The Hurdles That Made Dr. Tijion Esho: From Reluctant Med Student to “The Lip Doctor” to the Stars
Welcome to Big Break, where some of the most influential figures in the beauty industry reflect on the moments that made them – from the good to the bad and everything in between. Here, Dr. Tijion Esho aesthetic doctor and founder of ESHO clinic and products shares his rise to becoming “The Lip Doctor”, bouncing back from his first turbulent product line launch, and his hopes for the future.
Dr. Tijion Esho never actually wanted to be a doctor, not to begin with anyway. “Being from a Nigerian background it was kind of thrusted upon me,” Dr. Esho told POPSUGAR. His heart was set on being a graphic designer. “I’d sketch and draw all the time, I loved it.” But little did Dr. Esho know that his family’s wishes of him becoming a doctor and his dreams of doing graphic design would carve out the most magical career he could have imagined.
Dr. Esho recalled the time he told his dad he wanted to be an artist and design and draw. “He replied ‘not in my house.'” Instead, he was given five choices: doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, or engineer. Although, at the time, it wasn’t what he wanted, Dr. Esho always understood the reasoning. “When you come from developing countries, a lot of the time when you are given the chance, it’s almost like you need to have a career that is stable – to survive for your family and everything else. There is almost no room for that creative aspect, because of the level of risk.”
Both of Dr. Esho’s parents came to the UK from Nigeria in the 1970s. His mum was a teacher and his dad was an accountant but when they arrived in the country their qualifications weren’t recognised. “Because of this, they worked in factories and we didn’t have much money at all.” This meant that Dr. Esho both sympathised and respected his family’s wishes and so he went down the path of becoming a doctor.
It was when Dr. Esho was shadowing a plastic surgeon during work experience that things really changed for him. He quickly noticed two things: how well respected the surgeon was and also that there was an art to his work. “I started seeing the work he was doing, I understood there was a certain art in it and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s kind of doing what I’m doing on sketches but on faces! I see it!’ So, almost in a way it became a path of least resistance.” After that, he enrolled in medical school in 2000 and got in.
“When you come from developing countries, a lot of the time when you are given the chance, it’s almost like you need to have a career that is stable – to survive for your family and everything else.”
“I remember arriving and thinking ‘God, I don’t know if I belong here’ because I was very different from everyone in that school. Everyone in med school was either generation doctors or they were highly intelligent,” he recalled. “I was naturally gifted so I didn’t have to study as much, but then I also wanted to ride my bike and go out and party.” Dr. Esho remembers feeling relieved after meeting a guy that was exactly like him – “he was the only other Black guy” – and remembers joking that “only one of us is going to make it”, after seeing just one Black graduate in a hallway full of med school grad photos. (Spoiler alert: they both made it.)
“At med school, you get stereotyped, a bit like Scrubs“, Dr. Esho explained. “I was the young, cockier guy and given my work experience, it made sense. I stuck by my aim of being a plastic surgeon all through that time.”
When he graduated and went into surgical training, Dr. Esho admitted that although he loved it he started getting “disillusioned” with what he thought it was going to be. “I thought it was going to be me in a theatre all of the time, doing the work, doing the art”, but it wasn’t. “There was so much politics with the NHS and the framework around it. . . you were almost an honorary scribe, you were on the ward doing the admin stuff.”
The one time Dr. Esho felt like he was able to be himself and do his best work was at his boss’s private clinic. That’s also where he discovered injectables for the first time. “I remember seeing a patient come in and she looked much younger than her age and I was thinking ‘what procedures has she had done?’ and my boss said ‘oh, this is carefully placed Botox and fillers’ – I was a kid in a candy shop.”. That’s where Dr. Esho really fell in love with the craft of aesthetics.
Back then, however, aesthetics wasn’t as much of a career of its own as it is today; people had aesthetic clinics but they were mainly working at the NHS. “I remember being in theatre with my boss and saying to him ‘do you think I should go for this? I would like to do this as a career on its own.’ He stopped and looked at me and he said ‘well, you are busier than me in my own clinic. I did wonder when you were going to start to think that’s the way for you.'” He reassured Dr. Esho that if it didn’t work out, he could always come back.
