Tips For Curing Sensitive Skin

"The Skin Coach" column is written by Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone, a skin clinic in San Francisco.  

Sensitive skin is among one of the most common and misunderstood skin complaints. The term is often mistakenly used to refer to a number of issues including acne-prone skin, but sensitive skin is actually a condition characterized by irritation, itching, redness, burning, stinging, and flaking caused by a weakened skin barrier. This skin barrier, the epidermis, is a protective structure that serves to keep moisture in and irritants and allergens out of the body. When this protective barrier becomes compromised, skin becomes sensitive and easily irritated. So, if you are struggling with skin that shows signs of sensitivity, here are a few tips for repairing the skin barrier and bringing the skin back into balance:

1. Identify the cause of sensitivity.

Some of the most common factors that trigger sensitive skin are:

*Using abrasive mechanical exfoliants like scrubbing beads and exfoliating brushes.

*Excessive exposure to the sun caused by tanning, not using sun protection, and failing to reapply sun protection.

*Strong topical ingredients often found in acne products, chemical exfoliating products, and prescription topical medications.

*Ineffective moisturizers that contain drying and irritating ingredients.

*Harsh treatments including chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and dermabrasion.

2. Once you identify the cause, add or eliminate.

If one of your products is the culprit, replace it with a more gentle product that contains no active ingredients, perfumes, or scrubbing beads. Ditch the chemical peels and microdermabrasion until your skin is normalized and abandon tanning beds for good. Many moisturizers actually contain harsh ingredients like acids and retinols so get one with only hydrating ingredients and no active ingredients, and reapply sun protection every few hours when in direct sunlight.

3 no-nos for dry winter skin

"The Skin Coach" column is written by Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone, a skin clinic in San Francisco. 

If you are in the Northern hemisphere, you’ve probably read more articles than you can count suggesting tips and products to help combat dry skin. But if you are suffering from dry, flaky, or even painfully chapped skin this season, the solution may be to stop doing something instead of to start doing something to get that smooth, dewy glow back:

  1. Skip the scrubbing: If your skin is flaky, your first instinct might be to scrub the flakes off with a scrubbing cleanser or an exfoliating brush. These methods of mechanical exfoliation may temporarily get rid of unsightly flakes but they will likely return two-fold with an extra helping of irritation and tightness. Mechanical exfoliation is not just ineffective because it does not work past the surface of the skin, it is also abrasive and irritates the outer layers of the skin which is likely to lead to more dryness and flaking.

  2. Don’t buy labels: Most of us purchase our skincare products based on what is written on the label because we trust that the product does what it promises to do. Unfortunately, the marketing of the cosmetics industry is very loosely regulated and skincare products rarely do what they claim to do. Many products marketed for dry, sensitive skin actually contain ingredients that are irritating and stripping. Start getting in the habit of purchasing your skincare products based on the ingredients on the back, not the promises on the front.

  3. Stop skipping the sun protection: Just because it’s gray outside and the cold rain has you spending most of your time indoors doesn’t mean that you should not wear sunscreen. If you have ever gotten a sunburn while skiing, then you know that it doesn’t have to be hot for the sun’s rays to be hitting your face. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 everyday whether you are going outside or not. 

The Skin Coach: What Kind of Acne Do you Have?

Did you know that nearly 85 percent of Americans suffer from acne? Most of these people do not identify themselves as having acne but rather as being the victims of occasional breakouts. The truth is, acne vulgaris is a disease that manifests on the skin and takes many different forms. Whether you get occasional stress-induced pimples or have a face full of red, monstrous bumps, these are all forms of the same disease. The good news is, the better you can recognize your acne type, the better you can appropriately treat it. Here is a simple guide to answering the question, what kind of acne do you have?

Non-Inflamed Acne:

This type of acne is the least recognized and consists of comedones, blackheads and whiteheads. When dead skin cells sludge up in the follicle and combine with debris like oil, bacteria and comedogenic ingredients, a mass called a comedo is formed. When this mass grows, it becomes a whitehead. If the mass stretches the pore and opens it up, it becomes a blackhead. Think of this type of acne like the “baby” version of acne that is less noticeable because it is smaller, but is still made of the same stuff as the more severe inflamed acne types.

