Pink, rosy cheeks are typically thought of as a sign of robust health and great skin. Think of that rosy, healthy looking glow you get after a walk on a brisk day. But many people whose skin veers towards flushed rather than rosy could be suffering from rosacea, a skin condition that causes red, bumpy skin that flares up periodically. Here’s a look at what is rosacea, and what causes it – as well as how to treat it. We also look at the best treatment options.
What is Rosacea?
According to the National Rosacea Society, rosacea is a chronic inflammatory condition that usually starts with flushing and redness on the cheeks. As it progresses, the redness becomes more severe and can spread to the nose, chin and forehead. As symptoms worsen, blood vessels can appear on the face as well as red bumps and pimples. The NRS says that people who have the most severe rosacea can develop a swollen looking nose due to excess tissue. The NRS also notes that 50 percent of rosacea sufferers can have irritated eyes that look watery or bloodshot. Women are most likely to develop rosacea, and it tends to affect fair skin people the most. The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but certain triggers are common (more on this below).
What Causes Rosacea?
Nobody knows exactly what causes rosacea. According to the Mayo Clinic, rosacea could be hereditary as genetics play a role. Women over the age of 30 with fair skin are the most likely to get it although it can affect anyone. Rosacea may also be caused by environmental factors, as well as lifestyle habits such as smoking which increases the chances of developing it. According to the NRS, studies suggest that the immune system plays a role in the development of rosacea.
Two other possibilities, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, include a bug (H pylori) as well as a mite (demodex). The H pylori bug is commonly found in people with rosacea although it cannot be proven that it is the root cause of it. Everyone has demodex, a mite that lives on the skin, especially on the cheeks and nose. Studies have shown that people with rosacea often have large numbers of these mites on the skin but as with H pylori, no direct link has been established as many people have large amounts of demodex without ever developing rosacea.
What Are the Signs of Rosacea?
One of the first signs of rosacea is when someone easily blushes and becomes flushed. The cheeks and face can feel warm to the touch or sting like a sunburn, and this may come and go. Another sign of the skin disorder is bumps and pimples, which can be large pustules or solid red bumps. Broken blood vessels, especially around the nose and cheeks, are another sign of rosacea. Rosacea can also affect the eye area, which is known as ocular rosacea. According to the NRS, symptoms include red and swollen eyelids, styes and crust. Dryness, swelling and burning are secondary symptoms. If you think you may have rosacea, see a medical professional.
What Are Rosacea Triggers?
Since rosacea is an inflammatory condition, certain things can trigger an outbreak – so identifying the triggers is an important part of managing it. Some of the most common triggers include the sun and excessive heat, such as showers, steam rooms and saunas. Exercising and sweating can also trigger rosacea. Fluctuations in temperature, such as moving from cold to warm environments and vice versa, can also cause a flare up. Certain foods, especially spicy ones and some shellfish, can cause vasodilation, which is the expansion of blood vessels, which also exacerbates rosacea. Stress is also a contributing factor, as well as alcohol, especially red wine. Makeup, skin and hair products may also cause rosacea flare ups.
What Are The Types of Rosacea?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are four main types of rosacea.
Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea is characterized by redness, flushed skin and visible blood vessels. Papulopustular rosacea is when someone has acne-like breakouts (such as pustules and red bumps) along with redness and swelling. Phymatous rosacea is when the skin becomes thicker and bumpy, and usually occurs on the cheeks and nose. Ocular rosacea affects the eyes, which can become red and irritated. Other symptoms include swollen eyelids, and bumps on the lid which look like a sty.
Can Rosacea Be Cured?
There is no cure for rosacea. Like eczema, the symptoms of rosacea need to be managed and part of that management is recognizing common triggers for it, and then learning how to soothe the skin.
What Are the Best Treatments for Rosacea?
