Episode 157: Dr. Ava Shamban, Dermatologist, Founder of AVA MD and SKIN FIVE Clinics

Life is all about finding the beauty hidden within the imperfections. In this episode, Dr. Ava Shamban, dermatologist and founder of SKIN FIVE by AVA MD, shares her journey through the societal norms of beauty and how they helped her find her calling of being a medical and cosmetic dermatologist. She’s managed to help people find their own beauty through their signature feature, rather than trying to make them look like someone else.

Tune in to see how paying attention to opportunities and taking action despite fear has helped Dr. Shamban construct her beautiful and successful career.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in. This week's episode of course is recorded over Zoom since we're not yet back to our offices. It features Dr. Ava Shamban. She's a dermatologist and founder of Ava MD and SKIN FIVE clinics. If you missed last week's episode, it featured Doreen Bloch she's the executive director of the Makeup Museum, and I hope you enjoy this episode.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be sitting with Dr. Ava Shamban. She is a dermatologist, the founder of Ava MD and of SKIN FIVE clinics. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Dr. Ava ShambanThank you. It's so funny. I always think there's going to be an audience. Thank you. So delighted to be here.
Jodi KatzHere's the audience.
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah, okay, thank you. That's better. That's better.
Jodi KatzSo you've spent a lot of time in Hollywood, Ava-
Dr. Ava ShambanI have. I'm like where's my live audience? I guess it's just you. Even with having a live audience, I've gotten very accustomed to having just a virtual audience, people who I can't see. So this is perfect.
Jodi KatzOkay. Well, we're doing what we can during COVID. This is week eight or nine or ten I don't even know-
Dr. Ava ShambanWhatever.
Jodi KatzIs your practice open now?
Dr. Ava ShambanYes, we are open. We're seeing mostly medical, but we're starting to see cosmetic as well. Elective procedures. Yes.
Jodi KatzAnd was it hard to get up and running again, get the team in order and get all their processes ready?
Dr. Ava ShambanWell, it was really important that we set up standard operating protocols and then all the systems, all the agencies that are involved with safety to have weighed in, and that's a constantly moving territory. But yeah, we're doing well. I'm really happy with the safety protocols that we put in place, both for the patients and for the staff of course.
Jodi KatzI've been on a lot of Zoom calls for work, of course, and I'm in New Jersey. We're sort of in the hot zone here. And what's so strange about having all these Zooms with people across the country is that I did a Zoom today with Florida, and there's two people who work together sitting in the same room and we're like, wait, how does that happen? It feels so foreign.
Dr. Ava ShambanI know.
Jodi KatzAnother team in St. Louis and they're both in the same office having a conversation, like when do I get to do that again?
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah, I know. Yeah. It's hard to say. We're being super careful out here in California because we have so many people here that we would completely overwhelm any kind of hospital situation. And also it's just a bad virus. It's just not a regular acting virus. Anyway, we're doing the best we can.
Jodi KatzWell, I want to talk about so much that you've had such an accomplished and dynamic career. But I want to start with this idea of signature features. Tell us what that means.
Dr. Ava ShambanSignature feature is a concept that I came up with about 10 years ago when I was asked to lecture to a group of physicians, about 2,500 physicians in Asia. It was an Allergan sponsored meeting. I was asked to speak about what was going on in Hollywood. And so, I don't know, I guess they were expecting all the inside secrets and everything, I don't know.

Because at the time, I was almost traumatized by how much bad work was going on in Hollywood. And so I thought, why are these actresses ruining their faces? And who's the crazy people who are allowing this? And so I realized that as I looked at the actresses, and the biggest offenders, the ones who really changed their looks and then ruined or forever altered their careers, I realized that there was something about these actresses that was, I called it, their signature feature. Something that was particularly beautiful and memorable and unique to that individual.

So I gave the talk and I didn't really think that much about it. It was the beginning of the meeting. And then at the end of the meeting, when they were wrapping up and I was not part of the ending panel, the head of it said, they were asked, "What do you think is going to be the big takeaway from this meeting?" And they went down the line and then they got to the head of the program, and he said, "I think it's going to be doctor Shamban signature feature." So I was like, "Oh."

