Skin Coach Q&A: Are You Exfoliating Too Much?


I’m wondering how much is too much when it comes to exfoliating my skin. I’ve heard conflicting advice. Can it be overdone? What’s the correct way to go about this?

Erin Answers:

You’re right to think exfoliating can become too much for your skin! Of course, as with most things skin related, each individual’s needs are unique. But there are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Skin serves a purpose. It’s a protective covering and is designed to function as such. The outermost layer of cells may be dead (there is some new thinking to suggest it may not be dead after all), but it is there to protect. It guards us from the elements, including the sun, temperature extremes, and irritants. This can be thought of as your ‘barrier function’, and you want to keep it healthy.

But some people shed more skin cells than others. This is part of the problem with acne: too many skin cells being sloughed off, and becoming stuck in the pores. It can be the case with rough, thick build up, too. Each needs to be treated differently, depending on skin type and condition.

Many people should NOT be exfoliating

At least, not in the way they think they should. When skin is inflamed, the wrong type of exfoliation is not recommended. Inflammation can be due to acne lesions, rosacea, or general diffused redness. In these cases, what we call ‘manual exfoliation’ would only aggravate your inflammation. This is also true if you have visible broken blood vessels. Don’t scrub! Not with a scrub product, washcloth, spinning brush, loofah, or any other method of manual exfoliation you can think of. Microdermabrasion should not be performed on you, either!

Skin color is a major factor 

If you have olive or darker skin, follow the advice above, whether you have inflammation or not. People with medium to dark skin color are at a much higher risk of hyperpigmenting (developing dark spots) from exfoliating and microdermabrasion. These dark spots or patches may not show up right away. The body produces more pigment in response to the perceived ‘wounding’ from exfoliation, and the dark patches will become evident later on. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to correct. So if this describes you, it pays to avoid manual exfoliation altogether.

If you have lighter skin tone and are free from inflammation, then light to moderate scrubbing is generally OK. By this I mean either a scrub product or spinning brush, applied without any pressure, could be fine two or three times per week. If you notice that your skin is sensitive to products applied afterwards, you experience stinging or burning (from water too), you continue to look pink, or you’re overly sensitive to the sun, then you’ll want to cut back or stop entirely.

Skin ‘peeling’ is good for most

Another option for exfoliation, that’s generally more appropriate for all skin types, is a gentle alpha-hydroxy acid skin peel applied topically. Lactic acid is the least irritating of all the acids and easily tolerated by most. My favorite is a cocktail of lactic and mandelic acids, because it combines exfoliation, hydration, anti-bacterial and anti fungal properties all in one product. This method should be monitored by a trained professional in order to achieve best results while avoiding unwanted side effects.

Non-manual (also referred to as ‘chemical’) skin peeling is the only responsible choice for those with inflamed, reddened, or darker skin tones.

Used properly and with strong sun protection from a mineral zinc/titanium dioxide sunblock, this is my favorite form of skin renewal.

When peeling goes bad…

If you overdo it, you risk sun damage because without a good barrier, your skin is more susceptible to UV rays. Mineral sunblock (at least 40 SPF), reapplied every hour, is required. Wear a big shade hat and avoid the sun.

You’ll also be more likely to experience stinging, burning, and itching due to an impaired barrier which needs time to heal. A heavy moisturizing cream free of fragrance and dyes will help things recover faster. Aquaphor, available in drug stores, is an alternative. You’ll lose moisture through an impaired barrier, so drinking more water, running a humidifier, and lowering the heat are all good ideas. Don’t pick at any peeling or flaking skin. Don’t try to scrub it off, just moisturize and baby it.

Remember, ‘all things in moderation’ applies to skin care too! Wait until your skin is completely healed before attempting to exfoliate again…and when you do? Less is more.

Skin Coach Q&A: Supplements for Skin?


I’m taking a Hair, Skin and Nails vitamin supplement, but it doesn’t seem to be helping my skin. My hair is thicker and healthier, but my skin is still quite broken out. Are there other supplements that I should consider adding?

Erin’s Answer:

As a health coach, I don’t prescribe medications or supplements. My recommendations are just that: recommendations. However, I do spend a significant amount of time in continuing education and research, and I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned. While some supplements are practically required for healthy skin, others will wreak havoc. Read on to learn what to eat and what to avoid…

Skin supplements that are bad for skin?

My first suggestion is to stop taking the Hair, Skin and Nails formula right away. I’ve seen a surge of acne lately with the rising popularity of these supplements. Why? They contain Biotin, a B vitamin that, while necessary for skin health, will cause acne flares in higher doses. Biotin deficiencies are rare. The recommended daily allowance is 300 mcg of Biotin per day, which we easily get from food. Also, our bodies can make it from foods we consume. Many supplement formulas contain 5000 mcg! These high dosages can lead to several other unwanted and even dangerous side effects, in addition to painful, inflamed acne of the face and body.

