A holistic approach is essential for acne-prone skins. Janine Tait looks at the topical, nutritional and lifestyle factors to consider when treating congestion.

Attempting to clear congested skin topically without addressing the underlying internal causes is akin to trying to shovel snow while it’s still still snowing – futile!


A holistic approach to skincare is about considering the whole person and viewing a client’s skin as a reflection of their life. It’s about identifying and addressing underlying nutritional and lifestyle factors which are contributing to skin problems. Quick-fix methods can sometimes make temporary improvements, but genuine skin transformation is only possible when we work from within. Of course, topical skincare and treatments are also vital, but are only half the story.

When it comes to treating acneic skin, a holistic approach is essential. Spotty, dull and congested skin often points to underlying issues with a client’s diet and lifestyle. While a client may expect to have their problems solved in just one facial treatment, you must help them to address the cause of the problem rather than focusing entirely on the symptoms. If you don’t, the client will continue to experience problems, producing congestion as fast as it can be removed.  This is a discouraging cycle for both client and therapist. Thankfully, there is a better way - the holistic beauty way.


Working From Within To Clear Congested Skin

Avoid Foods That Congest Skin

The sebaceous glands in our skin produce oil that is secreted on to the skin’s surface to act as protection. The quality of this oil is determined by the food we eat which provides the raw material for the sebaceous glands to produce their oil.

Some foods contain fats that are thick and sticky, resulting in oil that is also thick, sticky and more likely to block pores. These same foods often also contain free fatty acids that irritate and inflame the skin when secreted onto its surface.

Of course, this is not always the dominant factor; congested skin can sometimes be caused by a lack of certain nutrients or an inappropriate skin care regime but in the majority of cases it can be traced back to saturated fats.

Three common culprits to look out for are chocolate, cheese and chips, sometimes called the ‘three C’s’. These foods all contain fats that block the follicular canal and worsen congestion.

Congesting Foods to Avoid

Meat fat, mince, sausages, chips, fried fatty foods, mayonnaise, peanut butter, cheese, milo, nougat, fudge, full cream milk, cream, cream-based desserts, ice cream, cheese cake.

Skin Smoothing Alternatives

Skim milk, soy milk, grilled or baked lean meat dishes, french dressing, grilled, steamed or baked foods, salads, eggs, almonds, walnuts, spirulina, tahini, gelato, mejool dates, cacao, carob.


Avoid Food That Heats Your Skin

There are certain foods that can heat and inflame the skin. Common culprits are caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food, but even strawberries and oranges can have an inflaming effect.  These heating foods are called vasodilators - vaso referring to the blood, and dilating meaning to expand.  They sensitise skin by increasing blood flow through the fine capillary system that feeds the skin cells.  This can result in red, irritated skin and exacerbates any existing inflammation. If your client is prone to rosacea, acne, or has red, sensitive skin they should avoid heating foods.

If you watch a fair-skinned person’s décolletage, neck and face when they drink alcohol, you will visibly see the redness that occurs with a skin heating reaction.  While this is an extreme example, it’s important to keep in mind that  even if you can’t visibly see any redness, heating foods will increase any inflammation your client may be experiencing  both on the skin and in the  body.

Heating Foods to Avoid

Oranges, orange juice, strawberries, chocolate, chilli, hot spices, curries, wasabi, paprika, alcohol, coffee, caffeine.

Skin Cooling Alternatives

Fresh herbs and less ‘spicy spices’ such as ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cumin and coriander, herbal teas, tahini, medjool dates and figs.


Introduce Healthy Free-Flowing Fats

It might seem counter-intuitive but it’s very important to introduce quality free-flowing oils into the diets of clients who have spotty, congested skin. Essential fatty acids play a vital role here.

Cold pressed, organic safflower oil is a wonderful food for all skin problems especially acne.  Safflower oil is the richest natural source of linoleic acid, an important skin EFA, we know of.  Oils high in this essential fatty acid are keep sebum flowing and make it less inclined to block.  This means that if the oil produced by the oil glands is rich in linoleic acid it will easily find its way up the through the pores and out onto the skins surface, preventing congestion and even helping to dissolve existing blockages.  This is exactly what an acne-sufferer needs.


Introduce Skin-Friendly, Nourishing Foods

Other foods help too.  Foods containing B-Complex vitamins assist the body in processing essential fatty acids, zinc helps regulate the oil glands and heals and repair the skin, and vitamin A humidifies the skin and prevents infection.


Other Lifestyle Factors

Stress is also an important factor to consider when treating congested skin.  When the adrenal glands are overstimulated because of stress, fatigue or over-exercising this can lead to hormonal imbalances which contribute to acne. Find out about your clients stress levels, how well they are sleeping and the type of exercise they do. The more you are aware of the underlying contributing causes, the better you can help clients to make positive changes to reduce stress in their lives.


A Slow Beauty Approach to Topical Care of Congested Skin

It’s important to avoid stripping the sebum from the skin which results in dehydrated, exposed skin that is weakened and easily congested.  Products to avoid are foaming cleansers which strip the skin, alkaline washes which unbalance the skin’s natural protection, antiseptic washes that upset the microflora of the skin and heavy comodogenic moisturisers, which can irritate and inflame the skin. All of these products weaken the skin’s barrier which comprises its natural protection against environmental threats.

Soak the Skin to Rehydrate the Stratum Corneum

In order to perform effective in-clinic extractions, you need to get the skin really hydrated to soften the stratum corneum and ensure it is pliable. A dehydrated skin will harden around the blockages, locking them in place and making them impossible to remove.  Skin soaking is a simple protocol which makes a world of difference when clearing congested skin. Clients can incorporate skin soaking with any skincare range, as part of their daily regime.  After cleansing, they simply press a warm, damp muslin cloth onto their skin for a minute to hydrate the skin. This is immediately followed by any serums/concentrates and then a facial oil or moisturiser. This sequence hydrates the skin, locks the moisture in, helps to rebalance oil production and begins to rebuilds the skin barrier function. Most clients are so desperate to get rid of these annoying blockages they will happily commit to this daily ritual.

Use A Gentle Exfoliant

It is also important to include a very gentle exfoliant into their regime to start loosening the keratin buildup.  It is easy for dehydrated skins to become sensitised if the wrong exfoliant is chosen. Avoid any exfoliants which contain any micro-beads or granules as this can irritate and inflame the skin. Instead, choose products with natural enzymes which dissolve dead skin cells.


JANINE TAIT is New Zealand’s leading dermo-nutritionist and the founder of Bestow Beauty, which offers a beautiful range of organic super-food blends, recipes and rituals to nourish skin from within. She is also a respected leader within the Slow Beauty movement which champions a holistic approach to skincare.