At the age of 44, Ahmed Al Qahtani is a very young-looking immunologist. “If you see me, you will think I am 26, guaranteed,” says the busy Emirati doctor.
He credits a product of his own invention – AQ Skin Solutions – not only for his appearance, but an increasingly booming business in aesthetics.
Head of his own company, with offices in Dubai and Irvine, California, and an assistant professor with the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, he is keen to talk about his patented ingredient: growth-factor technology developed using donated human tissue.
The body’s growth factors can be found in microscopic amounts in every human cell, and they do just what their name suggests: stimulate various types of growth and regeneration.
They are not to be confused with stem cells, which require growth factors to adapt to the body’s needs in replacing lost or damaged cells.
It is possible to manipulate cells, for example, by increasing or reducing glucose levels, or adding amino acids, or minerals, to produce a desired effect, whether that be prompting hair growth or speeding up the healing process.
Al Qahtani spent several years in the mid-2000s in his lab doing just that, working with skin cells he obtained from a hospital tissue bank, before he was satisfied with his results.
“Basically, I had the foundation to be able to work with cells, to manipulate cells to be able to get them to do what I wanted them to do,” he says. “My idea was if we collect the right growth factors, we can use them to promote healing faster and better.”
The skincare line he launched in 2008 in the United States is now available in 42 countries, including the UAE, and sells more than 100,000 units per year.
There are six products, including skin and eye serums, a hair complex and lash booster.
“There are two types: one you take home, one you do in the clinic,” he says. “I ask people to start with the second, then use the home care.”
The results are so effective, there are now 48 doctors in UAE – among them dermatologists, plastic surgeons, gynaecologists and orthopaedic surgeons – who use AQ products on their patients.
Dr Francisco de Melo, a consultant plastic surgeon at Aesthetica Clinic, Dubai, began using AQ products in his practice about three years ago.
“It does make a big difference in elective surgery,” he says. “The healing process goes faster, there is less inflammation and less scarring.”
The product can also speed healing in problem wounds, improve sensation in old scars that have resulted in numbness, reduces inflammation during acne breakouts and lighten the appearance of stretch marks, he says. The hair and lash growth serums work well too, he adds.
Aside from its medical uses, AQ Skin Solutions promises good results when used to treat more commonplace facial issues, including the wrinkling and sun damage that comes with ageing.
Al Qahtani, who grew up in Dubai and now splits his time between there and Al Ain, published a book on skincare, Real World Skin Solutions: The Science of Modern Skin Care, in 2014. He is also frequently invited to speak about his research at medical conferences.
Some of his best customers, he says, are on the cosmetic side and, for the most part, they like to remain anonymous.
“The thing is, a lot of the people who use this product, they don’t want to talk to people about it,” he says. “A lot of ladies in LA are using it.”