While there is no cure for rosacea, there are plenty of ways to manage the symptoms which includes keeping skin calm, reducing redness and preventing flare ups. The most important thing is to recognize what causes a flare up; the NRS suggests keeping a diary for a few weeks, noting what you ate, drink and what you were exposed to, in order to help identify symptoms.
Anyone with rosacea should see a medical professional for diagnosis as well as help with treatment. Severe cases can be helped with prescription drugs such as antibiotics as well as topical creams. Intense pulsed light (IPL) laser treatment may also be helpful in reducing redness and broken blood vessels. A series of treatments is usually needed, and they can be pricey.
But if you suffer from rosacea, there are plenty of things you can do at home to help calm and soothe skin. Here’s a breakdown.
Wear Sunscreen. This should be a given but anyone with rosacea will be more sensitive to the sun. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 every day and double up sun protection with a hat as well as sunglasses. Look for products with physical sun blockers such as zinc and titanium oxide, which are more gentle to the skin than a chemical sunscreen. Mineral makeup foundation can pull double duty by helping to camouflage red skin as well as providing some sun protection.
Green-tinted Makeup. While you wait for your skin to clear up, neutralize the redness by applying a green primer. Don’t worry, it won’t leave you with a frog-like complexion; the green cancels out the red.
Stress Management. Stress can commonly trigger rosacea, so managing it can help control your symptoms. Everyone deals with stress differently so try out a few things to find what works for you, whether that is a hike, yoga, meditation or quiet time with a book.
Azelaic Acid. This ingredient, which is naturally occurring in grains such as wheat, may help with the acne-like symptoms of rosacea. It can leave skin feeling tingly when it is first applied, and it has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Azelaic acid can be found in creams, serums and gels.
Simplify Your Skin Care Routine. Less is more, especially for those with rosacea. Try cutting down your skincare routine to just the basics- cleansing and moisturizing- while you wait for your skin to calm down.
Gentle Facial Massage. Massage helps improve circulation and blood flow, which means it could be worth a try to help reduce facial swelling and inflammation due to rosacea. It’s easy to do at home. All you need to do is apply a gentle cream or face oil to your fingertips and work it into your skin using a circular motion.
Read The Label Carefully. Know exactly what you are putting on your skin. The National Rosacea Society has identified these skincare ingredients as potential rosacea triggers: alcohol, witch hazel, fragrance, menthol, peppermint and eucalyptus oil. Some of these ingredients are commonly found in toners and astringents.
Always Test Patch. Whether you are trying a new product or re-introducing a product after a beauty detox, it is always a good idea to do a test patch first. This means apply the product on your arm or leg to see if your skin reacts negatively.
Oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal has been a long time staple for helping soothe skin conditions such as eczema, and it can also help rosacea sufferers. Look for creams containing oatmeal or make your own mask using oats and water.
Look At Your Diet. We are what we eat, so consider loading="lazy" up on anti-inflammatory foods including salmon, kale, blueberries and avocados. Turmeric and ginger may also help, while some people swear by fish oil supplements.
Cleanse Carefully. Anyone with rosacea or sensitive skin should take care not to over wash their face with harsh products, which will strip it off its oils and cause further irritation. Look for a gentle cream cleanser and rinse it off with warm (not hot) water. Gently pat the face dry with a soft, clean towel.
Skip the Harsh Exfoliators. Even if you have rosacea, it is a good idea to do an occasional gentle exfoliation – but it’s important not to overdo it in frequency or harshness. Try a gentle glycolic acid based exfoliator once or twice a week and see how your skin tolerates it.
Look for Calming Ingredients. Skin calming ingredients include chamomile, aloe and niacinamide (a vitamin B derivative). These can be found in serums as well as moisturizers, while 100% aloe vera gel can also be found in drugstores.
Apply a Cold Compress. Soothe red, inflamed skin with a cold compress. This can be as easy as applying a chilled washcloth to the face. For an extra boost, try soaking the washcloth in green tea, which is thought to help reduce inflammation.