Beyond Aesthetics: One Physician’s Skin Burn Solution

One of the first plastic surgeon-developed skincare lines goes beyond aesthetic considerations in pursuit of a skin burn solution.

Plastic Surgeon, Dr. James Beckman, CEO and founder of Therapon Skin Health, didn’t envision starting a skin care company over two decades ago. He set out to develop products not available at the time to improve the overall skin health and appearance of his own patients. Since then, he has created a solid, but simple, product line based on science, with a burn treatment product in the pipeline.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1988

Five female facelift patients inspired Dr. Beckman to use his biochemistry expertise to create a skin solution.

“Interestingly, they all had a one-sentence statement that just stuck out in my mind. And that statement, pretty much was, ‘At 20 feet away, I look 20 years younger. But I'm putting my makeup on 18-inches from the mirror, and I don't like what I see in terms of pigment change and fine lines and wrinkles.”

Dr. Beckman points out that in 1988 there weren't any medical skincare companies yet. “Obagi was just getting out of medical school and Skin Medica hadn't even become a company yet.”

So he went to the drawing board to find a solution. Dr. Beckman pulled out his books and studied the science of skin cell turnover and noted that it slowed over time. He discovered that every time a cell exfoliates, it stimulates new a cell division at the basal layer.

“So I said, well, if I could cause those surface cells to come off quicker at age 40, then it would build new cells quicker and it would be younger looking skin.”

Thus, Dr. Beckman created glycolic acid and lactic acid prototypes. “Every new patient got either product A or product B as a gift to use… within six weeks, ladies were coming back saying, ‘my skin looks younger. My husband says my wrinkles are going away.’ And so we knew we were onto something.”

Based on patient experience with the two product formulations, Dr. Beckman chose the one that was less irritating.

Only three patients experienced minor irritation with his glycolic acid product, but says Dr. Beckman, “As a busy plastic surgeon, when you can eliminate the cause of problems, then those problems go away.”

Lactic acid it was.

Annual ASPS Meeting, 1992

By 1992 Dr. Beckman had founded his skincare company and was introducing his two-component product line at the annual meeting of the Aesthetic Society of Plastic Surgery. The line included the lactic acid formulation and a facial moisturizer.

He developed the moisturizer based on knowledge that the lactic acid interferes with the skin’s moisture barrier.

“We needed to replace some… of the natural skin oils. So we made up a lanolin-based lightweight moisturizer. And every new patient got a 10% lactic acid jar and a lanolin facial moisturizer cream. And the results were exceptional.”

Dr. Beckman says lanolin was his choice based on its ability to keep sheep skin warm and dry or cool, depending on the weather.

Other plastic surgeons heard about what Dr. Beckman’s patients were experiencing with his products and wanted these for their patients too, “And that's when in ‘92 we actually started a company and went to our first plastic surgery national meeting and the rest was history.”

Therapon 2020

The Theraderm line today includes 18 products, and it will only expand based on need.

“We've got to identify that there's a need for a product to do this to skin,” says Dr. Beckman. “In other words, to provide some solution to a skin problem.”

And unless there is an identified need and it meets his criteria, including safety and effectiveness with all skin types and use in combination with other products, Dr. Beckman says they won’t be adding anything new. “That's just kind of the DNA that we are.”

That said, there is a novel indication for an existing product that Therapon is currently pursuing, and its benefit goes well beyond anti-aging and aesthetics.

In the mid-90s, “My wife and I had been to plastic surgery meeting somewhere on the Florida coast… and she got a horrible sunburn,” according to Dr. Beckman. “Our Theraderm fruit acid product is about 40% alcohol, alcohol evaporates and evaporation causes cooling. I said put some this on. It was the type of burn that was lobster red you knew it was going to blister, peel and cause some permanent damage.”

The next morning, he says, the red was gone, there was no blistering or pain. He wanted to know why. Again, he drew on his biochemistry expertise. Today, Dr. Beckman has a patent pending for redirecting energy that would normally burn the skin into stored chemical energy.

“We know that it works not just with sunburn, but if you touch a hot oven, get the biscuits out of a 400-degree oven and your thumb’s got a white mark on it and it hurts like the devil, you put the fruit acid on it and same thing happens. If you’ve got a chemical burn, if you spill battery acid on your skin, or you got a Portuguese man of war or a jellyfish sting and put our lactic acid formulation on it, it prevents the inflammatory response that causes the injury,” he says.

But being able to market the product as such requires proving the mechanism of action.

Dr. Beckman describes an initial study conducted at the Vanderbilt University in their burn research lab in which they created thermal burns on pig skin and compared lactic acid, glycolic acid, aloe and other burn treatments.

“Lactic acid is the only one that showed no damage occurring to skin,” he says.

But showing that it works isn’t enough to prove the mechanism of action. Dr. Beckman is currently conducting a study with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in the biomedical engineering division to do so.

“We're doing a study a sunlight study with mice and proving that we see no injury from sunburn if you treat those mice within a six-hour period of time after the UV light injury.”

Dr. Beckman remains committed to going through the new drug application process, as his vision is to have a burn solution for chefs, welders and more.

“I was in India one time, a little village, and I saw a number of people that had burns from cooking on charcoal,” he says.

He describes feeling almost helpless taking care of others who, on top of having nothing, have debilitating burns.

“My deal is helping people — more that I help people in the world, certainly, and in under-developed countries,” he says.