‘Word of mouth is more credible than endorsements’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“I CAN’T promote the treatments if I don’t walk the talk,” says a young-looking Dr. Aivee Aguilar-Teo. PHOTO BY ANDREW TADALAN

She’s the other celebrity doctor whose billboard you won’t find anywhere on Edsa.


Dr. Aivee Aguilar-Teo has quite an impressive list of celebrity and high-profile clients. But when asked to name them, the affable doctor simply giggles and wouldn’t let on, even with a nod. But neither does she deny nor disown the presumed cosmetic work done on those personalities.


“There are patients who, when I see them outside, I don’t say hi because people will know that they come to me,” she says. “They actually tell me that when somebody tells them that they look good, they can’t give me credit. And I understand, I don’t take it against them. One of the reasons they appreciate me is because I know when to keep my mouth shut.”


Such a hush-hush approach to the trade of aesthetic enhancement in this town is rather unusual. But Aguilar-Teo, 42, likes to keep it that way. In her posh clinic at The Fort, there’s a backdoor entrance and exit.


“I don’t have any endorsers because I want to go by word of mouth. I think there’s more credibility,” she says. “Sometimes when you have endorsers, they don’t come back.”


She insists she doesn’t look at what the other clinics are doing. “It’s hard to be very competitive. It’s better that I mind my own business so there’s less intrigue.”


‘The look’


She’s had her fair share of criticism, though she doesn’t say if someone ever dared say to her face that her patients have “the look.”


“I guess sometimes ‘the look’ comes when you do surgery because it’s permanent and you can’t change it… That’s why I don’t perform surgery. Even with my team of surgeons, I always tell them that I want the patient to look natural.” Then she adds with a laugh, “I hope that my patients don’t look alike…”


Aguilar-Teo,  who recently birth to her third child and first daughter, Kalisha Trista, in Singapore, comes from the political Aguilar clan of Las Piñas. Her father, Nene Aguilar, is the city mayor; her aunt, Cynthia Villar, a former congresswoman, is married to Sen. Manny Villar.


Growing up, she always thought government service would be her destiny. But this doctor says she has no plans to go into politics—yet. She likes to spend more time with her husband, a Singaporean doctor, and their growing brood.


The Teos keep two homes, here and in the Lion City, where Dr. Z Teo has his practice. The couple has lately been making up for the times they’ve spent apart; Z was dutifully present during this interview.


“Technically, we were in a long-distance relationship for a long time,” she says. “There came a point in my life where I felt it’s not an ideal setting for my kids. For me, success is being able to balance my career and my family.”


Closest friends


Aguilar-Teo’s closest friends are also her patients, since she spends most of her time in the clinic, where she has a nursery-slash-playroom for her kids.


She says her best walking advertisement are her gay friends “because they are very open.” One might even say Aguilar-Teo could be her own walking advertisement.


“Physically, I don’t feel like I’m in my 40s. I can’t promote the treatments if I don’t walk the talk.”


What in your childhood/upbringing made you so adventurous with all these cosmetic and body treatments?


Our family is very conservative. It’s really not with my childhood. I guess it’s because of my exposure, after I started with my practice. I always travel, so I began to see the benefits of all these treatments in terms of looking good. It feels good when people tell you that you don’t look your age. Even in terms of energy level, I’m still very active for my age, considering that I work six days a week, travel at least twice a month to Singapore with my kids, and I’ve had two pregnancies, one year apart. It should be catching up with me by this time.


What we want is a natural look. When you do a treatment or procedure, they always say, “Ay, halata.” Parang halatang nagpagawa. So it’s nice when people actually don’t think that you’ve had anything done.


Does politics have any appeal to you, coming from a political family?


Siguro when I was young. When I was growing up, I would always campaign for my father, grandfather, uncle or aunt. I always thought that politics was part of my destiny. But then, maybe because I am in this field where I really enjoy what I’m doing, I don’t think politics is something I would get into—yet.


How is it maintaining two homes, one here in the Philippines and one in Singapore?


