The Lord of the Skin

Beverly Hills, California-based celebrity dermatologist Harold Lancer, MD, FAAD, credits his decades of success to a simple mantra: Be a doctor first, then specialize.
Harold Lancer, MD

As the youngest of three children raised in a small farming community in Connecticut, one of Dr. Harold Lancer’s earliest memories is of a traumatic event. At the age of five, he was scalded by boiling water and suffered serious burns. “Our local doctor took care of me and he said, ‘I’m not a dermatologist, but let me try my best to make this heal up,’” he says. The event left physical scars; it also triggered a lifelong fascination with the science—and art—of dermatology. Over the course of an 18-month recuperation, he became intrigued with how the skin healed; a fascination the Beverly Hills dermatologist admits has never waned. Speaking from his 12,000-square-foot practice housed in a penthouse suite overlooking Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, Dr. Lancer calls himself a “slave to my own empire. But I love it." His practice, Lancer Dermatology, boasts a staff of 18 and sees 80-plus patients each day. His appointments begin at 6:15 a.m. five days a week with a few weekend appointments to boot.
Dr. Lancer is quick to note that his success was not achieved alone. It was fueled and nurtured by several mentors who offered valuable advice and guidance, including Richard Stoughton, MD, the head of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, where Dr. Lancer attended medical school following his undergraduate studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. “[Dr. Stoughton] was a huge influence. He said to me in my first year, ‘You’re one of those super-bright whiz kids and everybody is going to steer you to their specialty. But no specialty will offer a greater variety in patients or cases on any given day than you will see with dermatology,’” says Dr. Lancer.
Other mentors include Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD, PhD, the former chairman of the department of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, where Dr. Lancer performed his dermatologic residency following a medical internship at St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center in San Francisco. He received additional training in the form of fellowships at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv and the dermatology clinic at St. John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin in London.
While some practitioners are uneasy with the lack of clear-cut clinical endpoints in cosmetic medicine, Dr. Lancer embraces the challenge of uncovering patient concerns. It’s part of the stellar patient care that has made him a favorite of the Beverly Hills elite. “It’s very interesting to watch the psychology of what bothers people,” he says. “It might be eczema, it might be a spot of psoriasis behind the ear or a totally benign growth in the armpit. The variety never ends. Something can stare you in the face—for example, distorted Restylane injections in the lips—and the patient is here about a completely different issue. I’ve learned to always ask the patient why she’s here and what I can do to help her.”
For Dr. Lancer, helping his patients includes providing 24/7 access to him and his staff via cell phone and email. “I have a waiting list of six months, and it’s because people think of me as a great skin doctor. If I see someone at 3:00 p.m. and she has a question at midnight, she is told to contact me or the staff member who treated her. That’s how this place works,” he says. “I don’t consider myself a boss. I have a very devoted, wonderful staff of 18, some of whom have been with me for 25 years. We are a family.”