get to use my emotional intelligence, I get to use my knowledge around science, and I get to learn new things. (For instance, I got to learn all about e-commerce, because our brand is direct to consumer, and about hiring a team, and trying to lead them). I am really challenged by my work, and when things go well the gratification is immediate, which I find incredibly rewarding. I receive so much direct feedback in all of the facets of my work, which is very motivating and makes you feel like you’re making a contribution. There really aren’t any parts of my job I don’t like, and it’s wonderful to have such variety in my working life. Some days I’m an influencer, recording videos and making content, other days I’m formulating products, and still other days I’m running a clinic and seeing patients. I am incredibly lucky to work with clever and stimulating people, both in my clinic and with the brand team, and couldn’t ask for more. I am my own boss and genuinely love my work, so I never stop counting my blessings on that front.

THE DR SAM TEAM
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
INSIDE THE DR SAM BUNTING & ASSOCIATES HARLEY STREET CLINIC
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I am an absolute minimalist as it pertains to beauty, and strongly believe in using the fewest products possible that will have the most impact.

In essence, I’ve built the skincare range around my philosophy. Before I created my own perfected basics, I still would have used the equivalents. A cleanser, moisturiser, and sunscreen are staples of a good routine. During the daytime I’d typically add in some sort of antioxidant and a brightening agent, which is why I created my Flawless Brightly Serum, and at night a retinoid is a no brainer for me, as I’m acne-prone and concerned about signs of ageing. Then I’d also add in something for lips and an anti-blemish solution for the odd pimple, and that’s pretty much it. I do like a mask every so often, but they’re not really a necessity; I just use one when I feel like a little treat, in the bath. If you use the right products every day and have a streamlined routine, it will give you control over your skin, which I think is really important.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I pretty much take care of my face myself, so my favourite professional treatment to have is a full body massage, and in particular anything Ayurvedic. I really enjoy Shirodhara treatment, where oil is put on the third eye; I find that almost trippy in terms of relaxation. I love that!

I don’t have one particular place that I go, as here in London we are fairly spoiled for choice. If I am feeling fancy I might go to the spa either at the Mandarin Oriental or at Como. The spa at the Hotel Cafe Royal is insane, too. Those three are gorgeous if I’m in need of a little treat. I also like treatments at the spa at The Berkeley, and Corinthia’s spa is nice as well. I don’t go as often as I should because of my schedule, but I enjoy it so much when I do.

After I cleanse and moisturise, SPF is a must. I have been using my new tinted sunscreen, Gossamer, in tint 01, a lot; it’s a really amazing skin finishing product, never mind that it’s a proper SPF 50!

If it’s a day when I want true foundation, then I use either Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in shade 4.5 or Suratt Dew Drop Foundation in shade 4. Then I add in just a little bit of NARS concealer (either Radiant Creamy Concealer or Soft Matte Concealer) under the eyes and on any redness, a bit of cream blush (Stila Convertible Colour in Camellia), and do a lash (using Surratt Pointilliste Mascara), and a brow (with Hourglass Arch Brow Sculpting Pencil in Soft Brunette). Brows can absolutely transform a face, and I really do panic if I don’t have a good brow pencil in my vicinity. Mine are definitely sisters, not twins; maybe even distant cousins, I’m not sure! I often do a little cat liner flick thing, and am really into doing that with a dark chocolate liquid liner. Again, I like to use Suratt: their Auto Graphique Eyeliner is my favourite, as it creates such an elegant, fine line. Then I add a nude lip. I am always in a nude! I’ve recently gone back to a really old one, the Laura Mercier Sheer Lip Colour in Baby Lips [Ed note: this shade has been discontinued], but I also have the new Victoria Beckham Bitten Lip Tint in Chérie, and that combined with her pencil, Lip Definer, in shade 2 is very good. I like to use a nude pencil to get the shape right and to have a base tone that lasts, and then add a barely-there wash of slightly sheeny colour.

If I’m going out at night and want to look a bit more special, I still keep my skin much the same, as I like skin to look like skin.