Inflamed Acne:

Inflammatory acne is the most easily recognized form of acne and consists of papules, more commonly known as pimples, and pustules. These lesions form when non-inflamed acne grows so big that the follicle wall breaks and our body responds by sending rushing red and white blood cells (pus) to heal the area. When the tear in the follicular wall is in the deeper layers of the skin, the more painful cysts and nodules form.

Combination Acne

This is the most common type of acne and is characterized by a mix of non-inflamed and inflamed acne lesions. 

Schedule a free product consultation and find out which products work best for your skin, acne type, and sensitivity level.

The Skin Coach: Tips For Choosing Skincare Products

"The Skin Coach" column is written by Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone, a skin clinic in San Francisco. 

The cosmetics industry makes money, lots of it. Consumers spend billions of dollars each year on products that claim to banish wrinkles or cure acne. Unfortunately, whether it comes from the drugstore, the department store, or even your doctor, there are very few skincare products that actually do what they say they do. In fact, the FDA website clearly states that skincare products are not required to be approved before coming onto the market and the only agency controlling the accuracy of labeling is run by the industry itself. The next time you go to purchase skincare products, use these tips to make sure you are getting what you pay for:

1. Read the ingredients list. Just because the label says “non-comedogenic,” “all natural,” or even “organic,” doesn’t mean anything. There are no dependable agencies controlling the accuracy of labelling and cosmetic companies can write pretty much anything they want. Just like the food you eat, the true test of skincare products is found on the back where the ingredients are, not the front where the label is.

2. Check the active ingredient. If a $10 cream and a $200 cream both claim to fight acne, chances are they both contain the same active ingredient. Go with the cheaper one, don’t waste your money paying for fancy packaging.  

3. Be your own advocate. Cosmetic companies and even many physicians are not looking out for your safety when it comes to skincare products. For example, retinoids and beta hydroxy acids are deemed unsafe for pregnant and nursing women yet it is common for doctors to prescribe them products containing these chemicals. Harmless products like shampoos and body cleansers also often contain these chemicals with no warning label.

4 Ingredients Your Eye Serum Must Have

Eye serums and creams monopolize the beauty marketplace, so it's not hard to find one. But finding one that works is a different story. I've been seeing aesthetician Kimmy Williams of Acqua E Sapone in San Francisco for a few months now and she singlehandedly changed my face with her innovative products from her own line that are effective, no-nonsense and affordable. So, I was curious to get her take on what makes a smart eye product. Williams shared the four key ingredients that she includes in her Glyco-Peptide Eye Serum and why she recommends you choose an eye product with these four qualities. 

Glycolic acid. This natural exfoliant is derived from sugar cane and acts as a keratolytic which means that it speeds up the rate of skin cell turnover and exfoliates dead surface skin cells that can make the skin appear dull and uneven, making wrinkles appear smoother. Another benefit of glycolic acid is that it has a small molecular size that allows it to penetrate past the epidermis to stimulate collagen production, plumping up the skin.

Peptides. These chains of amino acids trigger different cell functions. There has been some evidence to support peptide acetyl hexapeptide acts as kind of a topical botox by relaxing facial muscles and smoothing out wrinkles.

Hyaluronic Acid. This is found naturally in the skin and acts as part of a supporting structure as well as a humectant (moisturizer). As we get older, hyaluronic acid levels decrease and the supporting structure starts to crumble which is why we start to get wrinkles, sagging, etc. As a topical, hyaluronic acid fills in the space between elastic and collagen and allows the skin to keep drawing in moisture.

Vitamin K. Dark circles can be tricky to treat because there are a number of possible causes including nasal congestion, smoking, allergies, pigmentation issues, and thinning skin. Lessening the appearance of dark circles requires addressing the cause and you cannot expect to diminish their appearance with a cream if they are caused by smoking and you keep smoking. Vitamin K is one of the few topical ingredients that studies have shown can lighten dark circles.
Kimmy Williams is the owner of Acqua E Sapone, a skin clinic at 222 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, 415-871-0237. Her Glyco-Peptide Eye Serum sells for $24 for 1 ounce at