And so over the last 10 years, I've spoken about it, I've written about it both to my colleagues, both in medical meetings and also just to the public. And it's just a great idea. Because, it's based on the fact that everybody has something about them that is really beautiful and really unique and individual. And so the point of beauty is to highlight and showcase that particular feature, which I call signature feature.
Jodi KatzRight. So this would be, I think, an incredible topic to talk with adolescents about. Have you ever been in front of an audience of kids on this topic?
Dr. Ava ShambanNo, I haven't, but that's a great idea. Because I think that the adolescents and even before the adolescents, they spend so much time online looking at other people and seeing that they became famous or well known or whatever. And they're like, "Well, I don't look like them." And whether it's the color of their skin or the way their hair is, or whatever it is, I think that people need to be reoriented starting at a young impressionable age about, hey, I'm beautiful in my own right.
Jodi KatzRight. I grew up with Christie Brinkley and all these women that like sort of fit a mold, and that's what I knew of beauty and there was no ... I'm 44 so there was no social media. It was just TV and movies, magazines. And I definitely have had so many things that I was self conscious about. If I think heard this message early on that beauty is unique and not beauty is sameness, I might've had a different point of view and might've been kinder to myself through the years.

I think it's like a pre middle school conversation to start thinking about the definition of beauty is not what other people think of you or what other people see. It's what you see in yourself.
Dr. Ava ShambanI love that line. Beauty is unique, it is not sameness. And that's exactly the point. I'm just thrilled to hear you say that. If you'd heard that when you were an adolescent, that you would feel much better about yourself.

The same thing here. I grew up in Los Angeles. Do I look like I'm from ... It's my joke. Yes, I'm from California. I'm tall, busty and blonde. I remember saying that when I was in college, and this woman was like, "Sounds like a Nordic wasteland out there."
Jodi KatzOh my God.
Dr. Ava ShambanSo it was only when I went to college and I met all these New Yorkers and I like, "Oh, here are my people. Here's all the petite brunettes." And so, it's true. I hadn't really thought about it that way.

That's another thing. Every time I talk about this, someone brings in another element to it. I mean, Oscar Wilde has a great statement that I often will end the lecture with, which is, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."
Jodi KatzYep. Well, you know, I think that kids teach adults how to think differently. When I was a kid, it was me teaching my mom to put the seatbelt on in the car. She didn't grow up with a seatbelt in the car-
Dr. Ava ShambanRight.
Jodi KatzAnd I of course learned in school you're supposed to put your seatbelt on. So I'm like, "Why aren't you wearing your seatbelt on?" And then the kids who are a little younger than me, they taught their parents to wear bike helmets. Nobody wore a bike helmet before. I think if we start teaching kids about what beauty really means, they can teach their parents. Because I think there's just too much ... We spend too much time worrying about what we look like and not celebrating what we look like.
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah, absolutely. We spend too much time worrying about, and I think also just trying to imitate other people's looks. I'm a huge fan of the Kardashians because they've made it much more acceptable to have a more voluptuous figure, that that's beautiful, so that's wonderful. And also that, brown hair is as sexy as blonde hair, if not sexier. But then you start seeing people wanting Kardashians lips and Kardashian eyebrows and all that stuff and that's not right for everybody. It's not right for every face.
Jodi KatzAs a dermatologist, you're there to have these conversations around skin health. So I imagine that on some of these topics, you're part therapist and part dermatologist. Am I right?
Dr. Ava ShambanYes. Well, of course. I mean, I think that all of us physicians, we're in the healing business, and healing is part of really helping someone feel good about themselves. And so, yes, you want to pay attention to that side of health too? So yes, yes. A little bit of therapy.
Jodi KatzSo let's go back in time. I want to know, when you grew up, did you always want to be a doctor? Was this an aspiration of yours when you were a kid?
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah. So I think when you're little, it's really important to be able to listen to that quiet little voice in your head, which is like, I really love to do this. And we all start out with jump rope and hopscotch, or at least, I don't know, that's what we did when I was a kid. We weren't playing video games, but so maybe now you're kind of doing some video games. Hopefully you're still playing hopscotch. But there's always a little voice in your head that says, I really love this. I really love that. And so then that becomes your calling. You may need to do something else to make a living, but you want to know what that calling is so that, that will really bring you joy.

