Author Archives: hannahsowdinc

“I have bumps on my forehead that won’t go away!”

Q: I have bumps on my forehead and no matter how much I exfoliate, they won’t go away. Help!

A: The forehead is part of the T-zone, a region of the face that produces more oil. This excess oil can get trapped under a layer of dry skin and produce bumps. These bumps may never form into pimples or blackheads but can be just as annoying!

Cleanse you face twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. Use a foaming cleanser with salicylic acid followed by a toner with glycolic acid.

Twice a week use a clay mask on the affected area to help to absorb the excess oil.

Have a professional cleansing facial that includes extractions every 4-6 weeks.

This routine will keep the skin exfoliated and diminish the appearance of the bumps.

Oily skin is a chronic condition that usually gets better with age but managing it requires consistency and patience.

Have a question? Email me at

“I can’t afford expensive skin care products, help!”

Q: What can a person on a budget do for better skin??

A: More expensive products generally contain a higher level of effective ingredients. In some cases, a potent $60 night cream will last you 3-4 months. A more diluted $30 version might last 6-8 weeks so the overall investment is similar. If you find a product that is out of your price range but you really love what it does for your skin, consider using it every other night (or day). While this isn’t ideal, you will still get most of the benefits of the active ingredients. On the opposite days, substitute with a less expensive, neutral moisturizer like Cereve.

Here are a few of my favorite products that can be found at the drugstore and paired with more active products for optimal results:

Cereve Cleanser: both the Hydrating  and Foaming Cleanser are great and inexpensive. For a long time, Cetaphil was considered the best drugstore cleanser but I think Cereve makes a better product. Their formulas protect and enhance the skin barrier with ceramides. Cereve PM, provides a nice amount of hydration without clogging the pores.

Aveeno makes a quality line of light SPF lotions for day use. The Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer with SPF 30 is a favorite among my male clients.

Vitamin C is my favorite antioxidant ingredient and most people benefit from using it on their skin.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good,
low cost alternative in this category.

Vitamin C requires advanced technology to stay stable in a lotion or serum, if the molecule isn’t stabilized, the vitamin C oxidizes when it is exposed to air. Vitamin C serum is one place where I recommend you splurge!

If you are in your 20’s make sure you are using an eye cream at least once a day, Neutrogena makes some nice ones. If you need a product that will correct some of the signs of aging, look for an eye cream with peptides that works on a deeper level. If puffiness is your issue, I’ve never found anything better than Yon-Ka Phyto Contour.

Find a routine that fits your time and budget and stick with it!! It’s better to use products you can afford on a daily basis than slack off when you run out of the fancy stuff and can’t afford to replace it.

Does food affect your skin?

Growing up, many of us were told not to eat greasy foods like French fries and pizza because they cause acne. Is there any truth to this theory?

Unless you have a specific allergy, a reasonable quantity of any food is not going to bring on a reaction in your skin.

That being said, a binge of junk food and alcohol that lasts a few days (or a long weekend!) can affect your skin, but when you resume your normal habits, your skin will regain balance.

Like all your organs, your skin thrives from a healthy diet. Good fats from avocado and nuts, antioxidants from berries and citrus, proteins from dark leafy greens, legumes and lean meats all support the health of your skin.

Adequate water intake, limited caffeine and sugar are an integral part as well. Recent studies show the negative affects of simple sugars on your skin, mostly in the way of free radical damage and inflammation. Limit your intake of processed foods and sugars for optimal health of your body and your skin!

Diamonds, gold…and skin care?

Do expensive ingredients really mean better skin?

The past ten years have seen an increase in luxury items being added to skin care and spa treatments with the promise of a better complexion. Caviar cream, 24 carat gold body wraps and most recently, black diamond skin serum.

Many of these ingredients provide a temporary benefit. I’ve worked with a line of caviar products that do a wonderful job of plumping the skin before a major event, great for a “red carpet facial”.  Likewise, diamond particles fill in fine lines and wrinkles as well as reflect light which gives the skin a youthful glow when the product is applied.

However, there are no long term studies that suggest these type of ingredients penetrate the outer layers of the skin or do much for the long term health of the skin.

If you have a special occasion or feel like indulging, go for it! If you’d like more bang for your buck, use proven ingredients like antioxidants, peptides and retinols.

