What is rosacea? If you blush A LOT, does that mean you have rosacea? If you turn a shade of lobster at least twice a day and that lobster hangs around – is that rosacea? What about acne, you might of heard of ‘acne-rosacea’, if you suffer from acne could that mean you also have rosacea? & what about sensitive skin, sensitive skin loves that lobster red too, does that mean you have rosacea? Just what the heck is rosacea ‘eh!
Rosacea is probably one of the MOST misunderstood skin conditions, there’s even 4 different types of it to muddy up the waters just a bit more. Let’s bust those rosacea myths and figure out the ‘real-deal’ on the signs & symptoms of rosacea.
WHAT IS ROSACEA?
This skin condition sounds a lot like an admirer you’ve already turned down who just won’t quit with the roses ‘eh! Rosacea literally means ‘made of roses’ in Latin which is a lovely twist on a condition that can be pretty demoralising for sufferers.
Rosacea is described as a ‘chronic inflammatory’ skin condition. All that means is rosacea ‘hangs-around’ a LOT, it’s the dinner guest that doesn’t know when its outstayed its welcome and when this one is visiting you it is sure to cause skin inflammation that would be worthy of blowing up a bouncy castle.
That inflammation associated with rosacea also contributes to changes in your blood vessels which comes full circle to this ‘made of roses’ skin condition.
So how do you know if you have rosacea? Let’s get a’chatting about the 4 different types…
- Erythematotelangiectatic [I mean what the heck ‘eh? Let’s call this one Ellen, we might as well be on first name terms *winks*]. The Ellen type of Rosacea is the most ‘straight forward’ and common. Ellen is the classic picture of facial ‘flushing/redness’ which likes to make a butterfly pattern (cheeks, nose, forehead and chin) on your face. Skin ‘over-reacts’ to certain triggers (we’ll talk about those later) and broken capillaries, ‘spider veins’ like to take up residence on your cheeks and forehead. The blushing can turn ‘purple-ish’ in colour and skin can feel ‘stingy’, like it’s burning and really tight. It can also be combined with something called seborrheic dermatitis which is very fancy for facial dandruff.
- Papulopustular (acne rosacea or Paul for short *winks*), this type of rosacea is usually mistaken for acne at first. As well as the symptoms of ‘Ellen’ you can add red bumps and ‘acne like’ pustules.
- Phymatous (oh hi Phil!), Phil is a type of rosacea most common in men. Phil causes blood vessels and skin to over-grow which leaves facial areas ‘enlarged’ and with cyst like nodules.
- Ocular (oh Oprah, why do you make me cry so much?). This type of rosacea can occur on its lonesome or along with any of the above. It’s all about the eyes with redness, dryness, stinging sensations and swollen eye lids.
IS MY BLUSHING ROSACEA?
First thing first, blushing is absolutely normal. Chatting to a boy that makes your heart race – yup normal. Watching a film with your dad and a raunchy sex scene ensues – so normal! Exercising like crazy (oh why did we sign up for PT sessions? There’s NO slacking when you’re 1:1!) – bring on the red.
Blushing is normal, we have a LOAD more blood vessels in our face than in most other skin areas which is why when we blush, it’s most obvious in the face. Knowing whether your blushing is rosacea is all about how long it takes for that blush to ‘fade-away’.
If your ‘blush’ is rosacea then you will have a persistent facial redness that can be worsened by triggers like stress, heat, wind (the weather kind *winks*), alcohol and certain foods. Your skin will not lose the ‘made of roses’ glow within minutes or hours, it will hang around like an unwanted house guest. Ever had a ‘hickey’? The red/purplish ones that take over a week to fade? Well think of that and you are more on the track of what a rosacea ‘blush’/persistent facial redness is like.
IS MY SENSITIVE SKIN ROSACEA?
Skin redness/blushing/flushing are all really common symptoms of sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is really picky about what you put on it and how well you treat it #HighMaintenanceKindaGurl. Sensitive skin has REALLY effective skin guards that sense anything outta the normal and ‘act out’ against the intruder.
Telling the difference between sensitive skin and rosacea is all about how long skin redness sticks around for & what triggers it.
