In this podcast, Plastic Surgery Practice Co-Chief Editors Alison Werner and Keri Stephens interview James Beckman, MD, founder and CEO of Therapon Skin Health. They talk about the company’s Theraderm Clinical Skin Care line, its proprietary peptides, and how Theraderm grew out of Beckman’s works to develop a product to improve the skin of burn victims with skin-grafted hands. They also talk to him about where skin care is headed.
Beckman, who spent 20 years in private practice as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and has a degree in biochemistry, shares his journey to creating a commercial product with active peptides for skin showing the signs of aging. The product grew out of his work with patients who had suffered burns or lost skin that resulted in skin grafts to close the wound and with patients who were just experiencing extremely dry skin as a result of their working conditions.
Working with a local pharmacist, he created his first product: Beckman’s Dry Skin Therapy. The product caught on with fellow plastic surgeons and he soon had his first company. From there, he sought to develop a product that restored elasticity and collagen of aging skin.
Today, the Theraderm Clinical Skin Care line has three product systems—an anti-aging, a skin renewal, and a Reversion Clear Skin System. As Beckman puts it, “Those three systems developed out of one system, and that one system developed out of one product that restored the oil depletion in dry hands.”
When looking to the future for the skin care company and its products lines, Beckman shares his philosophy on product development overall—and it centers on helping the consumer actually solve a problem. “I think the key for skin care product manufacturers is to—with any product—go out and see what the consumers are suffering with and try to find an answer that solves that problem rather than an advertising campaign that sells more of your product.”
In this interview, Beckman takes the listener through his career journey as a plastic surgeon in rural Arkansas and shares how word-of-mouth marketing is so much more valuable than having a huge advertising budget. After all, that’s how he found success with Beckman’s Dry Skin Therapy, and that pattern continues today with Theraderm’s skin care product lines. PSP
Hello and welcome to the Plastic Surgery Practice Podcast on the MEDQOR Podcast Network. I am Alison Werner, and I’m joined by Keri Stephens. We are the co-chief editors of PSP. Today, we’re going to be talking to Dr. James Beckman, founder and CEO of Therapon Skin Health. We wanted to learn more about the company’s Theraderm Clinical Skin Care line, its proprietary peptides, and how Theraderm grew out of Dr. Beckman’s work to develop a product to improve the skin of burn victims with skin-grafted hands. What’s more, we wanted to talk to Dr. Beckman about where skincare is headed.
Dr. Beckman, thanks for joining us.
Well, thank you for having me.
Great. Prior to starting Therapon Skin Health, you were a plastic surgeon in a private practice and spent 20 years there. Talk to me about the journey from private practice to setting up this company and focusing on skincare.
Well, the journey wasn’t that I was leaving plastic surgery to go do something else, but there weren’t any products available other than a few commercial products that you could go to Walmart and buy on the shelf for moisturizer, for lack of a better word. There weren’t any products that had active peptides that reversed the aging changes that we see in skin.
Of course, I’ve got six sisters, so I understand how y’all are put together up there. You look in the mirror and you see a wrinkle line, and, oh, my God, the sky is falling. I’m getting old. What can I do? Also, practice in Arkansas, which is more of a rural state than most, I was seeing burns and hand injuries, facial injuries, the full spectrum of plastic and reconstructive surgery. You may see a person that was in a car wreck and had a fracture up here, but skidded along the blacktop pavement for a while and had an abrasion-type injury, so combinations of things.
Of course, I worked with orthopedic surgeons a lot. I had done a fellowship in hand surgery, which is orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, plastic surgeons do special training because there’s a lot of little moving parts that aren’t necessarily aesthetic, but you can’t eat your food if you don’t have fingers that work properly. It goes hand in hand with plastic and reconstructive, the words, for what we would do.
Occasionally, there’d be somebody that had either burns or, for some other reason, had lost skin, and you have to put a skin graft on to close that wound. Well, skin graft is borrowing some skin from healthy skin layers to share, so you’re limiting a little bit the skin that you took it from, but you’re covering the worst place that had no skin, and so you have compromised skin in both places a little bit.
My degree was in chemistry, and my passion is making things do things that I want them to do when they don’t want to do it. I don’t know if that came from growing up on a farm and being around animals and training dogs and things of that sort, but that’s my basic nature. I want things to work a hundred percent correctly. If they don’t, I want to know why and, if there’s a way that I can fix it, I want to know how to do it. If there’s not a way that I can fix it, who can fix it and how do I contact them, how all that goes?
