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Treating Acne: A Holistic Approach

Written by Brian Goodwin

Diet, homecare, stress levels, makeup usage, and other factors beyond our control can make it seem impossible to achieve the desired results when treating a client’s acne. Of every skin condition we address in the spa, acne might be the most difficult to treat, due to the progress of results being so reliant on a client’s lifestyle habits outside the treatment room. However, we can be the client’s greatest advocates beyond the treatment room in educating them on how to make simple adjustments in their overall lifestyles to make greater progress.




Not only can acne be one of the most difficult skin conditions to treat, it can also be the skin condition affecting a client’s self-esteem and stress levels the most.


We all know and feel stress, but what exactly is it? Stress is change and the state of our bodies constantly adapting to it. Weather changes, dramatic life changes, emotional challenges, and constantly changing our skin care routine test both our minds and bodies to adjust and adapt.


Our primary glands responsible for adapting to stress are the adrenal glands and, when they are challenged, they produce a hormone known as cortisol. An overproduction of cortisol interferes with the immune system and other hormones and disrupts the inflammatory response in the body. With acne being hormonally-influenced, aggravated by inflammation, and caused by infection, it only makes sense to keep the adrenal glands happy so that the skin stays in homeostasis or balance.


Some recommendations we can make to clients expand beyond the treatment room into a wellness lifestyle. Some common recommendations include guided meditation or yoga every morning to reduce stress levels, as well as eliminating processed and difficult to digest foods (high sugar content, high animal protein intake, pre-packaged meals). Eliminating common allergen sources (such as dairy or grains) can also go a long way towards reducing the digestive stress on the body and may prevent the inflammatory reaction these types of foods can trigger.




Nature has many available herbs and superfoods that can help the body adapt to stress by nourishing the adrenal glands. Herbs like schisandra and licorice root and nutrients such as vitamins B (B1, B2, B5, B6) and C can help to cool the adrenal glands, as well as improve the body’s response to stress. In addition to these nutrients, zinc and specific fatty acids, such as those that are found in borage seed oil, help in lowering inflammation and re-establishing barrier function in compromised skin.


The microbiome of the skin and the digestive system are quickly becoming the topics of choice for overall wellness. The health community is beginning to understand more about the role bacteria plays in our immune system’s health and the functioning of virtually every system in the body. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria living both inside and outside our bodies, helping defend the body against the negative microbes we encounter. Many environmental factors negatively affect the overall microbiome, including synthetic antibacterial agents, antibiotics, harsh surfactants, foaming agents, and pesticides. These potentially harmful ingredients can be found in the foods we consume, household cleaning supplies, and even in skin care, body care, or hair care products. Eliminating these commonly found agents can help to keep the microbiome intact.


Prebiotics might be even more important than probiotics because they are the food probiotics need to eat to thrive and stay alive. Essentially, prebiotics feed the good bacteria in the body and assist in the removal of toxins from the digestive system. Common factors that may result in an imbalance of prebiotics include low fiber intake and lack of prebiotic foods. High fiber foods include whole grains, legumes, apples, avocados, artichokes, and brussel sprouts, while prebiotic foods include chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, and onions.


Before recommending any supplements or dietary changes to clients, take a course or continuing education about these subjects. It is always wise to encourage your client to check with their healthcare practitioner or naturopath before beginning any supplement, vitamin, or dietary routine.




Learning about clients’ current skin care routines is pivotal to the consultation process in treating acne, because many of our clients who suffer from acne often fall into the over-treatment category. In other words, they are using too many potentially harsh treatments to try to clear their skin. While benzoyl peroxide, tretinoins, antibiotics, and other chemicals have success stories in treating acne for some, they are often being overused or prescribed too soon in the treatment process. Nature also offers many topical ingredients that can provide comparable benefit without the tradeoff of negative side effects.


Natural antibacterial ingredients such as tea tree, eucalyptus, oregano, and cinnamon provide a similar benefit to their chemical counterparts in killing harmful microbes without destroying the beneficial ones we need. Probiotics have also been shown to provide benefit when applied topically to the skin, including enhancing the natural immune defenses of the skin to prevent infection and boosting the barrier function to keep inflammation in check. Some of the studied probiotics for this benefit are L. paracasei NCC2461, streptococcus thermophiles, and lactococcus sp. HY 449.1,2,3


Ensure your client has a regular, easy-to-follow homecare routine and that they are committed to following a regimen for the weeks or months ahead. Encourage clients to book bi-weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly facials with you to review progress and adjust recommendations, as needed. Consider offering return clients a discount for booking treatments in advance to encourage the process and keep their results on track.


In summary, here are some key, simple adjustments clients can make in the holistic treatment of acne beyond the treatment room:


  • incorporate daily wellness practices to regulate stress, such as meditating or yoga, and support the body’s stress response
  • re-establish the good microbes of the body with probiotics and support their growth with prebiotics
  • increase fiber intake to help eliminate toxins from the body
  • use natural, effective alternatives in skin care that keep the good bacteria and barrier function of the skin intact (SLS and SLES-free skin care, incorporate probiotics topically)



1 Gueniche, A., D. Phillippe, P. Bastien, G. Reuteler, S. Blum, and I. Castiel-Higounenc.

“Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study of the effect of Lactobacillus

paracasei NCC 2461 on skin reactivity.” Benef Microbes 5 (2014):137-145.

2 Di Marzio, L., B. Cinque, C. De Simone, and M.G. Cifone. “Effect of the lactic acid

bacterium Streptococcus thermophilus on ceramide levels in human keratinocyte in vitro and

stratum corneum in vivo.” J Invest Dermatol 133 (1999): 98-106.

3 Oh, S., S.H. Kim, Y. Ko, J.H. Sim, K.S. Kim, and S.H. Lee. “Effect of bacteriocin produced by

Lactococcus sp. HY 449 on skin-inflammatory bacteria.” Food Chem Toxicol 44, no. 8

(2006): 1184-1190.



Brian Goodwin 2019Brian Goodwin is an international educator for Eminence Organic Skin Care. As a master aesthetician, master herbalist, and consultant with over 13 years of experience in the industry, Goodwin brings his love and enthusiasm for skin care to the masses with his passionate, fun, and educational training. Thousands of spa professionals have attended Goodwin’s master classes at tradeshows and on-site training internationally, with a curriculum focusing on guiding spas towards finding success in both educational and business growth. In addition, Goodwin has been published as an author for feature articles in multiple industry leading publications, including DERMASCOPE.

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