The top 3 sunscreens for your face

Since summer is upon us once again and recent studies show its anti-aging effects, everyone is talking about sunscreen.

My top 3 favorite sunscreen products for the face:

For daily use I like Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer SPF 30. With 20% Zinc Oxide, it provides the most complete coverage I’ve found yet it sheer enough even for dark skin tones.

If you like a tinted moisturizer with SPF or a “BB cream” try Suntegrity “5 In 1” Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30. Available in light and medium.

If you hate the feel of sunscreen try IS Clincal Eclipse SPF 50. This ultra light lotion is a favorite among my male clients.

Enjoy the sun this summer but make sure you’re protected!

Are you still tanning?

A tan, whether you get it on the beach, in a tanning bed, or through incidental exposure, is caused by harmful UV radiation. If you have a tan, you’ve damaged your skin cells, there is no “healthy tan”.

The cumulative damage caused by UV radiation can lead to premature aging (wrinkles, lax skin, and brown spots), as well as skin cancer. Indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never used a tanning bed.

If you rely on sun exposure to increase your vitamin D levels, consider taking a vitamin D supplement instead. You will achieve the same results without the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

If you are going on vacation or want a change of pace for summer, consider a spray tan. Many salons offer custom blended solutions applied by skilled technicians that mimic the appearance of a natural tan without the damage to the skin cells.

Make sure you are wearing an SPF with a high concentration of zinc oxide for the best protection on a daily basis.

What’s wrong with organic skin care?

Nothing! I think many organic products are lovely.

However, there are several reasons my products are not certified organic.

Skin care products can be divided into two categories: maintenance and corrective. Maintenance products help to maintain the current condition of your skin while corrective products correct issues like acne, melasma, and the effects of aging.

The majority of my work centers around corrective skin care. My clients want to improve, not just maintain, their skin.

Corrective products need to contain high performance ingredients to be effective. High performance ingredients are dose dependent so they must use chemically standardized plant extracts.

These ingredients do not meet the guidelines set forth by the FDA to be considered “organic” however, they are not “toxic” either.

Vitamin C is a perfect example. It is readily available in citrus fruit yet the potency of juice from an orange can vary greatly. Recreating a the l-ascorbic acid molecule in a lab allows the manufacturer to guarantee the effectiveness of the dose each and every time. This lab created molecule is identical to that found in nature while still being chemically standardized. The color, pH, odor, solid content, viscosity and levels of specific performance related chemicals are consistent. This assures you get results from your skin care products!

That being said, there are some toxic ingredients to look out for when choosing your skin care products. Parabens have been linked to certain types of cancer, sulfates can be drying and harsh to the surface of the skin. Many inexpensive, widely used preservatives contain formaldehyde.

Anti Aging Secrets: proactive versus reactive

When it comes to your anti aging strategy, are you proactive or reactive?

serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one; anticipatory: proactive measures against crime.

1.tending to react.
2.pertaining to or characterized by reaction: a reverse movement or tendency; an action in a reverse direction or manner.

During my 17 years in the skin care business, I have seen my proactive or preventive maintenance inclined clients fare far better than those that react once problems begin.

The latest high tech ingredients are designed to prevent as well as correct but have a far better chance of working when intervention is premature.

Skin is made up mostly of collagen, the foundation that gives your skin its support and thickness. Collagen is protein made up long chains of amino acids strung together, when it is broken down, short segments of 3-5 amino acids form, called peptides. This is a natural part of the aging process.

Applying peptides directly to your skin is a way to trick your skin into thinking that it has lost collagen recently and needs to make more. The most popular peptide for cosmetic use is palmitoyl pentapeptide (Matrixyl).

The key to getting the best results from a peptide product is to begin using it before the damage is extreme. The long term results from using a peptide based cream at age 30 are going to be better than the results from the same product at age 40.

Proactive prevention is a key component in the anti aging process!

Laser Tattoo Removal

Tattoos are often considered permanent, it is possible to remove them, sometimes fully, but often there is a shadow of ink or a scar left behind. Tattoos gained popularity in the 90’s, tattoo removal gained popularity in the 00’s!