And so for me, I was fortunate because I had that little voice inside of me saying I want to be a nurse. And so I went to the library, I read every single book about it. And I don't even know, it was just there. It was just there.

So when I was like nine or 10, that's when I really knew that. And then to my mother's credit, she really encouraged it. She was basically go for broke. Give the orders, don't take the orders. I was already kind of bossy. Be a doctor. And so that's how that started.
Jodi KatzYou were a bossy kid?
Dr. Ava ShambanI guess so. It seems I was. But I was the third child, but I was really raised more like an only child. My sister and brother are much, much older. And so maybe only children or bossier, I don't know.
Jodi KatzAre you bossy now?
Dr. Ava ShambanThat's what the guys who I date tell me, and my husbands. Well, I have a big staff now and so I'm a little bossy I have to, I have to tone it down. I do, I have to tone it down.
Jodi KatzYou know, this thing about being bossy, I definitely like to be in control. It feels more comfortable, but then there's parts of me that I'm like, I just wish everybody else would make a decision. Make the decision. I don't want to make decisions anymore. So do you ever feel that? Whether it's this kind of bossy, guidance system you have inside of you? Do you ever just want other people to be the boss?
Dr. Ava ShambanNo. That's a really broad conversation. I would like the people who were supposed to be doing what they're supposed to be doing to be more competent at it, yes. That's for sure true. Do I want someone to boss me around? I don't know. I haven't been in that kind of a relationship. That being said, I'm not-
Jodi KatzI was thinking about in the office. I wasn't thinking about my personal life.
Dr. Ava ShambanI mean, it's a podcast, we get to talk about anything, right?
Jodi KatzThat's right.
Dr. Ava ShambanNo. Here's been one of the keys to my success at building kind of a very multi ... We talked about, you know, the patchwork quilt, kind of a very patchwork quilt career, is that I'm really good at delegating. And I do really believe that it's so important that you are able to delegate, that you're able to have other people ... Oh, look who's here? My dog just got back from her walk. That you're able to help other people or allow other people to expand in all of the work that they do. So I think that's super important.

So now I've got heads of all these different departments. I am bossy, but I'm not telling them what to do. I want to hear what they have to do.
Jodi KatzWhen you go to medical school, do you take business classes? Is this something that's part of the protocol?
Dr. Ava ShambanNo, not at all.
Jodi KatzSo you have to figure it out on your own?
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah. You pretty much have to figure it out on your own. Yes you do.
Jodi KatzBecause, as much as you are a dermatologist, are you also a CEO?
Dr. Ava ShambanWell, I would say I'm not quite a CEO. I would say I'm an entrepreneur. And that I think like all entrepreneurs I'm very creative, and so I sort of swing back and forth. But in terms of if I was actually a business person, not really. I mean, I don't really know how to design a budget. Other people do that for me, and I don't really know ... I'm so terrible about watching all the numbers, it's pathetic honestly. Because I'm a doctor too, so I haven't taken the time to do business stuff.
Jodi KatzYou told me this great story about how your career in TV started, and I think you started it in your gym clothes. Can you tell us that story?
Dr. Ava ShambanYes. I had been doing a little bit of news television here and there. And so, one of the plastic surgeons in my community was one of the doctors on this show that was from like 2005 called Extreme Makeover. Can't believe it's 15 years ago already. It's unbelievable. But anyway, it was called Extreme Makeover and it was kind of the mother of the makeover shows. It was absolutely the mother of the makeover show. So the other shows that came after like Extreme Makeover Home Edition, that was a spinoff, The Swan was a spinoff. There was a lot of copycat shows which was a huge compliment to the people who created Extreme Makeover.

Anyway, the surgeon called me and said, "I've got this patient, "he had this Southern accent, which I can't possibly do. And he said, "I've got this patient and I'm doing this show called extreme makeover." And I had like three little kids and so I was like, "I never watch television." All we had on was Sesame street and I don't know whatever the predecessor to SpongeBob wise. And so he was like, "So they're going to call you because she really needs her skin taken care of." I said, "Okay."