If your sensitive skin is actually rosacea then your Ellen style redness will hang around for a lot longer than a hand full of hours. It’s also going to be triggered not just by what you put onto your skin, but by what you put into your body – that means anything that has potential to cause inflammation (dairy, alcohol, sugar). Oh and don’t forget the visible ‘spider veins’ and persistent ‘stingy’/burning sensations that happen even when you’ve put nothing on your skin.
Rosacea often has all the symptoms of sensitive skin PLUS some more. Sensitive skin has SOME of the symptoms of rosacea but they don’t have the ‘chronic’ persistence that would lead to a rosacea diagnosis.
WHAT CAUSES ROSACEA?
So if you do have one of our pals, Ellen, Paul, Phil or Oprah types of rosacea how do you make those un-wanted dinner guests wave you goodbye? At this very moment we are not 100% sure what causes rosacea, which means there is no ‘cure’, but there is a lot you can do to manage the symptoms. Here comes the 3 most linked causes of rosacea…
- The potential cause of rosacea – facial mites. Hearing that will probably give you a fully rational *winks* urge to scratch your face off. ‘You’re telling me I got mites – what the…’. Mites are actually A* normal. We all have them, but in the case of rosacea there are a LOT more of ’em, up to 15-18x more. If these mites are the cause of rosacea then it’s thought that’s because they cause excess inflammation in the skin, the same kinda reaction you’d get when you have sensitive skin, but these guys aren’t as easily washed off so the reaction persists.
- The potential cause of rosacea – a leaky gut/food allergies. Skin is like the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ to everything that is going on inside our bodies. If your body is struggling then skin is one of the ways it’s going to ‘reach out’ to you. There is a thing called ‘small intestine bacterial overgrowth’, SIBO for short. It basically means there’s a load of bad bacteria having a lotta dinner in your intestine. That can happen because of food intolerances or allergies, basically your body isn’t processing something properly and it’s food for bacteria. A recent study showed treating SIBO with a course of gut-active antibiotics improved rosacea symptoms in 82% of people.
- The potential cause of rosacea – genetics. You can be genetically pre-programmed to be ‘at risk’ of rosacea. This is another recent discovery, rosacea is seen to have similar genetic causes to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. That means your body’s immune response actually starts to hurt it’s own fighting force. It’s like having an army of highly trained snipers holding their rifles the wrong way around. This means that if you have a predisposition to rosacea and you go through a VERY stressful phase, it can trigger rosacea to rear its head!
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY ROSACEA?
While we are waiting on the dermatology brains to put a proven full stop behind the causes of rosacea, there are ways to manage the symptoms and prevent rosacea flair-ups, these 5 are the most actionable, the ones that don’t advise you to avoid air conditioning or heat or exercise *winks*…
- Avoid ‘inflammatory foods’. Food like refined sugar, dairy, alcohol, fried foods. These types of foods can cause stress and inflammation to your body and inflammation is what causes the visible symptoms of rosacea.
- Use sensitive skin friendly skincare. Avoid essential oils, fragrance, alcohol, astringent toners, strong face washes that foam, low pH skincare (exfoliating acids & some vitamin C skincare). Clue yourself up on ‘How to Choose Skincare Perfect For Your Sensitive Skin’ and go from there!
- Avoid sun exposure and wear sunscreen, it’s the cheapest anti-aging cream anyhow so you might as well *winks*. Sun exposure is one of the common triggers of rosacea. Sunlight stresses the skin which causes inflammation PLUS it’s also darn hot, so that sends a rush of blood to the vessels near the top of your skin as your body scrambles to keep you cool.
- Antibiotics to treat SIBO. If your rosacea is caused by SIBO then it could be improved by gut-active antibiotics. First try cutting out pro-inflammatory foods, then try pro-biotic foods, then if there is still no change, try antibiotics.
- Try zinc based skincare that helps control mite populations. It’s the same thing that’s the active ingredient in ‘Head & Shoulders’ shampoo – Zinc pyrithione. So this one will be especially useful for the Ellen type of rosacea that can be associated with facial dandruff. Ever seen claims that ‘This shampoo helped cure my rosacea’? Well this is where that comes from. Try this Noble Formula 2% Pyrithione Zinc (ZnP) cleansing beauty bar.
Do you think or know you have rosacea? What are your rosacea triggers?
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.