Our Experts

Q & A with Rachael Pontillo

The Importance of Skincare from the Inside Out and Outside In

Rachael Pontillo is an AADP certified health coach and licensed aesthetician focusing on holistic skincare.  She is the founder of the health and wellness company, Holistically Haute™, LLC and is the publisher of the popular skincare and wellness blog, Holistically Haute™. In addition to the blog, Rachael has had articles published in leading aesthetics trade publications, and several leading online magazines. Rachael currently works with individual clients as well as groups in the Philadelphia area, as well as nationwide and in Canada via phone and video conferencing. She also teaches classes in the Philadelphia metro area on the topics of natural skincare, health, nutrition, and wellness. Rachael also enjoys public speaking, and will speaking at the upcoming Association of Holistic Skin Care Practitioners Annual Conference in Kalamazoo, MI in October 2012.

Rachael is currently accepting new clients and students.

Email: holisticallyhaute@gmail.com
Website: www.holisticallyhautewellness.com
Blog: www.holisticallyhaute.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/HHaute
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HolisticallyHaute

Q. What is holistic skincare?

Rachael Pontillo. Many holistic professionals define holistic skincare as treating the skin “from the inside out”, but I take it a step further. I prefer to treat the skin indeed from the inside out with proper nutrition, hydration, and supplementation when necessary; but I believe it is necessary to also treat the skin from the outside in by using safe, natural, and nourishing products that protect, hydrate, and help the skin perform its many functions smoothly. So I describe my work as helping people to “achieve beauty, health, and vitality from the inside out and outside in.”

Q. Why is it important to treat the skin from the inside out and outside in?

Rachael Pontillo. Even though the skin is our largest organ, which performs some of the body’s most important and complex functions (protection, temperature regulation, sensation, detoxification, etc.), it is often the most neglected. The majority of the nutrients and water we consume goes to hydrate and nourish our internal organs.  That is why it is so important that we consume foods that are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, and water in order to give our skin cells their best chance of forming healthy, plump, firm, structurally sound tissue. In addition to proper nutrition and hydration, NeoCell’s collagen and hyaluronic acid supplements are great supplements to help build healthy skin from the inside out.

Our skin tends to take quite a beating since it is the organ most exposed to environmental toxins, bacteria, viruses, UV radiation, and the like. It can become dry, cracked, infected, burned, etc. which damages its barrier function. Many people think this only affects the appearance of the skin, but it goes deeper than that. Damaged, dehydrated skin negatively affects the body’s immune system, and levels of oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. That’s why it is so important to take care of the skin from the outside too, by using products that contain ingredients that are safe, work in harmony with the skin’s physiology; and that provide skin nutrition, hydration, and protection.

Q. Why is collagen so important for good skin health?

Rachael Pontillo. Collagen is one of the most important proteins found in the body. It is very strong and pliable, and supports our bones, joints, and connective tissues including the skin. Collagen makes up about 70% of the dermis (deeper layer of the skin), and is produced there by cells called fibroblasts. As we age, these cells produce less and less collagen (and elastin, another important protein fiber which supports the skin), and the collagen within the dermis begins to deplete causing the dermis to thin out. This is part of the skin’s aging process. Factors such as poor lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive UV exposure, toxic build-up, poor diet, dehydration, and stress actually speed up the degradation of the collagen in the skin, causing premature aging; but also in the body, causing joint pain, and brittle hair and nails. Conversely, making healthful diet and lifestyle choices can help preserve the collagen we have and encourage our bodies to keep producing this essential protein fiber.

Q. Why is hyaluronic acid important for the skin?

Rachael Pontillo. Hyaluronic acid is another protein that is abundant in our skin and bodies at birth, and degrades as we age. It is unique, however, for its humectant properties; meaning its ability to draw and retain water. It is quite possibly the most powerful humectant due to its capacity to hold 1,000 times its own molecular weight in water. This is what makes it such a hot commodity in skincare formulations: not only does it provide extreme hydration to the skin, but it also helps to push other active ingredients deeper into the skin while allowing the skin to breathe at the same time (unlike certain emollients and heavy occlusives). HA is also quite a popular internal supplement these days and is great for providing moisture and lubrication to epithelial and connective tissues of the body, including the skin.

Q. There are so many collagen and hyaluronic acid supplements on the market. How do you know which ones are the best?

Rachael Pontillo. Collagen and HA are two of the biggest buzzwords not just in skincare products but also as internal supplements. It is hard to know what makes one product with similar ingredients stand out from the others. I always recommend that people check their ingredient labels to see where on the label the advertised active ingredients fall. If they are found in the first 3 to 5 ingredients on the list, you can be sure that the product contains a high concentration of those ingredients. However, if it is somewhere in the middle or at the end of a long list, you can be sure that there is probably just enough of the advertised ingredient for the manufacturer to be able to legally advertise it on the product labels and in their marketing—not necessarily enough for the ingredient to actually have the ability to be utilized by the body. It is also important to consider the formulation of the product. Just because a product contains an ingredient—even a natural ingredient—doesn’t mean the body can recognize it or knows how to use it if it is not in the correct form. I always encourage my clients and readers not only to read labels, but also to do their own product research. Check out the company’s website, call their customer service department, ask to see third-party studies—don’t just go by advertisements. If the company is hesitant to answer questions or cannot produce the information you want, those are big red flags. There’s a lot of dishonesty in the cosmetics and dietary supplement industries, which is very unfortunate, so do your homework before putting something onto or into your body.

