Treating Acne Naturally

Treating acne naturally involves internally addressing the underlying imbalance and externally controlling the symptoms while improving the quality of the skin. This blog is a little about how we address acne at our clinic. Each person’s skin is different and tends to change over time. We recommend coming in for a consultation in order to assess the best regiment.

Clinic Treatments

Acupuncture – Acupuncture treatments address the root cause of acne whether it be stress, hormonal imbalance, etc. Acupuncture on the local area can also speed the healing of acne lesions. View video.

Microdermabrasion –  Microderm is mechanical exfoliation using crystals or a diamond tip. Our machine runs on sodium bicarbonate crystals (baking soda), making it less irritating and completely non-toxic. Microderm feels scratchy on the skin. Many acne cases can be controlled with a series performed every two weeks. View video.

Peels – Peels provide chemical exfoliation of the skin and can include different types of acids. For acne typically a salicylic acid peel works best, like our Purity peel, particularly if the skin is oily.

Face Endermologie – Facial endermologie offers mechanized lymphatic drainage, stimulation to lift sagging skin, and increases microcirculation. This is an ideal treatment for sensitive skin, anti-aging benefits, and puffiness. View video.

Facials/Extractions – Regular facials including steam, enzyme exfoliation, extractions, and high frequency continue to be a key component for a clear skin regiment.

LED Light Therapy – Especially helpful for redness as is the case with inflamed acne or acne complicated by rosacea.

Ultrasound – Ultrasound using a skin scrubber uses vibration to facilitate extractions and relieve congestion in the face.


There is some variability based on age, oiliness, and sensitivity as to specific regiments. As a general rule:

  • Use a retinoid (Vit A) 1-3 times a week. The more congested and oily, the more frequently you can use retinoids. In our clinic we have two retinoids we recommend for home use. The first is Clarity, which contains retinyl acetate. The second is A-Boost, which contains retinol and retinyl palmitate, is more appropriate for sensitive skin or for an anti-aging regiment with no breakouts. Retinoids help the formation of healthy skin cells. It also acts as an exfoliant. Retinoids are useful not only for acne, but also for hyperpigmentation (dark spots), wrinkles, and sagging skin.
  • Use a gentle cleanser. We recommend either the Sensitive Cleanser (more irritated skin), Acne Cleanser (contains sulfur), or Face & Body Bar (anti-bacterial & anti-fungal). Avoid SLS and any cleansers that irritate and dry out the skin. This will only unbalance the skin in the long run and lead to more acne. Remember, it’s not about annihilating the acne and your skin with it. Acne is a sign of imbalance and when you rebalance the skin the acne will clear up.
  • Calm irritation. We have a few products we recommend for this. There are two toners we use Colloidal Silver Mist with Lavender and Calming Mist for use after cleansing and prior to serums and moisturizers. Ointment Rx is an excellent product when there is obvious inflammation, rosacea, or you are recovering from harsh topicals such as Benzoyl Peroxide.
  • Moisturizer. It can be very difficult to find a moisturizer that hydrates without blocking pores and irritating the skin, both of which lead to increased acne. The best all around moisturizer is Healing & Restoring Cream. It was originally developed by the founder of Hylunia for his baby daughter who had exzema. It is excellent as a night cream or under sunscreen. We have found it to shrink the pores, reduce redness and irritation, and reduce lines. Other excellent options are Moisturizing Drops (oil-based) and Recovery Plus Intensive (lotion). Both of these are great for drier skin types.
  • Sunscreen. Use only physical sunblocks and avoid chemical sunblocks. Chemical sunblocks chemically interact with your skin. They often cause irritation and aggravate acne. Chemical sunblocks should not be left in the sun as they will loose their effectiveness. These are listed as long, unpronounceable names in the active ingredients list. Physical sunblocks refer to Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. These sit on the surface of the skin and block both UVA and UVB rays. They actually calm irritation. The most popular sunblock at our clinic is Reflect, a Titanium Dioxide-based sunblock in spray-on form. It’s not greasy nor does it leave you looking chalky.  Other options are Hydrate + (includes moisturizer), Serious Protection (heavier cream), 302 tinted and untinted (leaves mineral powder finish). Mineral makeup is another option. See below.
  • Enzymes. Natural enzymes help to unglue dead cells and gently exfoliate them away. We use Papaya Enzyme Mask. It is safe even for sensitive skin. You can apply and leave on in the shower 3 x a week or leave on overnight leaving the skin beautiful in the morning. Another option is the Acne Mist for those who don’t like using masks. Apply up to 3 x a week after cleansing and leave on.
  • Makeup. Pure mineral makeup is the best option. Unfortunately it will not give you that great coverage of  thick, liquid, chemical-laden, pore-clogging makeup. The wrong makeup can undermine all your efforts to clear your skin. As hard as it is, the best tactic is to find the mineral makeup that works best for you and just accept that you won’t be able to cover your skin as well. Don’t worry. It will be clear soon and you won’t even have to wear makeup. 302 has a super clean mineral powder that comes in 2 shades but it doesn’t camouflage that much for troubled skin. Read our blog on selecting a mineral makeup.

