Rosacea: Behind the Rose-Colored Glasses

1024px-Bouquet_de_roses_rosesMany people are not aware of the skin condition rosacea, even though it is quite common. Upon hearing it for the first time, one might actually think it is something pleasant, since the name reminds us of roses. The name is very similar…roses come from the family “rosaceae”. The idea of having “rosy” cheeks also has pleasant connotations and associations with good health.

Rosacea, however, is anything and everything but pleasant. Some people think that getting flushed in the cheeks, nose, and neck after a glass of wine or cup of coffee means they have rosacea. While this is certainly one of the (more minor) symptoms of the disorder, it entails many more physical symptoms. 

What is rosacea?

Moderate to severe rosacea

Moderate to severe rosacea

Rosacea is a persistent, chronic disorder of the skin and sometimes the eyes that is characterized by an inflammatory redness usually on the nose and cheeks but sometimes elsewhere, swelling, small and visible dilated or distended (“broken”) capillaries, bumps and acne pustules, irritated and watery eyes, and in severe cases, areas of thickened skin which could lead to disfigurement. Rosacea can be effectively treated in several different ways, but to my knowledge it cannot be cured. Diagnosis can be challenging, since many of the symptoms are similar to other skin disorders like regular acne, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis (disorder/irritation of the oil glands).

What causes rosacea?

Wine

Wine is a common rosacea trigger.

This is where things get tricky. There are several different schools of thought on why some people get rosacea and others do not. According to Dr. Jonathan Wilkin, a prominent rosacea expert and former Chief of the FDA Division of Dermatologic and Dental Drug Products, doctors “know less about rosacea than any other skin disorder.”

Most professionals do agree that it is acquired, not hereditary; but some still think it is genetic. According to the International Rosacea Foundation, if rosacea was an inherited skin disorder, it would start from the very early age of two weeks or several years after birth when most other inherited genetic disorders are noticed. Rosacea typically does not show up until people are between the ages of 30 and 50.

We know that rosacea “flare ups” are brought on by certain food and environmental triggers. Most healthcare, holistic, and skin care professionals agree that many of the triggers are acidic foods and drinks, stress, sun exposure, harsh climates, certain medications, and using skin care products and cosmetics that contain harsh and irritant ingredients.

Even though professionals agree on the triggers of the flare ups, this still does not explain why some people can eat the same foods, sit in the sun, use bad products, and never get rosacea; while others can have a couple of sips of wine and immediately experience a flare up.

Though most practitioners of Western Medicine believe the cause is unknown, many of the other healing modalities in the world disagree. However, practitioners of the many natural and holistic healing modalities, as well as nutritionists and skin care professionals believe that rosacea on the skin is direct evidence of inflammation inside the body, particularly the digestive tract.

Dr. Ben Johnson, an MD and skin care formulator with a holistic approach, points to the H. pylori bacterium in the stomach, as well as an overabundance of Candida (yeast) in the body as a probable cause of rosacea. He also notes that people with chronic digestive issues such as ulcerative colitis, GERD, and Crohn’s oftne display the classic signs of rosacea on the face*. These digestive issues are also associated with overly-acidic diets and Candida overgrowth, so it does make sense to link these disorders with rosacea.

Treatment options for rosacea

In Western Medicine, dermatologists treat rosacea symptoms with both internal and topical antibiotics and steroids. Lasers and IPL (intense pulsed light) therapy are also used to zap the visible capillaries to reduce their appearance. I am not a doctor, but I do not agree with this type of treatment.

Dr._Braun_Performs_IPL_for_a_ClientFirst of all, these doctors already admit that they do not know the cause of rosacea. Why would they treat something that has an unknown cause with antibiotics and steroids? It just doesn’t make sense to me to send an antibiotic or steroid into the body with no identified target. Furthermore, antibiotics and steroids kill all of the good bacteria in the body, which leads to Candida overgrowth…which ultimately manifests in some way on the skin. It is a never-ending cycle.

Lasers and IPL can improve the appearance and even reduce the visible capillaries on the face, but new ones will eventually surface. Regular repeat treatments are needed, which becomes very expensive. Additionally, these treatments can exacerbate the thinning of the dermis, which lowers the circulation and immune system of the skin. The dermis is where the protein fibers of youth, collagen and elastin are formed; so thinning the dermis will also speed up the aging process of the skin*.  LED light, on the other hand, is a very good and effective treatment for rosacea.

If you are someone with rosacea or you suspect you may have rosacea, I would suggest looking at your diet first and foremost. Eliminate or at least reduce highly acidic and inflammatory foods like caffeine, alcohol, meat, gluten, dairy, and sugar. Replace them with more alkaline foods like dark green, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and yams, melons, garlic and onions, fish and lean chicken, and whole grains. Note that these are all foods that provide loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, so they are great for overall health.

The website Rosacea Ltd. has a “Rosacea Diet” that has very helpful food charts that map out levels of acidity and alkalinity in foods. It is a great resource. Make sure you are keeping yourself adequately hydrated too. I suggest a visit to a nutritionist or holistic practitioner. They can give you detailed diet and lifestyle recommendations. I also want to point out that most cultures of the world who consume diets consisting of primarily alkaline foods do not have rosacea or other skin disorders.

Skincare for rosacea

Mild to moderate rosacea

Mild to moderate rosacea

Look at the labels on your skincare products, hair care products, and cosmetics. Rosacea.org has a great reference on their site about what ingredients to avoid, and good skincare tips for rosacea in general. They do not say to avoid parabens or formaldehyde-releasing agents…but I am adding it to the list.

If you choose to see an aesthetician or skincare therapist to help improve the appearance of your rosacea, look for one who specializes in this disorder. Make sure they use a skincare line designed for sensitive skin and that do not contain any of the ingredients that should be avoided. There should be no steaming of the face, and no exfoliation by means of scrubbing, abrading, or brushing the face. Facial massage should be minimal, or completely avoided.

Rosacea is a very treatable condition without medical intervention. If you are a rosacea sufferer, or think you might have this disorder, I highly recommend making the necessary changes to your diet, skincare regimen, and lifestyle before putting chemicals and drugs into your body or getting zapped with lasers.

Do you have rosacea?

LYS final front coverI share additional information and resources about treating rosacea holistically in my bestselling book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself. Get your copy HERE.

*Source: Johnson B, MD. Transform Your Skin Naturally: Groundbreaking Alternatives to Exfoliation and Other Damaging Antiaging Strategies (El Segundo, CA, 2010) 46-47, 159-161.

**Article first published as Behind the Rose-Colored Glasses on Blogcritics.

***Image 1 by Jebulon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 2 by M. Sand, D. Sand, C. Thrandorf, V. Paech, P. Altmeyer, F. G. Bechara [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 3 by Dr. Braun (Flickr: Dr. Braun Performs IPL for a Client) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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