answers to your skin care questions from the ask-an-esthetician form

Reader Question: My Skincare Background

I wanted to let you know how much I LOVE your blog. I am actually an esthetician myself and have been licensed since 2005. I have to say, I am so inspired and impressed with your knowledge and regularly read your posts for informative purposes. I recently completed RN school and received my license in search of something on a greater level to help with my esthetics career. I found an insatiable thirst for more knowledge, as I realized how much I do not know. The reason I am writing you, is with hopes that you will share you story and recommend your favorite knowledge sources for an esthetician. Thank you! – Erin


Thanks so much for your email and the wonderful compliments! Here’s a little more information on my background.

I became licensed in esthetics when I was 17, and haven’t looked back! After school, I actually trained with some local estheticians and then trained with the Lancome Institut de Beaute, Paris. I worked as a Lancome Spa esthetician (they no longer have these spas in the United States – they are only in Paris now) for a few years, and then went on to work for other local day and resort spas. In each position, I continued to educate myself by reading, going to classes, and receiving treatments at local spas (one of the best ways to learn, actually.)

I worked as an esthetician at local day spas while getting my degree in Journalism and Art History at the University of Florida. While there, I took a few months off to live in Paris. I studied French at the Sorbonne, frequented as many museums as I could, ate lots of pastries and visited tons of spas! I received treatments, toured the Lancome Insititut in Paris and essential oil and parfum (perfume) factories, met with spa owners, etc. My experiences in Paris led to my determination to continue my work in esthetics and one day open my own business.

When I took a position as national educator for two different skincare companies, I did extensive training with nurses, doctors, nutritionists, formulators, biochemists, and other educators. This training was focused on ingredient knowledge, chemistry, nutrition, and specific training in LED, Microcurrent, ultrasound, etc.

I am constantly searching out skincare classes, seminars, nutrition and health lectures and workshops, as well as reading up on each of these topics. I make a point to stay current, but tend to focus my education on non-invasive skincare techniques and nutrition. I encourage you to never stop learning and educating yourself, and to receive treatments regularly from other therapists and estheticians. Just don’t tell them you are in the industry – practice being the client!

My favorite knowledge sources:

  • books, articles, and anything else I can read
  • seminars taught by skincare experts, biochemists, doctors, or nutritionists
  • webinars
  • skin care classes, either at shows or offered by various skincare companies
  • traveling; visiting spas and receiving treatments

Stay Inspired and Thirsty!!

Question about Retinoids: Are They Safe and Effective?

I recently received a great skincare question from the blog and wanted to share it along with my answer as I know many of you are wondering the exact same thing.

If you have any skincare questions you’d like me to answer, simply click on the “ask-the-esthetician” button to the right!

Hi! I really like you site, and how it offers natural alternatives and always stresses the importance of making the the skin beautiful from the INSIDE (through diet and lifestyle). And I am currently working on that. However I also have a question on the use of retinoids. Most dermatologists are recommending there use, however I am hearing reports that they thin out the skin, worsen the existence of noticeable veins, and break capillaries—if used for an extended period of time. And although initially these results won’t be seen, over time it peels off layers of skin and increases the rate of aging. However, others say that that the exact opposite is true. Do you think I should use retinoids? I am only 20, so it is not as if I need some kind of quick fix for wrinkles—rather I would like something that builds my immunity to wrinkles over time. The only reason I want to use retinoids, is to help with my existent sun damage—however I wouldn’t want to look “beautiful” now just so that later on it will look worse or make me dependent on them. I apologize about the long question; however, any help would be appreciated =)

Great question!  I’m happy to help. It can get confusing when it seems like you are receiving two opposite messages on skincare. Retinoids refer to topical Vitamin A. There are three parts that make up a vitamin: the ester, the alcohol, and the acid. RetinA is retinoic acid (the acid part of Vitamin A.) Retinol is the alcohol part of the vitamin. Retinaldehyde is the ester part.

