This Celeb Aesthetician Has Some Unexpected Advice...

PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIA DEL RIO.
If there is one rule of thumb every dermatologist, aesthetician, and beauty editor working today can agree on, it's this: Wear sunscreen! Always. Without exception. (And a hat, for that matter.)

Whether chemical or physical, sunscreen is universally considered the most effective way to ward off both cancer and premature signs of aging. But that's about where the industry-wide agreement begins and ends. In L.A., a few skin-care professionals are taking photodamage one step further, weaning their clients off any products that could increase photosensitivity as an additional step towards a more youthful-looking complexion. In a nutshell, that means giving up acids like AHAs and retinols. Luckily, quitting acids is very easy to do — said no skin-care junkie, ever.
Just Say No...To Acids?
One of Hollywood's top celeb aestheticians has a challenge she'd like us all to try: Give up topical acids — from your anti-blemish face wash with salicylic acid to your brightening serum with glycolic acid and your skin-smoothing nightly retinol — and prepare for better skin because of it. (And yes, if you're asking...retinol is an acid, too.)
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"You think you're exfoliating, but you're really making your skin more photosensitive by creating a low-grade burn," aesthetician Cristina Radu says of her controversial challenge. That, in turn, creates an entire slew of problems — from brown spots to dryness to breakouts — that she's seen play out among her clients since the Retin-A epidemic in the early '90s.

You think you're exfoliating, but you're really making your skin more photosensitive by creating a low-grade burn...

Cristina Radu
We know what you're thinking: How will I brighten my skin, battle dark spots, fight acne, and exfoliate away dryness without acids? But before you write her off, take a look at her roster of clients — it's stacked with skin luminaries, like Jennifer Aniston, Liv Tyler, Eva Mendes, Brad Pitt, Cindy Crawford, and Rosamund Pike — and the list goes on and on. (For the record, like many celeb aestheticians, Radu is tight-lipped about her entire client list, but do a little digging and you'll find its A-list names impress.)

Still with us? Great, because Radu's reasoning is simple: She believes exfoliating with acids makes skin more sensitive to the sun (this is indeed a fact, but more on that in a second) which can cause brown spots, melasma, and hyperpigmentation. Plus, she says her clients have noticed less breakouts, dryness, irritation, and sensitivity, as well as better product absorption and a more youthful-looking glow.

In Defense Of Acids
As convincing as Radu's reasoning may be, it's important to remember that other experts are taking a less extreme and more measured approach to the very same issue. According to American Academy of Dermatology member and board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, "You can become slightly more photosensitive with alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinols, because they help to exfoliate the top layer of skin. Healthy skin is nicely exfoliated, but it turns out the dead skin on the top layer does give you a bit of sun protection."

Luckily, quitting acids is very easy to do — said no skin-care junkie, ever.

Like most derms, Dr. Tanzi recommends SPF every day and diligent reapplication every two to three hours when in the sun — but she says you shouldn't just rely only on that, especially if you're using acids. "If you're going to invest in anti-aging products, you really need to be [protecting your skin] with sunscreen and a hat," she says. However, this increase in sensitivity isn't always a bad thing if you do opt for protection, because as Dr. Tanzi explains, "We've seen the scientific proof that [appropriate use of acids] is good for the skin."

So, it's not that acids are evil, point blank. It's just bad when people overdo it, she says. "I see tons of people overdoing retinols, overdoing glycolic, and then, they're going to have trouble, like dermatitis and other issues," she says. Luckily, her Rx is pretty simple for those who want to use acids safely and effectively. She instructs her patients to stick to one acid-packed product per day — ideally alternating a nightly glycolic and retinol — and to keep everything else gentle. Before vacations or extended periods of sun exposure, take yourself off all acids a full week before you hit the beach, which allows your skin to better protect itself. Oh, and always reapply your SPF. Have we said that already?

Skin Rehab, Radu Style
Radu isn't alone in her messaging — but she has been dubbed "the no-acid facialist" (her words, not ours) — which means she's leading the charge in perpetually sunny Southern California. However, she also understands that moving to a more holistic skin-care approach takes some compromise. Translation: Many of her clients have arrived kicking and screaming.
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I see tons of people overdoing retinols, overdoing glycolic, and then, they're going to have trouble...

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi
"I have had to make a deal with most of my clients, because they can't stop using acids immediately," Radu says. That compromise is to only use acids two days a week (she recommends Monday and Thursday to keep it regimented) for one month. Then clients see how their skin reacts. "If it doesn't improve, they can go back on the acids, but if it does [look and feel better] they can make the decision to quit [fully or stick to two times per week]."

Her success levels? "All my clients see the light," Radu says. "It just takes a while to see, but they always come to understand because they can feel the wellness of their skin — it feels smooth, glowing, and hydrated."

Of course, you still need to exfoliate for a variety of reasons — declogging pores at the top of that list. Radu's suggested routine? As needed, a very gentle physical exfoliator like a gommage or scrub (be sure the granules are no bigger or sharper than a grain of sugar) used after cleansing and before a targeted, acid-free serum. Plus, a good moisturizer for night and strong SPF for day.

Fret Not: Recreational Users Are Permitted
Radu knows that this will not work for everyone or every situation. In fact, she has some tips to implement if you fall somewhere in the middle of the issue. The most useful being her tip for breakouts. Blemishes happen — and many OTC topical treatments are acid-based — so Radu suggests applying them only to the area to be treated and mixed 50/50 with a simple everyday lotion, which will aid in the exfoliation without over-drying your entire complexion.

When it comes to acid-based prescription products or those recommended by your derm — like those for brown sports, melasma, or acne — she instructs her clients be very precise by applying with a Q-tip. "It takes extra time, but it's the only way you won't affect the surrounding skin," she explains.
At the moment, Radu knows that she's in the minority on the issue, which has likely cost her clients along the way. "A lot of clients tell me they want to feel that burn," she says. "It’s almost like if you’re not aggressive you’re not a good enough facialist — but I tell them, my clients glow." And we're inclined ot believe her...
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