Diet & Herbs

Herbal formulas are specific to the patient as there are different imbalances that cause acne. We recommend seeing an acupuncturist and/or herbalist for a recommendation. There are, however, general dietary recommendations.

  • Drink plenty of water. Half your bodyweight (in lbs) in ounces of water per day is a good guideline. So if you weigh 140 lbs, drink about 70 ounces of water.
  • Keep your blood sugar stable. Avoid simple carbs like: white bread, cookies, sweeteners, and fruit juice. Also avoid greasy or processed foods. Eat whole grains. Get plenty of fiber and good fats in your diet.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables. Ideally close to half your meals should be vegetables. Bitter vegetables such as arugula and watercress are particularly helpful.


Do something to alleviate stress on a regular basis. People who internalize and stuff their emotions have a much higher likelihood to develop skin problems. Also make sure to wash your pillowcase, towels, and anything that touches your face regularly.

Cinnabar Peel Week, September12-17, 2011

Our Peel Week is a an opportunity to experience our more effective treatments at a great price. Below are listed some recommendations by skin type, followed by the price list. We are also featuring free indepth skin analysis.

Acne: Microdermabrasion followed by Purity Peel

Hyperpigmentation: Microdermabrasion followed by Benefit Peel

Sagging Skin: Benefit Peel followed by Lumi-Lift

Wrinkles, Photodamaged Skin: Face Endermologie followed by Benefit Peel

Purity Peel    $50
Decongests and detoxes the skin. Ideal for acneic, rough, hyperpigmented, or congested skin.  Salicylic, TCA, Retinol peel. (You will leave orange.) View Video

Benefit Peel    $50
Anti-aging and brightening. Ideal for wrinkles, sagging skin, and hyperpigmentation. Vit C, Lactic Acid, Retinol peel. (You will leave with a glow.)

Blueberry Smoothie Peel Scrub     $30
Removes rough, dead skin. Ideal for congestion and rough skin. Safe for pregnant women. Anti-oxidant, Lactic Acid peel.  View Video

Pomegranate Peel   $30
Increases natural moisture factor and brightens. Ideal for dry, sun damaged skin. Safe for pregnant women. Anti-oxidant, Lactic Acid peel. View Video

Microderm Boost   +$30
Extra exfoliation for acneic, rough, or hyperpigmented skin.
View Video

Lumi-Lift Boost     +$30
Microcurrent LED treatment lifts and tones sagging skin.
View Video

Face Endermologie Boost     +$30
Lifts and tones. Decongests sensitive skin.
View Video

Understanding Topical Acne Products

I had cystic acne as a teen. I was on Accutane twice as well as internal anti-biotics and numerous prescription topicals. My own odyssey to clear skin has helped me better help our patients. The following are from my own personal experience and what I have observed from my patients. I am not an allopathic doctor and the following are simply my opinion.

