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For many, the agony of inflamed skin is an issue they’ve been lucky to evade for the entirety of their lives. For others, their reality offers a stark, and frankly, disheartening contrast; one that’s blanketed in blemishes, irritated skin and sadly, mental implications far beyond their own control.

Sadly, in an era where corporations thrive off unrealistic advertisements, it comes as no surprise that generations of men and women have been misled to pursue a mostly unattainable standard. A poreless, glass-like complexion perfectly akin to their impeccable – albeit, photoshopped – celebrity endorsers.

Those who’ve endured skin issues know just how mentally taxing it can be. Meeting someone’s eye is rendered an arduous task, while social situations become equally unpleasant. Even more so the unfavourable venue lighting which so often accompanies them.

But whether hormonal, stress related or lifestyle induced, pesky skin woes certainly aren’t a new epidemic sweeping our nation. In fact, nearly 80 percent of Australian women aged 20-49 have reported skin struggles throughout their lifetime. Surprising, right?

Though unfortunate, one silver lining to come from all this spotty stress is the hordes of fresh insight shining a new light on the potential culprits – and possible solutions – to our troubles.

Another positive comes in the form of one truly inspiring woman: Madilyn Wolens – a functional skin therapist and registered nurse, both ingenious and impassioned in her craft.

Affectionately known as The Functional Nurse to her legion of adoring clients, Madi’s own skin journey seems both unique and textbook in a myriad of ways. Suffering a severe case of  eczema and subsequent acne, her afflictions were wrought in frustration and inflammation, and frustratingly, fuelled by countless health professionals and medicinal trials.

Perhaps that’s what makes Madi’s personal mission and new space, The Functional Skin Studio, a safe haven for so many. She’s empathetic – not sympathetic –  and knows first-hand the unrelenting defeat skin troubles can bring. In short, she cares – she really, really cares.

It’s a far cry from the cold, sterile clinics and overwhelming stench of bleach many’ve come to know. Instead, we’re greeted by a studio steeped in atmospheric charm – be it in the ivory beach house aesthetic, bold yet understated décor and greenery, heavenly aromatics, or the woman herself.

 Madilyn-Wolens

Image: Kaitlin Maree Photography

 Educated and zealous in all that she does, our entry is graced with a beaming smile and generous embrace, radiating equal measures of her usual warmth and reassurance.

For a woman whose clients happily wait months to see her, Madi’s methods exude anything but haste. And luckily for us, we’ve managed to snag a few minutes to chat everything skin – including how her own struggles ignited a lifelong passion, and whether there’s really a place in the world for both traditional and modern medicine.

ACC: Firstly, congratulations – what an exciting time for you! Can you share with us a little about your own skin journey?

MW: Well I started having skin concerns when I was a little girl, I had eczema growing up and into my adult life as well. With eczema, the protocol is to visit a dermatologist who typically prescribes medication or topical steroids to help. I used so many topical creams that would only work for a few days – my parents and I did that blindly for 10 years. Not once was the root cause looked at or investigated into.

It wasn’t until my teenage years where I suffered from acne, as well as eczema, and was prescribed large amount of medications – ones which I wasn’t comfortable taking – that I started looking into the functional medicine world. It turned out that I had a lot of deficiencies which were all triggering this inflammation in my skin. So that’s what really inspired me; to make other people aware that there is a root cause –  and that they should investigate and not rely on Band-Aid approaches.

ACC: You also work as a registered nurse in a hospital, do you believe there’s a place in the world for both eastern and western medicine to work cohesively?

As a registered nurse my job is to administer scheduled drugs. In a hospital setting that’s incredible and lifesaving, it’s also an acute setting. However, the cosmetic industry is not. And it’s here that pharmaceuticals are prescribed and relied on as a band-aid fix, instead of being used as an acute solution – which is what they’re actually designed for.

I look at both. Some of my patients require anti-biotics if there is an infection present, or they can even go on roaccutane as a very last resort if acne is hindering their mental health. This is where western medicine comes in handy. But for the long-term health of the patient, this is where eastern treatment matters; getting to that root cause and treating them with sustainable medication or herbs to really help their body heal for the long-term.

You mentioned nutritional deficiencies, what are the most common ones you typically see in acne-prone individuals?

