Geeking Out over EFAs like Omega 6

Omega-6, a.k.a linoleic acid, is an essential building block for lipids called ceramides and is one of the main moisturizing elements in the skin. Since our bodies need it but can't make it the term essential fatty acid (EFA) is used; we need get it from food or put it on our skin topically.

Linoleic acid helps makes the skin's barrier stronger so it can effectively keep water in and irritants out. Plant oils used in skincare that are rich in linoleic acid include safflower, sunflower, borage, rosehip and evening primrose. Crocodile oil is an animal source that is a rich source of linoleic acid that can be applied topically though it is currently difficult to find skincare made with it if you live in the US.

A study done at Oregon State University, written in February 2012 by Giana Angelo, Ph.D. at the Linus Pauling Institute noted that “after 12 weeks, subjects consuming 1.5 g of evening primrose oil per day had significant improvements in skin moisture, TEWL, elasticity, firmness, and roughness compared to placebo.”

Sensitive skin issues like eczema and dermatitis can be related to a compromised skin barrier that makes it difficult to heal properly. Skincare products, foods and supplements rich in linoleic acid can all help support this main function of healthy skin.

Borage flower

Borage flower

CeraVe - Avoiding Irritants in Conventional Skincare Products

My father is turning 90 years old on June 4. He’s had eczema his entire life; the itchy, red, dry skin kind. Two months ago he told me he couldn’t sleep because he was scratching his legs all night long. Since he lives in West Virginia and I’m in Seattle I told my sister to change the lotion he was using to one that had only natural ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and ones with skin calming properties like German Chamomile or Damascus Rose.


Unbeknownst to me she took him to see a dermatologist who recommended CeraVé Moisturizing Lotion. A week later my Dad told me his skin was worse! The dermatologist actually recommended a product that actually CAUSED my father’s irritated skin along with the usual strong prescription Hydrocortisone Creams that have nasty side effects like skin redness/burning/itching/peeling and blistering skin according to

I didn’t recognize any of the ingredients except water, glycerin and cholesterol (?).

INGREDIENTS: Purified Water, Glycerin, Ceteareth-20 and Cetearyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Behentrimonium Methosulfate and Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Petrolatum, Dimethicone, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Phytosphingosine, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum.

The natural and ‘clean’ skincare movements have been gaining traction in the last few years because large corporations have been making products that are irritating people’s skin with cheap petrochemicals and irritating ingredients for those with sensitive skin. Clean products typically avoid sodium lauryl sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, synthetic fragrances, pthalates and petroleum products to name a few.

I went to EWG’s Skin Deep’s database to see the toxicity rating for CeraVé’s ingredients. It turns out the water, glycerin and cholesterol were innocuous! The other ingredients…not so much. The overall rating was ‘4’ so on a scale of 1 (low) - 10 (high) it was a MEDIUM hazard. For those with sensitive skin, it’s probably better to use a product with a maximum rating of ‘2’.

The ingredient with the HIGHEST hazard rating (7) was Propylparaben. EWG notes it is related to: Allergies/immunotoxicity, Endocrine disruption, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Ecotoxicology.

Petrolatum is related to organ system toxicity (non-reproductive).

Phenoxyethanol is known for: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), occupational hazards, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), allergies/immunotoxicity.

CeraVé’s product description is, “A compromised skin barrier can lead to dryness and itching—and aggravate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.” Perhaps they should also note that their moisturizing cream ingredients can CAUSE skin irritation.

Read your labels. Get educated on ingredients in conventional skincare products. Avoid them!

Floating for a Zen Weekend

Calming the mind is one of the pillars of caring for sensitive skin. For some of us, that’s easier said than done. I've headed to the heated, salt-infused float pools at Life Float in Seattle after work for the last few Fridays, and it has reset my nervous system and erased the stress of the week prior to starting the weekend. Yay for a ZEN WEEKEND!

Life Float customer

Life Float customer

According to Brandon DeCuir, co-founder of Life Float, "Floating not only downshifts the brain but also the entire central nervous system, creating a profound state of calm relaxation in the mind and body. Our culture is embracing Eastern practices such as meditation and yoga, but much of it’s window dressing. Though we Westerners have great intentions, we’re so driven toward activity and motion that we don’t slow down enough, or delve deep enough, to make real changes. Floating naturally brings you into the meditative state of consciousness where internal shifts happen."