“The next conversation was with my dad, which was much harder,” Dr. Esho laughed. “‘Dad, I want to leave this job in the NHS that I’d been praying for for years to go into the private sector for this other job, which I don’t really know if it will work out.’ Of course he said no at first.” Thus, the negotiations began.
“The negotiation was that I still continue to do my NHS job and I did my aesthetics work after hours. If after a year my salary matched what I was making in the NHS and was stable, then I could leave.” From that moment, the pressure and drive to succeed was on.
“I became the go-to for reality stars and TV people”.
He first started with a little room above a hair salon in Newcastle and it built up from there, but the path wasn’t always linear. Dr. Esho recalled a time when he got cards printed to hand out to people at all sorts of events, and targeted the wealthy areas of Newcastle by sending personalised invites to his clinic. “I spent about £500 on VIP invites. I didn’t even have that money but I just spent it. My girlfriend at the time and her little brother drove around in my car with me to the biggest houses dropping off VIP invites. I thought ‘this is going to be amazing, I’m going to get all these people to come to my little space.’ No one came for three months.”
“There was a time when I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere and my dad kept saying ‘see I told you so’. Until one lady finally did come and she started referring a lot of her friends in that area.”
Although that helped business, it still wasn’t enough. The biggest thing that kickstarted business for Dr. Esho was Instagram. “I thought ‘you know what? I’m just going to post before and after pictures’ and no one was really doing that then like they do now.” With that, the biggest catalyst for moving onwards and upwards was Geordie Shore.
Charlotte Crosby had seen his page on Instagram from a friend. “She was lovely and we just did a discrete, lovely, less-is-more lip augmentation”. Dr. Esho recalled being nervous but happy with the results. “I went to sleep and woke up the next morning with over 400 emails and so many new followers, it was ridiculous.” He actually assumed something bad had happened but when he clicked on Instagram, he saw Charlotte had tagged him thanking him. “I became the go-to for reality stars and TV people”.
The next big step for Dr. Esho was getting segments on TV shows, which he admits was incredibly nerve wracking initially. “I was highly pressured because I had the pressure from my dad’s side; I didn’t want to fail and wanted to prove him right, and didn’t want to go back to doing what I was before. But, at the same time, this is all on me. It’s self-funded, I don’t have anyone else, so I have to build this myself.” But he needn’t worry because after his first success with Beauty Disasters he went on to do Bodyshockers and Body Fixers. in addition to having regular TV appearances since. Along with his successful clinics in the UK and Dubai, that’s where things really shot up to another level for Dr. Esho.
“Brandon Truaxe is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met in my whole life.”
“But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. It never is,” he said. “One of my biggest points where I got hit the hardest inside the business point of view was the Deciem collaboration – that really hurt.”
Back in 2017, Deciem approached Dr. Esho out of the blue saying that Truaxe Truaxe [the late Deciem founder] wanted to meet. “He is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met in my whole life. We just got on like brothers. Honestly, from that moment, we had each other’s numbers, we were texting each other. It was constant. We had all these big ideas.” Truaxe wanted to produce a lip product so he flew Dr. Esho to the Deciem HQ in Canada, which he described as “the slickest operation ever”.
At the time, Truaxe also gave Dr. Esho some sound business advice. “Not a lot of people know, but before meeting Brandon my company was called Le Beau Ideal, but Brandon said ‘it should be your name, Esho is a powerful name. You should have Esho products, Esho clinics, and Esho whatever else. . . put Esho, trust me.'” So that’s exactly what Dr. Esho did. “Brandon was right. He was so right in that because the messaging became very simple.”