So they called me and they said, "Well, we want to meet you and we want to see what you're going to do." And I said, "Okay." I said, "But you know, first I really want to meet the patient so I can decide what I'm going to do before we film." And I'm thinking, okay, and before we film, I'm going to get my hair blown dry, I'm going to get my makeup done. I'm going to wear a cute outfit or whatever. And they said, "Okay, well, that's fine." They said, "Well, we're going to come by. How's Saturday?" And I said, "Okay, Saturday is good." I said, "I'll come after I go to the gym."

At that time, I was going to the gym on Saturday mornings and leaving the gym wet hair and just casual Athleisure, before it was Athleisure clothes, whatever. So I get to my office and one of the producers is there. And then one of the line, I don't know, the producer and then a camera guy. At that time they had cameras that were almost as big as your kitchen. There were so big. And I said, "Really? Camera?" They said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We're just going to film you talking to the patient and no problem." And I'm like, "My hair is wet. I don't have any makeup on." And they're like, "Well, you know, just go ahead and dry your hair."

So my office on Saturdays is open. I borrow some earrings from one of my staff. Actually I don't even think I put any makeup on. I think I just blew my hair dry, maybe I put some lipstick on, I don't know. But I was a child, so it was fine. So then, we're filming. And he's direct and he said, "Can you say that again and do that?" And I'm like, "Okay, sure."

So we're filming and I figure out what I'm going to do with the patient. I said, "Okay, great. Now we're ready. We can fill whenever you're ready." They're like, "Okay, fine."

It's so funny. As it turned out, that footage went into the final show, the final show. But the good news is I did well enough on my screen test, it was effectively what it was. Then I ended up being on the show for the next two years as their regular.
Jodi KatzWhat kind of impact did that exposure give your practice?
Dr. Ava ShambanYou have to remember that in 2005, 2006, that was way before there was internet and it was all about television. People didn't research. I never see a new patient now who hasn't checked me out on Yelp or, I don't know, maybe five different sites. They've gone to my website, they've seen some of my video, they already know me by the time they get in. So that kind of exposure, it was Primetime Thursday night, ABC. It was a network show, ABC. It had, I don't know, 12 million viewer, 12 to 20 million viewership, it was a lot of people.

So all of a sudden my practice exploded. I had to take on extra space. I took on extra help. I was so busy. I would get home at 7:00, 7:30 at night and just collapse into bed. It was just incredible. People flew from all over the world.

I saw people from Egypt, from Ghana, from South Africa, from Belarus. I saw people from everywhere. It was amazing. It was an incredible experience.
Jodi KatzWe mentioned Kim Vo who was the hairstylist on that show. And his entry into the show was the same as yours. It was a friend who was his client, right? And she said, "Oh, we're doing the show. Do you want to come try it?" It was a nothing thing, right? It was just an idea at that point.
Dr. Ava ShambanRight.
Jodi KatzAnd it did the same kind of thing for his career. It made him the official guy for blondes. It was a real moment for his career. It's just so cool how these like small moments turn into having big impact. We don't know why these interactions happen. We don't get to choose them, but seeing them and paying attention to them. You could have said, no. You could have said no, Saturday doesn't work, right? You could have been, nah, I don't want to do it on a Saturday. And you might've lost that opportunity.
Dr. Ava ShambanThat's exactly right. That's exactly right.
Jodi KatzSo before we close out, I do want to give a shout out to your college roommate who I think is the one who suggested dermatology for you, is that right?
Dr. Ava ShambanMy medical school roommate. Yeah, my medical school roommate, Cheryl Clark, Dr. Cheryl Clark who's in New York. My best friend.
Jodi KatzAnd she's a dermatologist as well. Is that right?
Dr. Ava ShambanShe's a dermatologist as well. Yes. She does a lot of medical dermatology. She's totally my lifeline.
Jodi KatzIt was Cheryl's suggestion that you try dermatology, so let's give her a nice shout out.
Dr. Ava ShambanYeah. That's exactly right. That's exactly true.
Jodi KatzWell Ava, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with our listeners today. It was so great to have you on the show.
Dr. Ava ShambanOh, it's so my pleasure. And I just want to end by saying that everybody should pay attention to those little opportunities that come up when you least expect it and should really try them out. Don't be afraid. Just go for it.
Jodi KatzBeautiful wisdom. And we'll end it with that. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Ava. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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