The state of the nervous system is intricately linked to the health of the skin system. Nerves weave through the skin’s epidermis and dermis layers, so our stress level and our overall emotional state will directly affect our skin. A study documented in the Acta Dermato-Venereologica medical journal states that "the clinical occurrence of atopic dermatitis is often associated with psychological stress.”

Why does it work?

According to Life Float, “Floating in 1600 lbs. of Epsom salts creates a highly buoyant floating bed that fully supports you, effortlessly releasing your body of its own weight from head to toe. Free of any physical duties, your body can truly rest, producing lasting physical benefits, including lowering of blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels, relieving joint and chronic pain, improving sleep patterns and calming of the nervous system.

Go for a FLOAT..........

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An Afternoon with Coral Clark - Paris Natural MakeUp Artist

Shortly after I stumbled across Coral's solution for dry, irritated facial skin on her blog post "TENSE YOUR SKIN BY USING NATURAL INGREDIENTS", a mutual friend insisted we meet. When two people who are passionate about eating-right-for-skin-health decide to meet for lunch in Paris, one must choose wisely! There are now several healthy spots for lunch in Paris, but I hadn't been to SEASON in the haut Marais before. Coral suggested it when I proposed we meet at a sit down juice bar. As far as SEASON goes, the AÇaÍ bowl with banana, açaÍ pulp, cocoa powder and omega-3 rich toppings of hemp, flax and pumpkin seeds hit the spot for both of us and it fueled our conversation about how to take care of skin naturally. 

It became obvious that her parents had been journalists once she turned on her video camera and started to interview me about The Zen Skin Philosophy. Since we'd never met before it was amazing we spent the next seven hours talking about skin, current trends in makeup (pancake-like style) and her experiences being the makeup artist for the Cannes Film Festival and famous folks.

After lunch we went to a natural skin care product store in the Marais called Mademoiselle Bio to research makeup and non-synthetic solutions for healthy skin. I was glad to know that she too is a big fan of Dr. Hauschka's product philosophy because after my facial at their Paris spa last year I've been religiously using Dr. H's cleansing cream two times a day because my skin responds well to this oil cleansing method that keeps my over-50 facial skin naturally moisturized all day long. 

As a man who's never worn makeup, I was struck by how Coral described that she can visibly see a transformation in her client's self-esteem as the makeup session ensues. This is the key to her job satisfaction by assisting others realize their full potential where she tries to enhance their natural beauty and "to make them glow" (as opposed to covering up their personality in a popular Geisha-face style...Ok, that's my own description as a makeup novice).

I pondered for a moment whether some women had sensitive skin issues BECAUSE OF the harsh thick makeup they were using to be trendy. Next, I wondered how many women who have visibly sensitive skin problems on their face use makeup just to try to cover up the problems. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? As a man, it seemed like a double-edge sword and I hope one day that women use a more natural approach to makeup as Coral promotes, especially as over 60% of lipstick still contains the neurotoxin LEAD!

Another thing that impressed me was Coral's belief that modern women can benefit by using what she refers to as a 'makeup ritual’. She said that in prior decades, women would sit down in front of three mirrors at a dressing table with crystal jars and silver-plated lids full of makeup, creams and hair products. There was somehow enough time to get ready while creating a personal sacred ritual around it as well. She's writing a book about how women can create their own ritual using centering breath work and creating their own personal space for doing their makeup. Cleaning our faces and brushing our teeth is a daily ritual (hopefully you're with me on that) so a makeup ceremony seems like a great concept to me.

Balinese Skin Healing & Yoga Retreat - March 10 to 13, 2018

Balinese life is full of traditional rituals, daily offerings, temple ceremonies and jamu (traditional Balinese medicine). Bali is probably the best place on the planet to learn about traditional rituals to care for sensitive skin. I've been going to Bali at least once a year since 2008 and have discovered the many traditions and practitioners that support healthy skin; yes they're tucked away from the tourist crowds.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance in Bali and these will help support our skin via detoxification. The warm climate facilitates doing yoga in fresh tropical breezes which also help the skin detox through gentle sweating. The ancient sacred temples and waterfalls will purify our skin, heart and minds. We'll participate in an ancient fire ceremony led by Balinese Hindu priests to release negative emotional patterns that no longer serve us.

There will be daily Yoga for Skin classes, workshops to learn to make our own skin care products to nourish our dry or inflamed skin, as well as a facial and massage using pure local products specifically formulated for those with sensitive skin. 

