The noted dermatologist has seen her last name turn into a verb by expanding the local beauty landscape, be it through cutting-edge tech or her product line.
Dr. Vicki Belo has always marched to the beat of her own drum. When she first opened her clinic in the ’90s, she had touted the use of what were considered radical technologies at that time: lasers, fillers, and Botox. Nowadays, the mention of these treatments wouldn’t have anyone batting an eyelash, but back then had been met with much apprehension. “I was already controversial, the moment I went in,” Belo tells Vogue Philippines.
These things, however, didn’t faze the founder and medical director of Belo Medical Group, who had always endeavored to be ahead of the curve. After she puts her 8-year-old daughter Scarlet to sleep, she spends time reading journals on the latest developments in her ever-evolving field.
The savvy doctor also knows how to play to her strengths. “I’m a realist, so early on in life, I already knew I couldn’t invent something. But what I could do is I could go around the world, get the best technology,” she says. “And then bring it here so we could make it a one-stop shop, with all the beauty stuff from around the world in one place.”
She scouts the globe for her treatments, like the U.S. for high-tech lasers that offer quick results, and conversely, Europe for things that are elegantly slow but sure. Brazil is her go-to for treatments for the body, and Seoul for the newest buzzword in anti-aging: exosomes.
Her dream is to make the Philippines internationally respected for aesthetic treatments. “My goal has always been to be a beauty destination,” she says. “We’re just as good, and we are a very caring society. If we could just have as many medical tourists as Thailand, or even Korea, that would be so good for us.”
One city that seems to have discovered Belo is Hong Kong, whose society figures come to the clinic for day trips. “They fly here for the day. They just come, and they stay in the clinic for six to eight hours, and they go straight to the airport and leave,” Belo shares.
With a career that spans 33 years, 14 premium clinics, the globally distributed Belo Essentials line, and more, Belo’s renown is far-reaching. But nowadays, it seems the award-winning dermatologist has found a new audience and one that skews decidedly Gen Z.
“TikTok is something I just did on a fluke because it was pandemic,” she says. “In the beginning I was dancing, kasi akala ko dance platform, kasi puro dancing diba.”
As with any platform on social media, a few negative comments popped up. “Of course, I was bashed, grabe bashing sa akin,” she remembers, with many, it seems, taking an issue to her age. “But I enjoy it because it’s how the young people know me. Like I remember, I judged Miss Universe Philippines two years ago, and all the contestants were young. They were all saying, ‘Doctora, TikTok tayo. Let’s do TikTok,’” she recalls.
Her internet fame has also become a bit of a calling card nowadays. “It’s so funny. I went to Paris, and usually, we are recognized because we try to represent Asia. And I always want to be the expert on Asian skin, so we give talks all the time. But I’m recognized because of TikTok,” she declares. “[They’re] like, wow, [on] Instagram she has 3.3 million followers, [on] TikTok she has 2.5 million. ‘Can we take a picture with you?’”
And if the celebrity doctor looks surprisingly comfortable busting out moves, it could be because she’s no amateur. In fact, unknown to many, Belo was once an Aldeguer dancer for actress-host Vilma Santos’ show during her teens.
Apart from having fun on the app, she views the platform as a way to share medical knowledge. “There are so many myths or mali-mali thinking about skincare,” she maintains. Social media, for this savvy digital citizen, has also allowed for a direct line of communication with her community. “Now, they’ll comment, and then I’ll answer them. So, then you feel the love and support; you feel like you’re friends. So nakakatuwa, I really like it,” she says.
Throughout her career, the world of celebrities has always been inextricably linked to Dr. Belo. In fact, she credits a particular endorsement as what helped put her on the map. “My first celebrity patient was Regine Velasquez,” Belo shares. “I made pahid, something so revolutionary: glycolic acid, which at that time, nobody had ever heard of. Then on TV, she said, thank you Dr. Vicki Belo.”
This started the then-newbie on a path to being a dermatologist to the stars. After all these years, she appreciates her originals. “Anne Curtis has been with me since she was 15. So now she’s 35, so that’s 20 years,” the doctor says. She then names a who’s who of actors, and actresses who, through the years, have been her “Belo Babies.”
But one celebrity who has been pivotal to the brand’s popularity is, of course, the doctor herself, or rather her entire family. “In our minds, we think of ourselves as a network, and funnily, we’re just as powerful as many of our ambassadors and influencers,” she declares, with her usual candor and self-awareness.
“Scarlet, she’s the strongest, and then me, and then Hayden, and then Cristalle. But at least when you add everybody together, it’s a lot,” she professes. The youngest Belo, a social media darling and endorser in her own right, doesn’t however quite grasp how popular she is. “It’s just curiosity for her, but she’s had such a good life because of it. I mean, at 2 years old, she was the ambassador of Disney, they brought her to Pixar, they brought her to Disney, she gets so many perks,” notes the proud mom.
Despite the public-facing life Belo and her family have led, she attests that they don’t share as much as people think they do online. “We just pick and choose. That’s just what people think, but there are many things that we don’t put out. So it’s still a private thing,” contends Belo.
Success and Serendipity
The doctor and businesswoman has always been open about how her own issues had inadvertently helped shape her path. “Because I needed it personally, and then [realized] that a lot of people need it too,” she says, sharing she would then try to be an expert in these fields to be able to help herself and others.
She conveys how she used to feel more introverted when aspects of her personal appearance made her feel self-conscious and viewed primping and preening as an act of self-care. “I’m much more, you know, explorative. Looking at the world, it’s beautiful,” declares Belo.
Her steady rise and a lengthy stay at the top had also made many wonder what her secrets were, but it’s a mystery even to the derm. “When people tell me: ‘How did you do it?’ I don’t know, God helped me,” she muses, noting how the different steps in her life serendipitously led her to where she is today.
With a successful career spanning more than three decades, Belo is showing no signs of slowing down. “My real name is Cancio, and then I was adopted by the sister of my Mom, who was married to a Belo. So, I became a Belo. But Belo means ‘beautiful’ in many languages, in Italian, in Portuguese,” she shares. “So, I said, I was meant to be a beauty doctor! And then it really rings so well with everything. Diba it became like a verb, Belo-fied. Magpa-Belo ka. Sabi ko galing mo naman God, you planned it noh? You planned everything.”