I used to feel terribly indulgent and guilty for getting so upset about the skin on my face. I don’t consider myself to be a vain person, but vanity kept stepping forward to steal the limelight – I was not comfortable with this. On reflection, perhaps it wasn’t vanity at all, but more embarrassment and exhaustion at trying to hide something that is almost impossible to hide…my face!
I was lucky enough to have escaped the teenage years relatively unscathed in terms of skin complaints, only to be metaphorically kicked in the shins when I entered my thirties and was diagnosed with Rosacea. I want to be honest from the start – I was hoping to use images of me for this feature, to show the full extent of the rosacea, but due to social stigma and embarrassment I have decided not to. I’m genuinely hoping there will be a time where this won’t be the case – if only I were as brave as the wonderful Lex, (who is busy kicking rosacea’s butt over on Instagram).
I am now 41 and have suffered with this skin issue for the best part of 10 years. During that time I have seen various GP’s, two dermatologists, tried various (steroid based) creams, taken antibiotics, adjusted my diet and reduced my alcohol consumption amongst many other things in an attempt to combat this condition.
Rosacea is considered a common skin disease and according to research it affects 1 in 10 people in the UK and is more common in women aged between 30 and 50. Rosacea causes enflamed looking redness on the cheeks, nose, chin and forehead. Some people (including me) also get blister like bumps (pustules) on the face that can be sore and itchy, whilst others may suffer with burning/sore eyes (ocular rosacea).
Medical professionals still don’t know what causes rosacea but there are are a number of possible explanations including;
- Abnormalities in facial blood vessels: Skin specialists (dermatologists) suggest that abnormalities in the blood vessels of the face cause the flushing, persistent redness, and visible blood vessels. What causes the inflammation of the blood vessels is still a mystery.
- Light skin colour: A much higher percentage of people with fair skin develop rosacea compared with other people.
- Demodex folliculorum (microscopic mite): Demodex folliculorum lives on human skin and usually causes no problems. However, patients with rosacea have much higher numbers of these mites than others do. It is unclear whether the mites cause the rosacea, or whether the rosacea causes the overpopulation of the mites.
- H. pylori bacteria: H. pylori, a bacteria found in the gut, stimulates the production of bradykinin, a small polypeptide known to cause blood vessels to dilate. Experts suggest that this bacterium may play a role in the development of rosacea.
- Family history (inheritance, genes): Many patients with rosacea have a close relative with the condition (Source – Christian Nordqvist – Medical News Today)
There are may factors that are considered to aggravate or act as a trigger for a ‘flare up’ of rosacea. These include:
Caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, wind, dairy products, sunlight, hot baths and extreme temperatures to name but a few. (As someone who enjoys coffee, considers curry a favourite food and loves a tipple over the weekend whilst soaking in a hot bath – this was not good news!)
I have however stopped having hot baths, reduced my alcohol and caffeine consumption and I try to eat milder curries and (sadly) it has only made a marginal difference to my skin.
The first thing that I alway read when I am researching treatments for rosacea is that ‘there is no cure’ but various treatments can be used to control symptoms…great! I have found that keeping a diary of what I eat and what I am doing over a period of a few months can be helpful to look for patterns of when a flare up can occur. This can also be useful to show your GP if you go to seek treatment…
Such as metronidazole cream or gel, azelaic acid cream or gel and ivermectin cream) may be offered. They usually need to be applied twice a day for 6-8 weeks.
Such as tetracycline, oxytetracycline, doxycycline and erythromycin) may also be offered. These are usually taken for 4-6 weeks but sometimes a low dosage may be prescribed for a longer period.
Laser and intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment
Redness and visible blood vessels can also sometimes be successfully improved with this treatment. (Source – www.nhs.co.uk)
All of the above can be discussed with your GP and the trialled. Some will have a positive effect and some will not. On the whole, I have found that the antibiotics and topical treatments make very little difference to my skin, although I do know others who have said that they have seen great improvements – the key is to be willing and persistent and hopefully you will find out what works for your skin!
