One of the biggest myths that I’ve fought against for pretty much my whole career is that handmade skincare is not as effective as storebought skincare–or worse yet, “professional skincare.” That could not be further from the truth, if you understand the skin, how to choose the right ingredients, and how to formulate properly. Making your own skincare can seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not as difficult as it seems. Plus, it can be a lot of fun to experiment with different ingredients and formulations.
I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on former TV news personality Robin Stoloff’s radio show and podcast, Living Well with Robin Stoloff. What I loved about this interview is that we really took making your own skincare back to basics. Sometimes when you’ve been doing something for a long time, you tend to focus on more advanced topics and complexities. It was really refreshing to get to talk not just how to get started with making your own skincare–but also WHY it’s important.
Watch my “Create Your Own Skincare” episode on Living Well with Robin Stoloff below:
Don’t forget to subscribe to Living Well with Robin Stoloff while you’re at it!
Here’s an edited transcript for your convenience:
Robin Stoloff (00:10):
Our skin, it’s the largest organ in our body. And one of the first qualities people notice about us. There are many factors that affect the tone, texture, and firmness of our skin, such as the products we use and the lifestyle choices we make. Welcome to Living Well with Robin Stoloff, empowering you to live a healthier life. Joining me now is a woman who has taken matters into her own hands, literally. Rachael Pontillo is an expert in formulating natural skincare products at home, and she teaches a course on how we can do it ourselves. She’s the best-selling author of Love Your Skin, Love Yourself, and The Sauce Code. Rachael is a sought-after expert guest and speaker in the areas of holistic, integrative skincare, and Nutritional Aesthetics®. She’s been featured on ABC, Fox, today.com, Yahoo insider, and more. Welcome, Rachael, thank you so much for joining us.
Rachael Pontillo (01:01):
It’s a pleasure to be here, here, Robin. Thank you for having me.
Robin Stoloff (01:04):
You are so interesting. I love what you’ve been doing, making your own skincare products at home. What got you into this field?
Rachael Pontillo (01:11):
I always say I got into this field by necessity, and also with my mother’s influence because my mother always was making some sort of concoction in the kitchen or in our home, whether it was cooking, gardening, or some sort of a DIY remedy. She always believed and taught me that anything you can make at home is always better quality than what you can buy at the store. And that’s something that’s really stuck with me.
I struggled with breakouts ever since I was a young tween, starting around age 10. It really persisted all throughout my teen years into my twenties. And unfortunately, even into my early thirties. I tried just about everything to clear it up. Some things worked for a little while, some things did not work at all, and some things mattered matters worse. Nothing actually cleared it up completely though, until I took an integrative approach to my own skin wellness by making changes in my diet and lifestyle. Once I did that, I was able to shift away from many of the super-harsh acne medications and skincare products, which did not make my skin feel great. I was able to use my own creations, which I made with all-natural ingredients that are really rich in vitamins, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other wonderful things. My skin cleared up quickly and has been thriving ever since. Then, I built not one, but two home-based businesses around that.
Robin Stoloff (02:47):
That is wonderful. And briefly just tell us about those businesses.
Rachael Pontillo (02:51):
I teach an online course called Create Your Skincare Pro. I also offer private consulting for skin wellness, as well as skincare formulation and brand consulting. I teach people who are interested in starting or growing their own plant-based skincare business how to do that; how to choose ingredients, formulate products, market, and sell them to their ideal customer.
I’m also the president and co-founder of the Nutritional Aesthetics® Alliance, where we are advancing an integrative approach to healthy skin. We teach skincare and skin wellness professionals how to create their own programs and offerings around integrative skin wellness.
Robin Stoloff (03:28):
It is really one of the first things people notice about us, our skin. People don’t think about that, but it’s true. And when you say integrative approach, what exactly does that mean?
Rachael Pontillo (03:38):
I like to say that it really is looking at each person individually and where they’re coming from. What works for one person might not work for someone else. We’ve all experienced times when we try products that worked great for a friend, or family member, and then we try it and it just doesn’t work. So we think, “what’s wrong with me?”
