Monday, September 1, 2014

Quick Tip: How to use a Toner

Most likely you have always put toner on a cotton pad and gone over your face with it. Or you may have been splashing it on like an aftershave. I recommend spraying toner on your face as the optimum way of applying it. This method is quick, economical, and the most effective way to apply toner evenly onto your face. It feels refreshing as well, and you don’t need to keep cotton around. Men certainly don’t want to mess with cotton, having to inevitably spend time picking tiny strings of it out of their beards. Empty spray bottles are easy to find at any beauty supply or grocery store. So just purchase one, pour your toner in, and spray away. You'll be so happy you did this quick and easy step.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Accutane: What is it and what does it do?

Since this section is about a prescription drug, I want to reiterate that I am not a doctor. If you have a medical condition that requires a doctor’s attention, seek his or her professional advice! I am not licensed to prescribe medications nor am I recommending bypassing getting a dermatologist’s opinion for your acne problems or any other medical condition you may have. What I do recommend without exception is that you fully arm yourself with knowledge on the pros and cons of your particular problem areas and their solutions. I prefer taking a more wholistic approach to treating skin problems, but whether you do or not is fully your decision and responsibility. All views in this entire blog and in my books are mine alone. It is up to you to decide the course of action to take in any given situation.

Throughout my career, numerous people have asked me about Accutane. It is a somewhat mysterious medication with a reputation for “curing” cystic acne. But is this true? I encourage you to read through other sections in this blog to get a broader view on how you can treat and possibly stop problem skin from happening. The more you understand, the better equipped you will be to fight the good fight.

My goal is to give you some background about Accutane, a few of my clients’ personal experiences, and my own thoughts concerning the use and misuse of this potentially harmful drug. I know Accutane has helped many people rid themselves of stubborn cases of acne, but I also feel too many people too much of the time reach for the quickfix solution and neglect going deeper to the root of the problem. Like any medication, Accutane has its place in the world. I just want you to fully understand the ramifications of taking a drug to “cure” your acne problems. I will be posting more information on Accutane in the future, so keep checking in!

What is Accutane? Accutane, or isotretinoin, is a derivative of vitamin A and is used for the most stubborn cases of acne. It is made and registered trade marked by Roche Laboratories. Unlike Retin-A® (retinoic acid), which is a topical product you apply to the skin, Accutane is taken internally (orally) in pill form. It comes in 10mg, 20mg, and 40mg capsules.

What does Accutane do? Accutane causes your sebaceous or oil glands to shrink. This naturally causes a reduction in the amount of oil the glands are able to produce. Smaller oil glands, less oil production. Problem solved, right?

Hardly. This brings me onto my soapbox—well, one of my soapboxes, anyway. Shrinking the oil glands, resulting in less oil production, sounds good on the surface. And the ‘surface’ is exactly as far as this treatment really goes. Like other so-called cures for acne, Accutane treats the symptom, not the actual cause of the problem. Symptom: too much sebaceous activity. Solution: stop sebaceous activity through drug interaction. And in the meantime, you cause a host of events to occur. Yes, the drug causes a physiological action in your body (shrinking glands), but it does nothing to address why the glands are overactive in the first place.

I believe without a shadow of doubt that you are what you eat. Therefore, the following, contained in a handout from the drug company that produces Accutane, leaves me shaking my head. It says, “Acne is not caused by a poor diet.” How can it possibly be true that if you eat a diet filled with fast-food hamburgers, French fries and sugar-laden sodas, all of which I consider to be part of a poor diet, you won’t run the risk of your entire elimination system (which includes your skin) being affected? Diet is not always the sole cause of problems, and certainly not with acne in particular, but to suggest that how you are nourishing your body doesn’t affect your body, inside and out, is absurd to me.

For some people, oil production can, will, and does increase after a given time following Accutane treatments. The oil glands probably don’t produce the same amount of oil after treatment, but some people still have skin problems after using this drug. It is not necessarily a once-and-for-all treatment. This is especially true if your lifestyle habits (namely diet) have not been altered since taking Accutane. (See Accutane: Jennifer's story in a later blog post.) Granted, other factors may be present, like a hormone imbalance or genetics, but diet cannot be ruled out as a major contributor to your breakouts.

It’s interesting to me that in all the literature I have read about Accutane, the consequences to the liver are barely touched on. I think more attention should be paid to the liver and the potential damage Accutane can cause. Only about 15% of patients develop liver problems, and those problems are usually curable and temporary. But do patients really understand what their liver will go through while taking this drug?