A lot of time for women iron deficiency is a huge one. Not only will they feel terrible and lethargic, but their skin will look dull and won’t have the best healing responses. I also look at zinc and b12 levels, particularly with a lot of women taking the oral contraceptive pill as it can hinder their ability to absorb a lot of essential nutrients – and so many of us aren’t aware of that.  So even though women may be maintaining a healthy diet, their body may not be able to absorb the vital nutrients to encourage proper healing.

 Madilyn-Wolens

Image: Kaitlin Maree Photography

You work in cohesion with a lot of other health professionals, which ones do you typically refer your patients to see?

It’s dependent on what I feel the patient is lacking, though typically, a naturopath. I know some great naturopaths who can perform a live analysis of a patient’s blood and further testing. A lot of times acne is hormonal, so they’re also great at levelling that out. Integrated health doctors are another one, they’re quite hard to come by but can be really beneficial. Another is an acupuncturist.

Acne can even be influenced by mental health, so that’s where a kinesiologist or psychologist can come in handy too. I find women tend to internalise a lot of emotion or stresses and we’ve found talking things through or implementing stress management strategies can really help.

Interesting. Why an acupuncturist? 

Because they’re more Chinese medicine based and they’re quite similar to a naturopath in terms of holistic health. They’re also great at dealing with the emotional side of things that are going on inside the body, while still treating the hormonal issues. The skin needs blood flow, and acupuncture is great at bringing oxygenated blood to the surface. I also find people are more compliant as you need to go a certain number of times to see results.

So, you’re saying that treating skin issues centres around a lifestyle overhaul as opposed to purely topical treatment?

Completely! Your skin is the body’s largest organ and it shows any internal inflammation, so if there’s something wrong, it’s your body is telling you that something’s going on internally.

 Madilyn-Wolens

Image: @the_functional_nurse

In terms of diet for acne management, are there any supplements that you might recommend? 

I’m obviously not a nutritionist, but using medicinal herbs is always going to be beneficial. But you also don’t know where your acne is stemming from. So basically, focus on your gut health and the reduction of inflammatory foods like dairy, refined sugars and greasy foods – they’re the top culprits. As a woman, reducing the toxic load on your liver is also really important. Any supplement that is going to help that and heal the liver is always a good idea. But again, seeing a nutritionist or naturopath is really the optimal way to decipher which ones are for you.

What’s the largest demographic of clients that typically comes into your clinic? 

I’d say it’s predominantly women from mid-20’s to early 30’s. I feel that’s because it typically correlates with so many women coming off the contraceptive pill to fall pregnant. And that’s where a lot of skin concerns arise – it’s no longer teenagers alone who’re struggling with skin issues.

Why? Is there a common skincare mistake these women are making?

Going on the pill. I know I sound quite controversial, but most women are going to come off the pill 10 years later and realise that it was only a temporary fix, and now they’ve got post-pill acne in their 30’s. Admittedly the pill does do its job as a contraceptive, but it shouldn’t be depended on to fix skin issues and regulate hormones – it’s actually counteractive and filling your body with synthetic hormones. It’s definitely the biggest concern I encounter in my clinic.

Going on the pill. I know I sound quite controversial, but most women are going to come off the pill 10 years later and realise that it was only a temporary fix, and now they’ve got post-pill acne in their 30’s. Admittedly the pill does do its job as a contraceptive, but it shouldn’t be depended on to fix skin issues and regulate hormones – it’s actually counteractive and filling your body with synthetic hormones. It’s definitely the biggest concern I encounter in my clinic.

Tell us, what does the ultimate skincare regime involve?

Cleansing! Whether you wear makeup or not, cleansing morning and night is crucial – a lot of people miss the morning cleanse. Your body temperature heats up overnight so you’re actually producing sebum, plus there’s also a lot of bacteria in your pillows, so a morning cleanse is a must.

After you cleanse, you’re looking to use a serum. There’s a huge range out there which is useful for the skin’s hydration. The next step is dependent on the patient’s complexion. For ones lacking a lot of oil and are quite dry, a face oil would be beneficial. If you’re not so dry and quite oily, you might look at a moisturiser to help regulate the oil flow.

Repeat this at night with a double cleanse; once to remove the day’s build-up of make-up and impurities, then a second to get deep into the pores. Once a week to once a fortnight an exfoliant and mask would be great too.

Can you talk us through the difference in types of cleansers and what they’re good for?