Well, nothing is wrong with you. It’s just the fact that everybody needs different things, both with their diet, as well as with their topical skincare routine, environment, and lifestyle. So if someone comes to us with a skin issue like acne, hyperpigmentation, or rosacea, or if they’re showing some signs of premature aging that they’ve would like to maybe slow down a little bit, we look at what is going on in their life that brought them to this point. Then we try to design a lifestyle that will be conducive to helping them get the skin results that they want now, but also to maintain those for years to come. So I look at topical skincare, food, lifestyle. I also look at the mindset because oftentimes we get in our own way.
Robin Stoloff (04:45):
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I always say that our skin remembers every bit of sun exposure, every bit of whatever we’ve done to it. And it adds up over the years. When you’re in your twenties might not think about it, but as you get a little bit older and you start to say, what is that? Is that dirt? Oh, no, it’s a line. Oh, darn yeah. How did that happen? So it’s very important. Our lifestyle choices make a big difference. Of course, we all know to wear our sunscreen and stay out of the sun. That’s a big, big part of it. Not everybody listens to that, but we need to wear sunscreen all the time. And our moisturizer. We know that in the morning when we get up even on a cloudy day, but what are some other choices we need to make that are good for our skin>
Rachael Pontillo (05:24):
So I really want to talk about two main types of moisturizing the skin, and that is hydration and protection. They’re not exactly the same thing. Hydration is when we bring water into the skin, and there’s a lot of different ways we can do that, that are not actually water. A lot out of the skincare products on the market, you may have noticed, are mostly water. And unfortunately, water is not the best standalone ingredient for the skin because it’s a little bit too high pH for the skin, which means that using it too much can actually cause dryness and irritation.
What I like to recommend to bring in hydration, is to use ingredients that are natural, plant-based. If not plant-based then nature-based. That way we not only bring in water, but we also bring in nutrients.
We have to have hydrated skin in order for the skin to be able to take in nutrients, topically, Here’s a quick analogy that I like to use to explain that. If you imagine really, really dry soil–say there’s a plant that you haven’t watered in a really long time–the soil’s kind of dry and cracked. If you pour water on it, what happens? It beads up, right? It doesn’t absorb right away. You have to water it slowly so that it can slowly hydrate. That’s when it can start to absorb. But on the flip side, if you add too much water, it overflows and becomes saturated and can’t take any more in. If you don’t keep that hydration coming, then it dries back out and we start all over again. So the skin is kind of the same way in that we have to keep that hydration coming in, and we have to keep it in.
So what I like to recommend is something called honey, which I’m sure everybody knows about. This is a type of honey called Manuka honey, which comes from bees in Australia. I really like this type of honey because it actually contains a lot of probiotic strains which can help to nourish the skin’s microbiome, which helps keep us healthy.
Does it have to be that type of honey? Or can it be any type?
It does not. It can be regular honey, but I do recommend raw honey, which has not been pasteurized because raw honey still has all of the wonderful enzymes and antioxidants intact instead of just the sugars. Enzymes help our skin naturally promote exfoliation so that we don’t have to do too much to it. It does it for us, and the antioxidants help with nourishment, and prevent and repair the damage that has been caused by the environment.
And how often do you put that on?
Rachael Pontillo (08:07):
I actually recommend cleansing with it in the morning. It doesn’t remove makeup, but first thing in the morning, it can be a really great way to add a boost of hydration to the skin. You just put on a little dollop, like a nickel size, rub it in with water, just like you would a cleanser. And even though honey is sticky, it actually removes very easily with a warm washcloth. You will find that your skin feels a lot more hydrated and less tight than if you were cleansing with water alone, or with a foaming cleanser. Many of the cleansers on the market are very drying. Another thing I like to recommend is that people keep some sort of herbal tea on hand that they can use either as a facial toner or a spritz.