Early forms of tattoo removal included the injection or application of wine, lime, garlic or pigeon excrement. Tattoo removal by laser was performed with continuous-wave lasers initially, and later with Q-switch lasers, which became commercially available in the early 1990s. Today, “laser tattoo removal” usually refers to the non-invasive removal of tattoo pigments using Q-switched lasers.

Tattoo removal lasers break down the ink in the tattoo then the broken-down ink is absorbed by the body, mimicking the natural fading that time or sun exposure would create. A tattoo laser must be capable of emitting adequate energy within the given absorption spectrum of the pigment to provide an effective treatment. Certain tattoo pigments, like yellows and greens are more challenging to treat than darker blacks and blues, because they have absorption spectra that fall outside or on the edge of the emission spectra available in the tattoo removal laser.

A 19 year old, black tattoo on my ankle after 17 laser treatments.

Tattoo removal sessions vary in intensity, largely depending on the practitioner and the laser device. Laser tattoo removal must be performed by a doctor, or in some states, a registered nurse. It is not uncommon to have some blistering and swelling at the treatment site after a laser treatment. This actually speeds the breakdown of the ink.

On average, it can take 12-15 treatments to completely remove a tattoo. Depending on the size of the tattoo, each session can cost $125-$300 and
even higher.

Tattoo “removal” is a very popular service, however, be aware it may not be as easy as it sounds!

Antioxidant Therapy

I’m excited to announce the newest addition to sōwd:therapy for skin: Antioxidant Therapy.

Designed for all skin types, this light serum combines 18 powerful “3D antioxidants” to deliver amazing results. It captures the power of Acai Berry, Gogi and Noni fruits, Coffeeberry, white and green teas, pear, hibiscus and pomegranate to fight the signs of aging, reduce inflammation and discoloration.

Daily use of Antioxidant Therapy will inhibit free radical damage that can lead to inflammation, dryness, aging and discoloration. It can be layered under your favorite SPF during the day and moisturizer in the evening.

“Do I need to use a toner?”

Q: Do I need to use a toner?

A: First, I want to clarify the difference between an astringent and a toner. An astringent contains mild exfoliating ingredients and leaves the skin feeling tingly after its applied. A toner is mild, usually  without alcohol, and designed to balance the PH level or soothe the skin. Excessively oily or acne prone skin can benefit from an astringent with active ingredients designed to remove oil and treat acne like salicylic acid.

Dry or combinations skin types can skip the toner. If your feel your face is still dirty after cleansing, wash it again. Just like shampoo directions: lather, rinse, repeat. We always cleanse the skin twice during professional treatments; the first cleanse removes dirt and makeup, the second cleanse cleans the skin. If you like the feeling a mist on your face or the smell of a particular toner (which can be lovely!) then by all means, use one! However, I don’t think they are necessary
for the health of your skin.

And more importantly, skipping the toner allows you more time to spend applying important products like eye cream!

Antioxidants: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Antioxidants are the trendy skin care ingredient right now. Here’s a simple breakdown to determine if they are something you should be adding to your routine.

Everyone. Especially those over the age of 30, smokers, and sun worshipers.

Superfruits like Goji berries, Acai berries, coffee berries, white and greens teas and COQ10 are examples of ingredients that neutralize free radical damage. Damage from free radicals is the common denominator is most skin issues.

Every day. Use an antioxidant product under your SPF to enhance it’s protective properties and at night under your moisturizer to repair cellular damage while you sleep.

On your face, neck and decollete.

To neutralize environmental damage from free radicals, reduce inflammation,  calm acne, moisturize the skin and prevent wrinkles.

Soothing Menopausal Skin

This post is from guest blogger Renee Iverson:

When your skin changes, you must change your skin care!

Just as every woman has a different coming of age story or perhaps a unique birthing tale, so it goes with every woman’s journey through menopause.  One thing is common among almost all women – they experience changes in the skin.

The hormonal shifts experienced during menopause can wreak havoc on the skin.  Where skin was once plump and dewy, often becomes sunken and lackluster. Acne once again rears its ugly head and wrinkles, crinkles and spots seem to appear over night.

In my personal experience, bone dry skin, increased facial hair and deep cystic acne eruptions have become my constant foes.  What I have learned in my journey from your average American Mom to Hot Flash Mama is that when your skin changes, you must change your skin care! Soothing your hot skin and hot body is a must to bring relief and quickly heal hormonal breakouts.