I’m more hands-on than some plastic surgeons. Some plastic surgeons would say, “Well, I don’t work on eyelids, but my partner does, or somebody else.” Well, there were only two plastic surgeons in Arkansas when I went into practice, and they were both in the big city. I lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, population of 2,500, and it was 150 miles to the next city that had over 30,000 people, so I was seeing a lot of farm injuries.
Mountain Home is centrally located on the border with Missouri in Arkansas. There’s three giant Corps of Engineer lakes that feed into the White River, and folks would come down from Chicago and stay awake and trout fish on the White River, so there were a lot more people in the county than lived there. There were probably a hundred thousand people in town or in the county area most of the time and, certainly, in the summer months and the fishing season months.
Anyway, I enjoyed seeing all kinds of injuries. Occasionally, one of the GPs needed to be out of town and there wasn’t somebody to cover his practice, so I would cover their practice. I delivered four babies my first year of practice as a plastic surgeon.
That’s a rarity, probably.
It’s not common, I’ll put it that way, but you do what you need to do. That’s what plastic surgery is about is just take a situation, what’s the best chance to get the best result, and these are the things you need to do, this is how you do it, and these are the other supporting staff that you need. You need anesthesia sometimes for things, but a lot of things you can do under local anesthesia. A facelift, it sounds like would be a four-hour operation under general anesthesia, but I did all my facelifts under local anesthetic. It’s much more healthy, and I could say, “Well, Susie, I want you to open your eyes wide or close your brows,” and you can actually see the result before they get home a week later and the stitches are out, and they call you and say, “Hey, doc, this ain’t working.”
Anyway, I think the key to any practice of medicine, whether it’s plastic surgery of any kind or even internal medicine, is correctly diagnosing what the problem is, and then you’ve got a whole battery of things to choose from that fit that condition or complications from other conditions that interfere with it.
The fun, the practice in medicine is finding the perfect fit for a solution to a problem. That’s what plastic surgery is all about anyway. A lot of times, it’s missing tissue, and you’ve got to find a substitute for that tissue or at least a substitute for that organ or deformity that allows that person to restore normal function. It’s a challenge, but a very fruitful, fulfilling challenge. You wake up every day and not know what you’re going to be doing necessarily, but, of course, you schedule elective surgeries, but you don’t schedule emergency room.
Yeah. Well, as part of when you were working, you mentioned you were dealing with patients who had burn injuries and skin-grafted hands. How did that work translate into creating a skincare line, because I know you created… I think it was a cream for the burns?
Yeah. Right. Well, a combination of things. Of course, I did my plastic surgery training in Memphis, and they have a huge burn center, their children’s hospital is big, so I got a lot of exposure to injuries, complicated injuries, all in one location at the same time that you wouldn’t see out in a rural area. It was a perfect educational experience for somebody who was going out into the hinterland, so to speak. When you saw a patient in the emergency room with X, Y, and Z, you think back, “Oh, I saw an X, Y, Z three years ago when I was in Memphis.”
Of course, skin, the body in general, heals the same in Mountain Home, Arkansas, as it does in Chicago. I mean, the principles are no different. You’ve got to have a good blood supply. You’ve got to have adequate tissue, and you’ve got to have adequate nutrition to that tissue, which is from the blood supply, but you got to have oxygen and other things that go into healing.
The great mystery or the big challenge in plastic and reconstructive surgery is, one, saving the patients. Say, if it’s a car wreck and they’ve got multiple injuries, they need to have their heart working before you start doing eyelid surgery. You work with other surgeons and you get the worst thing fixed, and you finally get down to, well, “Gosh, my finger has a crook in it and I can’t pick up things.” Well, then you get down to what is it in the joint and the other structures that need repair.
What I wanted you to talk about was, so you did… because now you have this company, Therapon, which has its skincare line, but your interest in skincare started with the work you were doing with burn victims and skin grafts, and so you developed a product there. I’m wondering how the development of that product led you to creating a skincare line.
It was a combination of things. I had patients that were working with paper, in other words, delivering newspapers or you print newspapers and put them together, people that use a lot of paper, that touch a lot of pages of paper every day. You’re wiping the skin oils out of your fingertips, so you get dry, cracked fingers.
Fortunately, for me, in Mountain Home, a lot of things came together at the same time. The first two pharmacists that went to work for Sam Walton, and he’s built a company, Walmart, were the pharmacists in Mountain Home that I dealt with. When they got moved over to Bentonville to set up the pharmacy, they told Sam Walton that he needed to have somebody that could make creams for this and that and the other.
Of course, I was dealing with them on a weekly basis for six or eight years over there. They called and said, “Would you be willing to work with us over here to develop some things that we can have in our Walmart pharmacies? We want to put them in pharmacies everywhere.” It wasn’t just Arkansas, so I worked with them and helped design a skin cream that would restore the lubricity. That’s the oiliness, flexibility in skin for dry hands. Well, it worked well on burns that had been skin grafted that don’t have adequate oil production in the skin, and things grew from that, I think.