Paris' Classique Juice & Smoothie Bar - BOB'S JUICE 10th arrondissement

One of the main principles of the Zen Skin philosophy is to drink fresh vegetable juices and to have skin nourishing smoothies. Juice Bars have sprung up all over Paris in the last three years but Bob's Juice is the first one I went to in Paris back in 2008. IT'S STILL THERE and they have Bob's Kitchen in the Marais and Bob's Bakery in Monmartre.

Monica and Patrick made some menu suggestions for me; a green juice, tomato cashew soup and a mouth-watering chocolate pecan molten baked good. Awesome recommendations! 

This is not shishy-chic like other Parisian juice bars, this is real food and friendly service. It's like a little bit of Portland, Oregon hidden in Paris for those that can relate to that, i.e. earthy-crunchy, healthy, hip and relaxed-friendly. You can hear the juice machine buzzing while you wait. English is the common language and the customers are mostly French though Monica said there are about 30% US, UK and Australia customers who find them.

If you're needing some skin healthy juices to keep your skin hydrated naturally, go to Bob's. If you're looking for an omega-3 rich treat for your skin with zero skin irritating ingredients, try their Blue Protein Shake. It is almost identical to the Skin Quenching Superfood Smoothie Recipe in my book Zen Skin Care. It has blueberries, avocado, organic pea protein and organic almond milk. My recipe adds some spirulina, maca powder, flax seed, banana and fish or coconut oil to nourish the skin further, otherwise it's very similar.



Green juice & tomato cashew soup

Green juice & tomato cashew soup

Note - It doesn't say 'Bob's'. Actually the American owner's name is Mark, but he wanted a more American sounding name - SHHHH

Note - It doesn't say 'Bob's'. Actually the American owner's name is Mark, but he wanted a more American sounding name - SHHHH

Yoga for Skin Class is only $5! Happy Chinese New Year!

The Chinese New Year starts today! 

Many Asian cultures use lunar calendars instead of the 'Gregorian' calendar that marks January 1 as the start of the new year. The reason the new year falls at this time is because it marks the start of the lunar new year, which is when there is the start of a new moon. Because it depends on the moon, the date of Chinese New Year changes every year, but it will always fall some time between 21 January and 20 February.

Detoxing is also something that people do this time of year. It can be simple like eating less meat and dairy that are hard for those with sensitive skin to digest. Or it can be as dramatic as raw juices or lemon/cayenne water liquid fasts. Avoiding Irritants in our diet is the #1 step to clearing skin issues like eczema and dermatitis and it's one of the four main principles in the Zen Skin Care Philosophy.

If you know anyone with sensitive skin issues, let them know this online class full of videos, photos, audio and text (plus a couple of pop quizzes to see if you were paying attention) and is now only $5.

A Paris Spa for Sensitive Skin - La Maison Dr. Hauschka

The fourth step in The Zen Skin Philosophy is to NOURISH SKIN. That means using products that don't contain ingredients that irritate sensitive skin conditions like dermatitis. For an eczema-prone person like me that loves to get spa treatments that's always been a touchy subject.

Spas offering facials and massage services may use conventional products that contain irritants. [Sign up for the newsletter and I'll send you the NEVER LIST-The Top 10 Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care Products for free.] A spa may not be forthcoming about the ingredients in their 'house brand' of massage oil or the exfoliating, cleansing, toning and moisturizing products used during a facial. My goal has always been to find a spa that is transparent about the ingredients used in their products for facials and massages and one that knows how to specifically address the needs of someone with sensitive skin.

A friend of mine highly recommended  La Maison Dr. Hauschka in Paris because of its ambience. Truth be told Vanessa is an interior designer that specializes in Feng Shui and she designed the layout, colors and elements in the spa to create the most Zen-like atmosphere possible. That was great in terms of the Zen Skin Philosophy's principle of Calming the Nervous System, but what about the products?

I remember seeing this Dr. Hauschka brand at Whole Foods and other natural food stores in the US and in France but then I did more research about the German-made line of products. I liked the transparency and full disclosure of how they are made, how the plant-based ingredients are grown in their gardens vs. being outsourced, but mainly that Dr. Hauschka products are approved by the strict NATRUE non-profit certifying agency which means:

Natural Ingredients, Minimal processing, Free of synthetic fragrances, colors and dyes, No petroleum-derived synthetics (parabens, propylene glycol, silicones), Exclusively non-toxic processing methods (no PEG’s or Sodium Laureth Sulfate), No GMO ingredients, and No irradiation at any stage of production. 

