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Fahiemah Al-Ali/MEDILL

Memar says he thrives in a professional environment that promotes collaboration and innovation in order to provide patients with alternative therapies for conditions of the skin.

Chicago dermatologist puts “sun smarts” on his list of hot topics

by Fahiemah Al-Ali
June 14, 2010


Photo courtesy of Dr. Memar

Dr. Omeed Memar says removing cancerous moles is one of the most common procedures he performs. The moles are associated with too much exposure to the sun, he noted.

Dr. Omeed Memar develops his own line of skin products, replete with everything from clay mint face masks to sunless tanners.

His picture appears on every bottle and on billboards in downtown Chicago. He’s a regular on national television and in fashion and health magazines.

But Memar, 41, isn’t a Hollywood celebrity – he’s a dermatologist. And his own fame emanates not from the snap of a paparazzo’s camera, but rather, the popularity he’s garnered with his own patients.

So popular, in fact, that Memar opened his own store as well as his clinic at 50 E. Washington Ave. and developed a line of skin products to accommodate patients who wanted alternative formulas. With such ingredients as bamboo and green tea, Memar’s products are created with a ‘minimalist’ approach in mind – “less is more,” he said.

Through an extensive seven-year M.D., Ph.D program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in 2001, Memar gained in-depth training in the basic science and clinical applications of medicine. His additional Ph.D. focused on the novel field of immunopathology of the skin.

That gave him a new perspective, a real “hands-on experience in pathological preparation and examination of skin tissue,” said Memar.

And when he began practicing dermatology after graduation, Memar recalled the challenge of establishing a patient base in a city as large as Chicago, not far from where he grew up in Central Illinois.

“My first patient experience is one I’ll never forget,” he said with a chuckle, “It was more of an honor and privilege that they even wanted to see me.”

But his down-to-earth personality, partnered with his emphasis on educational support for patients, expanded his practice, and in 2009, he moved to an office large enough to accommodate his diverse clientele.

“I always really listen to them [patients],” Memar said, “I never give false hope or expectations, especially when it comes to matters of the skin and face.”

Memar is the medical director of the Academic Dermatology & Skin Cancer Institute in Chicago. And while he continues to research skin products and give numerous talks about dermatology research and other advancements in the field, he focuses on face-time with patients who come to him for everything from scar correction to brow lifts.

Over the years, he’s made it one of his own personal missions to emphasize the importance of sun care to his patients.

“A recent study [May 2010 American Academy of Dermatology’s nationwide “Suntelligence” survey] has identified Chicago as one of the least sun-savvy cities in the nation,” said Memar. “I want to change that.”

The cutting-edge equipment catering to this area of dermatology is what sets his office apart.

When patients come in with sun-related concerns, Memar often uses a UV-light camera that takes photos of a patient’s face and exposes the sun-induced damage beneath the surface of the skin.

“It really drives the importance of sun care home for them [patients],” said Memar, who compares the UV-light photo with a traditional Polaroid image to highlight the darkened areas of the face that are markers of sun overexposure. He then works with the patient to develop a skin care regimen.

He also tries to provide patients with alternatives to therapies traditionally reliant on the sun.

“The full-body UVB narrow band lamps that we have here for patients with psoriasis and other dermatitis conditions are one of the first I’ve ever seen at a doctor’s office,” said Michelle Kline, a licensed aesthetician who helps Memar perform many of the procedures.

The lamps utilize a subset of the UVB wideband spectrum, less than 1 percent of the total range of wavelengths from sunlight, and have a therapeutic advantage over the sun’s rays because they ensure less burning and quicker disease resolution, she said.  

Phototherapy of this nature can be very helpful in treating patients with these types of skin conditions who would otherwise seek out the sun to relieve their discomfort, said Memar. “It’s important to show people that there are safer alternatives to the sun that are just as effective,” he said.

Kline, a native Texan who used to be an avid tanner herself, said working with Memar has reshaped her own sun care philosophy.

“Just being able to see firsthand what patients with skin cancer go through, and how he [Memar] helps them throughout the process has been an incredible experience for me,” she said.

One of the most common procedures he performs is Mohs Surgery, a unique technique for removing skin cancers that grow back after previous treatment, cancers that are at high risk of recurring, or cancers that are located in cosmetic areas where preservation of the maximum amount of normal skin is important, Memar said.

The surgery is unique in that it permits the immediate and complete microscopic examination of the removed cancer tissue with little downtime, and is an effective way to remove a cancer while preserving the maximum amount of normal skin, he added.

Lou Frederich, administrator at A & G Dermatology Associates in Chicago, estimated Memar performed nearly 200 Mohs surgeries during his three years as the practice’s Mohs surgeon, aside from the surgeries he performed at his own practice.

“He’s excellent with patients,” Frederich said. “He’s got a great bedside manner, very likeable and gentle.”

Most of the cancer patients were elderly and already nervous about going under the knife, he said.

“He was able to put them at ease in a matter of minutes, he’s very easy to talk to, a regular down-to-earth guy,” Frederich noted.

Kline said Memar simply gives patients a friendly stop.

“What patients compliment him on the most is how comfortable he makes them feel … so when he’s in the room with them, it’s not this stiff ‘I’m at a doctor’s office,’” Kline said.

And that great bedside manner is exactly what patient Betsy Schneider, 31, loves about Memar.

Schneider, who gets routine mole check-ups every six months, has been seeing Memar since 2003, and says he’s different from a lot of other doctors she’s encountered in one simple way.

“He’s real,” Schneider said.

“He doesn't use scare tactics. Whenever he removes a mole, I can ask a million questions about what he's doing and he takes the time to answer them, no matter how ridiculous they are,” she said.

Kline noted that the warm environment Memar creates for patients is one of the office’s greatest assets and helps facilitate a patient’s successful diagnosis and treatment.

“Dr. Memar jokes around, he asks people about themselves. It can be an intimidating process going to the doctor’s office and he doesn’t make it that way,” she said.

In fact, a visit to Memar’s office doesn’t feel like you’re at a doctor’s office at all.

“The music we play here is all his iPod,” according to main receptionist Patricia Fridrich.

“He has a very eclectic, interesting collection of music, and people either love it or hate. But it’s all his, and he loves and sings every song.”

Memar also has his own artwork hanging in the office, drawings he made by hand and then scanned and painted using a computer program. He described the paintings as “simplified interpretations of basic skin structure,” and is working on incorporating the art into a book.

“It’s important to make skin education accessible to the common person,” said Memar, a philosophy that is in tandem with his “minimalistic approach” to skin care.

“You want to be as least invasive as possible, as least complex as possible,” he said, usually encouraging the use of fragrance and dye-free cleansing products to minimize chemicals on the skin.

“For us to think we’re going to completely revolutionize how we look with creams and potions is a bit naïve,” said Memar.

“Your skin has been taking care of itself for millions of years. Why mess with a system of perfection?”