Upper East Side Derm Dr. Ellen Gendler on the 3 Essential Skincare Products Everyone Should Use

Immediately upon speaking with Ellen Gendler, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, I knew she was an evidence-based type of doctor. You won’t find her touting the latest Instagram®-famous skincare product just because it’s viral or performing a trendy 10-step regimen. Rather, she sticks to what she knows actually works — and is thoroughly backed by science. In fact, her go-to skincare recommendations for all of her patients is just as clear-cut and gimmick-free as her personality. It includes three must-have items: retinoids, DNA repair enzymes, and sunscreen.

[Editor’s note: Retinol shouldn’t be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]

“I’m always surprised when doctors [talk about] new lines that they’ve tried for a week or two, and they [say] all these wonderful things about them,” says Dr. Gendler. “I’m more of a tried-and-true person.” This doesn’t mean Dr. Gendler is particularly strict about patients adding a trendy moisturizer or serum to their regimen here and there. But for her, those aforementioned three products are the only things that are an absolute must. “Beyond that, I let patients guide what they want to use.”

Considering Dr. Gendler’s impressive credentials, it’s probably in our best interest to heed her advice. After all, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons graduate isn’t only the founder of her namesake, Upper East Side dermatology practice. Dr. Gendler also acted as a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and she’s a fellow of The American Academy of Dermatology. She’s also one of the few physicians who have had the honor of being appointed to be a New York City Honorary Police Surgeon, serving New York’s Finest across the city.

Here, Dr. Gendler — who’s also a mother of two sons — discusses her own aesthetics routine, the product she’s been advocating for since the 1990s, and the most-common misconception her patients have about their skin.

Dr. Ellen Gendler


Spotlyte: What influenced you to become a dermatologist over any other field of medicine?

Dr. Ellen Gendler: When I was a medical student, the dermatologists seemed to know everything. They could solve any problem of any sort. If there was a rash, the dermatologist would know exactly what it was pretty fast. That’s what inspired me. I was impressed by everything [dermatologists] could diagnose. 

Spotlyte: What are your days like in the office?

EG: I start very early in the morning, and I see an endless stream of patients. I do everything, [including] administrative details, and I never stop. I do medical and cosmetic dermatology, and work very long days. 

Spotlyte: How many patients do you typically see in a day?

EG: Let’s put it this way — I never have a break. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to always allocate the right amount of time for each patient so that nobody has to wait and so that I don’t feel terribly stressed when I’m doing what I have to do. Each patient deserves their time, and you’ve got to spend [extra] time with people who are having cosmetic procedures. It’s only fair. 

Spotlyte: The skincare industry is so oversaturated with products at the moment. How do you know what to recommend to your patients?

EG: I stick to things that I know actually work. For me, there are only a few things that have been scientifically shown to actually do anything to the skin, and they need to be used over the long haul. [Use] retinoids, DNA repair enzymes, and sunscreen.



Spotlyte: Do you recommend a minimalistic routine to your patients?

EG: Patients can use other things. I compare it to a wardrobe. When you go out of the house, you have to put on pants, a shirt, shoes, and socks. After that, if you feel like wearing a jacket, go ahead. As long as they use the fundamentals, they can decide whatever else they would like to put on. If they like to adorn themselves with other [products] that don’t cause irritation or acne, then that’s really up to them. But, I find that patients often get bad advice from many sources, and some of the things they try end up causing more problems than they beautify.

Spotlyte: Do you have any specific products or brands that you love?

EG: I prefer prescription-strength tretinoin, and I try to encourage patients to use that. In terms of other products, I like Neova® DNA Total Repair ($89). As far as sunscreens go, I have been advocating the use of European sunscreens since the 1990s, because they contain much better UVA protection than those we have in the United States. I also like certain mineral-based sunscreens, particularly the Isdin® Eryfotona Actinica® ($55). 

Spotlyte: What is the most requested procedure or treatment in your practice right now?

EG: It’s injectables — that’s pretty much what most people want.

[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist.

Spotlyte: Other than injectables, what do your patients ask of you during their appointment?

EG: People also come in wanting to talk about their skin and what’s appropriate. I feel that every patient who comes in for a consultation should have a full body exam, unless they have their own dermatologist. It’s almost irresponsible not to do [a skin check], because if someone has sun damage on their face, they’re bound to have it somewhere else on their body. It’s like going to the cardiologist and having them listen to only one side of your heart. I consider myself a physician above all. So, I take care of all types of skin problems, even in my cosmetic patients.

Spotlyte: What is the most common misconception that patients have about their skin?

EG: Most of the time patients have no idea what they actually need. Sometimes patients will want filler or neurotoxins in areas of their face that would make no difference if you put it there. 

Spotlyte: Do you get any injectables yourself?

EG: [There are] very few people I trust to inject me, but I do get fillers. I [get] filler [in my cheeks] to give my face a bit of volume, because my face tends to be thin. And, as far as toxins go, I use injectable wrinkle reducers in between my eyebrows.

Spotlyte: Have you tried any other in-office treatments?

EG: I’ve had Fraxel® done for overall toning. Before I do things on patients, I will try them on myself first. There are certain procedures that are pretty popular, but I really don’t think [they] do anything, and I refuse to do them. I’m very honest and very straight-forward. I never do anything that I don’t feel has substantiated results, and that’s what I’m known for in the dermatology community.

Dr. Ellen Gendler


Spotlyte: Tell me about your at-home skincare routine. 

EG: In the morning, I use a cleanser that I created myself about 20 years ago. I put on SkinMedica® TNS Essential Serum® ($281) and my DNA renewal on top of that. Then, I put on sunscreen, which is sometimes tinted. I don’t wear a lot of makeup.

Spotlyte: What’s your routine at night? 

EG: At night, I repeat that. I also use a Clarisonic® Facial Cleansing Brush ($129) for about 20 seconds.Then I put on my prescription-strength tretinoin and my Neova DNA Total Repair. That’s it.

Spotlyte: What do you like to do for fun when you’re not at work?

EG: I am a big reader and a big gardener. I’m also a big athlete. Those are my passions. I married my high school sweetheart, who is also a doctor, and we like to do a lot of these things together. We have a house in the country, not in the Hamptons, and I spend a lot of time gardening and playing tennis there. 

Spotlyte: What do you love most about your job?

EG: Helping my patients beyond just their skin problems, and finding myself to be a really trusted advisor to so many of my patients. That’s the most rewarding part of my job.