I will leave you with this question: Why do you have acne? After reading information here and in my skin care books, I hope you will have more answers to this pivotal question.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Basics 1-2-3 Program

You mention the 1-2-3 program a lot. What exactly is this?

In my first book, Timeless Skin: Healthy Skin for a Lifetime, I came up with what I term The Basics and The Extras for daily and weekly skin care programs.

The Basics 1-2-3 program is just that—the basic steps you need to do twice daily—every day—in order to have healthy skin. 1—Cleansing the face, 2—Toning using a facial toner, and 3—Hydrating or moisturizing with your day and/or night creams. Included in the hydration step is using an eye cream to moisturize that specific area.

Skin care doesn’t have to be complicated. It also doesn’t require a lot of time. The best results will be found by being consistent. So your basic daily routine consists of these three steps. Step 1: Cleansing, Step 2: Toning, and Step 3: Moisturizing. You can get by just doing The Basics 1-2-3 every day in the morning and evening, but there are a few extras I highly recommend, which are discussed in an upcoming post: The Extras

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Problem skin profile I: Stephanie

Although this is a client profile from my Dallas days, it's still a good example of how the different stressors in our lives can play a large part in our state of health, inside and out.

Stephanie moved from San Francisco to Dallas in August. She moved from the sea to a land-locked city where there is a lot of air pollution and humidity. There is not a lot of air circulation in Dallas (certainly not the kind of ocean breeze that the West Coast receives) helping to keep the city air cleaner. Not only was her physical environment different, but emotionally she was going through withdrawals, having left the Northern California coast for a city far from the ocean.

Dallas TX on a bad day
Stephanie was starting a new life in all ways. It is said that the five life events that cause the most stress are marriage or divorce, giving birth, death of a loved one, starting a new job, and moving to a new city. I’d like to add to the list being laid off or fired and going through a chronic illness—either your own or a loved one’s. Whatever the cause, stress creates all kinds of changes in your body (and mind), so stress cannot be dismissed as being a major factor in problem skin.

When Stephanie showed up at one of my seminars, her skin was a mess. She had widespread breakout in the form of pustules (pimples) and papules (hard cysts under the skin) as well as blackheads and dehydration. According to Stephanie, in California her skin was perfect; she rarely had breakouts and never experienced the kind of skin problems that she had now.

Because of the blemishes, Stephanie was doing something that is very common with people experiencing breakout. It is also something that, unfortunately, usually causes more problems. She was putting all kinds of drying agents on her face, from Clearasil® to oxy products, in hopes of getting rid of the spots. She was even using products for dry skin because the other things were drying her skin out. Her thinking was common: treat the breakout topically with products on the market for problem skin. And in essence, she had the right idea. But specifically, she was using the wrong products.

When stress is the biggest factor in a new breakout, until your body adjusts or until the stress is eliminated (which sometimes never happens), the breakouts will probably continue. Breakouts caused by diet are a lot easier to solve than the stress-induced kind. You simply eliminate the cause (certain aggravating foods), and the breakout will diminish in time. If only it were this simple to eliminate stress! And breakouts due to environment are also a big challenge to fix. So Stephanie was facing two of the more difficult types of breakouts to get rid of: stress-induced and environmental.

Clearing up breakouts that are caused by moving to a new city with different water, weather, and air quality will usually come with time. Your body will eventually adjust and hopefully the breakouts will cease or at least diminish. The same is true for stress breakouts. As soon as your body can adjust and when the stress (hopefully) ends or evens out, your skin should adjust back to being normal. How long the body will take to adjust is the big question. When it comes to patience with ourselves and especially our bodies, many times we fail. Unfortunately, we are usually impatient when it comes to allowing our bodies time to adjust to adverse conditions, like illness or injury, moving, or dealing with new and bigger than normal stress.

The program I put Stephanie on consisted of moisturizer for problem skin (not dry skin), gommaging with a gel-peel exfoliator, and clay masking every other day for the first week or two, then 1-2 times each week thereafter. I told her to drink lots of water, take stress reduction classes like yoga or Pilates, cut out sugar (but allow some indulgences), and get facials if she could afford them.

