Dr Shanika Arsecularatne is no stranger in the medical beauty scene. But, when she first started, cosmetic medicine or cosmetology was unheard of. “I studied medicine,” she explains. “And, right after I graduated and completed my internship here, I resigned from the government sector. I planned to venture into cosmetic medicine, which was unheard of at that point.”
Shanika believes she’s a carbon copy of her mother’s energy. Throughout her childhood, she remembers her mom getting off work early to spend the rest of her time with Shanika, even when she did her O/Level and A/Level exams. “I saw her balance her roles and watched her study well into the night, always learning,” she reflects. “All this played a huge role in my life and influenced me to pursue cosmetology.”
With her expertise, Shanika helps many women and men every day and enjoys doing it. “If I see about a 100 patients a day, 98 of them come because their appearance bothers them psychologically. They’re often depressed, bullied, have marital problems, or they don’t get equal opportunities,” explains Shanika. “For example, some clients tell me that, while they’re very educated, when they apply for a job and go for the interview, they lose the spot to a better-looking person. Or, they’re hard workers and dedicated, but the prettier one gets the promotion, are more popular or have more friends around them.”
Battling social misconceptions and offering scientifically backed information is also a part of what Shanika does. In our culture, we link fair skin to potential suitors for young women and it’s no secret that if you took a peek into a matrimony advertisement, you’d often find the requirement for a bride-to-be includes being fair and slim. “Imagine a girl who excels in her studies, is smart and then some,” she says. “She is capable and will probably excel in her choice of career, but, you put her through unnecessary trauma because you believe no potential husband will want her for the colour of her skin. But, genetically, we’re not a fair ethnicity group—we’re of distinct shades of tan. So my goal is to educate and create awareness on misconceptions related to beauty.” Shanika’s underlying message, especially with skin, is clear: healthy skin, and not white skin, is beautiful.
Through her Instagram page and Christell Clinic’s social media platforms, Shanika has been creating educational content. And, the response has been positive. “I’ll get messages from women sharing they’ve stopped using a particular whitening cream right after they watched my video. They tell me they’re seeing the side effects I mentioned, but wonder what they should do next,” explains Shanika. “So I guide them with their next steps.”
Shanika hopes to make cosmetology more mainstream to allow for a safe platform so everyone understands that improving yourself for you is not a crime. “Believing something will make you look and feel good, is not a sin,” she says emphatically. “And no one should judge you for it.” Shanika ensures the consultation and process that follows are unique for each person. So she spends a significant amount of time with each of her clients, first by addressing their fears (which are many, thanks to horror stories on the internet) and explaining the science behind what they require. “If you’re trying to make a judgement call, you need to either read scientific journals or listen to an expert,” she shares. “If you need marital advice, you’d go to a marriage counsellor, not an auntie or friend because their opinion is subjective.”
Next, she talks to them to understand their situations. “I work with some psychologists — in cosmetic medicine, there’s a psychological assessment and a body dysmorphia assessment,” she explains. “I go through these assessments because, in reality, there are some who aren’t happy with themselves no matter what you do. Then, if I feel like the client needs support, I explain that this needs to be a holistic approach, and suggest they talk to the psychologist while I work on the other components. And most people go for it.”
Shanika’s love for medical sciences is obvious. But choosing this line of work was not without its challenges. “When I first started my career, people often made fun of me for venturing into what many perceived as a superficial field,” she says. “But I did it anyway because I saw the possibilities and I also knew I wanted a life similar to what my mother enjoyed.” She’s currently doing her masters, which is the highest level you can get to in cosmetology and will be the first in Sri Lanka to hold this degree. “But, now, people are venturing into this field because they see it’s a fun job with countless opportunities to help people.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.