I enjoy it because when I’m in the Philippines, it’s all about work. But when I’m in Singapore, I have time with my kids. I bring them to the zoo, shop for clothes, watch a movie, spend time with my husband. Sometimes I cook or I do groceries or help him at the clinic. It’s a different dynamic altogether.


How much time do you spend in Singapore?


Probably 10 to 12 days a month.  But my five-year-old son goes to school here.


Who is your most famous client?


(Laughs) Everyone’s famous. It’s a happy place. Everyone’s happy here.


Why don’t you have endorsers?


I want to go by word of mouth; I think there’s more credibility in that. And the patient really stays. Sometimes when you have endorsers, they just try the services but they don’t stay, they don’t come back. I realized that patient referrals actually have more confidence in you.


Does that make you more high-end?


Not exactly, because I actually treat people from all walks of life. I have a charity clinic in Las Piñas which I do every Saturday. I treat all types of skin diseases and these are patients who are not as privileged.


Is your fee competitive?


Very competitive. I don’t like knowing what’s going on in the other clinics. I’d rather do my job and make sure I do a good job. It’s hard to be very competitive because you’ll never be happy if you always want to be somebody else, if you always bother about what other people are doing, or if you always try to be on top.


You’re a licensed dermatologist?


Yes. I finished my dermatology training at the University of Santo Tomas. I don’t do reconstructive surgery. I only do noninvasive.


How do you react to speculations that there are patients who start to look alike and then they are identified with a certain doctor?


Of course, it’s not good that patients look alike. What you’re supposed to do is enhance one’s beauty and not change how a patient should look. A patient can’t come in and say, “I want to look like J.Lo or Angelina Jolie.” Basically, what you can only do is to enhance what is there. I hope my patients don’t look alike (laughs).


You think other doctors have “the look”?


I guess sometimes “the look” comes when you do surgery because it’s permanent and you can’t change it. The good thing about noninvasive is it’s not permanent. There’s a lot of room for correction. But I think once you do too much surgery, that’s when people start to look alike.


When do you have overfilling?


Overfilling is when you put too much fillers. What I use is a filler that’s not permanent. No one’s perfect, there are times when you might put too much. You can always correct it by injecting an antidote, then it’s gone.


Do patients always listen? They say these procedures are so addicting that patients keep coming back.


That’s why as doctors, it’s also our responsibility to tell the patient when to stop when we see that it’s not good. Because at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, we also get blamed. It’s always better to undercorrect than overcorrect.


How old is your youngest and oldest patient?


We have patients as young as 11, 12 years old because they have teenage acne. We have patients as old as 80 or 90 years old for anti-aging. You’ll be surprised now that 90 looks young.


What anti-aging procedures do you do?


Lasers, injections.


No knife? No facelift?


Some, probably in their 80s. Patients can do facelift in their 80s, but now there are fewer patients going for invasive or surgery because we have a lot of noninvasive procedures. Patients now are also starting early. When you start in your 30s or 40s, then you don’t have to do surgery when you’re older because you already have the foundation. Your aging process slows down.


Do you do facelift?


We do facelift in the center but I don’t do it myself.


In other countries, parents give cosmetic surgery as a gift to their children, say, when they graduate from high school.


There are teenagers here who get procedures, yes. Before they step into college, they want to enhance their nose. But now that there are nose fillers, which are more natural and less invasive, fewer people go for the surgery. More patients are gravitating toward nonsurgical nose enhancement.


Is blepharoplasty (eyelid modification) still a popular procedure?


There are still patients who do bleph. Droopy eyelids is one of the problems with aging. There are other procedures which are noninvasive that can help for as long as it’s just mild to moderate droopiness. You can also perform nonsurgical tightening of the upper eyelid, as well.


How long have you been in practice?


Since late 2002, 2003.


What’s the most popular job Filipino women want?


WITH husband Dr. Z Teo: “We don’t spend a single day apart.” PHOTO BY ANDREW TADALAN

Noninvasive tightening, and fillers and Botox injections. Because the results are instant, and they’re more motivated to do other procedures.


It’s not breast augmentation or lipo?