My degree was in biochemistry, so it was a natural to know about oils and what mixes and what doesn’t mix, and then, of course, medical school, you’re working with tissues, and you put it all together and it’s like eating dinners.
We really want to hear a lot about the Theraderm product line. What are some that has been around since 1996? How has the line evolved, and what are some of the standout products now for the Theraderm line?
Well, I didn’t start out to develop a skincare company. I started to develop products that would help my patients that were also like other patients that other plastic surgeons had. You would go to a pharmacy and get a, for lack of… not to say branded words, but Vaseline-type products that were common household availability products in small town drugstores. Well, those oils in those products are really thick. It’s like grease that you’d put on a bearing in a wheel. They’re just too sticky. They don’t absorb into the skin, but with my knowledge of biochemistry and what type of oils are in the skin and allow them to mix with water and be fluid and whatever, it made it real easy to come up with some samples.
I had a pharmacist, and I said, “I want to put some of this and some of this and some of this together in these proportions. Can you do that for me?” and that’s what they do for a living is make this and this and put it together, and we developed our first skincare product. It was Beckman’s Dry Skin Therapy, and it was because of the patients that I was seeing with dry skin. I made a thousand jars and paid for it myself and stuck it on my closet in the office, and I’d have a patient with dry skin, extremely, I’m talking about dry, cracked, couldn’t do their daily work, had to miss a week of work because of the problem with their skin.
Other plastic surgeons heard about what I was doing and said, “Jim, get us some of that,” so we started a company to do that. That’s not the sort of thing you’d sell from a medical practice usually. It just grew. Word leaks out when you find something that works. I mean, you throw some cracked corn out on the snow and, pretty soon, there’s one black bird that comes and finds it and, tomorrow, there’s a flock of them, and that’s the way people are.
I know our listeners are really wondering about the current product line. How have the products really evolved?
Well, of course, yeah, that’s a great question. We started out to solve a problem with skin that was interfering with just daily activities. As I mentioned, my degree in chemistry and my love for skin and all the other things that go with healing and the aspects that skin needs, the properties that skin needs to have to function properly, it was a no-brainer to make adjustments to creams to fit different products.
A third-degree burn needs to heal the burn first, but you’ve got skin grafts that don’t have oil glands, so you got dry, flaky, cracked skin. They’re out of the hospital from the burn, but their life is limited to 10% of the function that they would normally have perhaps, I mean, in severe cases, not all burns, but making a skincare cream that restored dry skin problems was the start, and then ladies would say, “I’m looking in the mirror and, every day, I see this wrinkle that goes right there and, by golly, I’m getting one on the other side. What can you do about that?” Well, with the knowledge of the biology of skin, as it gets old, we lose the elastic tissue.
I mentioned I had six sisters, and I used to hear them bitching about their waistband or their petticoat getting blacks and falling down in their bloomers. Yeah, you got to restore elasticity to make tissue function properly. I guess I was lucky. Of course, I knew about wound healing and the things that went into normal wound healing, but I found a couple of things that increased the restoration of damaged collagen, which is a structural tissue, and I found a couple of things, developed a couple of things as ingredients that increased the elasticity that’s helping tighten the waistband in those panty holes that got loose and floppy.
You put all those together in a skincare cream and put it on the skin that’s loose and floppy. You get a same improvement result as you would in a loss of elastic fiber in clothing. It’s an evolvement. I guess my nature for wanting to do things and make things came from growing up on a farm, a dairy farm where you’re taking care of animals and fixing their veterinary needs, so you knew how to give local anesthetic and you know how to actually sew up cuts and all those kinds of things, and then, of course, plastic surgery refines that to human beings, but the principles are still the same. If you got to a cut, you got fix it.
Well, you mentioned peptides earlier in this talk, and Theraderm has proprietary peptides. Can you explain what these peptides can do and how they fit into the Theraderm-
Every chemical reaction in the body doesn’t just happen. You got to have several things that make it happen. One, you got to have a need, and that’s usually a condition, and that condition tells the body, “You need to get us some of this to make this wound heal,” and the “this” that it needs usually is a peptide. Peptides are active. They’re the off-on switches that make reactions occur.
Studying those peptides that went into wound healing itself made it real easy to make some trick switches. You put it on and you get some of that and stuff happens. Now, I won’t say I’m brilliant. I’m observant. I noticed that, when you do this, this, and this, you see that, that and that, and two weeks later, Susie comes back and says, “Hey, doc, my wrinkle is getting smaller and smaller.” Even a fool finds an acre every once in a while, so it wasn’t brilliance. It’s the ability to observe and try to find a solution that drives me. It still drives me, what makes things happen.