Once Stephanie started using products meant to clear problems in a healing vs. drying way, her skin responded favorably and eventually normalized. And although her skin did clear up, I don’t think Stephanie will ever get used to living away from the ocean.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Problem Skin Helpers: Yonka + more

I have used Yonka products personally since 1985 and professionally since 1986. I am therefore fairly experienced in the ins and outs of Yonka skin care, and I also know how wonderfully it works for all kinds of skin. Here, I wanted to include products in the Yonka line that can help your skin if and when it is breaking out. If you have chronic breakout or even just occasional spots (aka: “zits”), here are the products available to you—along with some non-Yonka skin care helpers. In most cases you can click on the name of the product to be taken to that page on my website (

EMULSION PURE. Used as a compress on a specific blemish or over your entire face as an extra-strength toner, this concentrate of thyme, lavender, cypress, geranium, and rosemary essential oils starts the healing process by helping to calm infections and reduce inflammation.

To compress: Take a piece of cotton 2-3x the size of the spot (i.e.: use a small piece); soak in Pure;  compress (press) onto the blemish. Keep it there at least 5 minutes, no more than 15 minutes. You can compress while watching TV, reading, or talking on the phone; whenever you have 5 minutes to sit still and give the compress the time needed to do its magic. To use Pure as a toner: After cleansing, splash over face and neck or use cotton soaked in Pure, then apply your moisturizer. You can also mix Pure into your cremes.

CREME 15 is a wonderful nighttime treatment cream for problem skin. Burdock regulates sebaceous (oil) secretions and St. John’s Wort acts as an antiinflammatory, helping to soothe the skin. Even if you don’t have problems, and have normal to oily skin, this cream can help keep spots from occurring and lessen their lifespan. Used at night as your moisturizer, this antiseptic cream helps to balance and normalize the skin. If Creme 15 isn’t moisturizing enough for you (especially in winter or dryer climates like Colorado), Yonka's HYDRALIA can be added to give this or any creme a hydrating boost.

JUVENIL. This calendula, ichthiol, and bleu chamomile-based brown liquid is another tool to help calm and heal your problem skin. Best used for widespread breakout, Juvenil can also be used on individual problem spots. Apply Juvenil to entire face or wherever breakout is occurring. The ingredients are different than Pure, although the action is similar. Calendula is soothing and anti-inflammatory, and chamomile helps to heal and calm, while ichthiol is antiseptic and antibacterial. The medicinal aromatic reassures you that action is being taken against your blemishes. Juvenil can also be mixed into your cremes. (Juvenil can stain clothing—so be careful!)

GOMMAGE is a gel exfoliant that is one of the most important products in your skin care routine. Gentle and effective for all skin types, I can’t stress enough how important this product is to the health of your skin. If you aren’t using it because you don’t know how or can’t get it to work properly, contact me and let’s clear up the confusion! Gommage should be a part of your weekly routine, and if you have problem skin, you should use it several times per week.

YONKA CLAY MASK is a great at-home treatment for breakout. Clay absorbs oil and draws impurities to the surface while calming and reducing inflammation. It can be used several ways: As a mask, covering the entire face and left on for 15 minutes, once to several times per week (remember to keep the mask moist by spraying with water or toner); or dotted on the blemish at night before bed and left on while you sleep. If the spot is medium to small without a lot of infection, this dotting method can really reduce its size overnight. For an extra-strength cleanser, mix equal parts clay mask with your cleansing milk, gel, or wash creme and cleanse as you normally do (apply/massage/rinse).

GERANIUM (or LAVENDER) essential oil is my favorite nighttime spot treatment for occasional blemishes. Essential oils are not “oily” oils; they are antiseptic and antibacterial liquid extracts from plants and flowers. After your 1-2-3 program (cleanse, tone, hydrate), dot a small amount of geranium directly on spots only, and leave on overnight. (Please note: do not apply geranium or any pure essential oils in or around your eyes!) Unlike having clay dots on your face, you can dab essential oils on your spots and, aside from the natural aromatics, no one will be the wiser.

You can use geranium during the day, just beware of sun exposure: Pure essential oils can cause photo (sun) sensitivity like hyperpigmentation. Some people don’t like the geranium aromatic, so you can try lavender essential oil, which is pretty widely-accepted by most noses.

Combining a clay mask with geranium oil is an effective, overnight treatment for blemishes. After you’ve completed your evening 1-2-3 program, dot clay mask on any problem spot and let it dry for a minute or so. Then dab a bit of geranium on top of the clay, and leave overnight. In the morning you should see some reduction in size, along with diminished redness of the blemish.

When a client comes into my office with problem skin, I go through a series of questions about diet and lifestyle geared to help me pinpoint the cause of the breakouts. If sugar consumption and other dietary concerns are not factors in their problems, many times a hormone imbalance is to blame. That is when I suggest  acupuncture.