Not anymore. Of course, there are still patients who do breast augmentation and lipo but only 20 to 30 percent of patients; 70 percent of patients prefer noninvasive. The trend has shifted because women now are busier. They can’t afford the downtime.


How about the men?


Men are now open to noninvasive treatments. But there are situations where they have to go for invasive, for example, their hair. Filipino men are very conscious about their hair. For them, it’s the most important thing.


Do they come in alone now or with their wives?


Some men come alone. And they’re really interested. They really want to do the procedures even without their wives.


What’s the percentage of men coming here?


I would say 30 to 40 percent.


Have you received any negative comment about a work you have done?


Definitely. There will always be patients who will complain, either they have some reaction or they’re not happy with the treatment. Sometimes you have to be thick-skinned. The most important thing is that you have to reassure them that it’s okay. Sometimes, it’s just a bruise and they complain. And you make sure that the communication line is open because all they want is assurance.


What about a third-party reaction like, “Ay gawa ni Aivee Teo ‘yan.”


That is also part of the job, as well. You have to take these criticisms constructively and learn from them. You might think that you did a good job but you’re being subjective. You can’t please everybody as well.


Do you look at the work of other doctors?


No, I don’t. It’s better that I mind my own business so there’s less intrigue.


Is there a personality you want to work on?


Right now, Angelina Jolie. Just maintenance, tightening. Actually, she doesn’t need much work done. She’s very beautiful already.


Can you do anything about P-Noy’s hair?


Yes. We have the triple therapy. (Laughs) Of course, I’d want to work with the President. It would be an honor.


Did you ever do anything on [uncle] Sen. Manny Villar?


(Laughs) Tito Manny is one of our clients. He’s always welcome to come here anytime.


Which of the politicians do you think needs work done?


I think, in general, the lifestyle of politicians is very busy. Maybe they should try the stem cell treatment for rejuvenation and for anti-aging, and just to maintain their stamina and memory.


Have you had to reverse the work of another doctor?


Sometimes. As much as possible, we tell them to see the doctor again because it’s better for the doctor who did it to correct it.


What’s the oddest job request that you had?


There are patients who come to you and show you their photos when they were younger, and they want you to bring back that youth. I tell them I can only enhance, and there’s a limitation to what we can do. If we can turn back the clock 10 years, why not? Maybe not naman 30 years. They sometimes bring a photo of a personality they want to look like. Usually, Anne Curtis, Gretchen Barretto, Kristine Hermosa.


When a patient is overdoing it, do you say enough is enough?


Definitely. Sometimes it’s really addicting.


Why are the procedures addictive?


Because it builds a lot of self-confidence. Everybody loves flattery. When they get that reaction from people, they want to keep it. I guess for certain people, those in politics or in the movie industry, people expect them to always look young. There’s pressure on their part to always look good.


Does it hurt you when you hear reactions from people that a certain celebrity looked better before you worked on her?


No, I don’t get hurt when I hear that. For as long as you know the limit, for as long as you know when to stop, it’s okay.


You’re a clotheshorse. Where do you shop?


I get to shop whenever I’m in Singapore. When I’m there, I do all my shopping. I enjoy shopping.


Have you always loved clothes?


Ever since. It’s one of my guilty pleasures.


Who’s your designer?


Locally, I love Inno Sotto. Inno always dresses me up. Anytime I call him, he’s always there. Of course, we also have a lot of talented designers like Dennis Lustico, Randy Ortiz, Rajo Laurel, Cary Santiago. Internationally, since most of the time I only get to shop when I’m abroad, I like Alber Elbaz, Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten, Jil Sander.


You’re a size 2?


0 or 2.


That’s with little effort?


With effort, of course. It isn’t easy to lose the weight in your 40s. They say it’s a sin if you don’t look good because there are technologies that are available. I believe in that. They say it’s better to age gracefully, but I think aging gracefully also needs work.


What do you eat?


I try to cut down on carbs and I eat more fish and vegetables. I don’t eat junk food, actually. I only eat meals. I do eat a lot of fruits.


Do you breastfeed?


