Dear Doctor: Ellen Marmur
The entrepreneurial dermatologist on skin cancer research, running a business, and philanthropy.
Dr. Ellen Marmur has paved the way for female dermatologists in New York City, being the first Chief of Dermatologic Surgery at Mount Sinai. While her discovery of dermatology came later in life, she spent eight years in academia learning and researching what she loves. Today, Dr. Marmur has built an incredible business that fosters growth and leadership for her all-female team. Read on to learn what new discovery has brought her years of research together, how she has grown her business through her latest venture (a skincare line!), and why you can find her hiking for skin cancer research.
“In college, I was a philosophy and Japanese major. It wasn’t until I was on a survival canoe trip in Minnesota that I realized that I really wanted to help people using medicine. From there, I went out to Berkeley and did my premed classes. When I started med school at 25, I thought that I’d go into women’s health. I had never heard of dermatology until my third year rotations, when one of the doctors I worked with suggested I look into it. So I took an elective in dermatology and fell in love. I remember sitting outside in the sunshine on the grass with my dermatology class, discussing a visual encyclopedia of the body and why dandruff is a marker of early onset Parkinson’s disease. Learning about how subtle signs in the skin can unveil really important internal diseases was the most eye-opening experience of my life.”
Making a Career in Dermatology
I remember my first dermatology interview very well. I was in a suit and holding my folder with my resume. On my way in, I tripped, and dropped everything. Ultimately, I did three years at Cornell for my dermatology residency. Then, I did a fellowship at Mount Sinai in Mohs Surgery, laser, and cosmetic surgery. I was the first woman Chief of Dermatologic Surgery at Mount Sinai, the first Vice Chair of Dermatologic Surgery in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai, and the first dermatologist to become a part of the Department of Genomic Sciences.
Researching Skin Cancer
I started an epigenetic database looking at skin cancer risks. I noticed that there are some patients who have over ten skin cancers a year — those cases are called catastrophic carcinogenesis. There’s something wrong with their skin’s ability to heal from sun damage or other injuries that creates mutations, which in turn create skin cancer. Through the database, I looked at the commonalities in this demographic of people.
Surprisingly, I found that people who make more than ten skin cancers a year are also more likely to make melanoma. They are not fair skinned, blue eyed people like we’d expect. Rather, they are dark haired, dark eyed people! There was some type of genetic issue with their skin immunology — so to find out what it was, I collected sun-exposed skin and non-sun exposed skin from my cohort in the tissue bank for further study. It’s a massive amount of information, we’re still working with the genetic department to analyze it all.
A New Discovery
This year, there was a new organ of the body that was recognized. It’s a fluid called the interstitium, which is like the chicken soup of the body. It’s where all your proteins and inflammatory cells are coursing through your system communicating with your organs. As a result, it is now the target of many chemo therapies and much cancer research. If we can harness that communication, we can block a lot of cancers. We say that your skin also reflects what you eat, and we know there is this intimate relationship between your gut and your skin — this is the connection.
Starting Marmur Medical
In 2012, after eight of years of academia, I started my own practice called Marmur Medical. It’s been an awesome dream come true. I wanted more agility to make decisions and changes right away. I also wanted the challenge of starting, building, and running a business. In 2017, I opened a second location, called MM^2. We often refer to it as In & Out Derm, as it’s a space where you can come in right away, like an urgent care. In my practice, I have four female doctors and I also have an all-women leadership team. Mentoring and teaching was my favorite part of academia, and I love that I can continue to do that in my practice.
This year, I launched our new business venture, Marmur Metamorphosis, or MMSkincare. The name comes from the transformation of understanding of the skin that I had from my thousands of patients. The recent discovery of the interstitium brought everything full circle.
Marmur Metamorphosis took five years to develop. The line has natural, high-technology, and high-performing ingredients from all over the world. It is also sustainably sourced from South Korea. By early next year, we are launching a home device to go along with the line, called the MMSphere. It is an LED light that has a vast spectrum of wavelengths that can be used for different reasons. Since no one can be pegged as one skin type, and since our bodies are constantly changing, our skincare needs to be adaptable and tuneable. MMSkincare is biodynamic and photodynamic — and it also adapts to your skin, your body heat, and your light profile. The thought process behind it is that we should be harnessing the intelligence of your skin and working with it.
How It Works
Whenever you want to use the MMSphere, you open the MMSkincare app and take a quiz. That quiz will tell you which LED light to use that day. For example, red induces calm and sleep. A lot of people suffer from insomnia, which I think takes a huge toll on your skin. The mesmerizing pulses in combination with the light helps you sleep better, which in turn will help your skin rejuvenate.
There are three hues of the MMSkincare line. One is called Balance, which is for teenage acne, adult acne, and women and men with sensitive skin. It has a serum you use twice a day and a face hydrogel mask, which feels like Jello and moisturizes the skin 300% more than just the serum. The second is called Revive, which is for anti-wrinkles and anti-pigmentation, and smooths out and rejuvenates your skin. The last one is called Repose, which is a night serum and mask. It increases the moisturization of your skin at night, and helps repair your skin from the daytime.
I love the artistic and creative side of the development of my line. I got to design how everything looks, feels, and smells. I even went to South Korea to visit the labs and work with the chemists. We had to source all the ingredients and then find the best lab to do it. I also found a group of design engineers to help build the LED lights, and we did a lot of 3D printing to see what was the best shape and size. I wanted the MMSphere to be versatile, so you can multitask while using it. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through all of this is that four steps back is not the end of the world.
There’s often a silver lining in the steps back, and sometimes it leads to eight steps forward and a better outcome in the end.
When Marmur Metamorphosis launched, it got picked up by Vogue and Elle. The media really embraced it, and that was so gratifying. However, the best part of this whole journey is when patients come back to me with positive feedback. They tell me how much they love it; some have even said, they don’t know how they ever lived without it! To see how good it makes others look and feel is amazing.
One thing I want my patients to take away after seeing me…to moisturize their skin and never get a suntan ever again!
One thing I wish more people knew…to trust your gut. If you see something on your skin — you should probably go to the doctor.
Tips for dry skin…stop scrubbing it, and don’t use as many exfoliants or anything abrasive. Moisturize more! Also, don’t meditate in the shower for a long time and let the hot water rip apart your skin.
I feel looked after when…my kids give me a hug.
NYC fall activity: Taking long walks and hiking Bear Mountain with my family. It’s so beautiful with the fall leaves already out. I also take my kids to Central Park; they can climb the rocks there too (and they’re free).
Hiking spot: Mount Kilimanjaro, Alaska and Patagonia, all which I’ve done with Skin Cancer, Take a Hike! We do a big fundraiser hike once a year. Our next one is in Iceland in June 2019.
You can learn more about Dr. Ellen Marmur here.
Know a great female doctor in NYC? We’d love to meet her, introduce us here!