It is important to approach skincare from the viewpoint that beautiful skin is an expression of health. Ideally topicals should support the health of the skin, and in so doing, clear the skin. Be a careful and honest observer of your own skin. If it becomes rough or inflamed you need to modify what you’re doing. There is a tendency to get frustrated with your acne. The problem is that when you “attack” the acne, you are attacking your own skin with it. What we recommend for our patients.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a common topical ingredient in prescription and over the counter products. My experience is that it will initially dry up acne very well.Then within 1-3 months or so the skin begins to develop a crust of dryness while still being oily underneath. This is eventually followed by more severe rebound acne. Long term, benzoyl peroxide deeply unbalances the skin. It can take several months to repair the skin from long term benzoyl peroxide use, after which the acne still needs to be addressed. This is one ingredient I strongly believe in avoiding at all costs.


Exfoliants work by “ungluing” the outer layer of dead skin cells, allowing healthier cells to come to the surface. Removing this dead layer can improve skin texture and color, unclog pores, and allow moisturizers to be better absorbed by the skin. There are several classes of exfoliants: mechanical versus chemical, and acid versus non-acid.

Mechanical Exfoliants

This refers to scrubs which, when rubbed on the skin, mechanically remove the outer layers of skin. The downside of scrubs is that they are often used with a heavy hand causing irritation. Scrubs can also cause uneven exfoliation. Devices like the Clarsonic brush also fall into this category. Microdermabrasion is a professional version of a scrub.

Chemical Exfoliants – Acid-Based

I do not recommend acid exfoliants on more than a weekly basis and would rather they be used in professional treatments only. There are two main categories of acids: fat soluble and water soluble. Beta hydroxy acids (notably salicylic acid) are fat soluble, making them ideal for use on oily acneic skin. Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in washes, topicals and in peels (in higher concentrations). Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water soluble and are also commonly found in acne products, as well as anti-aging and lightening topicals. Common AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric, tartaric, and mandelic acid. Glycolic acid is waning in popularity as it tends to cause irritation and more physical discomfort than the others.Chemical exfoliants allow for more uniform exfoliation and, when dosed correctly, can be extremely effective in controlling acne.

Chemical Exfoliants – Non-Acid Based

Non-acid exfoliants are enzyme-based. Papaya enzymes and bromelien (from pineapple) are the most common. These can be used up to 3-4 times a week as necessary. Enzymes also ease extractions. Enzyme exfoliation can be very effective in home care when used responsibly.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids (Vitamin A) are a key ingredient in repairing all types of skin issues. They actually alter the health and rate of new cell formation. Retinoids also function as an exfoliant in that they increase cell turnover. When used in excess they cause flaking and irritation. Retinoids can be found in many forms. The chart below shows the different forms of Vit A used topically. In short, retinoic acid on the right hand side of the chart is the form in which Vit A is utilized by the skin.

Retinyl palmitate <=> Retinol <=> Retinaldehyde => Retinoic acid

The other forms will convert up and down the chain. There is a limit to how much retinoic acid your skin can use. Unused retinoic acid hangs out on the surface of the skin and causes irritation. More active forms of Vit A work faster but have more side effects that may negate the benefits. Care must also be taken not to overuse retinoids. We typically recommend their use 1-3 times a week. read more

Note: Retinoids should be avoided by pregnant or lactating women.

Reducing Inflammation, Avoiding Clogged Pores

What you avoid is just as important as what you use. Acne is an inflammatory process. It is key to avoid applying anything that irritates your skin.

Makeup is a common culprit that leads to a vicious cycle of trying to mask problem skin which blocks pores and causes more inflammation which leads to heavier makeup. The best makeup for acneic skin is a simple, clean mineral makeup. Unfortunately these do not offer the best camouflaging.

Harsh cleansers containing detergents such as Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) can be extremely drying and irritating to the skin. Acid-based cleansers should be used sparingly and not be the main cleanser. Simple gentle cleansers that clean without irritation are the best, with more active ingredients being reserved for the serums you apply after. These cleansers will not lather up as nicely as the detergent-based ones but your skin will appreciate the difference.

