As The British Skin Foundation simply puts it, ‘the rash and the blushing associated with rosacea can lead to embarrassment, lowered self-esteem and self-confidence, anxiety and even depression’. For me, this couldn’t be more accurate.
Rosacea is the common yet misunderstood long-term relapsing, inflammatory skin condition which mostly affects the face, and sometimes other areas of skin. Constant redness can also be accompanied by papules, pustules and telangiectasia (more commonly known as lesions, acne and dilated blood vessels). It is thought to be caused by a variety of unproven theories including blood vessel abnormalities, genetics, large numbers of Demodex Folliculorum (tiny mites) on the skin and bacteria found in the digestive system, to name a few.
A list of uncertainties often means you are left wide open to being misinformed or wrongly treated for several possible skin disorders, (like dermatitis or eczema – both of which initially present similar visual symptoms). But what no one tells you, aside from the endless list of no-no’s, is the psychological impact of living with permanently angry, red and sometimes painful skin.
I was 20 when I first encountered it. After a stressful second year of university and my first raucous holiday in Ibiza, I began noticing severe changes in my skin. My natural blush lasted longer and my normal skincare routine began to cause an extreme burn. I assumed it was a phase and ignored it for weeks.
I vividly remember waking up after one night to a seriously swollen right side and severe acne spread across my face. As I came round, I struggled to breathe properly through my nose and intense pulses of itchy, burning heat spread across my cheeks, forehead and chin.
Upset and confused, I booked an appointment at my doctors. He confirmed ‘it’s rosacea, it has no known cure, will worsen with age and you are very young’. Barely a bona fide adult and with skin hotter than the sun? Brilliant.
Initially, the mental stigma attached to having a perpetually red and angry face was a tough one to get my head around – especially as a young woman. I’d always followed a skincare routine and was lucky with the products I could slather on. Desperation for soothed skin led me to recording a diary and noting down triggers I experienced, hoping for some pattern and relief.
What I did learn from my flourishing skin bible was to avoid alcohol, coffee and chocolate (not fun). Further trips to the GP taught me that rosacea can be controlled, to some degree, with long-term treatment such as antibiotics and steroids.
Personally, I took the decision not to take prescribed medication and instead use a self-help, trial and error method.
Assessing diet, stress levels and the environmental factors in your life are all good places to start. It turns out treating your exceptionally sensitive skin like a temple takes some serious dedication and patience. A stripped back routine using predominantly natural, organic skincare and make-up has been my go-to ever since.
I have struggled to find products that don’t negatively affect my skin and cause a severe reaction or painful burning sensation, even when they are marketed at rosacea sufferers, so when something works, I buy a shelf-load. Stress, unfavourable food and drink choices or a change in weather usually marks a relapse so I’ve even turned to products for baby sensitive skin for solace because if it’s good enough for a newborn, it’s good enough for me.
The fridge is also your friend when it comes to cooling your tropical T-Zone, so putting your micellar water alongside your milk, helps to fight the burn.
In terms of diet, I’ve cut down on dairy and avoid drinking dark drinks such as red wine. I no longer delve head first into a Rogan Josh on a Friday and have sadly lowered my chocolate intake (I’ll give in when I’m raging and premenstrual).
Rosacea responds best with a holistic approach since stress and diet are huge factors in both causing or eliminating outbreaks. For me, slowly accepting it and teaching myself to understand what triggers my flare-ups, has helped to address it at the root instead of just suppressing it through conventional medical treatments.
I take monthly trips to Hertfordshire based laser specialist, Rachel Braithwaite, who has now become a great friend. Since I have telangiectasia, Rachel targets areas of my face to break down the almighty red web. The treatment has given me great results as the redness is continuing to gradually fade, creating areas of regenerated clear skin – a miracle.
I’ve also added an ice roller into my beauty regime. Why? Because, it drastically reduces the inflammation and redness I experience and leaves me feeling like I’ve had a luxury treatment in a skin clinic. I use the brand ESARORA, a mid-range price option on Amazon and it has honestly amazed me. I put it in an airtight storage bag, freeze for a few hours and then roller over each irritated area, before wiping clean and popping back in the freezer for the next day.
I’m now 25 and the last five years have been an uphill struggle to find what works for me, and what doesn’t (sunshine is still a trigger). It has absolutely affected me psychologically. Being a lifelong product lover, I have struggled with the simple fact that I can’t dabble with most of the products and treatments on offer, even when billed for sensitive skin.
Although millions of people across the globe suffer with rosacea, information on the hyper-sensitive skin condition and how it might respond to new facial treatments is scarce. I read packaging like I’m on a boot-camp diet and politely ask a million questions, before even requesting a sample. Make-up is my daily saviour but if I’m going through a bad patch, I have a moment to myself to put things into perspective and turn to blogs and articles written by rosacea sufferers for a sense of community.
Ultimately, spending time wondering ‘why me’ is a waste of time. Instead, get your head down and re-educate yourself on living with rosacea and supporting your mental wellbeing. I’m still on a quest for unblemished porcelain skin like Kate Winslet or Jenna Coleman, but in the meantime, I’ve accepted my rosy outlook and revel in saving a penny or two from no longer splashing out on the latest blush.
Below is a round-up of some rosacea tips and tricks, as well as skincare and make-up products that have worked for me.
Tips that have helped me
- Have a simple skincare routine. Don’t product overload. Less is more.
- Pat your face dry with a soft cotton towel and do not use a communal towel. Also, do not vigorously rub, scrub or massage the face.
- Always take your make-up off at night-time and cleanse thoroughly twice a day – morning and evening.
- Be sure to moisturise the skin. Rosacea skin loves a good drink! Pair this with drinking lots of water during the day.
- Be careful not to have a steaming hot shower or bath, keep it on the cooler side.
- Products that include stripping, drying ingredients, astringents, hydroxy acids, scrubs etc. are exceptionally harsh for rosacea treatment and are best avoided.
- Avoid products containing peppermint oil, witch hazel, clove oil and salicylic acid. (It will burn like the depths of hell.)
- Before buying a product, ask for a tester and always test on a small patch of skin for at least a week to see if you have any adverse effects.
- Avoid the sun and always wear a factor 50 SPF, even on a cloudy day. Aim for a mineral sunscreen containing Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide as these ingredients are often less irritating for sensitive souls.
- Avoid facial peels or micro needling and consult a rosacea skin specialist before having any form of facial treatment.
- Be careful outdoors as any significant change in temperature aggravates rosacea. Protect your face from wind and cold with a scarf in the winter. Just be careful with wool or fabrics that feels rough or itchy as they can irritate the skin.
- Be careful using hair products such as hairspray or dry shampoo to make sure they don’t get on your face.
- Lower your intake of dairy, sugar, gluten, coffee, alcohol, processed and fried foods and red meat as these may aggravate you. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a glass of red wine again (heaven forbid), just be aware it may trigger some irritation.