After you ditch the Hair, Skin and Nails…find a pharmaceutical grade multi vitamin. Why is this important? As I (daily) tell my clients, the vitamin market in the United States is a Wild West free for all. There is no regulation of the supplement industry, which sadly means that consumers have no way of trusting the claims on a label, including whether the contents are accurate, pure, or potent. Unless, that is, the supplement is pharmaceutical grade, which means they are voluntarily adhering to drug-manufacturer standards, testing, and quality control.

Compare your vitamins

For a really eye-opening look at how supplements stack up, go to and spend a few bucks on the NutriSearch Comparative Guide. Hint: if you’re taking Centrum, GNC, Kirkland, or Arbonne, prepare for disappointment. And if yours isn’t in the book, it didn’t make the cut. This helpful tool is compiled by an independent group of research scientists, and they consider multi-vitamins from a staggering array of angles in order to reach their conclusions. I wouldn’t be without a copy.

Another critical addition would be Omega 3 fatty acids. Personally, I prefer fish oil as a primary source. Vegetarian options such as Chia seeds, flax, and walnut oils also provide Omega 3s, but are not as readily available to the body. Again, pharmaceutical grade is the only way to go. But there’s a problem. The USA doesn’t have a pharmaceutical grade standard for fish oil. The solution? A company like Nordic Naturals, which adheres to the European pharmaceutical standards. This is important, in order to avoid contaminated or otherwise sub-par fish oil.

Eat this, not that

Probiotics are also very beneficial for skin health. Since it’s difficult to know if a bottle on the shelf contains live organisms, I encourage clients to get as much as possible from raw, fermented foods. Yogurt does contain probiotics, but dairy is a problem for acne. Instead, consider coconut water kefir, raw sauerkraut, kimchee, Bubbie’s pickles, and the like. Fermented foods will provide significantly more beneficial bacteria than the average supplement!

Since you suffer from acne, I would also suggest you avoid excess iodine. Kelp tablets, iodine drops, large amounts of sea vegetables, shellfish, spirulina and iodized salt will all trigger flares in the acne-prone.

Another to watch out for is Creatine. This amino acid supplement is popular with athletes and body builders because it stimulates muscle strength and bulk. It also stimulates crazy acne breakouts.

I hope this helps with your supplement choices. I also recommend eating the best possible local, seasonal, whole foods diet. Ahhh, and water. Drink lots of water. And live happily ever after.

Skin Coach Q&A: Coconut Oil and Acne


Coconut oil seems to be the cure all for everything, even acne. What is the benefit of coconut oil for the skin? Do you believe it helps with acne?

Erin’s Answer:

I’ve noticed the coconut oil trend seems to be gaining more and more momentum. Nearly every client I see has a sister-in-law who just swears by it, and online research turns up lots of support in favor of coconut oil for the skin. I agree it’s great to eat, and I recommend using it in place of other fats during cooking. I also consider it beneficial for some topical uses, but NOT for acne.

Coconut oil is highly pore clogging

If you have ‘that’ sister-in-law, please read on. Coconut oil has long been recognized as pore clogging (comedogenic) by cosmetic chemists. The problem, as with most comedogens, is that it can take weeks or even months for the breakout to become apparent. For this reason, people often unwittingly continue use, not realizing that trouble is brewing deep inside their pores. As true with all acne rules, this does not apply to someone without the genetic predisposition to break out. These people are typically free to use most anything and won’t be bothered by it.

But some people say it HELPED their breakouts

There are other conditions that mimic acne, a common one being fungal folliculitis that causes small raised bumps often mistaken for pimples. Deeper folliculitis can create bigger ‘zit-like’ lesions. I have a theory that, due to its anti-fungal properties, coconut oil is effectively clearing this condition. It would be an easy mistake to make. I see clients who regularly present with this fungal rash-like condition, and they always think it’s acne.

I can see how someone might notice an improvement in their fungal folliculitis rather quickly, and not develop increased acne lesions until a month (or two or three) later. At that point, it would be easy to miss the connection between the coconut oil and the acne. Instead, they’d want to keep using the oil, thinking ‘It cleared me up before, so I’ll stick with it.’ After all, can Google and the sister-in-law both be wrong? (insert evil laugh)

My best advice is to not use coconut oil topically where you tend to break out with acne, and if you choose to use it elsewhere, like your feet, wash your hands with soap afterward to prevent unintentionally transferring to your face, chest or back.

Recognizing Skin Cancer

how-to-identify-skin-cancerEarly identification is the best way to catch and treat skin cancer.

The faster a cancer is diagnosed, the simpler the treatment will be in general.  Any suspicious lesion should be checked by a dermatologist.

Basal cell carcinomas (the most common type of skin cancer) often appear as small pearl-like bumps.  Sometimes this will appear to look like a reoccurring pimple.  In early stages, it may look like a flat, white scar.