Q. Why do you prefer natural ingredients in skincare products?

Rachael Pontillo. I am a big fan of using natural ingredients that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I believe that there are many good, natural skincare products on the market; but again you have to check to make sure the ingredients are properly formulated and high quality. With skincare, I do believe you get what you pay for. The less expensive, heavily marketed brands often contain very few therapeutic natural ingredients and are full of chemicals: preservatives, fillers, synthetic fragrances, and other additives that can be very toxic to the body and irritating to the skin. I know that some of the higher quality ones can be expensive, however; so it is my belief that if you can afford a high quality natural skincare product line than go ahead and use those products; but if you can’t, please don’t go to the discount or drugstore and put those industrial-grade, low-quality, chemical-ridden products on your face. You will do more damage than good. I would much rather see people make their own skincare products with natural extracts, oils, butters, minerals, and essential oils. This is no more difficult or expensive than cooking, and I teach my students how to make their own products in my natural skincare classes. The majority of natural ingredients are just healthier for the skin, and the body. The body absorbs up to 66% of what you put on your skin, so you should not put something on your skin that you would not eat.

Q. What are your favorite natural skincare ingredients?

Rachael Pontillo.
I love the essential oils of lavender and rose. I also love argan, jojoba, and rosehip seed oils and shea butter. Although hyaluronic acid and collagen can be synthesized in a lab, they are also naturally-derived ingredients. When formulated correctly using the highest grade to insure purity and bioavailability, I believe these ingredients are also very effective. This is a great example of how science can work really well with ingredients provided by nature.

Q. What are common mistakes people make when caring for their skin?

Rachael Pontillo.
I think the biggest one is being too aggressive with harsh cleansers, scrubs, and treatments like alpha hydroxy acid peels and microdermabrasion. The skin’s outermost layer, the epidermis sheds regularly on its own; but it is there for a reason: to protect the cells in the deeper layers that are responsible for producing melanin pigmentation, collagen, elastin, and other important structural components of the skin. Constantly scrubbing and prematurely removing the cells of the epidermis may expose new cells before they are strong enough to stand up to environmental aggressors like pollution, pathogens, and UV radiation. This can cause irreversible damage to those cells which can actually speed up the skin’s aging process in the long run. So I suggest following a regular, but very gentle and soothing skincare regimen. Facials and other gentle spa treatments are great, but I am not a fan of lasers, peels, or microdermabrasion.

Q. What’s it like to work with a health coach or holistic aesthetician?

Rachael Pontillo.
Clients come to me with a variety of different concerns surrounding their skin, health, and overall level of balance in their lives. I offer my clients an open, supportive environment where they can speak freely about their issues with skin, health, or lack-of-balance. We have our actual sessions twice a month, but clients are free to email me between sessions with questions and if they feel they need additional support. We establish small, attainable goals between sessions which all lead up to the achievement of longer-term goals. I also provide educational resources and accountability so that my clients can learn to make the healthy habits they learn in their program permanent. In terms of skin issues, we do a lot of experimentation with certain foods and lifestyle choices to find out why the skin issues are there in the first place. The skin is really a picture of what is going on not just inside the person’s physical body, but also in other areas of his or her life. Once we bring all of those factors into balance, significant improvements in the client’s skin and overall levels of health of wellness can happen.

Q. Why did you become a holistic aesthetician and health coach?

Rachael Pontillo.
There are many reasons, but the biggest one is that I suffered with acne for the majority of my life.  I tried every type of product on the market from drugstore brands, to department store brands, to professional and even dermatological brands. Some worked better than others, but I started to notice that even though my acne was improving, my skin seemed really tight and irritated most of the time, which I knew couldn’t be a good thing. After I went to school for aesthetics, I did find a wonderful professional acne product that worked really well for the acne, although it was quite expensive. I figured it was worth it though, because my skin looked better which made me feel better.

After my pregnancies, I had gained quite a bit of weight. After trying many fad diets and workouts with little-to-no results, I decided it was time to take a less conventional approach and really just focus on eating real, whole, high quality local and organic foods. I began reading up on Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, detoxification, food combining, and other areas of holistic nutrition. I also did a lot of work on improving my own body image and level of self-acceptance. I focused on stress management, family, and self-care. My weight began to come off. Simultaneously, my skin began to change. I noticed it was less oily and looked brighter and healthier. I decided to try going off the acne product just to see if my nutrition and lifestyle changes had made any difference in the acne. Lo and behold, the acne did not return. So because my own journey, my skin looks better than it has since I was a pre-teen, my body looks and feels better than it has in a decade, and I’ve completely rediscovered my self confidence and found a new purpose in my life. This process transformed me in such a positive way that I knew I couldn’t keep it to myself. I decided to go back to school (again) to learn all about holistic nutrition so I could help other people feel as great as I do.

I wish I had known that health coaches existed years ago so I could have had support, expertise, and guidance as I began to find my way—if I had I’m sure I would have had results much sooner than I did on my own. So now I’m here to give others the support I wish I could have had during my own process.