I actually have rose petals, hibiscus, and calendula here. I chose those specifically because rose petals and hibiscus are extremely high in vitamin C, which is so important for helping the skin stay bright and vibrant, keep an even texture, and even pigmentation. Vitamin C can also help the skin repair from environmental causes of premature aging, like UV damage or pollution.
I like vitamin C from herbs because it’s not as inflammatory as some of the vitamin C products out there on the market that you can only use at night. I like to recommend making a tea out of those, and store it in the refrigerator for a few days. You can use that also to wash your face or to reconstitute a powder mask.
I have a clay mask here. This is rhassoul clay, which is really great for firming. And then this is matcha green tea powder, which is also phenomenal for helping to repair sun damage. If you have hyperpigmented skin, matcha, or another form of green tea is definitely something you want to add to your skincare routine. You make a paste out of these ingredients, put it on after you cleanse, leave it on for 15 minutes, and then just wash it off. Then you moisturize, and that’s a really great way to help to nourish and firm up the skin, and add hydration while also adding nutrition.
I’ve also got an aloe vera plant here, as you see. Aloe vera gel is one of the most powerful humectants that we have. What that means is that it actually binds to water molecules in the environment and it can help draw more hydration into the skin than water or an herbal tea alone. You don’t have to squeeze it from the plant, although you can. I know a lot of people keep an aloe plant in the kitchen for burns and cuts and scrapes and whatnot, which I totally recommend, but you can also buy aloe vera gel. I would recommend making sure that you read the label to check that it is just aloe vera gel, and doesn’t have other ingredients. Sometimes when you buy it at the store, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff in it that you don’t necessarily want.
Apply the aloe vera gel as a layer of hydration after you cleanse and tone, underneath your moisturizer. I also have rose hydrosol here, which is actually made using the same process that essential oils are made from, called steam distillation. A hydrosol is the water that collects from the rose petals as they’re being distilled to make the essential oils. And the benefit of this is that you get the wonderful aromatics that you would get from rose essential oil, as well as some of the nutrients from the rose essential oil, but it’s a lot less expensive. It’s much easier to find, and it’s a lot less concentrated.
Robin Stoloff (11:59):
What is the process for that? How is it distilled? How do you do that?
Rachael Pontillo (12:03):
They use usually these big copper stills where they put a very large quantity of rose petals in there with water and there’s fire involved. They light a fire, which causes the water to boil and create steam. The steam takes up the water-soluble nutrients, as well as some of the volatile compounds, and then that steam condenses, and the mixture separates into hydrosol and essential oil.
Hydrosols are safe for daily use, and safe around pets and children too. And what I love about rose hydrosol is that it actually also is really high in vitamin C. Rose itself is one of the most powerful herbal allies for women, for anyone who has skin that is doing something that we might not like because it naturally is firming and astringent, but it does that in a way that’s very gentle. It’s not as extreme as some of the things that you might find at the drug store or spa.
Robin Stoloff (13:25):
Do you make that yourself?
Rachael Pontillo (13:27):
Actually this I do not make because I don’t have the equipment for it. This I buy from a small farm in Turkey actually, where their family has been producing it the same way for 200 years.
Robin Stoloff (13:40):
Rachael Pontillo (13:42):
Yeah. It’s it’s wonderful. And you can buy rose hydrosol and rosewater elsewhere. You don’t have to order it from overseas. You can usually get it just at Whole Foods Market, Farmer’s Markets, or health food stores. I do recommend buying organic if possible.
Robin Stoloff (13:55):
Interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about firmness. A lot of women are concerned about firmness, and also about fine lines and discoloration. What do we need to do for that?
Rachael Pontillo (14:06):
Okay. So I want to shift to talking about oils a little bit. I’ve got a few different oils. As you can see here, this one, it’s like this lovely orange color. This is rosehip seed oil. And we’re still talking about roses, which I tend to do a lot, but the rosehips are the seed pods that are left over after the petals fall off. And that is something that they press, and the oil comes out. So with the oil, you don’t actually get vitamin C because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, but what you do get is these wonderful, essential fatty acids. It absorbs very easily into the skin because it’s a small molecule and it helps to really fortify the tissues in the deeper layers of the epidermis.