Retinoids are affective in treating many forms of skin imbalances because the Vitamin A is readily accepted into the nucleus of the skin cells where it strengthens the cell functions and encourages more energy in the skin. That being said, the form and source of retinoid you use make a big difference in the results you get as well as the side effects.

Retinoic acid causes irritation in the skin when used, which can lead to inflammation, dryness, redness, sun sensitivity, etc. This will cause skin inflammation which could eventually exhaust and deplete the skin. RetinA (the name brand widely prescribed by dermatologists, made by Johnson and Johnson) is a synthetic form of retinoic acid. I do not recommend the use of RetinA for any skin condition for these two reasons: acidic form and synthetic source.

Retinol can be very effective for the skin if used in higher doses, but will still cause sun sensitivity. Usage of retinol is fine if limited to a short period of time and if you balance it with a natural sun block to protect, as well as other vitamins and antioxidants to noursih your skin.

Retinaldehyde is my personal favorite. It’s stronger than retinol but much more gentle. In small doses, it will not cause any skin sensitivity yet will provide wonderful results in skin strengthening. You will still want to wear a natural sunblock during your time outside, for general sun protection.

To sum up, Vitamin A is truly wonderful for the health of your skin. I do recommend it’s use for everything from Rosacea and Acne to fine lines and Pigmentation. Just remember to find the best form and source, and include other factors for best results: a whole food diet, lots of water, a natural sunblock, gentle products to clean and nourish your skin in addition to the Vitamin A.

I think you’d really like the Osmosis Skincare Line, as seen here.

**For these products, it is important to not combine them with products from other lines. They work best when used exclusively. Absolutely no synthetic ingredients, acids (AHAs and BHAs or retinoids from other lines should be used at the same time as these products.

Skincare question:Can Cola Cause Breakouts?

Ask-the-esthetician question:

I am fair and have red hair and have been plagued by breakouts my whole life. I now realize it’s a myth that as you age, you will no longer experience breakouts but this is getting ridiculous. I almost constantly have at least 1 minor to moderate pimple. I use pretty good skincare (Aveeno for acne and sensitive skin Aveeno moisturizer), I wear very little makeup, I get plenty of rest and I try to mostly avoid the sun so what is going on? My question is do sodas really have a major impact on breakouts? I am addicted to Cola and drink 1-2 per day and do you think this could be a large part of my problem? On a side note, I do have some stress constantly due to my job and high blood pressure. I recently started taking Zija because a friend said it has greatly helped her breakouts. Any suggestions?

Dear Stephanie,

As my Naturapath would say…”if you are addicted to something, its probably not that great for you.” Colas (or as I call, them: Sodas) contain tons of sugars (fake and real), as well as caffeine, and synthetics that can wreak havoc on your body and skin when overdone. I know this is not fun news.

What you eat and DRINK makes a huge impression on the way your skin looks and feels. If your persistent pimple is large and inflamed, its most likely coming from under the skin…which usually means the cause is internal. Stress and hormonal changes can cause systic (inflamed) breakouts. Caffeine, sugar, pesticides, MSG and other food additives found in sodas, bottles teas, energy drinks, flavored coffee, and juice can throw your body off balance, causing stress and breakouts. Sodas in particular, have also been known to pull calcium from the bones…eeek.

My advice is to eliminate the sodas, and drink only water and herbal tea for one week. If your skin looks clear, you know the culprit. However, you will probably go through some kind of withdrawal from the soda – usually in the form of headaches and a bad mood for a few days…just keep drinking the water and know that this is a GOOD thing! It means you are getting healthier.

As for the Zija, I cannot give an opinion as Ive not tried it or thoroughly researched the product. My experience has been that when something man-made (even if the ingredients are naturally based) is advertised as a “heath” product, don’t overdo it. In other words, dont switch your addiction from soda to an addiction to this beverage. Water is the BEST drink for your skin, hands down!