Moisturizers tend to be another trouble spot. It is important to keep your skin hydrated. You may have to do a little more trial and error in finding a moisturizer that doesn’t aggravate your skin. For me personally this was the most challenging category to find the right product. In general try to find simpler, chemical free products. At our clinic we suggest Hylunia Healing & Restoring Cream (I know it says its a body cream, but it is an amazing face cream for drier skin with acne) and 302 Ointment Rx.

A note on internal treatments:


We are an alternative health clinic so my bias is clear. 🙂 I believe anti-biotics are a miracle when you need them. In my case they were ineffective and unbalanced my body. I personally haven’t seen them to be helpful longterm.

Regulating Hormones

Hormonal irregularities are a aggravator of adult acne. Stress is often an underlying cause. At our clinic we use a combination of acupuncture, herbs, and nutritional counseling for this.

Oral retinoids

Internal Vit A (such as Accutane), is an extreme solution. However. when someone has severe, scarring acne that isn’t responding quickly enough, it may be the right solution. Acne scarring (and I mean pitting here, not hyperpigmentation) is virtually impossible to fix after the fact. It may be worth an extreme measure to halt the acne with the intention of then relying on good skincare habits and resolving what was causing the acne in the first place. Note that cleansing and building the body back up internally is crucial as internal Vit A is harmful to the Liver.

Understanding Topical Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a key ingredient to correct any skin issue. It acts on the dermis  to encourage the maturation and correct the defects of new cells creating healthy looking skin.

Some benefits of topical Vitamin A:

  • increases cell turnover
  • stimulates collagen/elastin/GAG production
  • reduces fine lines/signs of aging
  • improves skin texture and color
  • anti-acne/antibacterial/anti-sebum
  • discourages melanocyte grouping

In the right form and dosage , topical Vitamin A offers incredible results in the treatment of acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, loss of skin tone, wrinkles, and virtually any skin condition.

The effects of topical Vitamin A do not last long after you stop applying it topically. Vitamin A is available in many forms.The following chart shows the most commonly used forms, with retinoic acid on the right hand side being the form that is active and produces results in the skin:

Retinyl palmitate <=> Retinol <=> Retinaldehyde => Retinoic acid

Retinoic Acid

This is the acidified form of Vitamin A. Retinoic acid is the only form that produces the results in the skin, however retinoic acid will remain in that state and is incapable of reverting back to the other inert forms. This makes retinoic acid the most powerful and most irritating form of topical Vitamin A. There is a limit to how much retinoic acid the skin can use and whatever retinoic acid is left over simply hangs out on the surface of the skin causing irritation in the form of a little red bumpy rash often called a “Vitamin A” rash. Long term compliance is often low with retinoic acid due to the side effects. The following are some common prescription topicals:

Retin A
Indicated for Acne
Generic Name: Tretinoin Strengths:0.01% Gel; 0.025% Gel; 0.025% Cream; 0.05% Liquid; 0.05% Cream; 0.1% Cream; 0.1% Micro Gel

Indicated for Acne. As it’s generic is tretinoin, similar skin rejuvenation use considered appropriate
Generic Name:

Indicated for Acne
Generic Name: Adapalene
Strengths: 0.1% Gel; 0.1% Solution

Indicated for Psoriasis and Acne. Good for those with chronically oily skin or severe blackhead form of acne. Pending indication for skin rejuvenation.
Generic Name:Tazarotene
Strengths: 0.1% Cream; 0.1% Gel; 0.05% Cream; 0.05% Gel

Generic Name: Tretinoin
Strengths: 0.05% Cream; 0.025% Cream

Retinaldehyde (Retinal)

This is the vitamin A form that is found on the retina of the human eye. Retinaldehyde is an aldehyde that readily converts to retinoic acid via oxidation. A usable amount of retinoic acid is converted from the retinaldehyde and the rest converts to retinyl ester form that is less irritating to the skin. Thus retinaldehyde is less drying and irritating  than pure retinoic acid, but more so than retinol. Retinaldehyde is also less potent than retinoic acid and more potent than retinol. A beginning dose is 0.05% Retinaldehyde, maintenance 0.1%, and a short term aggressive dose 0.2%.