I might amp up the dewiness, though, and do a bit of contouring: I like the Gucci Westman Face Trace Contour Stick in Biscuit for that. I might do a slightly more dramatic liner, and add in a bit more mascara in the outer corners for extra intensity, but I don’t do that much differently. Maybe I’d add a tiny bit of powder in my T-zone if I were wearing an evening dress or am filming, in which case I like Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder, as it’s colourless. I think I take the approach of keeping things relatively low-key because generally if I’m going out at night I will be quite dressed up, and then I think it’s best to have hair and makeup be a little more undone.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
SOME OF THE FOUNDATIONS DR SAM RECOMMENDS FOR ACNE-PRONE SKIN.
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I didn’t always have that approach to beauty, though I was certainly always interested in it. I made a lot of mistakes growing up, most notably during the perm era!

A couple of girlfriends at school decided to do it and theirs looked great so I had to follow suit, of course, only I didn’t allow for my very Irish, slightly frizzy ‘combination hair’ (it’s curly underneath yet straight on top) and it was a disaster. I washed and washed it, hoping that somehow I would be able to mechanically get rid of the chemicals, but it wasn’t to be, so I sported very bad hair for about three months. Our obsession with getting our hair ‘right’ sadly didn’t end there, as by then Kylie Minogue was fashionable and my girlfriends and I would all spend a lot of time dissecting exactly how to get our curls moussed and diffused to look just like hers!

I’ve moved on since then, thankfully. At home I use shampoo and conditioner from Virtue or Living Proof, then add Oribe Supershine Moisturizing Cream. I style it using the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer and sometimes the Dyson Airwrap, to create a smooth loose wave that moves away from my face. I definitely have to blowdry it, or it tends to frizz. I also see my stylist Oskar Pera, who does my colour and cut, on a regular basis. I think tedious, repetitive, time-consuming tasks are the most annoying aspect of beauty, like having to maintain my hair colour and root touch ups every three to four weeks. Although at least when I’m attending to my colour I get to hang out with Oskar, who as well as being a genius person with hair, has become one of my good friends… I just wish I didn’t need to colour it quite so often!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
SHOWING OFF THOSE IRISH CURLS… IN AN IRISH FIELD.
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

Just as I like my beauty look to be quite classic, groomed, and pulled together, I like my wardrobe to be polished, chic ,and womanly (hence working with Dolce & Gabbana was a pretty amazing time for me!)

I like brands like The Row and Zimmermann, and I have a bit of a cashmere fetish so like Le Kasha 1918. I wear a lot of Roland Mouret‘s fitted, pencil-style day dresses for work. I’ve recently found a great new jeans brands called Tu et mon Tresor. I’m very into wearing white shirts right now, and there’s a French brand I have just discovered, Bourrienne Paris X, that does menswear-style white shirts that are incredibly high quality. I also really like Blazé Milano jackets, as they are beautifully cut.

Fashion is quite quirky right now and I prefer clothes that are a bit simpler, with clean lines, so I’m not shopping so much at the moment. I do have some tried and tested Alaïa pieces that I will never part with, some Saint Laurent pieces, which for me are always chic and classic, and a smattering of Celine. My shoe collection is a bit out of control: Aquazzura, Gianvito Rossi, and Francesco Russo are some of my favourites. I do also have quite the Manolo Blahnik shrine from my days of admiring Carrie Bradshaw’s footwear!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I am an early riser these days; I get up and straight away make a Lavazza decaf coffee in a little Bialetti device. I  don’t drink caffeine anymore as I realised was driving me crazy, haha!

It was making me quite unable to focus, so stopping that these last two months has been a game changer, and I feel so much better for it. Drinking my decaf means I still get the pleasure of making it and of the smell, but don’t find myself wired and exhausted anymore, as I often used to, and it has certainly minimised my tendency to insomnia.