I don’t like to endorse over the counter medications for acne, as many of them have side effects and do not provide a real, long-term solution. Diet, water intake and stress reduction are the key to keeping your skin clear. I would suggest that you keep your home-care regime simple. Your skin responds best to ingredients it recognizes. For example, raw organic honey is a great substitute for over the counter pore reduction masks. If your skin is feeling oily throughout the day, try using a gentle vitamin serum instead of a lotion or cream moisturizer in the morning.

Here are some helpful links:
Caffeine and Sugar:

Water and Silica:

Strawberry Honey Facial Mask Recipe:


Good luck to you and be well,


Psoriasis and Diet Help

I have psoriasis on my scalp and inside my ears. I have gone through several prescriptions from family doc. and dermatologist. Nothing works anymore. I really don’t want to continue to use topical steroids for this condition. Could you suggest anything? Internal, topically, home remedies??
Anything would be helpful.
-Thank you

Thanks so much for your question! I understand that you have tried many things and they do not seem to be working to calm symptoms for you. My suggestions tend to involve a more holistic route. Western Medical Doctors tend to push Western Medications. I believe that these can do harm as well as good and should be used sparingly only when absolutely needed. These medications only deal with symptoms and do not get to the root of the problem, which is why the symptoms come back. Almost always, the root of the problem leads to diet and stress – i.e – what you put into your body and how your body processes it. I am not certified in nutrition, so I cannot diagnose and treat psoriasis…but I can make suggestions that have worked for my clients, friends and family…and here they are:

Look into food allergies, like night shade plants (tomatoes, bell peppers, etc) dairy, wheat and shellfish

Stop all sugar!! Refined, brown, turbinado, artificial sweeteners, etc. Sugar leads to poor health and inflammation. It is hidden in a ton of packaged foods like sauces, breads, dressings, crackers, dairy, etc. This is difficult to cut out but you will feel the benefits after a couple weeks of quitting cold turkey. (Small amounts of organic honey and agave are ok still.)

Try a raw food diet for a month: I have several clients who have been cured from dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis with dietary changes. These clients all eliminated processed foods, and in two cases, went about 90% raw. Here are some resources for raw food diets:
Pure Mamas: Raw Food and Drink
Living Foods
Raw Food Helps with Skin Problems

Visit an Acupuncturist who also practices Traditional or Non-Traditional Chinese Medicine. Psoriasis has direct and indirect links to internal imbalance in the body, which then affects your immune system. TCM has been shown to help when combined with Acupuncture and dietary changes.

Put more good fat into your diet: Omega 3s, 6s and 9s are very very important and usually missing from the Traditional Western American Diet. Look into supplements and add them into your diet. I like Carlson’s and Udo’s brands. You can also cook with and eat these oils: olive, coconut, flax seed, grape seed, etc.

Topically, Vitamin C (like Sanitas Topical C,) shea nut oil and squalane are very helpful to keep skin hydrated. Be sure to also eliminate harsh detergents, soaps, perfumes, dyes, and any other synthetic chemicals from your face products, laundry detergents, and hair products.

Balance your lifestyle to eliminate extra stress. Stress can make symptoms worse. Yoga is a wonderful tool for balancing stress – and it’s a great workout! Cut down on caffeine – and do not drink coffee (decaf or regular) as it can mess with healthy digestion and raise the stress hormone called cortisol. This is especially important around mealtimes and later in the day. So, if you have to have a cup of joe, make it at least an hour after you eat breakfast and 30 minutes before eating anything else.

Try LED Light Therapy. Red and Infrared Lights help trigger the healing processes in the skin and encourage healthy cell renewal while calming inflammation. I’ve seen this work for dermatitis in many cases and its definitely worth looking into.

Here is a post on Eczema, but it has some suggestions that may be helpful for you.

I hope this helps! Good luck to you, and let me know if you have any other questions!