Once I knew that there were no synthetic ingredients (known to be irritants to those with eczema), I wanted to find out how their spa specifically catered a facial to people with sensitive skin. I booked the Soin Plénitude two hour facial with Emelie. Quite simply she explained that all the products she would use on me were very gentle and designed (and labeled) to be used by persons with atopic dermatitis!

Two hours of BLISS! The ambiance in the treatment room, the sounds in the room and smells of all the natural products, Emeilie's soft and precise description of each step along the way; all heaven! I lived in Seattle and then Bali for two years and have had hundreds of spa treatments, this was the best facial experience I've ever had! 

I don't always like the sales push to buy products once the facial treatments are over (at least that's how most American and European spas operate). Emelie presented me with a list of four products I could use at home that were the same as she used during the treatment. I was shocked to see how affordable they were. (I'd been to the famous/shi-shi Biologique Recherche's L'Ambassade de la Beauté on the Champs-Élysées two other times and there was a hard sales push and each of the recommended products was at least 120€). 

I bought three products for a total of less than 100€: Cleansing Cream, Soothing Intensive toner treatment for reactive skin, and Ice Plant Face Cream. I've been using this routine for a month at home and my face looks the best its ever been; no reaction to the ingredients at all. I attribute this to the cleanser being 'oil based' instead of detergent based. The philosophy is that like attracts like in the field of chemistry so the oil in the product absorbs the dirty sebum on the face and mimics natural viscosity of naturally produced skin oils. 

I'm not affiliated with La Maison Dr. Hauschka in any way, but if you're ever in Paris, go there!



Go Nuts! Make Your Own Almond Milk

Soothing the Digestive System with dairy-free milk alternatives is a great way to boost the health of sensitive skin. Almonds contain a lot of Omega fatty acids (good fats for skin). Since I learned that commercial almond milks only have 2% almonds in them I started making it at home. 

Making it at home has another benefit not available in boxed almond milk; soaking the nuts overnight in water begins the sprouting process, releasing additional nutrients good for the skin. Soaking also helps to get rid of the reddish-brown phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors in the almond skins, which can interfere with the function of our digestive and metabolic enzymes. 

Anyone can easily make their own almond milk at home for a fraction of the cost of the factory-made versions in supermarkets. Caveat: A regular blender isn’t going to be strong or sharp-bladed enough to make your own almond milk (or a Skin Nourishing Smoothie), so I highly recommend investing in a Vitamix (or in Europe a Pousse Pousse) machine, a nut milk straining bag, a funnel, and a glass jar (preferably with a wide mouth that's easy to clean) to store and serve nut milk). 

The Zen Guy's Almond Milk Recipe: 

Most almonds are required to be pasteurized, a process that strips the nuts of nutrients using heat or the Propylene Oxide (PPO) chemical treatment. (PPO is a highly toxic flammable chemical compound, once used as a racing fuel before it was prohibited for safety reasons.) Raw almonds are better to use than dried or roasted because they haven’t been heated or exposed to PPO, but it can be hard to find almonds that are truly raw. Some small producers in the U.S. have been exempted from the pasteurization requirement and sell raw almonds. 

1. Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in water in a glass or ceramic bowl overnight on the countertop to soften. 

2. Rinse off the brown phytates that have soaked out during the night and toss the nuts into the Vitamix. 

Notice that after soaking the almonds over night that the reddish-brown phytic acid makes a solid ring around the bowl that takes some scrubbing to remove. This isn't removed from commercial almond milk.

Notice that after soaking the almonds over night that the reddish-brown phytic acid makes a solid ring around the bowl that takes some scrubbing to remove. This isn't removed from commercial almond milk.


3. Add 3 cups of filtered or spring water. 

4. Start the Vitamix on 1 and then gradually turn up to the highest setting for about 30 seconds. 

High almond to liquid ratio

High almond to liquid ratio

5. Rest the funnel on the mouth of the glass jar, and place the nut milk bag in the funnel. Pour the contents of the blender through the bag. Squeeze the pulverized nut meal until all liquid has been removed. 

Squeeze the remaining almond milk out of the nut milk bag.

Squeeze the remaining almond milk out of the nut milk bag.

6. Consider adding 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar nectar (based on a factory tour in Bali of the 'Big Tree' brand; the taste is amazing, it's sustainably collected, it has a low glycemic index and the taste is excellent) and a dash of vanilla extract.

