In Profile: Dr Sean Lanigan

By Kat Cooke / 21 Feb 2017

Consultant dermatologist Dr Sean Lanigan explains how he became group medical director of sk:n clinics and discusses the importance of scientific research

“What we need, as an industry, is more scientific rigour”

“My career wasn’t planned; I didn’t go to medical school thinking, ‘this is where I need to be in five years time’,” says Dr Sean Lanigan, adding, “Every step has come along far more fortuitously than planned.” Dr Lanigan, who grew up in Birmingham, had no intention of becoming a dermatologist when he studied medicine at the University of Wales, Cardiff in 1978, but after particularly enjoying a work placement in this field, his mind was made up.

Dr Lanigan trained in dermatology at University College Hospital, London in 1983, where he developed an interest in the use of lasers. “The professor in charge of the unit was a specialist in gastroenterology but he used a laser for skin disease. I began to learn how to treat birthmarks and blemishes with lasers and I got really involved in a lot of research.” Dr Lanigan then continued his dermatology training and work with lasers in the NHS in Leeds in 1986, gaining as much experience as he could before moving back to Wales in 1989 to set up his own dermatology unit and become a consultant.

In 2000, Dr Lanigan was offered the chance to become group medical director of aesthetic company Lasercare, based in Birmingham, which would later change its name to sk:n. He says, “Accepting the post really did increase my exposure to the sort of aesthetic treatments that were available. Lasercare was growing rapidly, doing a lot of hair removal treatments, and they had practitioners starting to use botulinum toxin and skin peels.” Around 2006, Lasercare was sold and rebranded as sk:n and the company rapidly grew, Dr Lanigan comments, “We launched clinics throughout the UK and, at present, we have 43 clinics nationwide and are still growing.”

Dr Lanigan now focuses on managing the two Birmingham branches of sk:n and runs a private clinic once a week. “Outside of sk:n I have other duties, primarily related to the British Cosmetic Dermatology Group (BCDG) where I am the president – we try and improve the education of doctors’ training in dermatology.” This, he says, is a part of his career he really enjoys as it promotes education and training, “One of the biggest problems for dermatologists is how to learn about cosmetic dermatology, because it isn’t covered by the NHS. Cosmetic dermatology is a massive field now and it is very difficult to get good training in it, so that’s what the BCDG is all about, trying to make sure cosmetic dermatologists get some knowledge of this field outside of their practice.”

Education is fundamental, says Dr Lanigan, and he believes that the most important thing practitioners can do is to attend conferences and keep up-to-date on all the latest clinical research. “I’d say attend a couple of good conferences and read lots of peer-reviewed research. We are quite lucky in the UK that we now have some very good conferences running throughout the year. In the past you had to go to Europe or the US.”

Dr Lanigan spent a lot of time researching, studying and presenting his findings regarding the treatment for port-wine stain birthmarks; something he says is without a doubt his biggest achievement. “When I first got involved in aesthetics, the treatment at the time wasn’t very good. Prior to lasers, the treatment of these birthmarks was either to inject yellow tattoo ink into them to make them look less obvious, or to cut them out. The pulsed dye laser came out in the mid-80s and that really transformed the treatment. But there were lots of things we needed to learn to do it well and to make the best out of it. I feel that I made some significant contributions to the knowledge of what we can do to treat port-wine stain birthmarks now.”

Scientific evidence is something that Dr Lanigan feels very strongly about and he hopes that as the aesthetic specialty continues to grow, so will the level of scientific data. He says, “The evidence-based material needs to continue to improve – you need proper scientific research to prove what you are saying. You need controlled trials, objective measurements, and, if you can do that, you can then convincingly indicate whether things work or not. What we need, as an industry, is more scientific rigour.” He concludes, “I do think the aesthetics specialty will keep on growing, there will be a limit to it, but I don’t believe we are anywhere close at the moment.”

What treatment do you enjoy giving the most?

I really enjoy doing lip enhancement – it looks great when you do it, the results are immediately visible and patients are really pleased with the results. I also think laser treatment for facial redness is really good because there are not many options available. It works and you can really see the difference.

Do you have an ethos or motto that you follow?

I don’t tell people what they need; they need to tell me what they want. If someone comes to see me with a big furrow on their forehead then they have to say that it’s a problem, it’s not for me to say ‘do you want some treatment for that?’

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t think so and it’s nice to say that. I was lucky because I was involved with lasers in aesthetics at the onset; it was growing at the same time that I was learning.

What aspects of the industry do you enjoy the most?

What I really like is that it is a growing field, you’re not doing the same thing all the time, it changes constantly and there are lots of challenges. 

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