With the hot, humid summer causing breakouts and the dry, cold winter stripping the skin of its oils, people tend to forget that the shoulder seasons are just as important when it comes to skincare. With summer vacations behind us, back-to-school means stress breakouts, not to mention a change in climate affecting facial moisture levels. “In the fall, we start to see that cold weather creep in, so people who are more prone to eczema or drier skin are particularly affected,” says Robert William, certified esthetician at Toronto-based spa Pure + Simple.
When Pure + Simple co-founder Jean Eng witnessed her daughter, now board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Kristen Ma, struggle with the same issues she experienced through her teens—incurable acne, redness, blemishes and enlarged pores—she decided to create a solution that takes an all-natural approach. After studying esthetics, Traditional Chinese Medicine and consulting skincare experts, Dr. Ma and her mother launched Pure + Simple, a spa grounded in the principles of Ayurvedic science with skincare treatments using all-natural products. Since opening in 2000, Dr. Ma has been deemed the “Best Facialist in Toronto” by Toronto Life Magazine and the chain has grown to eight locations across Ontario.
Certified esthetician Robert William brings over a decade of skincare experience to his role at Pure + Simple. He now runs The Skin Hotline, an online resource for skincare education, product recommendations and self-care tips. We sat down with the skincare expert to talk skincare routines, treatments and ingredients to prepare for the change of season.
We always talk about winter and summer when it comes to skin issues, but how can people prepare their skin for the fall season?
If you’re prone to eczema or dryer skin and you’re using a lightweight, gel moisturizer in the summer, I recommend changing to a lotion or serum, with ingredients that will lock in moisture, like shea butter, glycerin or hyaluronic acid.
People tend to like something lighter in the day, that’s where a lotion can be nice. But if you have eczema or dry skin, a heavier cream in the evening is always more beneficial because your skin and body is repairing itself at night.
Our body loses the most moisture in the evening, especially with indoor central air—it’s so drying for the skin. So another tip I recommend is having a humidifier in your room. Something that really helped me gauge the amount of indoor humidity I had at home—I bought a reader to tell me the moisture level in the air, to make sure I had at least 40%.
How many steps is best for a skincare routine?
I think it’s very specific. I always tell people, skincare is hard because it’s trial-and-error mixed with a choose-your-own-adventure mixed with your genes. Some people are blessed with amazing skin, they can have a 20-step routine and they have glass skin afterwards, this is what we see on social media.
For me personally, I have a very simplified under-five step routine that works for me and as soon as I deviate from that, I start to see problems arise in my skin.
It can be beneficial to hook up with a skincare professional so you can go on that journey with someone instead of watching videos online and receiving conflicting messages about whether to go natural or have a 20-step routine. It really comes back to, we have to find what’s best for you.
What would you say are the top skin issues you’re seeing right now?
Maskne is still an issue. People are struggling with breakouts from wearing the masks, especially with the extreme weather changes. A lot more skin sensitivities when it comes to impaired barriers—people who have done too much to their skin or used too many active ingredients, now their skin has sensitivities. And a lot more clients are coming in with early onset rosacea or broken capillaries.
What kind of facial treatments would you recommend for these issues?
Facial treatments for the maske, I like it call it, ‘putting the face back to factory reset,’ doing a deeper extraction, then some exfoliation and then finishing it off with calming products to help balance the skin. I never want clients to leave super red and inflamed, I want them to feel confident walking out of the treatment room.
With skin sensitivities, I recommend balancing, hydrating and cooling treatments, like Pure + Simple’s Hydrating Facial. At home, I recommend setting clients up with a comprehensive but simple routine, they don’t need to be introducing a ton of active ingredients if their skin is red, because the goal is to repair the barrier and get it back to a nice healthy state because once your skin barrier is compromised, it’s a viscous cycle of chasing your tail to fix it. It’s really about going back to basics.
For rosacea, calming and soothing treatments are best. One of the symptoms when you have rosacea, if you get a really big flare-up, you can get these little white pustules. People confuse it with acne so they go in with these harsh scrubs or intense exfoliants, and it creates this literal hot mess on their face—their skin feels warm, it feels very hot. By partnering up with a skincare professional, they can tell them that it’s not acne, it’s a reaction to rosacea, and using products for acne is actually making it worse. So we need to calm it down, scale you back and use things that maybe are based with aloe, ingredients that can help keep your skin cool and calm.
Across the board, no matter what the disorder of the skin is, sunscreen is going to be number one, especially with skin sensitivities.
You mention aloe, are there natural ingredients you think work really well?
We see aloe and cucumber in a lot of products, they can be very calming for the skin. We’re seeing turmeric more in products for anti-inflammatory. I think that these ingredients can be beneficial, but even more beneficial when formulated properly in a product. I don’t think people should be going out and ordering a bunch of their own raw ingredients and trying to make something in their kitchen. Maybe, with aloe, it’s a bit more forgiving, you’re not going to steer wrong with that. The newest thing is people taking a cucumber, freezing it, and rubbing it all over their face, and although that may feel nice, I’m not sure 100% what that’s doing for you, besides rubbing a cucumber on your face [laughs]!
When it comes to at-home treatments for the maske—it’s about getting on the right exfoliants; finding the right exfoliation for your skin, whether that be a chemical exfoliant, enzyme exfoliant or a more physical exfoliant, which is what I think people think about when they think of exfoliation (they think of a St. Ives Apricot Scrub, or something that has a bit more grit to it) but not all skin types can handle that kind of exfoliation. Then it’s about getting on a more lightweight moisturizer and balancing routine.
How often should people get facials?
I say, if your budget allows, six to seven weeks. But if that’s just not in the budget, then at least once a season. Coming in at the beginning of each season to get your skin prepped and ready, partnering up with an esthetician and asking ‘how can I change my cleanser, how can I change my moisturizer?’ is really beneficial.
What are some Pure + Simple treatments you’re excited about?
I really like the Pear Fig Treatment because it’s not extremely aggressive but gives a nice balanced clean. Anytime I do any peeling, I treat the skin really calmly and gently, so I like to pair it with a Super Hydrating Facial to balance the hydration levels, because we don’t want the skin to be too stripped.
Another treatment I do a lot on clients is Aquabrasian. That’s a nice way to exfoliate the skin but not irritate it. A lot of my clients who have rosacea get it all of the time. During the winter, it was the number one treatment. Although it was chilly out and it’s a chillier treatment, it just was so gentle and effective on client’s skin that the results were undeniable.
Some interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.