Don’t Let Rosacea Ruin Your Summer
You’ve entered your thirties, forties or fifties and probably think that the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to your skin is wrinkles, but then you start to “break out” again. What’s this!? Acne? At this age? Arrgh! Well, the good news is that it’s probably not acne; the bad news is that it’s more likely rosacea.
Still a Medical Mystery
Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that affects nearly 14 million Americans, making it a very common but poorly understood problem. The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but several theories exist. It is thought to be a general facial blood vessel disorder which can be triggered by internal factors, such as diet, or external factors, such as sun exposure. Some theories suggest it may also be caused by or made worse by a tiny mite or fungus that lives on the skin. Many don’t even realize they have rosacea, especially in the beginning stages when treatment should begin and is most effective. Women get it more often than men, but when men have rosacea it tends to be more severe. Some experts believe it’s because they put off seeing a doctor (surely not!). Fair skin and a family history also appear to increase the risk of developing rosacea.
Initial symptoms can start out as simple flushing of the face which may then develop into persistent red patches on the nose, cheeks, forehead or chin. Small blood vessels may become visible and pimple-like bumps may develop. The eyes can even become affected, leading to redness, watering or itching.
In the later, more severe stages of rosacea, the skin can become thicker and even change the shape of the nose. The late W.C. Fields’ bulbous nose was caused by this thickening of the skin. Just like with severe acne, the psychological impact of rosacea causes many people to withdraw socially because of the embarrassment they feel about their appearance. Unfortunately there is no cure for rosacea, but it can be controlled. And the earlier you take action, the better your chances are of improving the look of your skin over time.
Prescription medications commonly used to treat rosacea include antibiotics and topical creams with antimicrobial or antifungal properties. Antibiotics are thought to work because of their anti-inflammatory effects, rather than their ability to kill bacteria.
Avoiding triggers that lead to swollen and inflamed blood vessels in the face can help better control rosacea. In a study of over 1200 rosacea sufferers, 96% thought that avoiding identified triggers reduced the number of flare-ups experienced.
Not everyone will have the same set of triggers, but common ones include:
Sun exposure - According to the International Rosacea Foundation, the sun affects over 60% of rosacea sufferers. If you have to be out in the heat of the day, load up on sun block with an SPF 15 or higher and wear a big hat. Extreme cold may cause flare ups too.
Alcohol - Alcohol can make rosacea worse for a few reasons. Dehydration, interrupted sleep and sensitivities to compounds in the beverages can contribute to rosacea. Red wine seems to be especially problematic.
Spicy foods - A study published in a 2003 issue of Rosacea Review found that of 500 people surveyed, 61% listed hot peppers as a trigger. Other foods and ingredients making the list include chili, salsa, red pepper, black pepper, horseradish, vinegar and even mustard.
Hot beverages - If you must have your coffee, let it cool a bit before consuming. Iced coffees and teas would be better. Some experts recommend limiting caffeine intake with rosacea and encourage drinking 8-12 glasses of cold water a day, depending on your size.
Stress - The adrenaline released when we feel embarrassed, stressed or scared causes blood vessels to dilate.
Strenuous exercise - Regular exercise can help reduce stress and is important to health and healthy skin, but strenuous exercise when it’s too hot can worsen rosacea. Try working out during cool times of the day. Swimming makes a great exercise for rosacea sufferers as the water helps keep the body from overheating.
Individual food allergies or sensitivities - Eliminating common food allergens from the diet and then re-introducing them one at a time can help determine food sensitivities that may aggravate rosacea. Some common foods and additives people may be sensitive to include wheat, dairy and aspartame. Any food or ingredient that you eat is a potential allergen and food sensitivity testing, such as MRT (mediator release testing), may be an easier way to figure out what foods cause inflammation in your body.
Refined sugars and saturated fats - Consuming too much refined sugar and saturated fats can cause inflammation. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks, fried foods and heavily processed snacks made with refined flour and hydrogenated fats.
When it comes to skin care with rosacea think gentle and calming. Avoid products that contain alcohol or astringents. Consult with your dermatologist if you have acne and rosacea as some products used for treating acne can make rosacea worse. There are many non-prescription topical lotions and cleansers that have been developed for rosacea sufferers. Many natural ingredients can be found in these over-the-counter products which are included for their ability to calm the skin and reduce redness. Silymarin (milk thistle), aloe vera, essential oils of lavender, rosewood, geranium, vitamin E, carrot seed oil, copper, green tea extract, chamomile and sea buckthorn oil are some of the natural ingredients used in these products. In a study presented at the 2005 American Academy of Dermatology meeting, researchers found that women treated with a topical lotion made with green tea extract had a 70% improvement in rosacea compared with women receiving a placebo cream. The International Rosacea Foundation has a great deal of information on potentially helpful and harmful topical skin-care products.
Supplements and Functional Foods
A daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help ensure basic nutritional needs are being supported.
Omega-3 fats from fish oils and essential fats from evening primrose oil or borage oils can help reduce inflammation. Cold water fish, whole ground flaxseed and walnuts are food sources rich in essential fats.
Vitamin C and flavonoids support healthy blood vessels. Flavonoids are a group of plant compounds that have been found to provide a variety of health benefits. They may help improve rosacea symptoms through their anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory properties. Proanthocyanidins are flavonoids found in dark grapes and berries such as cherries and blueberries. Quercetin is another flavonoid and it can be found in a variety of foods, including apples, onions, kale and berries. Eating an array of different colored fruits and vegetables can help ensure intake of a variety of important flavonoids.
National Rosacea Society
International Rosacea Foundation
Institute for Traditional Medicine
Linus Pauling Institute
Rosacea Research Foundation