Yes. I breastfeed for two-and-a-half to three months. I put a crib in the clinic and I breastfeed between patients.


Have you had any botched job?


So far we’re lucky, our patients are quite happy with their results. The results in our surgeries are very good. We’ve not had any problems yet. The most important thing is you really have to screen the patient very well and make sure that you don’t overdo it so that there won’t be any problem.


What’s your dynamic with your husband, since you work together? Is that good for a marriage?


Actually, I’m with my husband 24 hours a day. Before, we had a long-distance relationship because we had our own practice. His practice is in Singapore and mine’s here in the Philippines. There came a point in my life where I felt it wasn’t an ideal setting for my kids. It’s not good for my kids to grow up in an environment where the parents are not together all the time. What we do now, when I’m in Manila, he flies with me and when he’s in Singapore, I fly with him. We make sure that we don’t spend a single day apart from each other. For me, success is being able to balance my career and my family.


Are there a lot of cultural differences?


My husband being Asian and coming from a very close family, there’s not much adjustment. But, of course, he’s Chinese and there are certain practices that they do. But I don’t think it’s very difficult to adjust when you commit yourself to somebody.


When was your clinic established?


I moved to the clinic in The Fort in 2007, and in Burgos Circle in 2009. I just opened a clinic in Bellevue Hotel in Alabang last year.


How many patients do you see in a day?


I can see 50 to 60 patients a day.


How long is the waitlist?


About two weeks. My husband is Singaporean. They are very efficient. Actually, I have to give credit to my husband because he’s helping with the system, the admin. I can’t do it by myself.


Who are your close friends?


My sisters. And my patients because I’m here all the time.


Who do you think is your best walking advertisement?


I’m proud of Tito Manny, Tita Cynthia. I guess my best walking advertisement are my gay friends because they are very open.


There are patients, when I see them outside, I don’t say hi because people will know that they come to me. I’m very careful with patients who tell me, “Oh, when we see each other outside, you don’t know me, ha.”


So what’s the standard line when people ask them?


They actually tell me that when somebody tells them that they look good, they can’t give me credit. And I understand, I don’t take it against them. I respect their privacy. I think one of the reasons they appreciate me is because I know when to keep my mouth shut. In fact, we have a backdoor entrance and exit.


And these are not just celebrities?


There are patients coming from very strict families, and they’re not allowed to undergo treatments.


Do you treat wives and mistresses?


(Laughs) At the end of the day, whoever comes first. First come, first served.


It’s a status symbol now to do a procedure; some are really proud.


That’s true. It’s actually a status symbol, not everybody can afford to do all these treatments. But there are procedures that they will openly talk about, and there are procedures that they will hide. At the end of the day, you have to be sensitive to their needs.


Your political background helped you in dealing with people.


You have to be diplomatic. That’s very important. One thing I realized is when they come here, there’s a fear—a fear of the procedure. If you don’t make them feel comfortable, you’re not helping them with their fear. So I make sure it’s a happy environment.


How much should I set aside  to be able to go to a doctor like you?


Depends on the treatment. Regularly, just for maintenance, P5,000 a month, you can already do treatments. In some instances, a bag costs P100,000. With the same amount, you can do a full facial rejuvenation—tightening, laser, filler, Botox, treatment for pigmentation.


Do you have balikbayan patients?


There’s a big market for balikbayan. They come here for their procedures. We have a market of Singaporean patients who come here for their treatments. Actually, the Philippines is another beauty destination we want to develop, because we want them to know that the doctors here are good and that we have the latest technology at a fraction of the cost. Singapore’s very expensive, it’s three times more expensive to do treatments there.


What is the perception of Filipino doctors abroad? Is it getting better?


The Philippines is becoming another popular option for medical tourism. Filipino doctors are now more aggressive in investing in all these new technologies. Also, there are a lot of good Filipino doctors. They look at us differently because of our conscious effort also to make sure that we have the latest. In fact, when we have foreigners here, they’re actually surprised to know that we have all these treatments.


You look very happy.


Very happy. When you see people who are fun and beautiful and they’re happy or when patients are happy, you’re happy also.