Rosacea is a pretty common skin condition but surprisingly few of us are aware that we have it. We just think we have mottled skin with uneven tone that flushes easily, coupled with occasional and seemingly random irritated red bumps on our cheeks that never become full-fledged zits. Awesome.
And it isn’t just the fair-skinned that are afflicted: it’s an equal-opportunity annoyance.
I went to see a dermatologist about 12 years ago, and the conversation went something like this.
Derm: [Inspects my skin.] “Have you ever been diagnosed with Rosacea?”
Derm: “Do you experience any of the following? [Proceeds to list classic symptoms of Rosacea.]
Me: “…well, yeah. But my skin has always done that.”
You see the flaw in my logic. But in my defense, I’d never known anything else so it seemed normal: I couldn’t have a skin condition with an actual name for all those symptoms. And why hadn’t anyone ever mentioned it before? I mean sure, kids called me Rudolph in the Winter because my nose got so red from the cold, but kids say mean stuff for no reason, right? She had to be wrong.
I humored her and took the MetroGel samples she sent me home with. Later that day I thought about what she’d diagnosed and realized with chagrin that she was right: I have Rosacea. Crap. The only thing I knew about Rosacea was that W.C. Fields had it, and look at him:
I was horrified and determined to prevent that future. So I tried the samples.
And I hated the samples. They made my skin greasy, and ironically, kind of irritated. So now I had an official diagnosis and modern medicine seemed to be failing me. I was going to end up looking like W.C. Fields for sure.
I called her back, but the only solutions proferred were chemical ones. They work well for lots of people, but I’d always been a little leery of pharmaceuticals as the first and only answer. I decided to ignore it and hope that it would go away. [Now if you’ve been paying attention you’re thinking “Hey, didn’t you say earlier that your skin had been that way your whole life? So why would it go away in your late 20s??” Yeah, I know. Slow but not stupid, that’s what mom always said.]
Eventually I got tired of living with it, so I started reading up on Rosacea and more importantly paying attention to how my skin felt. If you remember nothing else from this post remember this: irritation is your enemy. Unfortunately that’s hard to avoid because there’s a lot of unhelpful information propagated by the beauty industry. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Think about it: a scrub is a mechanical method of removing the surface layer of skin cells. Set aside pseudo-scientific jargon about microbeads or spherically shaped crystals: if it’s doing its job you are scraping your face. That’s all it is. I know it feels like it’s doing SOMETHING…and it is, just not what you want. P.S. A washcloth is a mechanical scrubbing device.
ABRASIVE TREATMENTS: This also counts for microdermabrasion. Just because it’s done by someone wearing scrubs or a lab coat doesn’t change what it is.
And don’t even THINK about using one of those electronic brillo pads. You know what I’m talking about.
DRYING PRODUCTS: Anything that burns or tingles or makes your skin feel tight is irritating your skin. Period. If alcohol, menthol, or witch hazel are high up in the ingredient list, that’s a bad thing, no matter how much it costs or how it’s marketed. There’s a special place in Hell for companies that market those products at women with sensitive skin or Rosacea.
SUN: Sun exposure is also a source of irritation. This is a sneaky one because “a little color” can make your skin temporarily look more even in tone. Unfortunately that’s just the result of an inflammatory [irritation!] response, and you’ll pay for it later.
CHEMICALS: Last but not least, see this list of ingredients that are potential irritants. Sometimes just fragrance alone can cause irritation. And don’t think “natural” or “organic” products are exempt from this. [If you don’t believe me I have two words for you: Poison Ivy.]
At this point you’re thoroughly depressed, right? Don’t be! MAKING IMPROVEMENTS in your rosacea skin care regime is surprisingly simple:
EXFOLIATE: I know you’re confused because I’ve just finished blasting scrubs and abrasive tools, but exfoliation is crucial in managing your Rosacea. They key is to use a salicylic acid product – it exfoliates chemically. Even better, it’s a derivative of aspirin, so it’s also an anti-irritant. Bonus! There are great over-the-counter products available, just be wary of alcohol in there too. I started using this product from Paula’s Choice in late September and have been profoundly happy with it.
Getting an exfoliating facial from an aesthetician or your dermatologist’s office is great too as long as they are using a chemical exfoliant. Some can still cause irritation, so tell them you have Rosacea and ask what they recommend. (But if they push the mechanical exfoliation products politely decline and call someone else.)
DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Read labels before you buy. I reference this Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary a lot, but you can Google anything and find some info.
This is especially hard at the department store cosmetics counter. Maybe you think you love the product – that’s great! Resist the urge for instant gratification, go home and look up the ingredients, then go back and buy if things check out.
SUNSCREEN: Wear it. Winter or Summer, rain or shine. ‘Nuff said.
LASER TREATMENTS: IPL, or Intensed Pulsed Light, can do wonders for evening out skin tone. I went through a series of 5 treatments through my dermatologist (SnyDerma) about 3-4 years ago, and it really made a huge difference to diminishing redness and those tiny visible capillaries, as well as eliminating the appearance of sun damage. And there’s no downtime after IPL; you can immediately apply makeup and go to work. It’s the closest thing to a miracle I’ve seen, no lie. (And after looking at my pictures in this post I need to return for a touch-up.)
I need to be clear that I’m not slamming any of the “bad” products or treatments mentioned in this post, they just aren’t helpful for people with Rosacea. Nor am I disparaging dermatologists and the medications prescribed to treat Rosacea – they really work for some people. My point is this: you’re going to have to become your own advocate. And the good news is that you can make some really simple, inexpensive changes that will have a pretty immediate positive impact. What are you waiting for?
To learn more about Rosacea, visit the following sites:
- Cosmetics Cop, Skin Care for Rosacea
- Rosacea Fact Sheet from U.S. National Library of Medicine
Do you have Rosacea? Write and tell us what’s worked for you, or share what hasn’t!