It supports skin firmness in a very gentle way. You’re not going to feel super tight or anything like that, but repeated use can be really beneficial. So rosehip seed oil is one that I recommend for anyone who is concerned about firmness, or about fine lines and wrinkles.
Robin Stoloff (15:31):
How often do you use that?
Rachael Pontillo (15:32):
I actually use it every time I put moisturizer on. I have a blend of oils in this little container that I apply as a moisturizer alone, or as my top layer to kind of add an extra layer of protection. I also put it into a cream or a lotion, This is a cold cream that I teach on my website that actually has a lot of these ingredients here. I’m a really big fan of plant oils. Rosehip is one of my favorites. This is green tea-infused jojoba oil.
And then we have desert date oil, which is great for going into winter. The oil from the desert date plant is actually really great to help add a little bit thicker emollient protection, but not so thick that it stays on the surface of the skin and becomes greasy. It still absorbs. It just takes a little longer. Whereas oils like rosehip are a little bit lighter.
When we are thinking about sealing in that hydration, we want to think about oils like this, which are called carrier oils, vegetable oils, plant oils, or cold-pressed oils. These oils have antioxidants, as do herbs, which are wonderful for just helping to neutralize damage, or repair damage that has already happened. Carrier oils also contain what’s called essential fatty acids. You may have heard about the importance of eating Omegas in your diet, right? Of course, 3, 6, 9, and whatnot. These contain those too, and they deliver them topically, which really compliments everything you’re doing internally. So you’re getting that inside, out, and outside in effect with your skin nutrition. What carrier oils do instead of just sitting on the surface of the skin, kind of like a Vaseline or mineral oil would, is absorb and bring in nutrients as they absorb. So this is how we seal in the hydration that we’ve added with the tea, hydrosol, or with the aloe.
If you don’t want to use individual ingredients, there are so many wonderful creams and lotions on the market that have them made into them. But you do want to make sure that the cream or lotion has those natural plant oils, because many lotions just have a lot of water and not enough emollients in the formulation to help keep that water in the skin. It will just evaporate. And that usually happens before any of the vitamins that have been added have time to actually absorb. So we want those oils. When we’re talking about things like fine lines and sagging or dark spots, we really have to think about hydration because if the skin is dehydrated, it’s always going to look worse, fine lines are going to be more prominent. Wrinkles and dark spots are going to be even more prominent as well.
When it comes to puffiness, if the skin’s dehydrated, it’s going to try to hold onto whatever moisture is in there. So dehydration might actually show up as puffiness. There’s quite a lot we can do with natural ingredients. And then if you want you can add a gua sha tool, which has become really popular. Gua sha is a modality that is based on East Asian Medicine principles.
When you do gua sha, you wanna make sure that first, your face is hydrated, but you also want to use an oil, because you have to have a little slip on the skin as you’re moving the tool around. So what you do with the gua sha is just use strokes to promote lymphatic drainage and circulation. We want to increase blood circulation because the blood is what delivers the nutrients. And we also increase the lymphatic drainage because that’s what takes out the trash. Anything that is stagnant like puffiness, or if you’re noticing that your complexion is looking a little lackluster, or if you have congestion, then that means that there is some stuckness happening. There are a lot of lymph nodes located in the face and neck. So we can use this to very gently support lymphatic and blood circulation. So I always recommend starting on the neck, right above the color bone. You wanna go from the center out on both sides, very gently. And I call this unclogging the drains.
Robin Stoloff (21:47):
I like that. And do you put something on it, or do you just use that by itself?
Rachael Pontillo (21:52):
You use your facial oil first. (I suggest you watch this section of the video since I demonstrate!)