There’s two different types – chemical or a mechanical. If you have active lesions and breakouts you don’t want to be rubbing a mechanical scrub as it will only aggravate them more. This is where a chemical cleanser – AHAs, lactic and glycolic acid – are great. They’re gentler but still have the same desired effect. Sometimes you can even get them combined, but it really comes down to what works best for someone’s skin type.

 Madilyn-Wolens

Image: Kaitlin Maree Photography

Where would you suggest someone starts with their own skincare?

Choosing the right type. With skincare, I like to make it simple and think that there are three different types – natural, beauty and cosmeceutical grade. Traditionally, natural skincare didn’t really do much but it’s progressing and becoming a lot more effective. Beauty products are what you typically find at Woolworths or Priceline and they’re the ones to steer clear of. They’re usually very branded and marketed and full of a lot of filler agents – ones that are going to clog your pores and are toxic to your bloodstream. They’re basically full of nasties and a waste of money.

Then there’s cosmeceutical grade products. Yes, they are chemical but they’re regulated and trialled with scientific backing. My patients usually have a combination of natural and cosmeceutical products – but you do a need a consult with a professional to have the them suited to your skin, then natural products can be added in. Preferably I like to use the cosmeceutical as a short term treatment dose to address a concern, then when your skin clears we look at going more natural for long-term whole health.

We know that you’ve just opened your own stunning clinic. Any big plans in store for it?

Of course! I’d love to in the very near future, have a full clinic. A place where you can come for injectables, and skin health. Essentially, I want to see healthy, glowing, fertile women. That’ll involve creating an in-house multi-faceted team within my studio – a place where patients can consult with a variety of health care professionals in the one space. I don’t feel like I belong in the cosmetics industry as it’s quite vanity driven, instead I want patients who are self-aware and happy with the way they look, but also want to feel and look their best – inside and out.

What does a typical appointment with The Functional Nurse involve?

Initially, we have a conversation. We talk about everything internal health-wise, from bowel motions, what foods you’re eating and any diagnosis, complications or intolerances that you’ve had with foods in the past to build an overall picture. We then look at a topical point of view and discuss a treatment plan which caters to your budget. There’s a lot of referrals that happen from my clinic as I can only do so much, but basically, we have the conversation about an overall health approach so patients aren’t misled in thinking that it’s just skincare that is going to help their skin issues. A lot of our conversations are to simply set you in the right direction for your skin care at home and guide you in professional treatments.

What’s your go-to treatment for someone who’s in the midst of severe and active breakouts?

It does depend on if the skin’s really angry. Some breakouts can be very topical which comes from poor home care, others can be very hormonal and angry. Usually, I would be quite gentle – things like light microdermabrasion to encourage lymphatic drainage and often times an Infrared LED treatment to calm and reduce the inflammation. These are just simple places to start

And how does the infrared lighting actually work?

The wavelengths radiating off the machine penetrate down into the skin’s dermis to calm and reduce the inflammation. There’s a few different settings – an antibacterial one which kills off the bad bacteria, and then the infrared light which calms and suppresses inflammation without being invasive. That’s why I loved infrared saunas and recommended them to a lot of patients as they can penetrate the entire body’s organs.

What’s one skincare myth – or peeve – worthy of a debunking?

Probably the whole gold and silicon facemasks trend. Stay away from them! They can be purchased from anywhere, and quite cheaply, and we don’t actually know what harmful nasties are in them.

If there’s one thing readers should take away from our chat, what would that be?

Just to have some awareness for your health – and take accountability. Starting really learning about your body. If you’re taking something to mask a concern it’s probably time to look into seeing different healthcare professionals to find a combination of treatments that work best for you. Yes, it costs money but if you can have a really experienced team supporting you, it’s genuinely the best thing to invest your money into.

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author

Kaitlyn Smith

Kaitlyn’s an avid traveller & foodie, who when not off spontaneously discovering new parts of the world, is often busy with her nose buried in books & eyes glued to documentaries. Having a passion for writing since she was a teen, Kaitlyn dabbled in other industries, but truly found her voice, confidence & creativity when she was living in NYC & LA. She’s a health & wellness lover who credits her sanity & day-to-day functioning to her daily exercise routine. She’s a believer in a balanced life so, when she’s not sweating it out, she can usually be found cooped up in her favourite cafe with her best girlfriends, turmeric latte in hand & a smile from ear to ear.

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