Saturday 19 January 2019

What is your face trying to tell you?

Nigma Talib has identified four facial types that offer crucial clues to digestion and skin health. It's made her a hit with Hollywood A-listers, writes Anna Magee

Nigma Talib
Nigma Talib

Nigma Talib's client register reads like a Golden Globes guest list: Emilia Fox, Jamie Dornan, Jeremy Piven, Sienna Miller. In fact, it was at this year's Golden Globes, she says, that Penelope Cruz noticed a change in Miller's skin and asked what she was doing. "I had been seeing Sienna for two years and she was always saying to me, 'I'm going to blab about you to everyone', so when Penelope asked her secret, Sienna replied, 'Go see Dr Nigma!', and she's been my client ever since."

The first thing she does for patients is a stool test as, according to Talib, this provides vital clues to what's causing their skin problems.

"That glow on the skin, it's coming from here," she says, touching her abdomen. She has coined the term "digest-ageing", which relates to what we eat and how we digest it - or not - and its effects on our skin.

She has identified skin-ageing symptoms for "wine face" (dehydrated, enlarged pores, deep lines between eyes and from nose to mouth), "gluten face" (puffy, with dark patches and chin spots), "sugar face" (forehead wrinkles, thinning, grey hue) and "dairy face" (swollen eyelids, dark circles, white bumps and chin spots), and believes that most people have a combination of all four.

The day I meet Talib, I'm struck by her looks: she has a glow that looks like she has been lit from within. She spares me the stool test, but does look tentatively at my face and asks: "Do you eat much gluten? I'm seeing a lot of puffiness around the eyes and a spot."


I say I tend to avoid gluten and most carbs, but I just don't sleep enough. But then, I finally admit to having wolfed down a bowl of instant noodles late the night before, after getting home hungry at 10pm. That would be it - your diet, she claims, can show on your face in as little as 24 hours after eating.

In September last year, at the launch of celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury's product line at Los Angeles lifestyle boutique, Nordstrom - attended by Kim Kardashian, Lily Allen and Kate Bosworth - Talib was flown in to do celebrity "face readings".

The most common "faces" - in the A-list, as in the rest of us - she recalls, were dairy and sugar face.

"I would take one look at someone and say 'You're eating way too much dairy', and they'd say, 'How did you know?' I can spot signs from a mile away, especially the deep, pustular spots of the sugar face, by far the most common.

"People in their 40s complain of getting dull acne, but if they would only cut out sugar, they would see such a difference in their skin."

While I'm familiar with research showing some links between sugar and ageing of the face, along with dairy and acne, I haven't seen any studies linking gluten, wine and dairy in foods to the specific skin problems that Talib describes.

When I ask about the research behind her theories, Talib replies: "I can't get into the research. All I can say is that, clinically, this is what I've seen in my practice over the years."

Her face-reading technique, she claims, comes from a cross between what she sees in her clinic and her background training in traditional Chinese medicine, in which the practice is commonly used as part of diagnosis.

Still, I'm sceptical and run the idea by a dermatologist friend, who admitted that acne is linked with dairy, and sugar with ageing, in some studies. But the idea that your diet could show so clearly on your skin did sound "a little weird".

Penelope Cruz is renowned for her youthful 'glow'. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Penelope Cruz is renowned for her youthful 'glow'. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Talib is not a registered medical practitioner in this country, but is a naturopathic doctor who did her training in Vancouver, where she lived before moving to the UK in 2007.

"In Vancouver, where I trained, you go through the same things as medical doctors. Actually, there are more hours of basic sciences than standard medical schools," she says.

"For so long, naturopathic medicine was not looked at as a medical profession. Now, especially in LA, people don't just have their medical doctor, they have their naturopathic doctor that they see regularly, too."

Though Talib can prescribe medication in the United States and Canada - she has clinics in New York and Vancouver and is setting one up in LA - she can't in the UK. Instead, she works with private medical doctors, who can write prescriptions for drugs that she might recommend, such as hormone melatonin, which can help with insomnia ("sleep is the secret weapon for skin," she says), and DHEA, a naturally occurring steroid that can have a calming effect.

While these bio-identical hormones have become trendy with Harley Street's private doctors, they do come with side effects and risks, and can interact with other medications.

When it comes to skin problems affecting the over-40s, adult acne can be a huge concern, she says.

"For celebrities, this can be aggravated by working under lights with make-up on, but for the average person, it's not helped by the fact that most aren't cleaning their skin properly," she says. "Even men and those women who don't wear make-up need to use a cleanser containing alpha-hydroxy acids or salicylic acid to minimise the oil and toxin build-up that can lead to spots, large pores and fine lines."

Stressed skin is common, too, she says, which shows as a combination of gauntness, sagging and a lacklustre appearance.

She then puts me under her radiofrequency machine, which is popular with celebrities before an appearance for its instant tightening effects. It feels hot, but not unpleasant. Afterwards, even the photographer notices a lift and glow to my skin.

One study found radiofrequency had an immediate tightening effect in 87pc of patients treated. But be careful: a small proportion of people in the study (0.4pc) experienced burns.

Talib's pet hate is the "new old" - another self-coined phrase - the puffy, over-Botoxed, overfilled look.

"Most of my clients don't want that," she says. "They need expressions on their faces because they act in movies. They come to me for the alternative."

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