Any time your body is having a hot flash, the inflammation cascade is kicked into high gear. One of my favorite soothing products is  Soothing Gel Mask. This mask brings comforting moisture and repair-support to any skin type in minutes with an instantly cooling high potency blend of hydrating Panthenol, calming Allantoin and ultra-soothing Sea Whip.

To gently exfoliate, clear up cystic acne and cool at the same time try Purifying Comfort Mask. This gel mask purifies skin’s surface, dissolves dead cells, cools heat and redness and encourages skin to repair itself. It contains a form of Chinese licorice that interrupts the biochemical cascade that leads to redness and other discomfort. This gel also decreases lipase, an enzyme that increases inflammation and irritation in the skin.

Many women experience increased facial hair during menopause.  One thing I find, is that most women with unwanted hair are master pluckers! Acne is often the result of plucked hair because it inflames the dermal tissue around the hair follicle causing it to close down and create a pimple.  Again the Soothing Gel Mask and the Purifying Comfort Mask are must-have products to soothe the area around the follicle.  Pore Purifying Astringent is a wonderful product for cleaning the skin before and after you pluck.  Follow that with either of the masks and you will rarely get pimples.

Exfoliating menopausal skin is a must, but many of the methods used in the past can be too harsh and cause unwanted inflammation – the number one cause of aging in the skin. If you find that your skin is not happy with your current routine, it is time for a change! Perhaps you should try Radiance Boost Exfoliating Toner for any skin type needing light exfoliation.  This mild exfoliating freshener can be used once or twice daily to brighten, revive radiance and minimize pores.

There are so many variables that go into creating healthy vibrant skin. It is so important to be educated about what is happening with your skin so you can make informed choices about its care. A facial with a licensed aesthetician and skin care expert – someone who knows skin care ingredient chemistry and skin physiology is an essential step on your journey to beautiful skin for the rest of your life!

Renee Iverson  is the resident Aesthetician at Mountain Sun in Kirkland, WA.  She is all about focusing on techniques to improve the look, feel and function of the skin with an emphasis on long-term healing and rejuvenation modalities.  She has earned continuing education credits from UCLA Extension studying ingredient chemistry, skin physiology, and advanced skin care ingredients for specific skin conditions. You can follow her on Twitter.

“I’m 28 years old, do I need to use an eye cream?”

Q: I recently turned 28 and notice fine lines forming around my eyes. I have a very expressive smile and don’t want to end up with “crows feet”! Is is too early to start using eye cream?

A: No. A high quality eye cream will do a lot more to prevent the signs of aging than to correct damage once it’s occurred.

There are many products to choose from, the two most common are creams and gels. Gels are lighter in weight and great to use during the day since they have a temporary smoothing and tightening effect. Creams are more moisturizing which makes them good for nighttime or both day and night if you have very dry skin.

Read the ingredients before you purchase a product. Peptides are very important, they encourage the skin to produce more collagen which will have a lasting effect on the eye area. Ingredients like Vitamin C and AHA’s are great to lighten hyper-pigmented areas under the eyes.

Choose a product that fits into your budget, you will see improvement after a time but you need to keep using it for the benefits to last.

Can going off “the pill” cause acne?

Many of my clients have transitioned off oral contraceptives over the years and the majority of them have some level of skin reaction. This article does a great job of explaining the possible physiological reasons for the skin reaction. Keep in mind, the acne created from the shift in hormone levels is temporary and can be keep under control with some simple changes to your routine. Consult your favorite skin care specialist for recommendations!

Will drinking water hydrate your skin?

Adequate water intake helps your brain function, maintains energy levels, regulates body temperature, aids in digestion, and ultimately keeps your body healthy but does it hydrate your skin?

“Humans aren’t like plants. Our skin doesn’t perk up when we consume water,” says Katie Rodan, a dermatologist in the San Francisco Bay area and a coauthor of Write Your Skin a Prescription for Change. When you drink water, It goes through the intestines, gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and is filtered by kidneys then finally, it hydrates the cells (including the skin cells).

