The power of AHA’s.

Topically applied, AHA’s ( Alpha Hydroxy Acids) can be naturally derived from fruits, plants and nuts but today are mostly synthetically produced. The most popular are Glycolic and Lactic which are especially suited for home application because they are less irritating. However spa protocols often include a combination of other AHA’s such as Mandelic, Citric, Tartaric and Malic.

Used to treat wrinkles, sun damage, age spots, pigmentation and acne, AHA’s gently exfoliate unnecessary dead skin cells on the surface of the skin that build up over time. This increases blood flow and allows for better product penetration.When used continuously Glycolic Acid in particular can brighten the skin and lighten pigmentation. It can also balance pH. Long term use has helped to reduce the appearance of scar tissue and can soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

For home use most AHA formulas contain 10% or less of the active ingredient. In the spa this percentage is often increased depending on the blend of AHA’s being used and also on the results that are required. Of course skin sensitivity is also taken into account.

It is really essential to use a daily SPF of at least 30 when using any products that contain Alpha Hydroxy Acids because they all make the skin much more susceptible to the sun and increase the likelihood of burning.

By applying toners, serums and/or creams to skin containing these ingredients you can improve the health and appearance of your skin significantly and ensure that healthy, youthful glow that we all yearn for.

Stress Basics and Coloring Books

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life. We all experience varying levels at different times and in many situations. Under these circumstances the brain’s hard-wiring system kicks in. When it perceives a threat, the brain signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the “fight-or-flight” response and is a normal bodily reaction that is meant to protect us. However, because we now live in a world of nonstop stress most of the time, our alarm systems rarely shuts off!

Without stress management and over time, high levels of stress lead to serious health problems including a myriad of skin issues.

Hormones, neuropeptides and other signaling molecules released during stressful times may be second only to sunlight in aging the skin. And the really bad news? Women are more prone than men. That means wrinkling, loss of tone and increased levels of sensitivity, particularly as we age.

Additionally, proteins and DNA in the epidermis and dermis urn can cause acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema and hives.

Feeling bad about the way we look makes us less social and more isolated. This aloneness diminishes the production of Oxytocin, the bonding hormone. And as I mentioned in my last post, encourages compulsive picking and other bad habits.

What to do?
It is unrealistic to imagine we can ever live a stress free life but we can commit to developing coping skills that maintain balance, even at the worst of life’s moments.

Here are six of my favorites:
Getting outdoors and in touch with nature. Hiking, gardening, sitting on a park bench all reconnect us with our natural surroundings.

Breathing deeply. Not just when we are really stressed but at regular times throughout the day.

Disconnecting from social media for a day or if that sounds unimaginable, half a day!

Changing your mindset. When a challenge presents itself, think of it as an opportunity for personal growth.

Have a supportive tribe so you don’t waste time with negative or toxic people.

And finally, my new favorite, get out your colored pencils! Adult coloring books are all the craze right now. They can relief stress and anxiety as well as reconnecting you with your inner child. Check out “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” or “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book”. They are great fun and thoroughly engrossing.

Confucius once claimed: “True quality of life comes from lasting harmony between body and mind.” This is a goal worth aiming for.

When we go to the doctor and are told  that whatever ails us is triggered by stress, it is always a frustrating diagnosis. Too vague somehow. We want something more concrete.

I recently asked a client who is a gastroenterologist what, in her opinion, is the main cause of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and her answer was stress. In fact she told me that most of the medications prescribed for IBS are for anxiety.

With all that is going on in our world right now, how can we keep our stress levels under control to avoid developing chronic illness and without devoting hours to meditation or moving to some remote island without electricity.

Maybe one way to stay calm would be to take our hobbies to a new level. I know many of you already have interests outside of work because they come up a lot in conversation during spa visits. And I also know many of you will react with the question “Who has the time?” But gardening, games, puzzles (not all online and using an electronic device), photography, reading, and cooking are all hobbies that can provide endless pleasure and get us to relax and concentrate on lighter pursuits.

Take gardening for example. Many people now grow some if not many of their own vegetables. A study in the Netherlands compared reduced cortisol levels after one random group read for 30 minutes and another gardened for the same amount of time. The gardeners’ cortisol levels were the lowest. Not that I am against reading. I read a lot and belong to a book club that I find really interesting, but being in touch with nature connects us to the earth and that has a very comforting effect on us all.

Cooking is another great way to relax, especially if you have some favourite background music playing while you prepare your food. Maybe take a cooking class before the Holidays and surprise your family and friends with some new recipes or exchange recipes with friends?

