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 Products That Changed My Face

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about Kimmy Williams, an esthetician at Acqua e Sapone in San Francisco. Williams has transformed my damaged skin in one month. How did she take my flaky, acne-prone, red, sensitive skin and give it a new look? 

1. She had me ditch liquid foundation and start using Colorscience mineral makeup, which I'll talk more about in a few weeks.

2. She had me set aside my enormous bounty of skin care products and pare down what I use to just a few items, all within her non-comedogenic, personalized skincare line, Acqua e Sapone. I was willing to give it a shot. It's now a month later and my skin looks completely different. As a result, I wanted to share with readers why her products worked for me. Keep in mind, this is not a sponsored post. My conversation with Williams is below.

When I came in to see you, my skin was dehydrated, overexfoliated and under-moisturized. What products did you prescribe to me, and why? 

A. Cleanser

I chose the Acqua e Sapone Gentle Gel Cleanser for you because it is an effective but mild cleanser that would not aggravate your compromised skin. Unlike most cleansers that use sulfates as foaming agents, this cleanser utilizes a non-irritating and sustainable ingredient called decyl glucose. This cleanser also suits your dehydrated skin because it contains the soothing and moisturizing properties of pro-vitamin B5.

B. Toner

Since you are on Tazorac (a prescription strength retinol), I could not give you the the Clarifying Toner that I usually give my acne clients because it contains a small percentage of salicylic acid. I still wanted to give you a toner because toning cleans off leftover residue, helps adjust the skin’s pH level, and prepares the skin for your active ingredients. I chose the Acqua e Sapone Lavender Toner for you because it contains the healing action of organic aloe and a natural compound called MSM which is known for its skin-repairing and anti-inflammatory properties.

C. Moisturizing Gel
The Acqua e Sapone Aqua Gel is a water-based moisturizing gel that contains the healing properties of aloe and the hydrating properties of hyaluronic acid. It is a great product because it can be applied under active products like benzoyl peroxide without decreasing the penetration or effectiveness of the active ingredient. It is also great because you can use it alone for light hydration, or you can layer it under your moisturizer of SPF for extra hydration without feeling greasy.  

D. Cranberry Moisturizer
The Cranberry Cream is a rich moisturizer that smells yummy and contains tons of beneficial ingredients for every skin type. Cranberry and Totarol have naturally sanitizing and anti-microbial properties that are great for killing bacteria in acne prone skin. Both of these ingredients along with Tocomin also create a potent antioxidant cocktail so skin is protected from free radical damage that can break down collagen and cause signs of aging. I chose this particular moisturizer for you not just for its anti-aging properties but for its healing and soothing benefits too. Allantoin is a non-toxic, non-allergenic natural compound that promotes healing and quenches dry, dehydrated skin like yours by increasing the water content in skin cells.

Where did you get your training as an esthetician and what do you think makes your skills and knowledge different than others out there? 

After getting my California Esthetics License, I received specialized training in the Face Reality method of acne treatment and eventually became a Certified Face Reality Acne Specialist. The Face Reality Acne Clinic was founded by Esthetician Laura Cooksey who developed a holistic, non-prescription solution for acne based on the research of Dr. James Fulton, a pioneer in acne research and co-creator of Retin-A. Laura has helped hundreds of acne sufferers with her program and this program was the one that cleared my skin in one month after years of unsuccessful trips to the dermatologist. It was only natural to train in this method because I know firsthand that it actually works. This training combined with my appetite to keep learning about skin science, ingredients, products, conditions, and treatments provides me with the tools to really help people in a results-driven way.

Why did you get into skin health, specifically with an emphasis on acne care?

I suffered from cystic acne during my teenage years and like most people, I desperately tried everything.  I was prescribed every topical medication, bought expensive, useless products at the department store, used Proactiv until my face was raw, and finally went on two rounds of accutane. While on my second round of accutane, I had a nervous breakdown out of the blue (depression is a well known side-effect of the medication) and went through hell trying to get a dermatologist to spend more than five minutes helping me. I wanted to help people like me who are struggling with a skin condition and are not getting any attention or care from the medical professionals who are supposed to be helping them.  

Does your speciality include those with sensitive skin?

