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Your skin’s worst enemies, explained by an esthetician

by Amanda Cotton, Medical Esthetician & Founder Of Cotton Blossom Skincare

If you ask almost anyone what results they want from their skin care products, they will tell you they want healthy, youthful glowing skin, and for as long as possible.

Relying on just products to provide that for you is a bit of tall order, you’ll also have to do your bit, look at your lifestyle, your dietary habits, allergies and sensitivities, sleep patterns, hormones.

Even the most expensive product on the market won’t give you healthy skin if you’re using it on the wrong skin, having too many late nights and eating the wrong foods.

Here are just a few of the common skin enemies: 

  1. Not knowing your skin type and using the wrong products.

I don’t know about you, but when I was younger I’d watch my beautiful mum slather rich, perfume-y creams on her face.

She had pots of them all over her bedroom dressing table.

She once said, “If the house was on fire, the only thing she’d grab was her moisturizer.”

I’d sit, mesmerized by her luxurious ritual and routine, I’d take the pot and hold it to my nose and take a deep breath of the heady scent.

I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could use them.

Which is exactly what I did as soon as I could. I’d sneak into my mums bedroom and dip my fingers into the pots and slather that lush rich cream all over my fresh little teenage face, and wonder why it made my skin burn and tingle and I’d get big pimples a few days later? My mum didn’t seem to tingle and she never got pimples? Huh?

The reason being is my mum and I don’t have the same skin type, nor were we the same age. Those heavy perfumed creams which worked well for my mum’s dry skin, wreaked havoc on my healthy, normal teenage skin.

One size does not fit all when it comes to skin care. What might work for your mum, sister, BFF or your favourite You Tube celebrity, may not work for you.

It’s important to understand your own skin type and work with it. Your type is your type. If you are an oily skin type, embrace it, you’ll look younger longer. Use lighter products.

If you are a drier skin type, that means you don’t produce enough sebum and need nourishing oils that work with your sebum, and natural butters to help protect you. Confused about your skin type? head here.

or book an appointment and we’ll figure you out.

  1. Lifestyle 

As mentioned, even the most expensive and effective products on the market won’t be able to help if you are sabotaging yourself with these bad habits:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Poor Food Choices
  • Taking on too much stress

All of these can contribute to skin not performing at its peak.


Ugh, is a horrible thing for skin. It causes asphyxiation of the skin which means it basically sucks the life right out of it and suffocates it. Skin will be lacklustre, dull and sallow.

Not to mention those wrinkles! Ever seen an older woman who smoked her whole life?  Constant puffing causes those bleed lines around the mouth to develop faster. Butt out Baby.


Ok, so it might make you the best dancer in the world, or the funniest person who ever lived … for a short period anyway. But, the immediate and long-term after effects of alcohol will show up on your skin. Especially in the face.  Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the organs, and skin being the largest organ suffers from lack of hydration. Skin looks parched and crepe-y. Not to mention you don’t feel good, and if you don’t feel good, you probably don’t look good.

Poor Food Choices

Ok, so I get it. Food is delicious, food is fuel, food is medicine. But, the wrong kinds of food can wreak havoc on your skin.

Today’s fast paced society reach for prepackaged, easy to prepare, processed foods, which contain all kinds of nasties and preservatives which our body doesn’t know how to process. So it kicks up a fuss and has an eruption, which usually means in our digestive systems or a big ugly pimple on our face.


Don’t take on too much.

Our stress levels can also cause havoc on skin. Stress can lead to conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne. Stress can lead to a hormonal imbalance and when hormones kick into overdrive, it causes cortisol release, which is the natural enemy of collagen and leads to a breakdown of connective tissue.

When we are stressed we lose sleep and that will show up on our skin. Have you ever seen someone really tired or run down or stressed out? You probably don’t think, ‘oh they have great skin…’

It’s all about balance Baby! Get some. Take a walk in nature. Shut down your electronics. Hit a comedy club. Hang out with people you love and who love and support you. Spend some time alone. Stop checking you how many likes you have on social. Stop …. Just stop, and take a breath… … whatever it is, it’s all temporary.

  1. Not taking care of your skin correctly. 

We touched on wrong product use in #1. But there are other things that you can do that may prevent you from achieving optimum skin health. Along with wearing too much makeup and even worse, not removing it before bedtime is a no-brainer, but my number one pet peeve for incorrect treatment is OVER EXFOLIATION.

As an Esthetician, I get to see and treat a lot of skin, good and bad. Some of the worse cases have been the client who proudly tells me how diligent they are with their exfoliating scrub every day, sometimes twice a day. I cringe every time I hear that.

Now, don’t get me wrong, exfoliation is a key part to optimum skin healthy, but OVER exfoliating can create havoc and here’s why.

Our skin naturally renews itself every 28 to 45 days, (slowing down as we get older) so, yes, sometimes it needs a little prod along and we want to achieve a smoother canvas, so we exfoliate.

Our skin has an acid mantle, which is a slightly acidic thin, film like layer made up of amino acids, fatty acids, lactic acid, sweat and our own sebum, and it’s very important.

Why do we need an oily, acid anything on our face you ask?

Well, it is our skins first defense against bacteria.

This means when our acid mantle is working efficiently, it will prevent pathogens and environmental aggressors from attacking the skin.

