Rosacea...what is it and how do you treat it?

Do you remember when color seasons were a thing? As a kid I was furious that I was a Summer, because winter is my favorite season and I desperately wanted to be a Winter. My mom was, however, thrilled because it gave her an excuse to dress me in pastel pinks (aka her favorite color). I hate pink.

Which brings me today’s discussion–pink. Or, rather, pink skin. Which is the primary symptom of a dermatological condition called rosacea. 

Rosacea is a series of chronic skin disorders mostly affecting middle aged caucasian women. It frequently develops between the ages of 30 to 50 and usually occurs in cycles. A major risk factor for rosacea? Being a woman with light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.  Our Viking ancestors really did us dirty there. 

There are actually four different types of rosacea, but the one we most often associate with the disorder is erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (ETR). That’s the one that causes extreme facial flush and visible blood vessels. There’s also acne rosacea which causes flush plus acne-like breakouts. The common symptoms are:

  • Flushing and redness in the face, neck, and chest
  • Visible broken blood vessels under the surface of the skin
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Rough patches of skin

Now when I say flushing and redness, I don’t mean the normal kind from talking to a hot guy or realizing there’s toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe (been there, done both of those things). Rosacea flushing looks more like a gnarly sunburn and it can flare up at unexpected times. 

If you think you might have rosacea, you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to confirm. She should be able to diagnose you with a visual examination. But what are the next steps once you’ve received your diagnosis? Unfortunately there is no long term treatment for rosacea, but there are things you can do to manage your symptoms at home.

Step 1: Find your triggers.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, rosacea creates extreme sensitivity in the skin and any irritant can cause painful flare ups that last for hours. Your key to rosacea relief is to identify your triggers and avoid them at all costs.

A study by the National Rosacea Society showed that the top ten triggers for rosacea are:

  1. Sun exposure
  2. Stress and anxiety
  3. Hot weather
  4. Wind
  5. Heavy exercise
  6. Alcohol
  7. Hot baths
  8. Cold weather
  9. Spicy foods
  10. Humidity

The list goes on to include some skin care items, foods, and medicines. It’s a lot to avoid and it’s not reasonable to expect that you are going to remove sun exposure from your life altogether.

The best way to determine your own personal rosacea triggers is to keep a diary of your symptoms. WebMD offers an easy to use template! Log your symptoms for a week or two and then find the patterns. Did you flare up on the days you went for a run? How about the nights you drank red wine? Have you tried a new skincare product lately?

Step 2: Avoid your triggers.

Let’s break down some doable techniques for minimizing your trigger exposure for some of the most common triggers!

  1. Sun exposure. Whether you have rosacea or not, sunscreen should be a part of your daily routine without fail! But for those with ultra-sensitive skin, sunscreen can be irritating and pore-clogging. I recommend Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF. It’s a medical grade product that is so gentle it’s used post-op at dermatology and esthetician practices. A fun, fashionable way to stay protected is with an oversized hat like this one from Free People.
  2. Stress and anxiety. Oof. If only we could eliminate this from our lives! Until we figure out how to kill the part of our brains that manages anxiety, we’ll just have to figure out coping mechanisms to get us by. A meditation or relaxing phone game can help focus your attention away from your stress and soothe your mind. Light yoga can center your mind and body while reducing blood pressure. If your situation allows it, bring a hypoallergenic pet into your home! Studies show that pet owners are less stressed and happier than their non-pet counterparts.
  3. Weather. While we certainly can’t control the weather, we can do our best to minimize its impact on our lives. Combating heat means keeping cool; try getting out of the stuffy house and walking around an air conditioned mall, take a cool shower to lower your body temperature, or set up a makeshift air conditioner using a fan and a bowl of ice. In winter, use layering to your advantage! Hats, scarves, and gloves keep icy winds off of your skin, which helps reduce your chances of a cold or wind related flare up.
  4. Alcohol. This one is pretty cut and dry–you’ve got to go dry. If you do find yourself in a booze-soaked happy hour situation though, stick to chilled liquors instead of wine. Red wine is one of the most commonly reported alcoholic beverages to trigger rosacea. Drink lots of water and avoid other triggers like spicy foods. Check out this helpful article about how to enjoy a drink every now and again without triggering your rosacea!

Remember, managing your rosacea symptoms is all about understanding your body. You may have some setbacks in the process of discovering your triggers, but that is okay! 

Best of luck and best wishes from your friends at embody