Your skin type is largely determined by your genes, natural moisture levels fluctuate depending on to what your skin’s protective lipid barrier is exposed. This lipid layer helps keep moisture in while keeping germs and irritants out. When this lipid layer is compromised, skin can become dry, red and itchy.
Minimizing your exposure to depleting elements like harsh winds, dry heat, high altitude, sun, alcohol, long baths and soaps containing sulfates can prevent the loss of natural oils.

“Diet can play a role in strengthening your skin’s ability to maintain moisture,” says Leslie Baumann, a professor of dermatology at the University of Miami, in Florida. Foods rich in the essential fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, and olive oil can help skin cells stay hydrated. A study by the Institute of Experimental Dermatology, in Germany, also revealed that women who took flaxseed- or borage-oil supplements (2.2 grams a day) for 12 weeks experienced a significant increase in skin moisture and a reduction in roughness. A healthy diet with three to five servings a week of fatty acids will suffice for the average person.

A good moisturizer can instantly improve the look and feel of dry skin, apply it twice a day to help heal serious dehydration. The two key ingredients to look for are stearic acid (a fatty acid), and emollient ceramides. A quarter-size dollop of lotion will do much more for your skin than drinking a quart of water.

Bridal Skin Care

Why am I writing about Bridal Skin Care in December when wedding season isn’t until June?

Pre-wedding skin care prep can take 3-4 months and the goal is to be ready at least a month before the big day. You want to look your best for all the events!

If you aren’t getting professional treatments regularly, schedule a consult with several skin care specialists in your area. Ask around for recommendations or consult review sites like Yelp or Genbook. Be upfront with your concerns about your skin, your time and your finances. Make sure to ask about home care products you will be expected to purchase for optimal results.

When you decide on a specialist, consider booking all your appointments up front. Your schedule will get busy and skin care treatments work best when you stick to regime. Ask about a discount if you pay for all the treatments in advance.

I usually recommend a series of 6 sessions of microdermabrasion spaced 2-3 weeks apart and a home care routine using retinol, vitamin C and a lightening product if pigmentation is a concern. One or two chemical peels may be added if the goal is to get rid of dark pigment patches. These peels can have 4-6 days of downtime so they need to be scheduled accordingly.

Pre-wedding nerves can bring on a breakout even if you aren’t prone to them. Now is a good time to build a relationship with a dermatologist. A week of preventative antibiotics and a just-in-case appointment for a last minute cortisone injection can save you from waking up with a giant pimple on your big day. You also may be able to get a prescription for Retin A or other topical creams that will help get your skin under control. Be sure to let your esthetician know about any prescription skin care creams you are using.

If you are considering injectables, give them a trial run 6 months before your big day and get a touch up at least 4 weeks before. Botox takes 2 weeks to set and fillers can cause bruising or swelling (even if you haven’t had these reactions in the past).

And above all, relax and have fun on your big day; happiness brings it’s own natural glow!

The Epigenome

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking a class from one of my favorite teachers, Rebecca James Gadberry. The class, titled “The Epigenome: Where the Environment and Genes Meet”, turned me on to one of the most potentially exciting discoveries in the future of anti-aging.

I remember hearing about the Human Genome Project back in the early ’00’s and reading articles like this one but it took awhile to sink in: this science has the potential to extend our lives and the lives of our children while allowing us to look better, feel better and function at a higher level than before.

Here is a video that puts the concept of Epigenetics in simple terms (side note: the scientists in the video support intelligent design versus evolution, I don’t think that’s relevant to the concept).

Simply put, the genome cells are identical and require an epigenome to direct their activity. The epigenome places tags on the DNA structure to allow or prevent certain aspects to express themselves. These tags control how one cell multiplies, when cells make or don’t make protein and the quality of this protein, when and how well the DNA damage is repaired, how quickly or slowly you age and how disease forms in the body.

Studies have shown these tags respond to positive stimulation (exercise, healthy food, meditation, massage) as well as negative stimulation (processed foods, smoking, prolonged sun exposure). Essentially, we have the power to overcome at least a portion of the map that our DNA has determined for us.

One study showed people with long term meditation practices to have 1000 inactive stress related receptors which was 50% more than the control group. After just 8 weeks of daily meditation, the control group showed an improvement of over 400 additional inactive stress receptors.

This is such a broad and fascinating topic. For years I have been telling people that good skin requires more that topical products, lifestyle plays an integral part. Now I have the science to back it up!