Absolutely. The Theraderm line of products are often found in plastic surgery practices as part of their retail offerings to patients. Why is the Theraderm line a good complement to in-office procedures, and which procedures?
Well, the same Susie that’s having a facelift, before she went to get her facelift done was having problems with dry skin, wrinkles and stuff she didn’t like, and that’s the same pool of people, that hundred percent of humans that have skin are going to have skin problems with dryness or whatever, depending on the conditions and where they live and that sort of thing.
I grew up liking to fish, and I knew that, if you fish right over there, there’s a whole lot of fish that live underneath there. They like Menace, so you use Menace. It’s the same way with plastic surgery. If you were a physician in a town of a hundred people, you wouldn’t have as many patients, but you’d have a certain… The mix would be about proportionately the same. We’ve got three ladies that have really dry skin, and they got to do something for it.
Well, when I was in Mountain Home, Arkansas, that little town I first mentioned, I went to Mountain Home, population of 2,500. The closest town with at least 10,000 people was 50 miles away. My colleagues in plastic surgery, the older guys that I knew around that advised said, “You’re crazy as a road lizard. Why are you going to town that doesn’t have any people to try to practice plastic surgery?” Well, Mountain Home, Arkansas, was a retirement destination for folks that lived in the Chicago area and retired. They’d come to that part of the state because there were three really big, good fishing lakes. They’d come down in the summer and whatever, and say, “Well, when I retire, I’m going to move down here,” so I knew it was a going to be an area that was going to grow. I knew that a lot of the people there were college educated, had lived in a big city and had access to any kind of medicine that you might want to have surgery or medicine. It was no-brainer.
The family practice guys that were there in town said, “Jim, why don’t you move here? We need somebody that can take care of not just the fishhook that’s caught in a finger, but a knife cut that’s deep in the hand. I’m having to send patients to Memphis or Little Rock or Fayetteville or Springfield or somewhere else,” and he said, “You can be busy in a week.” I moved over there, and I wasn’t busy in a week. I was about starved to death for six months. I had three kids under five years old and a wife that didn’t like living where there wasn’t anything but a Walmart store, but I started getting patients referred to me from Little Rock and from Springfield and from other places because those patients that did well said, “You need to go see this guy down there for this.”
I don’t call it bragging, if they told them go down there because I got a good result, whatever, but I think a part of it was I made it a point to… I wanted to spend 10 minutes with every new patient, not just, “Oh, Susie, you need your eyelids fixed,” or, “See Sarah up front. She’ll schedule it. We’ll do it next week and, oh, by the way, it’s $1,500. See you.” That didn’t work in Mountain Home. You sit down and talk with the farmer’s wife and, “Well, how many little goat babies do you have to feed every day?” It was a very interesting way of life to see what people did when they weren’t in your office, and that related back to what they needed to have with their hands to do the things that they were doing on a day-to-day basis. All that goes back to being one of eight kids in a farming family growing up.
How should plastic surgeons be talking to their patients about the Theraderm products? What can they say about how they can help support their skin health?
Well, part of it relates to the fact that every human has very similar skin in terms of, if you don’t take care of your skin, you’re going to get dryness. If you stay out in the sun without a sunscreen, you’re going to get wrinkles. It’s predictable. Plastic surgeons nowadays, almost all of them have a whole skincare suite. They have two, three nurses devoted to that. When I was first starting out to develop skincare products, I had mentioned earlier that my degree was in chemistry and creating products that solved my patients’ own personal problem was the development process. I didn’t go out and sell it. Other plastic surgeons you’d meet at a meeting would say, “Well, Jim, what are you doing?” “Well, I’ve been working with this product that does this, this, and this, and makes the wrinkles go away in my patience. Well, that’s like lighting a match to some tissue paper.” “Well, can I get some?” “Well, I’ll send you. I don’t have much, but I’ll send you some. You can try it, and I’ll get some more made,” wherever, so it was a process of growing.
When you go to a plastic surgery meeting, there’s one this week somewhere, but, anyway, when you go to a plastic surgery meeting, you’re seeing doctors from New York, from Los Angeles, from El Paso, from Springdale, Arkansas, and all places in between, and you’re in line to get your food tray and wondering, “What do you see in your practice mostly? What have you learned new?” “Well, I’ve started using this skincare product from a little company who’s in Arkansas.” “How do I find it?” Word of mouth is how we’ve grown and how we still. I mean, we advertise some, but our advertising budget is minimal compared to the Procter & Gamble folks and those that put $20 million the first year for a new product.
