What does Hollywood star Cameron Diaz and one in ten women in the UK have in common? The answer is the skin condition rosacea. This common skin condition which is characterized by flushed cheeks, is often misunderstood as doctors still aren’t agreed on what causes it – which makes treatment options trickier.
“Rosacea is a common skin condition, usually occurring on the face, which predominantly affects fair-skinned but may affect all skin types in people aged 40 to 60 years old,” says The British Skin Foundation. It is more common in women and is a chronic condition, the severity of which tends to fluctuate depending on factors such as stress, environmental conditions, hormonal and food triggers.
It is frequently misdiagnosed as an allergy or acne as it includes the small bumps and pus-filled spots found in acne together with a persistent redness. It’s most commonly found on the cheeks, chin, nose and forehead too but can also affect the delicate eye area or even the inside of the eyes.
“If you have rosacea, the skin on your face, or sometimes elsewhere on your body, may tend to flush easily. The skin can become red and sore to the touch. A rash of bumpy spots called papules, and pus-filled pustules can appear across your nose, cheeks and forehead,” explains Dr Stephanie Munn, Bupa Consultant Dermatologist. “Other symptoms include potentially serious eye conditions like blepharitis, where the eyelids become red and swollen. Men are also prone to thickening skin around the nose (rhinophyma).”
Unfortunately doctors have yet to understand what causes rosacea which makes treatments varied and more individualized. Although we do know rosacea is not contagious and left untreated it tends to progress and worsen so it’s worth seeing your doctor. The condition is divided into four subtypes – so knowing your type can make a difference to how it’s treated.“Your genetics, immune system factors, and environmental factors may all play a part. Factors that trigger rosacea cause the blood vessels in the skin of the face to dilate.”
Food is often one of the main triggers for rosacea as gut inflammation seems to link to the condition. Alcohol naturally causes blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to redness as can hot drinks and spicy food. Diary and cured meats are high in histamines which can also cause the blood vessels to dilate.
Changes in temperature and exposure to the sun can cause flare ups so suncream is a must and steaming treatments and hot showers are to be avoided. Hormonal changes like the menopause and stages of the menstrual cycle can also change the severity of rosacea. Likewise emotional changes like stress and anxiety can cause flare ups.
There is a theory that rosacea is due to bacteria on the skin or an imbalance in gut bacteria which has mixed evidence. Certainly though, topical and oral antibiotics are used to treat some people with success, possibly because of their anti-inflammatory effect. Rosacea also seems to run in some families, but there is no clear genetic link.
For some people the redness is accompanied with a change in skin sensation too. Some may feel their skin feels hot or prickly. It can be more sensitive to products and also feel dry and tight. Rosacea can also affect eyes too and cause blurred vision through the way it inflames the front part of the eye – if this has happened to you then you must consult your optician for help. There are no specific tests doctors perform to diagnose rosacea, the appearance of the skin is usually the key.
Before treatment begins – and during – it can be helpful to keep a detailed diary to try and spot exactly what is causing the flare ups. You can also avoid making the condition worse by protecting your skin with an SPF30+ skin cream when you are out in the sun and also avoiding facial scrubs and cleansers which are alcohol based. Perfumed soap based products can be very drying and make the skin more sensitive too.
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There are a number of ways rosacea can be treated and these will depend on the type you have and the severity. In all cases there are no quick fixes and most of the treatments will take a couple of months to show any results. Topical treatments can help reduce the redness of the affected area. Oral antibiotics are given in some cases to calm the inflammation of the area and often combined with a topical treatment too. Redness and dilated blood vessels are sometimes treated with laser therapy. If you are already taking medication for another condition your doctor may review this as some can heighten the blushing which also relates to rosacea. Usually a combination of lifestyle factors and medication works best.
If you enjoyed this article you might like know why glycation could also be the culprit behind your dry skin and if you’re looking for a sugar fix without the sugar why not try this anti-glycation avocado raw chocolate mousse.