Several of my clients are also making their own Holiday cards this year. We have a newly opened Paper Source in our neighbourhood that offers evening classes in all kinds of crafts. Sending cards that are hand-made adds a very personal touch, allows you to be creative and saves money. Many of us underestimate our creative talents both in the garden and arts arena.

Photography is another hobby that can bring endless pleasure. Our phones now take great pictures as we go about our daily lives, but take it one step further and carry a camera on you every day to capture images you may want to re-produce for that gallery at home.

Finally, get together with friends and family as much as possible and laugh. It really is the best medicine and exercises all those facial muscles in the best possible way!!

These are just a few ideas that may help you unwind and keep those stress levels under control. If you would like to share some other ways that you enjoy, please e-mail me at msimms {at} I would love to hear from you.

Essential oils are wonderful mood enhancers. In the Fall and Winter months they can be especially useful at home to brighten the mood and provide stress relief.

Fall is my favorite time of year and as the evenings shorten and the weather cools, I am always reminded of the crisp Autumnal days of my childhood growing up in the Sussex countryside. England has a wonderfully colorful Fall foliage season every year and as you roam the fields and lanes, crunching fallen leaves underfoot while admiring each indiviual tree, you can smell the open hearth fires in the brisk air.

To re-capture some of that seasonal nostalgia, I always burn some incense at this time of year and change out my diffuser recipes to aromas that are a little more heady and redolent. Clove bud and spearmint is my current favourite, but here are a few more that might warm your darker evenings:

Orange, grapefruit and nutmeg for an uplifting pick-me up.

Peppermint, rosemary and lavender for a head soother after a hectic day.

Geranium, lavender and chamomile to nurture any emotional upheaval.

Rose and ylang-ylang for a romantic evening in.

We have tried all kinds of diffusers and prefer the ones that use a tea-light and water – just make sure that you keep the water topped up regularly. Inhale and Relax!

Refer to my previous post “Lovely Lavender” to learn more about this universal essential oil.

At this point, most of us have experienced a massage or two – on a cruise or as part of a spa visit – but sometimes it can be a little intimidating deciding what style of treatment to choose, what to wear and what to take off in the room.

These days it is accepted that you completely disrobe and get under the blankets naked, but wear underwear if it makes you feel more at ease. It is all about the relaxation and you need to be comfortable. Always wear loose clothing to the massage. Wriggling in and out of tight clothes spoils the whole ambiance of the treatment.

Let’s do a quick recap of the most popular massages:

Swedish Massage – this is the most common type of massage. It is a good starting point for newcomers and a great stand-by for overall tension release. Long strokes knead the muscles and increase the blood circulation.

Deep Tissue Massage – is a Swedish massage with a lot more pressure.  This intensity can result in a couple of days of soreness following treatment but is really good for athletes because it gets rid of lactic acid build-up in the muscles.

Sports Massage – involves more stretching and rocking and tends to be performed at a more vigorous pace. It is also a great massage to get when treating an injury.

Thai Massage – often referred to as ‘yoga for the lazy’ and performed on the floor, this massage mixes acupressure, shiatsu with stretching and yogi asanas. It provides pain relief and increases flexibility. Great for serious golfers! Wearing baggy clothing for this treatment is a must. (You keep your clothes on).

Reflexology – the principle behind reflexology is that every organ has a corresonding point on the bottom or top of the feet, ankles and hands. The technician will thumb press these points to release stress, pain and tension in the body. The technique can also be used on the ears. At SkinSense we have used reflexology very sucessfully to bring relief to late stage pregnancies.

Prenatal – and talking of pregnancy, expectant mothers experience unique physical and emotional changes. Prenatal massage is specially designed to reduce swelling, soothe neck and back aches, improve muscle strength and relieve fatigue. First time mothers are advised to avoid massage during the first trimester but after that, massage is very helpful.

Hot Stone – for deeper relaxation, heated stones are placed on the body, between the toes and on the chakra points to melt away tension and allow deeper penetration of the muscles during treatment. This is a wonderful gift to give someone you care about.

Obviously all these protocols have something in common and sometimes use similar techniques. All will lift your spirits, refresh the mind and re-energise the body. Never be afraid to tell your therapists where your body hurts or where you feel the most tension and let them know if the pressure suits you as the treatment progresses. For best results, it is a good idea to mix massage types. Get treatments every two to three weeks, or weekly when treating an injury and always drink plenty of water following every massage.