What Can I do For My Melasma?

Melasma runs in my family and I have had it since being pregnant with my first son. I recently found your wonderful site and that of Dr. Mercola’s that points to thyroid imbalance as the factor of Melasma. I have started to include raw sea vegetables, radishes, and cranberries into my diet. I am planning on getting topical Vitamin A oil to put on my face as per the suggestion on your article, Hormones and the skin part 2. I am considering taking iodine supplements and wondered if it is safe for me to do this without proper testing and visits to the doctor. I must say, I mostly eat organic foods and for most part am healthy. Please advise if eating these organic based iodine rich foods, topical vitamin A oil, and Iodine supplement (SSKI) is OK? Thank you so much for your very knowledgeable site and information so far.

Melasma, or mask of pregnancy, is usually your skin’s response to heightened estrogen and progesterone levels. Many times, this is due to the pregnancy itself, but can also be brought on or worsened by hormonal medications and birth control. Genetics does play a part in whether or not one will be prone to melasma or hyper pigmentation, but there are some things you can do to minimize it (and in some cases, clear it up altogether.)

Thyroid can be a factor – but it is usually not the main cause. I think in your case, it was more estrogen and progesterone. Thyroid could have played a part, as did genetic disposition, but I wouldn’t focus solely on that for treatment. My advice comes from a skin care perspective and is not intended to replace medical advice. Before any internal supplementation or drastic dietary change, you do want to consult with your doctor. My advice for you is to go to a doctor who has both Eastern and Western training.

Here is what I would recommend as far as treatment:

First of all, be sure to eliminate any phyto or xeno estrogens from your diet and lifestyle. The most common xeno estrogens come from medications like birth control and plastics (plastic bags, wrap, containers, drinking bottles, etc.) Try to use glass or metal instead of plastic whenever possible, and do not heat anything in plastic. For more info on plastics, read FDA Changes Their Minda About BPA.

The most common phyto estrogens are soy products: tofu, beggie soy burgers, etc. Unfortunately, soy is also fed to many animals raised for meat – so we get it there. It is also added to many prepared and packaged foods – so read labels to check for “soy” anything and avoid it.

Now that that’s settled, supplementation and topical treatment is also recommended for melasma. MSM (or sulfur) and grape seed extract are the two I would recommend starting with. They are both great supplements to take internally along with your diet rich in natural anti inflammatories and antioxidants (you spoke about your healthy diet – so definitely continue with that!) Talk to your naturopath, acupuncturist or nutritionist to determine the best brands and dosage for these supplements. Topically, retinoids are helpful. The key is to find them in a potent yet natural form. Because Vitamin A is fat soluble, it is best to find it in a topical cream or lotion instead of an oil – it will be more potent that way. Read my post on Retinoids: Take Your Skin to The Gym.

Other topical ingredients that are helpful are AHAs, like glycolic or lactic acid. These will aid in skin exfoliation and help to naturally brighten and hydrate your skin. You can use skin lighteners like hydroquinone, but only in moderation and for temporary use. Hydroquinone will prevent your skin from producing melanin temporarily, but will also make your skin more vulnerable in the sun. Natural skin lightening ingredients like bilberry, beta glucan and licorice will also aid in melasma without the side effects. Getting professional peels, LED or stem cell treatments, and lightening facials will all benefit you as well. Just be sure to go to an experienced esthetician who knows the importance of moderation!

Sun protection is extremely important as both heat and UV rays can promote pigmentation. Be sure to get a sun BLOCK with Zinc and / or Titanium Dioxide as the only active ingredients. Stay away from synthetic sunscreens as they will still bring too much heat into your skin and can be toxic. Because skin pigments when it is stressed, this also needs to be minimized. Try to lower your stress level, avoid overheating, and cut down on chemicals like preservatives, additives, and pesticides in food (if you haven’t already done so.)

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck to you!

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