– Not me, but the very brave and wonderful @TalontedLex –
The Psychological Impact
Not only is rosacea a long term condition but it is also generally poorly understood. What I wasn’t prepared for was the damage that such a visually obvious skin condition can have on one’s self-esteem. I was a teacher for many years and I could feel students’ eyes focusing on my skin, some even went so far as to say ‘Miss, why is your face always so red? I would explain what rosacea was to them, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment all round – then inevitably go home and have a little cry. Not the worst thing that could happen I know, but after ten years of feeling like your head is a beacon, it gets a little wearing.
Understanding now that this chronic condition is not going to magically go away, and that my focus on lotions and potions and adjusting some of my lifestyle choices over the last decade have perhaps been misguided, I am now concentrating on how to combat the psychological damage that a facial skin complaint can cause.
Here are a few thoughts:
- Avoid stress. Not always achievable I know, but baby steps and and all that! Not only does stress cause a flare up but it can also have a hugely negative impact on our sense of self-worth. Try regular exercise (yoga perhaps) or practice breathing techniques. Others I know swear by meditation, but I personally have struggled with this. Try different types of calming exercise and eventually you’ll find something that works for you.
- Get the knowledge! Inform yourself as best as possible about what rosacea is and how it effects you. That way if you see someone looking you can avoid awkward conversations by just telling them what it is. I found this reduced my embarrassment on the whole. Also the more you know, the better prepared you can be – this can help combat feelings of despair when the next flare up occurs.
- Talk! To a partner, doctor, friend – whoever you are comfortable with. I have found that talking about my frustration about my skin has helped profoundly. Family and friends will be kind and offer a plethora of ‘oh it’s not that bad’s’ – they mean well, so take it all in. Medical professionals can potentially offer counselling or support groups to help come to terms with this chronic condition. If you feel that you are becoming anxious or depressed as a result of your rosacea PLEASE speak to your GP…If you feel you need any support, please get out there and ask for it. It makes all the difference. Brush aside the embarrassment or the guilt or the ‘I’m wasting the doctors time’. You are WORTHY!
- There are also a number of online support groups for rosacea sufferers. Give it a try – knowing that I am not alone and that millions of people struggle with this condition also, has had a profoundly positive effect on my ability to cope on a daily basis! https://rosacea-support.org/
- If you do have a treatment plan, stick with it – knowing that you are doing everything you can to kick rosacea’s ass will make you feel empowered and focused. Psychologically, this is gold!
Since I first starting writing this feature, over the last two weeks, I have found a product that seems to be having a positive effect! Hip Hip Hurray!!! I am almost too nervous to write it down incase it breaks the spell and the red fiery sore skin returns. A few weeks ago I read an article about a women suffering with Rosacea as a result of an allergic reaction to hair dye (I’ve been dying my hair for 20 years and had never thought of this!). She searched for a product to help her skin and was really desperate as she was getting married imminently. She came across a product called ‘Kalme’ and was thrilled with the results, claiming that the redness and soreness of her skin cleared up really quickly.
So, I immediately ordered myself some ‘Kalme Day Cream SPF30‘ – after two weeks my skin is markedly better…like better than it’s been in 10 years! I did find that my face was still rather dry though, so after doing further research, I went on to purchase the ‘Kalme Night Cream’, which gives extra overnight moisturisation.
My skin isn’t perfect, but for the first time in a decade I felt like I could potentially leave the house without having to plaster concealer all over my mug. This moment was actually quite an emotional one for me, having spent so much time feeling self-conscious about my skin. It’s still early days and I have read reviews from people that say the Kalme products didn’t work for them. But, if like me, you have tried many products and medications over a number of years and nothing has worked, trying another one is no big deal and it could so be worth it!
I’d love to hear from any fellow sufferers – how have you managed roseacea yourself? If you’ve been lucky enough to find something that really works, please let us know. You can always comment anonymously if you prefer.
And sending much love to all fellow rosacea sufferers today.