Are You Red-Faced Over Rosacea?

Rosacea is a common skin condition that affects as many as 16 million Americans. A chronic disease that causes facial redness, it’s usually treatable with lifestyle changes and medication. Rosacea is often misunderstood, and its symptoms can hurt a person’s self-esteem and confidence.

“I felt like a leper,” says Heidi Nunnally, whose rosacea flared up when she was in her 30s. “I tend to feel self-conscious a lot, and it’s mentally exhausting because we don’t have a cure for it. It’s something I have to deal with every day.”

“Patients with rosacea are usually very frustrated with their symptoms, especially the redness that won’t go away,” says Laurie Kohen, MD, a dermatologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Research suggests that people with the condition often suffer from anxiety disorders, social phobias, and depression. Studies have also linked rosacea to an increased risk for other conditions, such as Crohn's disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease).

Rosacea mostly develops in middle-aged adults, though it can surface in a person’s 20s or 30s. It tends to affect people with fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). As with psoriasis, another common skin condition, people who have family members with the disease are more likely to develop rosacea.

Based on patient histories, the National Rosacea Society lists several foods that can cause flare-ups, including yogurt, sour cream, chocolate, citrus fruits, and avocados.

Laser surgery may be an option. “When I started my practice treating patients 20 years ago, the only treatments available at that time were topical medications. Now the use of lasers… for getting rid of dilated blood vessels and redness can also work very well,” Dr. DeJuliis says.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) lists some steps that rosacea patients can take to help manage their treatment and symptoms:

  • Keeping a log of when symptoms flare up can help identify possible triggers.
  • If exposure to the sun is a factor, patients should use sunscreen. Be aware that chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin, and try using ones whose active ingredients are natural minerals like zinc and titanium.
  • Mild lubricants applied to the skin may help. Kohen recommends using facial lotions that contain dimethicone, which moisturizes the skin.
  • Eyelid hygiene is very important if eye irritation is involved. Your doctor may recommend using an eyelid cleaner or applying warm compresses regularly.
  • If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression like loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating, tell your doctor.
  • Green- tinted makeup may help cover skin redness, but consult your dermatologist before trying any new beauty or skin product.

“We have a lot of tools in our repertoire for treating rosacea, it’s just a matter of finding the right recipe for that particular patient,” Kohen says. “Most of the time we can get the disease pretty well under control.”

Nunnally wishes more people understood what it’s like living with rosacea. “When I started telling my friends I had it, they didn’t know much about it. Lots of people still don’t know about it,” she says. “Unless you know someone who has it, there’s not a lot of awareness.”

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