Dr. Vicki Belo is the woman behind some of the most beautiful faces in the country and all she wants is to democratize beauty
In the Philippines, the name Vicki Belo has been synonymous with not just beauty, but its pursuit. Decades of gargantuan billboards along EDSA and countless celebrities ending live appearances with “Thank you, Dr. Vicki Belo” (a practice pioneered by Asia’s Songbird Regine Velasquez) cemented her status as the top- of-mind dermatologist in the country. One of Belo’s most memorable advert lines, “Only Belo touches my skin,” is one that remains aspirational more than a decade after its launch.
It may have been Belo’s lawyer father who urged her to pursue medicine (a professional regret of his), but her reasons for specializing in dermatology were fueled by something even more personal. “When I was in my teenage years, I developed a lot of acne and had really bad skin,” Belo tells me via email. So she spent her tween years and all throughout medical school in and out of clinics to no avail. “I spent years and years going to many different dermatologists to find a cure to my acne. I saw no improvement, and it just left me feeling insecure having oily skin, pimples, and acne scars,” she recounts, adding, “So I decided that I would cure myself.”
Belo’s practice eclipsed just “curing” ailments however. After studying abroad, Belo discovered other countries’ advancements in laser and decided to offer the same procedures and technologies back home. Despite the Philippines not being open to surgery then, she built an empire on one procedure in particular—liposuction. Now, Belo Medical Group, her beauty conglomerate, provides anything from cosmetic surgery (lipo included) to bottled sunscreen distributed in local supermarkets.
She put in the work. Citing Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers,” a book arguing that the key to success is putting in 10,000 hours of work, Belo takes pride in having exceeded that. “I’ve done 40,000 hours of liposuction, 20,000 hours of lasers, so I’ve really put in the time and effort to master my craft,” she says.
To this day, she believes that liposuction is “so necessary” and “the golden standard for shaping your body.”
“I’m kind of sad that people are so afraid to undergo surgery,” she says, noticing that fewer patients go under the knife these days. “To achieve the ideal results you really have to go through surgery. If only [people] knew how painless, easy, and wonderful the results would be instead of scaring each other, they would be a lot happier with the outcome.”
Though if that’s the case, Belo is the master sculptor, allowing women—empowering them, really—to take ownership of their own bodies. “Curing my skin concerns made me more confident, outgoing, and a lot happier, as compared to before when I was self- conscious. I didn’t expect this to be the case as well for many of our patients who’ve transformed because of our treatments,” she says.
Belo realized early on that society unfairly treats people based on appearance. While she says, “I believe God made us to be the best version of ourselves,” in the same breath she admits that “beauty is an advantage.”
“Beauty improves a lot of people’s lives. It’s unfortunate but, subconsciously, people make up their mind about who or what you are from how you look.” She says that even as a psychology major in UP, she studied how beauty affects perception.
It seems that what kept her going (and still does) is this pursuit of a grander ideal—democratizing beauty. “I’ve always wanted to even the field and make everyone beautiful so that beauty becomes irrelevant and people get judged by their hard work, character, and intelligence rather than if they look good or not,” she says. But, she also knows her services are highly exclusive. While consumers can snag a bar of Belo soap from grocery shelves, her clinical services come with a hefty price tag. “We like to think of ourselves as the Hermès of cosmetic surgery, therefore, when you come to us you have quality, you have beauty, and it’s not cheap,” she says.
There’s a recurring tension between Belo’s desires and the reality of the pursuit of beauty that comes with the territory—beauty can be controversial, after all. It’s wanting accessibility yet remaining exclusive; It’s body empowerment while simultaneously feeding into status quo beauty ideals. It’s the same across the globe. Still, her vision for her company has remained clear: to bring the best of the best to the country.
More than mere talent and tenacity, Belo seems to have an innate knack for marketing. “When I first brought lasers into the Philippine market, most people were defensive right away instead of getting to know the technology first,” she shares. “I realized the need for education, and the way I educated the market was to grant interviews and come out on TV, which was a first because at that time, doctors didn’t really come out on papers and magazines.” Her brazen approach led naysayers to doubt her credibility as a doctor. (“Is she a doctor? She’s not acting like one,” was a common remark, she recalls.)
To this day, the dermatologist easily adapts to the latest media trends. She taps influencers, is visible on social media, and even has her own namesake YouTube account and podcast, “The Beauty Authority.” (Even her youngest daughter, Scarlet Snow, is a social media phenom.) Belo has become more than just a go-to dermatologist, she’s a lifestyle icon—the mom who dons matching Halloween costumes with her daughter, the wife who spews love advice after extremely public relationship trials, and a woman who dances at home, not taking herself too seriously.
Her roster of celebrity endorsers also remains unparalleled. Anyone who’s anyone (or wants to be) has probably been a Belo patient at some point, though admitting to that seems taboo. Because while we expect our celebrities to look a certain Eurocentric way, we also vilify them for taking certain nip-tuck procedures to achieve that. It’s no surprise then, that celebrities aren’t open about the tweaks—both glaring and not—that they undergo.
“Before people did not want anyone to know they had plastic surgery done, they wanted other people to think they were born beautiful. ‘I was born this way.’ So it was such a secret when they had anything done in Belo,” she recalls. In terms of destigmatizing procedures, Belo says, “I think the best way to do it is to let celebrities or influencers admit to things until it becomes ‘in.’”
She is noticing a “big change” though. She says, “Now, it’s different. People are more open to talking about their enhancements. [On] Tiktok people are sharing videos about their nose lifts, their eyes, and other things they’ve done.”
Belo has big dreams for her practice but also for the Philippines as a global cosmetic destination. After all, she was a fellow at all of these: American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, and American Society of Cosmetic Surgery. “I’ve always had an eye for treatments that work. I actively research, investigate, and study the latest innovations and the most effective products from all over,” she says, citing the stars (her Aquarius zodiac, to be exact) as the reason behind her thoroughness. “I travel often to discover these world-class treatments, and bring them to the Philippines.” The Belo Medical Group’s resulting catalogue looks somewhat like this: Thermage from the US, BioNutriGlow from Europe, ADVALight from Denmark, and the Mermaid Facial from Finland, to name a few.
“This is why people from all over the world go to Belo because it’s a one-stop-shop for beauty,” she says. The legacy Belo had hoped to carry is already the legacy she lives. “I want to be known for someone that has helped bring cosmetic surgery to the masses, to make it more friendly, and more familiar.” Even as more and more players enter the market, Belo remains the most sought-out name in the country. To that point she says, “I believe we must find our life’s purpose in order to be happy and successful.”
Photography: GEE PLAMENCO
Creative Direction: JANN PASCUA
Text: ALYSSA LAPID
Fashion direction: JEB FRONDA
Beauty direction: TRINA EPILEPSIA BOUTAIN
Styling: BANG PINEDA assisted by HARLEY GRAJO
Makeup: PONG NIU
Hair: JAN EDROSALAN
Production Design: JUSTINE ARCEGA BUMANLAG
Photography Assistant: FERDINAND ANCAJAS
Shot on location SHUTTER SPACE
Sittings Editor: PEEWEE REYES-ISIDRO
Special thanks to DORIS JIMENEZ