From there, Deciem went off to produce the Esho lip product line. “That’s when things started changing with Brandon though”, explained Dr Esho. “He was always erratic, but that was him, it was part of his nature. I remember the day that Esho was about to launch and there was already a bit of friction. I was so involved in the beginning process, but I wasn’t involved in the other parts. All of these decisions were being made. It was launched without me getting the final product myself. I was being tagged by people trying the product that I hadn’t even gotten yet,” Dr Esho admitted.
“I was like David and Goliath. I was feeling very humbled that they brought me to do this, I was almost trying not to bite the hand that feeds me. But at the same time I’m thinking ‘surely I should have more control and input here.'” Dr Esho eventually got his hands on the products by ordering them and paying for them online himself. He noticed that whilst he liked some aspects, others he wasn’t too keen on. He recalled thinking: “some parts were good but I don’t really like this flavour, this is overpowering, some of this is tacky – things had changed from the initial formulations we had.” When feeding back his thoughts to Truaxe, the response was “look, don’t worry, we can reformulate”. Then, before Dr. Esho knew it, things took a turn for the worst.
“It was a bit of a hard time health wise for me because I had a lump in my neck and we thought it might be lymphoma. I was waiting for my biopsy results and I was a bit really tense because my mum had already been diagnosed with cancer about three months before that. So I was already having a bit of a rough time.” Whilst out at dinner with friends, Dr. Esho saw a message come up on his phone reading “sorry TJ” on the Deciem Instagram page. I read it and it was Brandon saying ‘I have to let you go.’ Dr. Esho recalled feeling very shocked and lost. “Lost in many ways. One, because I didn’t know what was happening to my friend, who was more than just a business partner. But two, my business is threatened by what was happening with this product. I was very hurt.”
Dr. Esho was left with legal teams and matters and press trying to call him to understand the situation. “During that time Brandon passed away. I was struggling because I had these two feelings. One of anger towards what happened with the product but, of course, the loss of my friend. I just didn’t know what to do at that point.”
“It could have gone either way but there is no growth in the comfort zone. You have to push yourself in those situations.”
“My team would say Deciem can sell this on to anyone else. They don’t owe you. But I think because Nicola [Kilner, CEO of Deciem] and I are still friends to this day, they gave me ownership, trademarks, formulations, everything. I didn’t want a big legal case, I was mourning the loss of my friend, I was really upset. I also remember thinking ‘I’m never going to do this again’ because it really hurt and I thought ‘how do I come back from that? No one is ever going to trust a product that comes out from me.'”
Dr. Esho took time away from a product line to focus on his successful clinics. “I didn’t want to open that chapter again, but during the pandemic I sat down and I said ‘ I think it’s time’.” The pressure was on for him. “People didn’t realise the pressure I put on myself, I knew I had to make this work and there were no second chances.” And he did just that.
He reformulated Esho and during his first solo appearance on QVC he broke records as the fastest selling lip product of all time. “Even now when I say those words it doesn’t even digest properly,” he beamed. “It’s a whole new chapter. In a way, it feels a bit like a redemption. It could have gone either way but there is no growth in the comfort zone. You have to push yourself in those situations.”
Dr. Esho is constantly finding ways to improve and reformulate and is now looking to develop his own lab in the UK. “I want to give opportunities through my lab for people like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas that didn’t really get opportunities but were equally as smart. I was very lucky with the sacrifices my parents made, but some people haven’t got that,” Dr. Esho said.
“When I grew up, I had friends that died, that got into trouble and went to jail. Because of how strict my parents were and the upbringing I had, they protected me from a lot of that. I was lucky because without that and the sacrifices they made I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities,” he reflected. “It’s funny, my dad is like ‘see I told you I was right’, and I’ll say ‘hold on, no no no, I decided to go this way dad’, and he says ‘yeah but you wouldn’t have been a doctor, you would have been an artist,'” he laughed.
Aside from being a huge success and dominating the aesthetics industry, for Dr. Esho, generational wealth is important to him. “I never want my kids to worry,” he said. This was propelled forward even more with the Esho business name change. “There was no hiding behind it anymore,” he admitted. “I want to live beyond my legacy. Dad did this for us and I want to take that forward.”