This literally can just be two to five minutes a day. It can be done either in the morning. Like if you have to be on camera or if you have a meeting or you’re gonna go see people and you don’t wanna look puffy, you can literally relieve puffy eyes in just minutes using this technique. And then I also like to do it while I’m relaxing at night after I’ve done my skincare routine.
Robin Stoloff (24:13):
People are probably looking at this going, oh my gosh, there’s so much stuff, but it really doesn’t take as long as you might think. And it’s worth doing because it is something that affects, you know, your appearance and how you, you feel about yourself and, and it’s just general good healthcare, not just skincare.
Rachael Pontillo (24:30):
That’s a really good point, Robin, because skin, as you mentioned at the beginning is our largest organ and it performs a lot of functions. It’s responsible for a lot of things. It supports our immune function, our nervous system, detoxification, and it does take in certain nutrients. So it is important to view the skin as an organ, just like you would any of the organs inside the body. We’re not talking about this for vanity’s sake, although quite honestly, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating beauty for beauty’s sake. Right?
To wrap up, can you briefly describe your own skincare routine?
So this is what I personally do on a daily basis for skincare. In the morning, my skin’s not all that dirty because I just woke up, so I only cleanse either with honey or if I have some tea made, I’ll just splash that on my face, dry it off. I use a spritz of the hydrosol just to add a little extra moisture. And then I apply a couple of pumps of my facial oil, that’s it. And then, well, if I’m going outside, I do use sunscreen.
At night or after a workout, if I’ve either been sweating a lot or I’m washing off a face full of makeup, I actually oil cleanse first with jojoba or olive oil, sunflower oil, or sesame oil. You can use just the oil itself, or make a blend. You just put a little bit on your hand, mix it in and then use that oil to actually break up any of the makeup. Most of the makeup that you wear is oil-based, so the oil helps to dissolve it. And then you just use the washcloth to cleanse that away.
Robin Stoloff (26:30):
So you never use a scrub?
Rachael Pontillo (26:33):
I personally don’t because I do weekly clay masks and the clay itself does have a little bit of grit. So when I remove a clay mask, it does exfoliate a little bit, but I don’t like to force exfoliation because those cells that we see on the surface are there for a purpose! We need to protect them. So I oil cleanse to remove makeup. And then I will cleanse again to just remove that residue, usually with the honey. I don’t like to use foaming cleansers. I find them to be a little bit too drying. When I was younger and my skin was a lot oilier, I was able to use those more, but I’m 44 now, and my skin is a bit drier than it was.
Robin Stoloff (27:12):
So you look phenomenal. You really do. So obviously it’s working and then, and then you wrap it up with a moisturizer at night.
Rachael Pontillo (27:19):
Yes. After I cleanse, I use my hydrosol again to tone. And then I apply my herbal cream because it has the humectants that we mentioned–lots of aloe vera. So I put that on and then I might put even a layer of the oil on top of that before I go to sleep so that my skin is really be nourished and protected, and can recover at night. And then in the morning, I start over again.
Robin Stoloff (27:50):
Well, it is certainly working and it goes without saying, that we also need to eat healthily, eat a healthy whole food diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, because that’s a very important 100%.
Rachael Pontillo (28:00):
Yes. Gotta eat our colors!
Robin Stoloff (28:01):
Yeah, eat our colors. Let’s eat the rainbow as they say. So Rachael, if someone’s interested in learning how to make their own products wants to get involved with you, how can they reach you?
Rachael Pontillo (28:12):
You can come on over to createyourskincare.com. I have hundreds of blog posts. There are some recipes on there. There’s a couple of free classes on there. There are online classes at different price ranges, so wherever you happen to be in your journey, I’ve got something for you.
Robin Stoloff (28:47):
I’m shocked to hear that you’re 44. I thought you were in your late twenties, to be honest with you. So you look fantastic. It’s obviously working so you can speak from experience and I will put links to everything in the show notes so people can reach you. Thank you so much. Thank you for joining me.