Stay tuned for The Zen Guy's Skin Quenching Superfood Smoothie Recipe  

Got Milk? Got Eczema?

Phase 2 of The Zen Skin Philosophy is all about SOOTHING DIGESTION and this principle involves avoiding eczema trigger foods. Basically, all substances related to cow milk—such as cream, cheese, ice cream, butter, and yoghurt—have proven to be irritating to the digestive system, which in turn irritates sensitive skin conditions like dermatitis. 

There are two substances related to dairy that are even harder to avoid. Whey and casein are byproducts from cow milk and cheese production industries, and they are often difficult to identify on product labels. These two irritants are the main proteins in cow milk, so not only are they found where you'd expect them in milk, yoghurt, and creamy soups, but they can also be found hiding in margarine, tuna, dairy-free cheese, non-dairy coffee creamer, semisweet/milk chocolate, cereal bars, cheese-flavored chips and snack crackers, and processed meats. Whey is a cheap protein that cheese makers usually throw away but it’s commonly added to protein powders, protein bars, and commercially made smoothies like those at Starbucks. Most wine is made using casein from milk as well! Of course, alcohol is another eczema trigger for the digestive system.

Since milk protein seems to be pervasive in our food culture, boxes of dairy-free nut milks have sprouted up in the last few years as a popular alternative. Are soy and almond milk the panacea replacement that we can douse our cereal with and pour in our lattes? Yes and No. Nut milks can be a viable alternative but commercially produced almond milk contains about 2 percent almonds and the rest is water, sugar, and thickening agents.* Not only should people with eczema avoid sugar but those with common sense should realise it doesn't make sense to pay a premium for a product like almond milk when it actually has so little almond protein in it. Almonds are packed with Omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids (healthy fats) so 2 percent almonds in commercial almond milk won't have a lot of skin benefits. I thought that was nuts! So I learned how to make my own almond milk. Stay tuned for that recipe.

*Ryan Gorman, “Why Almond Milk Is a Rip-Off,” Business Insider, April 17, 2015, 



Avoid Irritants by Reading Labels

Avoiding Irritants is the first step in the Zen Skin Philosophy. It is critical to learn about the substances in our everyday lives that can provoke skin reactions. These triggers can be conventional skin care products, detergents, fabrics, plants, and foods that cause an allergic reaction when put in direct contact with the skin. Over-the-counter moisturizers and their irritating synthetic ingredients are one of the biggest sources of irritation for those with eczema and sensitive skin issues. According to a 2008 dermatological study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Cosmetic products (83 percent of the 276 moisturizers found in the Walgreens pharmacy database) contain ingredients that cause allergic contact dermatitis."

A few of the irritating ingredients are: Methylisothiazolinone, Synthetic Fatty Alcohols such as Propylene glycol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, BHT, and petroleum-based mineral oils. I remember a dermatologist who recommended Eucerin Original Healing Soothing Repair Lotion. According to the scientific analysis on this product, the Environmental Working Group 'Skin Deep' database shows that this Eucerin product contains all five of those skin-irritating ingredients!  

Get educated about the ingredients in your conventional skin care products! Sign up with your email address and you can immediately download "THE NEVER LIST - THE TOP 10 MOST IRRITATING INGREDIENTS TO AVOID IN CONVENTIONAL SKIN CARE PRODUCTS". 



Irritating ingredients for those with eczema

Irritating ingredients for those with eczema


Hi everyone,

The Zen Guy is Michael Huffman. I'm just a regular guy who's super excited about caring for sensitive skin. I've had eczema my whole life and over seventeen years I've adjusted my life style to be clear of eczema. I learned many things along the way and wanted to share these with other people who also have skin issues. I figured out through lots of trail and error that: topical steroid creams do more harm than good and that there's no simple cream to apply that will reduce skin inflammation in the long term UNLESS other changes are made as well. My Zen Skin Care Philosophy consists of:

  • Avoiding irritants in conventional skin care products
  • Soothing the digestive system,
  • Calming the nervous system, and
  • Nourishing the skin externally

This blog will present solutions I've found to clear atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. I'm on a life long quest to learn about products and methods around the world that people use to heal skin. I'm currently living in Paris TEACHING YOGA FOR SKIN CLASSES and will share secrets in a city well-known for high quality skin care products and places where facials are an art form.

Ah, but which products and spas cater to the needs of those with sensitive skin? Soon we'll find out!