Absolutely! In fact, I would say 99 percent of clients that come to me have sensitive skin from using harsh products and topical medications. Sensitive skin is usually just the result of using products that are not suited for your skin type and we can fix this quickly by healing the compromised skin, slowly building the skin’s tolerance for active ingredients, and then customizing a more appropriate product regimen.

You're also expanding your practice to include products and care for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Can you explain your thoughts on why they might need some special skin care and the skin challenges they face?

Most pregnant, expecting, and nursing women don’t even know that they should be using special skin care to keep their babies safe. Ingredients that are commonly used in cosmetics like beta hydroxy acids and retinoids are not recommended for pregnant women and there has been some evidence that they may cause harm to an unborn child. This can be challenging because the surging hormones of pregnancy can wreak havoc on our skin and trigger conditions like acne and melasma. I make sure that treatments and homecare products for pregnant and expecting women do not contain any harmful ingredients but still gear every treatment plan towards the results the client is trying to achieve.  

Why do you love what you do?

Skincare for me is about so much more than doing facials and selling face creams, it is a medium through which I can touch people and make a difference. The beauty industry today sends such a negative message to women especially that somehow they are not good enough and need to be fixed. I want to spread a different message through my work. I named my company Acqua e Sapone because it literally translates to water and soap but when someone says, “you are beautiful acqua e sapone,” it means you are a natural beauty. I want all of my clients to be able to just wash their face in the morning and feel beautiful from the inside out. If I can help just one person look in the mirror and feel good about who they are, I feel like my work means something important.

Learn more about Kimmy Williams and Acqua e Sapone at, 222 Columbus Ave., Suite 320, San Francisco, (415) 871-0237. Acqua e Sapone offers acne consultations, personalized programs for your skin, facials, and more. 

Introducing: Acqua E Sapone, San Francisco's Acne/Skin Clinic


I've been an acne sufferer for most of my life. For a long time it was cystic acne, which I've been able to get under control with the use of Tazorac, a high potency vitamin A retinol product from my dermatologist. But I still get occasional small bumps and unsightly red, peeling skin as a side effect of the powerful and effective Tazorac.

Usually, I use Rodin Olio Lusso to soothe and moisturize my flakes and ruddy complexion, but my vial of the luxury serum took a sad spill a while back and most of the bottle was drained. Since then, my skin has been a wreck and something has felt disjointed. I had a feeling it was the products I was using—perhaps they were contraindicative with the Tazorac? Whatever it was, my skin was looking ragged, the flaky patches were back, and small bumps kept appearing. So, I finally decided to talk to someone who specializes in skin products for troubled, sensitive, and acneic skin. 

I met up with Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone, a skincare and acne clinic in San Francisco. We went through a two-hour consultation in her modern, rustic, beautiful spa with a stunning view of the city lights. While there, Williams thoroughly impressed me with her knowledge of skin, products, acne, sensitivity, and more.

During our time together, we went through an extensive interview and she presented me with a remarkable breakdown of ingredients from all of the products I use (I had sent this to her ahead of time), and she noted what items I was using that aren't cleared for acneic skin. Her solution? Change my diet and only use non-comedogenic products. She sent me home with a sample kit of her own line of approved products and for the last three weeks I've been using solely her items (along with my Tazorac), and I can legitimately say that my skin is markedly different. (I didn't even change my diet.) Unsolicited feedback from friends has included commenting on the clarity of my skin, how my skin has never looked better, how the flakes are gone, and the redness is gone. 

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and I don't usually endorse estheticians. If I do, they have to be top-notch, and thoroughly impress me with their skin care knowledge. Williams exceeded my high criteria. And not only that, but she also provides ongoing care to her clients. Over the last few weeks, I've had a series of questions about skincare and she's quick to reply, and thorough in her research for my independent needs. 

In a few weeks, I'll be reviewing her skincare product line (found at, which has transformed the quality of my skin in 21 days. I'll also be doing an informative q&a with Williams about caring for acneic and sensitive skin. Stay tuned. Below, the remarkable San Francisco esthetician, Kimmy Williams.

Acqua e Sapone is at 222 Columbus Ave., Suite 320, San Francisco. Contact Williams at (415) 871-0237.