There may be a number of triggers which cause the uncomfortable skin condition. But there are also many ways to tackle it, says Rachel Marie Walsh
Rosacea, a frustrating condition with a pretty name, gets its own international awareness month each April. It is a time to talk about triggers, self-care and skincare, all of which play a role in the condition’s management.
And ‘management’ is key because, while there is no cure for rosacea, lifestyle and dietary changes can significantly reduce or even clear symptoms completely.
Rosacea can begin with a tendency to blush easily. At its most serious it affects the cheeks, forehead, chin and nose, and is characterised by deep redness, dilated blood vessels, small red bumps and even pimples. There may also be uncomfortable inflammation of the eyes and eyelids.
The cause is uncertain, though it can be genetic and is especially visible in people with Celtic or Scandinavian heritage.
As there is no absolute cure it is helpful to have a diary of symptoms on hand if you choose to see a doctor. Notes on when you have flare-ups can reveal your ‘triggers,’ thereby helping him/her to help you.
There are a variety of triggers that may make rosacea worse. These include vigorous exercise, sun, wind, stress and smoking. Dietary triggers are frequently cited as playing a role in flare-ups. Culprits include hot drinks (coffee, some teas), alcohol, capsaicin (found in spicy foods), and cinnamaldehyde (found in chocolate, baked goods and some breads and fruit juices).
Dairy, gluten, sugar and fizzy drinks have also been linked to inflammation. Again, diarising your skin’s behaviour is key to identifying what bothers you.
Skincare ingredients that exacerbate redness include non fatty-alcohol (listed on packaging as alcohol, SD alcohol or denatured alcohol) and fragrance (including essential oils and natural fragrance compounds like linalool and geraniol).
Currently, there are scant regulatory requirements to meet before products (including those made for children) can be labelled ‘for sensitive skin’ or ‘anti-redness,’ and many household-name products for sensitive types contain perfume and/or alcohol. Business isn’t going to stop using these ingredients while they remain commercially beneficial, so it is up to the consumer to avoid them while shopping.
Skincare cannot cure rosacea but choosing the right products is helpful in its management. It is important to avoid irritation and also strengthen skin’s natural moisture barrier.
There are a wide variety of soothing and reparative ingredients that benefit rosacea-prone skin. Non-fragrant plant oils, hyaluronic acid, green tea, niacinamide and resveratrol are goodies to look for when shopping for serum and moisturiser.
Recent research relating rosacea and acne flare-ups to intestinal wellbeing suggest taking a probiotic may also help keep skin calm.
As a beauty writer, every facialist I’ve interviewed recommends fragrance-free oil cleansers for rosacea-prone skin, even if you are not naturally dry (Simple Kind to Skin Hydrating Cleansing Oil, €9.99, is widely available). They remove so much so quickly with minimal scrubbing or wiping. Cleansing devices can be just as aggravating as the wrong formula.
Konjac sponges, bamboo or muslin cloths or facial brushes all exfoliate in a manner that stimulates redness and can weaken the skin’s external barrier.
Wexford-based skincare expert Mariga Sheedy suggests forgoing exfoliation entirely or using enzyme lotion, such as her pumpkin-based Skin Essentials Enzyme Exfoliator, €38 at skinessentialsbymariga.com, for gentle resurfacing.
UV protection of SPF25 or higher is ideal. While rosacea may not react to chemical filters, titanium and zinc oxides are always gentle choices.
Rosacea’s appearance can be misinterpreted, giving the impression that one abuses alcohol or is over-emotional in severe cases. Rosacea does not gender-discriminate (though men’s cases tend to be more severe) and can occur at any time of life.
The nickname ‘gammon,’ used to describe middle-aged men with rosacea, seems particularly unfair given that theirs is exactly the demographic with no idea how to conceal its sudden appearance.
Concealing rosacea is relatively easy now, there are lots of high-coverage foundations and colour-corrective primers that look natural if you shade-match properly. This need to match makes them tough to shop online, but if you get swatched in-store just once you can use your match to find other camouflage options via sites like findation.com.
More brands now strive to provide as many shade variations as they are complexions, so their full-coverage formulas look just like you. Sufferers are no longer limited to specialty ranges.
Ireland’s best-selling premium foundation, Estée Lauder Stay-in-Place Makeup SPF10, €40, is medium-to-full coverage and comes in over 55 shades. CoverFX Powerplay Foundation, €39 at Arnotts, is an especially good choice for men, providing perspiration-proof coverage with a natural finish and superfine texture.
Fake-tanning is not thought to inflame rosacea but can make skin drier with frequent use and, as discussed, skin with a weak external barrier is more easily inflamed.
Inflammatory conditions are warning systems. An uncomfortable but useful aspect of having asthma, for example, is that I have immediate notice the air quality’s been compromised — that someone smokes or that a cab needs cleaning — and know to make a move, as my body won’t let me ignore it.
Rosacea patients have an even more useful alarm as the condition uses the only organ visible to the naked eye to communicate distress. It also forces a holistic approach to skincare, as creams and lotions alone won’t resolve things, possibly saving you a fortune on unnecessary products over time.
Modern life is full of distractions that keep you from listening to your body but rosacea looks you in the face when you look in the mirror. Its triggers can be harmful even to people who don’t have the condition, a rosacea patient’s body is just more ‘vocal’.
After that, you’re on a mission to discover and eliminate the culprit.
Your reward is not just calmer skin but a stronger immune system and even early detection of more serious conditions. Because rosacea can be genetic, your ‘research’ may also help those closest to you.