This is the next form of Vitamin A down the line and is an alcohol. Again providing less irritation but also less impact than the first two forms. This is the most common over the counter version of topical Vitamin A. A beginning dose of retinol in a serum or cream is 2%, maintenance is 4%, and short term aggressive dose is 8%.

Retinyl Palmitate (and Retinyl Acetate)

This is an ester form of Vitamin A and the most abundant form found in the human body. It is the least irritating but also the slowest acting of the topical Vitamin A choices.

What should I use?

From a holistic point of view, the most effective intervention is the one that gives you the most positive results with the least negative results. The severity of the condition, the sensitivity of the skin, lifestyle, and the mindset of the individual are all important factors in making the right choice. Keep in mind that irritation is aging and will thin the skin and aggravate inflammatory conditions such as acne and rosacea. It is important to build on one thing without destroying another. It is my opinion that amazing results can be obtained from milder forms of Vitamin A, only it might take a little longer to achieve those same results. Severe scarring acne may require a strong intervention such as Accutane, halting the scarring. However, after the course is over, extra effort must be placed in cleansing the liver and balancing the skin so that the acne doesn’t return with a vengeance later on.


With any form of topical Vitamin A, the product should be introduced slowly, either every 2nd or 3rd night. As the skin becomes more active and accustomed to Vitamin A, it can handle more frequent use.

Topical Vitamin A increases sun sensitivity and is more safely used at night. Always wear sun protection of at least an spf 15, or ideally spf 30, while on a Vitamin A regimen.

Avoid during pregnancy. Though there are no studies linking birth defects to the use of topical Vitamin A, excessive amounts of internal Vitamin A does cause severe birth defects as is the case with taking medications such as Accutane. The Department of Health recommends that pregnant women or those seeking to get pregnant should not take more than 800ug of vitamin A daily (internally). This does not apply to Vitamin A found in beta carotene.

Just because Vitamin A is listed in the ingredients doesn’t mean that there is a sufficient quantity to be therapeutic or that it is in a form that is deliverable to the cells.


Chinese Face Reading; Water Element Personality

Water Element Personality

This element is difficult to grasp because it seems to change its form based on the perceptions of the observer. Water maintains its substance while effortlessly changing its form and appearance to suit the situation. Water is adaptable. When balanced, Water types are candid, introspective, modest, watchful, objective, curious, igenious, careful, particular, thrifty, sensible, and lucid. When excess, Water can become demanding and covetous and when deficient can completely withdraw from the world. The major issue for Water is fear, and Water people can disappear into a world of phobias. Addictions tend to also be food related, but in this case with salty foods as well as sweets. Health problems tend towards congenital abnormalities, urinary problems, some hormonal imbalances, and other Kidney and Urinary Bladder organ system disorderds.

Water Characteristics

Face: It is the most difficult to grasp because water has no defined parameters. The face is almost amorphous, with no confined boundary. It is difficult to ascribe a shape, or the shape seems to change. The most prominent feature is the cheeks.

Body: It is strong and dense with a tendency towards wider hips. Water also has a tendency to gain weight and can be difficult to differentiate from Earth.

Famous Examples: Minnie Driver and Kate Winslet (both of them more so prior to their dramatic weight loss), Oprah Winfrey, Sophia Loren, Benicio del Toro.

For more information we suggest our teacher, Patrician McCarthy’s site.

Further Reading:
The Face Reader by Patrician McCarthy
Face Reading in Chinese Medicine by Lillian Bridges
The Power of Face Reading by Rose Rosetree
Between Heaven and Earth by Beinfield and Korngold -simple, straightforward 5 Element explanation