ACUPUNCTURE can be highly effective for clearing up problem skin. It helps to ensure that the body’s vital energy force (known as "chi") is flowing freely, which helps to balance the hormones by improving circulation. Hormones, believe it or not, can actually become toxins in the body when metabolized improperly. When it comes to skin care, blockage in the detoxification pathways can result in toxins being expelled through the skin.

I try to get acupuncture on a monthly basis. I do this, not because I have health issues or problem skin, but as a preventive measure to ensure my body stays in a balanced state. Acupuncture has been around for over 2000 years. How can I ignore the potential benefits of something that has survived this long? I can’t! And I welcome you to explore this ancient healing technique, not only to help balance your skin problems, but also to ensure the health of your entire body—on a regular basis.

When I initially started receiving regular treatments before I hit 50 and menopause, I noticed a normalizing of my monthly cycle. The duration of my periods was shorter, cramping was less severe, and I just felt more in balance. These changes were subtle, but I knew acupuncture was helping my body on many different levels. In America, if a change isn’t hitting us over the head, we think it couldn’t possibly be occurring. This is strictly a Western way of thinking, I assure you. FYI: Most people find acupuncture very meditative and relaxing. I know I do!
Finally, Chapter 5 in my book, TIMELESS SKIN: Healthy Skin for a Lifetime, is chockfull of useful information for helping problem skin. I humbly encourage you to purchase a copy if you don’t yet own one. The information contained in the entire book is crucial to understanding how to take good care of your skin.

Problems with your skin are generally signs of internal imbalance. Treating these problems topically will help, but it will not keep the blemishes from appearing. You must also go after the cause (hormones, diet, stress). This course may take longer and seem more challenging because it doesn’t simply involve applying an ointment or taking a pill. Causal healing requires commitment, in some cases abstinence, along with a true desire to change. When things aren’t working (you’re still breaking out), it’s time for a change.

Keep in mind, your blemishes weren’t created instantaneously, and they probably won’t disappear overnight. Give these products a try and see how they work better for your skin than the blemish-control products you may have used in the past. And if nothing seems to be working, give acupuncture a try. And above all else: Listen to your body—it really is telling you what you need to know.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunburn Cocktail

Lately I have been making a great cocktail for sunburns. I rarely get a sunburn, but on a recent hike I missed a small spot on my arm and got a sunburn there. After using my concoction, the skin never peeled and the red of the burn went away within a day. The ingredients include:
  • Aloe vera gel. You'll need to find a product that is at least 95% aloe gel, but nowadays 100% aloe is easy to find. The higher the percentage, the less "other junk" will be in it
  • Lavender essential oil. This, too, is easy to find. You want to be sure you purchase pure essential oil of lavender—not lavenden or a blend—just 100% lavender essential oil
  • Whatever body cream you currently use/have at home
First, apply straight aloe gel to the sunburned areas. Be generous! Applying aloe gel is one time you don't want to scrimp on product. Let that first application dry, which won't take long since it's a gel.

Next, apply a mixture of aloe gel, several drops of lavender essential oil, and whatever body cream you are using. Slather this on the affected area(s). The aloe helps with hydrating the skin and helping it heal; lavender helps take the burn out and soothes; the body cream keeps the former on the skin and also helps to hydrate the area.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Starting your career in skin care

Comments and Questions from my website:
I am an inexperienced licensed esthetician from Florida and I just moved to the area. I am looking for advice on secondary training and starting my own skin care business. I have experience in the beauty business as an owner of a retail/spa but new to the actual esthetician work myself. Would you be open to any discussion or advice?

Here are my two cents, for what it's worth:

I highly recommend, as an "inexperienced aesthetician," that you find a skin care job at a good salon or spa. The first few years after skin care school are when your education truly begins. Right after school and without practical experience, you are not an ideal candidate to open a business. If I were a client, I would want an aesthetician with at least a few years on the job before I would be willing to give her a chance
—after all, this is a pricy service and no one is looking for a novice. You must work on many faces before you really know your stuff. Find a quality salon and work there for a few years in the security of being paid to learn vs. starting out on your own with all the responsibilities of running your own business and learning about skin care. I have had my own salon(s) for 20 yearsworking for nearly ten years for other peopleand I so don't recommend starting out the way you are thinking about. Your ego may be disagreeing with me right now, but you asked so I am giving you my opinion.

Best wishes on your quest for a successful skin care career, 

:+) Carolyn.
Carolyn Ash Skin Care

I never heard back from this young lady. I'm sure she wanted to hear something different, but what I said is what I truly believe.