Over exfoliation can disrupt that mantle.

While your skin will be smooth, (for a while anyway) continued, long term daily exfoliation will more than likely begin a ongoing cycle of playing catch up.

You may suffer either dry, taut skin that becomes sensitive and reactive to products, sun exposure and treatments OR you may become oilier and suffer breakouts with the sebaceous glands pumping up the engines, trying to keep up with their oil production.

So, when it comes to exfoliation, do it by all means…but, gently does it.

Once a week is plenty for dry to normal skin types.

Once or Twice for normal to combination types.

Twice a week for oily/thick or congested skin.

Another thing… if you have a breakout or an active acne flare up, please don’t try to exfoliate them away.

This is the time to put down the scrub and let your skin calm and heal.

Gentle cleansing, along with gentle treatments, and a nice oil treatment might be what your skin is craving rather that abrasive scrubs.

Oh, and no shells or plastic micro beads. One is bad for the skin, causing micro-tears allowing bacteria to spread, and one is bad for the environment and marine eco-systems. I’ll leave it to you to determine which is which.

  1. Food intolerances allergies and not knowing what they are 

I want to tell you a story.

One day a few years ago I was working as a Medical Esthetician.

A beautiful young woman came to see me for the first time with a persistent cystic acne inflammation on one side of her face. She told me she’d been seeing a dermatologist for it for about FIVE years.

My immediate thought was “Well that’s obviously not working?”

So we began a consult. By all accounts she had a good skincare routine, she was using nice products suitable to her skin type and properly. So it became obvious to me that it was likely something going internally and we started talking about lifestyle and diet.

Her home life was good, she was in a great relationship and she enjoyed her work, so no obvious stress.

“What about diet?” I asked.

“Oh, I eat really healthy.” She assured me.“ I have my Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast, I eat string cheese, nuts and a bunch grapes for mid-morning snack, cottage cheese and fruit for afternoon and I only drink skim milk lattes, I have two of those a day. I only eat whole wheat breads and pasta too.  I’m really healthy”

Now, I’m not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist, but I saw red flags immediately… hmmmm… That’s a lot of dairy, wheat and sugar!

I consider these to be the Three Devils for Skin.

I could go on to tell you the evils of today’s industrialized dairy, but that’s a whole other article.

I asked my client if she would consider a 4-week elimination of dairy, (For acne, I always start with dairy, and I knew that suggesting all three at once might be overwhelming and less likely of happening),  and to book an appointment to get a food intolerance test, then to come back and see me in a month with results.

At this point, tired of being prescribed harsh benzoyl peroxide products that did nothing but irritate her inflamed skin, and not seeing results, she was willing to try anything.

I also recommended she start using oil on her skin, up her omega 3 intake with a supplement, lemon water or green juices in the am and start asking for almond milk instead skim in her lattes.

She also went to see her doctor for an appointment and mentioned to her my suggestion, and the doctor said “oh don’t worry about that, we’ll put you back on birth control to regulate your hormones”.

Luckily, my client persisted and went to get a food intolerance test.

4 weeks later she came back to see me. The first thing I noticed was her smile right before she hugged me.

The second thing I noticed was her skin was less inflamed.

She’d got her test results back and it had determined she had 33 (YES 33) different food intolerances. The #1 culprit being cow’s milk and the #2 being wheat.

She’s eliminated all of them since and her skin is much improved.

Since then, I’ve always included a dietary lifestyle consult with my treatment. Not all people suffer from food intolerance, but when there are glaring, ongoing issues, I have recommended to others to make changes, most with great improvement. I’m a firm believer in nutrition for beauty!

If our digestive system is unhappy, you can betcha booty, your skin will be too.

Tips: Persistent acne? Try cutting out dairy. (and yes, cheese is dairy) I know, I know, that sucks!

Suffer from Ketosis Pilaris? (those little bumps on the backs of arms), try cutting out wheat. It could be a sign of gluten intolerance.

Sometimes you just got to figure out the root cause and treat it from within.

  1. Sun Damage

You know it. I know it. By now, the whole universe knows it.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays are probably accountable for more skin damage than any other factor in daily life.

UVA rays can penetrate cloud cover and through glass.

So don’t think just because it’s a cloudy day or you are behind a window, you’ll be safe from their penetrating rays.

They are present in the same degrees of intensity throughout the day, including winter, yes you do need to protect your skin in winter too… and can cause skin cancer and major skin changes such as blotchiness and collagen breakdown which is associated with aging skin.

How does this happen? By penetrating your skin, UVA rays create free radicals which wreak havoc on melanin making cells and degrade the skins lovely, bouncy elastin.

Look at someone with severe sun exposed skin. It will not only look splotchy and uneven with pigmentation, but in more mature people especially, it will appear slacker, wrinkles will be deeper.

Protect with  a sunblock (look for natural zinc or titanium dioxide in the ingredients rather than those long chemical sounding names.

So, will YOU be a skin BFF and do your best to avoid its enemies?


About the author:

Amanda Cotton is a medical esthetician, certified skincare formulator & facialist based in Toronto. She offers relaxing and rejuvenating facials and also specializes in youth-preserving skincare.

Read her full bio here.

Connect with Amanda: @cottonblossom_skincare (instagram)


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