Dermatologist Joel Schlessinger balances a bustling practice and business
Joel Schlessinger, M.D., puzzles over Post-it notes. He’s mapping out a possible warehouse design, tweaking the formula until he’s satisfied it’s optimal. Schlessinger, king of a perpetually expanding skin care empire, is enmeshed in every aspect of his kingdom — including, most recently, the troublesome problem of how to optimize LovelySkin’s supply of cosmeceutical products bound for shipment all over the world.
For more than 20 years, Schlessinger has worked to build a business transforming how people treat their skin. From his initial clinical practice founded in 1993, Schlessinger’s ventures have expanded to include a spa, clinical research, the popular LovelySkin.com website and the LovelySkin retail store. At Skin Specialists P.C., Schlessinger helps patients treat acne, eczema, psoriasis or skin cancer, while also offering cosmetic dermatology services like Botox and liposuction. At the Advanced Skin Research Center, he researches the latest promising medicines and treatments for skin conditions and cosmetic procedures. At the LovelySkin store and online, he brings powerful cosmeceuticals, products that are a marriage of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, to an eager public. The LovelySkin spa offers cosmetic services from brow waxing and facials to Pellevé, a non-surgical skin tightening system for wrinkles.
Schlessinger’s fingerprint is on all of these projects. The Renaissance man thrives in this bustling environment, carefully balancing his time and attention between his various endeavors. Under his care, LovelySkin.com has grown from a money-losing website a decade ago to the third-largest cosmeceutical website in the U.S. While he has never taken a business class, Schlessinger said his medical mindset has fueled his success — he aims for zero errors in all of what he does. His wife Nancy offered a simpler explanation: He’s a control freak. His passion and vision, she said, propel him forward.
“He’s got such drive,” Nancy Schlessinger said. “It’s like the energizer bunny.”
Pam Storey, business development manager, echoed the sentiment. “He has a drive that keeps him going,” she said. “I learned that if you email him at 1 or 2 in the morning, he’ll email you right back.”
When Schlessinger describes his work, it’s clear his razor-sharp focus on all aspects of the business come from an enthusiastic passion for the job.
“It’s hard not to be excited about a lot of things that we do,” Schlessinger said. “If you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re lost. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful career, a wonderful family that has been beside me all the way and has bought into my crazy workload and work ethic.”
Schlessinger remembers feeling his first tug toward medicine as a 4-year-old child. Watching his physician uncle carefully remove a splinter from his finger, he was mesmerized. The impression stayed with him. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Rhode Island. He studied medicine at Brown University and completed clinical rotations at Baylor College of Medicine. His internship and residency at the University of Alabama Children’s Hospital in Birmingham proved a turning point. While he had long envisioned becoming a pediatrician, in residency he was confronted with the tragic situations of children facing deadly illnesses. “I couldn’t be happy in a career where I saw so much unhappiness,” he said. Dermatology proved an appealing alternative. “I loved the ability to help people without the accompanying sadness.”
Schlessinger completed his dermatology residency at Barnes Hospital at Washington University School of Medicine, one of the top five medical schools in the country. His wife’s desire to live closer to family brought them to Nebraska. In 1993, he opened Skin Specialists P.C. In the beginning, the practice included several satellite offices in Iowa and Nebraska. As the Internet blossomed, Schlessinger saw an opportunity to streamline his practice into one single location, while reaching a larger audience online.
Wife Nancy remembers how Schlessinger relentlessly analyzed names for the new site. LovelySkin had the right ring — and an available domain. In 1998, LovelySkin.com was born, offering high-quality, medical-grade products for skin care needs.
However, it would take years for the project to bear fruit. Schlessinger remembers in the initial years, the website lost tens of thousands of dollars annually. But he wouldn’t give up on it. Then, as Google became a household name and online shopping took off, the site turned around. Today LovelySkin.com is the 25th largest health and beauty website in the U.S. It has grown from a few skin care lines to more than 300 brands and 10,000 products shipped to a worldwide clientele.
The site and store reflect Schlessinger’s vision of offering people better products to address their unique skin condition or skin type. Early on, Schlessinger offered specialized products through his dermatology practice — products only available through a physician that provide greater benefits than the usual over-the-counter, drugstore and department store brands. Expanding on this idea, LovelySkin offers serious skin care products personally vetted by Schlessinger, ensuring they truly offer what they claim. The site has been so successful that the company recently expanded its physical footprint near Oak View Mall to include more warehouse, administrative and retail space.
“People can see the depth of what we have and see how dramatically different this is than a department store or a Sephora,” Schlessinger said.
Shepherding LovelySkin and his other projects occupies most of Schlessinger’s time. A typical day starts at 7:30 a.m. treating patients at Skin Specialists P.C. During any downtime and over lunch, he checks in with LovelySkin. After finishing up with patients at 5:30 p.m., he pours over hundreds of LovelySkin.com customer service emails, often responding personally. Usually, his day ends around 11:45 p.m. When asked how he unwinds, Schlessinger balked. “I love what I do,” he said. “There’s no need to unwind.”
His family is closely involved in his work. Wife Nancy is vice president, involved in many aspects of day-to-day operations at both the clinic and LovelySkin. Son Daniel is co-creator with Schlessinger of FixMySkin Healing Balms, a patented formula containing 1 percent hydrocortisone to heal and repair dry cracked skin, eczema, psoriasis, insect bites and more.
Despite the intensity of his work, Nancy recalls Joel rearranging his schedule to never miss a band concert or sports game while his kids were growing up. Of all his accomplishments, Schlessinger said he’s most proud of his family. Son Daniel is finishing the under-graduate portion of a 7 year medical program at Northwestern University. Daughter Claire graduated from Brown University and works in IT in the Chicago area. “I couldn’t have done anything without my family,” Schlessinger said.
Schlessinger and his family also devote time to humanitarian causes. They made two relief trips to Haiti after the earthquake, and he and his staff regularly donate to AIDS charities in Rwanda. He also is engaged in attracting more doctors to dermatology. He founded the Cosmetic Surgery Forum, a continuing medical education symposium for dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons, residents and fellows, and he has financially supported the participation of more than 300 medical residents in the program.
Nancy called her husband’s diverse work in dermatology visionary. His enthusiasm and drive for the work is contagious. “I’ve seen people change, and I’ve seen myself change in 24 years of marriage,” she said. “People have a different drive or direction because of the time they spend with him.”
Schlessinger’s drive will keep him working on his warehouse layout until he gets it just right. But while he loves handling the intricacies of the business, it’s the patients that keep him going. “The thing that I love about being a dermatologist is that we can bring people to a better state — whether its taking care of a rash like poison ivy or something cosmetic like Botox,” he said. “It all makes people feel better about themselves and their overall health.”
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