Every morning I will journal, and I use Brendan Burchard’s High Performance Planner which helps me really get a clear view of my day, what my priorities are, and what my mindset is. I then meditate for 20 minutes. Right now I am recovering from a sprained ankle, but otherwise at least three times a week I will do a Shona Vertue workout at home for strength and stamina, and occasionally do an outdoors HIIT class, super early, when I’m feeling motivated. I have a membership to one of Shona’s fitness programs; I find her truly wonderful and she’s become a friend. She’s got a really healthy attitude to physical wellbeing.

Recently I went to an amazing place called Yeotown in Devon and they do a five day stay, during which they get you hiking and cycling and doing things you didn’t know you were fit enough for. One of the owners, Mercedes Sieff, is a yoga instructor and trainer and I like her online classes. I am also a fan of aerial yoga, as I have quite tight hips from my days running sprint hurdles, and it’s a pretty amazing way to get more mobility in your hips and spine.

RELAXING IN UTAH
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

I always take 3000 units of vitamin D, but I don’t take any other supplements regularly, preferring instead to get adequate nutrition from my food. I consciously seek out colourful veggies and fruits, like avocados, tomatoes, carrots, and leafy greens, to try to ensure each meal I eat is nutritionally dense.

I don’t consciously avoid anything, although I am funny about eggs so my brekky choice is generally porridge. Most mornings I add flaxseed to my porridge (my favourite is Linwoods Flaxseed, which is a powder I fold in to the oats), then combine that with berries and nuts. Berries are really important, they’re so full of good things for the skin, and for our general health and wellbeing.

I follow Dr Hazel Wallace on Instagram, who has some great recipes, and I love Ottolenghi, whose big emphasis on veggies I love. I enjoy food so much, so I follow the 80/20 rule, because I don’t want to miss out on the good things in life! I will enjoy a good steak frites with a glass of red wine, I will enjoy a plate of pasta with truffles in season, and I will certainly enjoy a good burger! I find that if you kind of tailor the diet so most of the time you’re eating ‘right’ and sometimes you’re indulging, then it falls into place. Life is too short not to enjoy treats.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING
In Tuscany, enjoying the 20 part of the 80/20 rule.
IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

My attitude towards ageing and how I look overall is pretty relaxed, really. I think you have to like yourself and accept yourself. That’s stuff that I’m working on, you know, but self-acceptance is so important.

For instance, my least favourite feature is probably my nose, as it has a little bend in it. I have one good side and one less so but I’m kind of ok with that now. I did get teased about it at school though, so maybe that’s lingering in my subconscious somehow. Overall, I am into whatever makes you feel good about yourself in the here and now. I am not into taking 10, 15, 20 years off my face. I’m definitely more comfortable in my skin now than I was in my twenties or thirties. Of course, I am going to take precautions and use the available tools to ensure that I continue to feel good about the way I look. I like the way I am ageing, and would say I am an optimist as to what’s to come!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @DRSAMBUNTING

Over time, I have realised I am more resilient than I think; I can tend towards feeling anxious, and am definitely Type A, but have gotten better at conquering my fears and doing it anyway. That really has become a bit of a mantra.

I am avidly into meditation, because I really do find that with juggling the clinic and brand, and having a life outside of work, my brain is on the go constantly.

I am naturally an overthinker, and have found meditation to literally be the off switch, the reset button. I find yoga works similarly. I have a few aches and pains from my athletics days still, and some from my work; sitting for long periods at a computer, bending while injecting, it all takes a toll on the musculoskeletal system, and I have found yoga really helpful for alleviating that.

Of course, there are more fun ways to relax and switch off, too. Good food is key for me – well, dancing and good food! I love to cook, and in particular enjoy cooking for people who are dear to me. And then dancing with friends also hits that reset button, doesn’t it, albeit in a different way to meditation, haha. I suppose because we’re not thinking, we’re just moving. I can say without hesitation that I feel my most beautiful when I am dancing!”

Story by Zoe Briggs. Photography by Pip Bourdillon. Select images via Instagram. Main image via Instagram @drsambunting.

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