Longtime sufferers of acne know (a little too well) that there’s no such thing as a one-and-done treatment plan. If you’re anything like me, the process actually looks more like this: 1) Go to the dermatologist. 2) Get prescribed an expensive cream or two. 3) Apply the dermatologist-approved combo dutifully for six months. 4) See no results. 5) Go back to the dermatologist to try the whole thing over again.
I was on this carousel of dermatologist visits for close to a decade, with each rotation feeling more frustrating than the last. Although my skin did slowly improve, going from angry and constant breakouts to more manageable acne flare-ups, I still wasn't getting the results I wanted. And in a world of “clean girl” aesthetics and cakey concealers, I felt stuck. So I decided to change things up and reach out to a holistic acne specialist.
What's a Holistic Acne Specialist?
For over a year, I have been following Nichola Weir, a licensed esthetician, and holistic acne specialist, on Instagram. An influencer first introduced me to Weir’s integrative esthetician practice, Pacific Touch NYC, and I had been intrigued (and impressed by her before-and-after photos) ever since.
In 2009, Weir started Pacific Touch NYC as a “safe haven for people who are acne-prone.” And that’s exactly what it is. When I explained my complicated relationship between my skin and seeking treatment, Weir wasn’t just sympathetic, she was passionate. “I like to treat skin lovingly and nurturingly,” she told me, “rather than stripping the bejeezus out of it.”
With every client, Weir takes a personalized approach to treating their skin. Pacific Touch NYC does not offer a traditional "spa menu" of services. Per the website, "We will completely customize your treatment based on a comprehensive holistic skin health intake you fill out.” (Ahem, comprehensive is an understatement.)
This integrative treatment plan doesn't look like what your dermatologist might prescribe. “Mainstream acne treatments tend to focus on suppressing the symptoms of acne or subduing breakouts by turning off the oil supply, increasing skin cell turnover, or killing acne-causing bacteria,” Weir explained to me.
Instead of suppressing acne, her general approach involves regular facials (frequency depending on your condition), a 7-page long list of must-avoid comedogenic ingredients, and an acne-healing mantra for good measure. Of course, there may be a few extra steps, depending on what she notices during your visits.
What to Expect
Immediately after booking with Weir, I was sent the exhaustive intake survey about my current skincare routine and daily habits. Questions included: What makeup products do you use? What skincare products do you use? What shampoo and conditioner do you buy? What kind of foods did you eat? Which laundry detergent do you use? Do you use face towels at the gym? How often do you wash your sheets? To be completely honest, completing the intake form felt a lot like homework. Still, I appreciated Weir's thoroughness.
If the survey was my homework, it was Weir’s study guide. When I was all settled in for my facial (cute sarong and comfortable heated bed included), Weir warned me, “I talk a lot.” She continued, "I like to ask questions before resorting to treatment. Acne is telling you something. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
I had never sought any holistic treatments before, but Pacific Touch NYC didn’t fit the hokey and crystal-heavy preconceived notions I had in my head. During the treatment, Weir clearly mapped out my acne: blackheads near my nose and cheeks; the occasional deep under-the-surface pimple around my nose, chin, and between my brows; and tiny white bumps along one side of my chin.
Taking a closer look at my skin, she assured me that blackheads are the least concerning type of acne she sees. (Apparently, they have more to do with oil production and pore size than anything else.) The occasional cystic pimples were not too worrisome, either. Per Weir, acne-prone skin like mine is extremely sensitive, so even slight irritation could lead to these breakouts. She focused most of her attention on the constant flesh-colored bumps along my chin. According to Weir, because they weren't completely closed (and not exposed to oxygen), my body wasn't flagging them as an infection—it was why they never went away unless I picked at them.
“What toothpaste do you use?” Weir asked me. I told her. “You know, a lot of those generic brands have a pore-clogging ingredient in them. SLS [Sodium Laurel Sulfate].” I didn’t, but she wasn’t finished. “Do you wear a mouth guard at night?” she asked. Yes. “These bumps are only on one side. I wonder, do you drool at night?” Um, yes. “Do you sleep on your left side?” Also yes. Though I have never been to a psychic, I have a feeling this is what visiting one feels like. (By the way, when I got home and checked my toothpaste, SLS was one of the first ingredients listed.)
As Weir finished the facial—which included a soothing mask, some extractions, an ice massage, and a red LED light mask—I wasn’t stuck on how eerily accurate her guesses were. Instead, I kept thinking about how crazy it was that in 10 years of acne treatment, no one had ever asked me those questions before.
After finishing up my facial, my main takeaway was that my skincare and oral care routines needed some work. “I suspect that a majority of your issues are coming from being extremely sensitive and acne-prone. Identifying external triggers that are aggravating your skin will be key to your skin journey," Weir told me. "Given that are you prone to clogging, I highly recommend going as acne-safe as possible in all your products.”
But what does that entail exactly? Weir emailed me a 7-page long list of pore-clogging ingredients to avoid. It was… intimidating, especially since it applies to more than just your skincare routine. To really embrace Weir’s methods, you’ll also want to check your makeup, hair products, laundry detergent, and (of course) toothpaste.
This approach to acne-safe skincare—subtracting what causes irritation rather than treating the irritation after it arrives—was different than anything I’d done so far. It is much easier to add one topical gel to your routine than it is to go through all of your products, checking each one for comedogenic ingredients. This difference is what makes Weir's method so appealing, but it’s also what makes it so challenging. Still, as I’ve learned from this experience, doing your homework can have a massive payoff.
After my treatment, Weir sent me off with a cup of hibiscus tea and her esthetician-approved skincare system, including lilac + flint Cucumber Cream Cleanser ($55), PranVera Blemish Gel ($44), Roccoco Botanicals Ceramide Booster ($99), Roccoco Botanicals Rescue Balm ($67), Roccoco Botanicals Sulfur Mask ($62), and TiZO AM Replenish Non-tinted SPF 40 ($48). “What I want to try with these products is reducing inflammation, increasing hydration, and strengthening your barrier,” she said.
Of course, for other clients, she might recommend slightly different treatment plans. If the acne looks hormonal, Weir would probably suggest a hormone test. If it seems like there may be digestive distress, a gut microbiome test. For those with stubborn cystic acne, she might recommend red light LED therapy. It’s completely customizable depending on what she sees when you’re in the treatment room—fortunately, she seems to see all.
A week after treatment, my skin looks amazing. Although I still have some lingering discoloration around my nose, there are no active breakouts for what feels like the first time in forever. After the extractions, my main problem area—my chin—is almost alarmingly clear. It seems like Weir was right: Switching to an SLS-free toothpaste made a massive difference.
The Pacific Touch NYC-approved skincare routine has been a dream. (I'm especially into the scent of the Roccoco Ceramide Booster.) It isn’t punishing or overly medicinal like other treatment plans I’ve gone through in the past. Despite the fact that it’s free of comedogenic ingredients, this skincare system doesn't feel like it's missing anything. Each hand-selected product is luxe and nurturing, In fact, my new skincare routine feels a lot like a mini facial in and of itself.
This doesn't mean I’m anti-dermatology now. I’ll still go regularly, especially for yearly skin checks. I might go back for my acne, too, if I start sliding back into more severe breakouts. But right now, I feel confident with my decision to seek out a different route—one that treats my skin less like an enemy that needs to be defeated and more like a reluctant friend that needs some TLC.