If I had $20 million, I’d give it to my employee. I’d take 10 million of it and give it to my employees and share it. The loyalty of my people is stronger than the loyalty anywhere in the world or company-wise for that reason. I mean, we’re all family, and that’s different.
Yeah. Theraderm has three different, basically, product systems. You have an anti-aging, a skin renewal and a reversion clear skin system. What do you think? What are some of the standout products within those lines or just within the overall product lines?
Well, those three systems developed out of one system, and that one system developed out of one product that restored the oil depletion in dry hands. Susie had used a product that made her hands feel really good. She has a 17-year-old boy that’s in high school that’s thinking about committing suicide because his acne won’t get better, and so you say, “Well, why don’t you try this, this, and this,” and write a prescription out. She tries it and comes in a week later. “Man, he’s happy as can be because his zits are gone and he got three girlfriends in the same day last week,” that kind thing. Word spreads when people have a good result. I don’t care what product it is.
Consumers can buy Theraderm products directly from the company or through online retail sites, but why do you think it’s good for plastic surgery practices to offer retail skincare and to make that part of their routine?
Well, that’s an excellent question, and the best answer for that is is Susie doesn’t know that she’s got a skin cancer growing right there next to her wrinkle. I think that whoever is seeing and treating patients for skin problems should be able to recognize something that could kill that patient or certainly interfere with quality of life or things of that sort, so it should be a doctor. Most family practice doctors haven’t had time to focus their study in dry skin. They’re looking at heart attacks and broken bones and dog bites and Susie can’t sleep at night, all the other things that family practice and internal medicine and other practitioners see. All in all, I can’t explain all the good things that’s happened to me other than God’s blessed me. I believe that happens. There’s not only an opportunity, but a responsibility when God blesses a person for that person to share it. I was raised that way, and I ain’t going to change.
Yes, sir. We’ve talked a lot about the past, and I loved how much you’ve described just how this all got started, but we want to go into the future now. What’s next for Therapon Skin Health and the Theraderm Skin Care line?
Well, if I knew the answer to that, we’d go ahead and start on it. As I mentioned, the way we have developed our products is identifying a need that’s recurrent and finding a solution to that problem that we know works and spread the news that you should try this for your patients that have this, this and this.
I think we’re going to see some changes, some opportunities arise in the future for a number of reasons that they wouldn’t have arise or risen earlier because our laundry detergents have chemicals. Our soaps have very strong, harsh detergent chemicals. A dish washer in a restaurant today has a lot more problem with dry, cracked hand skin than grandmother’s generation of folks that just had regular, old castile soap. I think the key for skincare product manufacturers is to, with any other product, go out and see what the consumers are suffering with and try to find an answer that solves that problem rather than an advertising campaign that sells more of your product.
Yeah. Absolutely. Well, Dr. Beckman, thank you so much for speaking with us today. If plastic surgeons or their staff listening are interested in learning more about Therapon Skin Health or the Theraderm Skin Renewal System and including these products in their offices, can they just go to the Theraderm website and find out more, or is there somewhere else to contact you guys?
They can go to theraderm.net, which is a website that shows our various different products. They can call Therapon Skin Health. There’s an 800 number, and we can post that or give it to them. They can call Therapon and order directly from us through their physician. There’s a number of different ways. There are a lot of towns, smaller towns certainly out in the western part of the United States that don’t even have a doctor, let alone a plastic surgeon. There’s a need and, of course, doctors think we’re trying to steal their patients if you sell them a product directly instead of to them. I’m not worried about the doctor. I’m worried about Susie. She has a problem. She contacted us, and my job is to make her problem go away or make it better. If you’d talk to Susie and find out what she’s using and order some yourself, then you’d have some for your other patients.
Right. Yeah, and it’s definitely a way to develop a relationship with your patients and have an all-inclusive skincare.
It really happens that way. We have a number of doctors that became customers in their clinic from our skincare products, from our aesthetic products because we treated one of their patients with really dry skin and gave them something that was just a moisturizer, not for beauty or whatever, and their nurse would call and say, “What other products do you have?” “Well, sure, I’m glad to share them with you.”
Yeah. Excellent. Thank you so much, Dr. Beckman. It’s been a pleasure.
To our listeners, thanks for joining us.
Well, thank you very much for having me.
Great. Thank you so much.
To our listeners, thanks for joining us. Be sure to subscribe to the MEDQOR Podcast Network for the latest Plastic Surgery Practice Podcast and remember to visit plasticsurgerypractice.com for the latest industry news. Until next time, take care.