What is rosacea? Plus how to calm flare-ups

Does your skin look flushed and feel like it’s stinging or burning? You could be suffering from rosacea. But what is rosacea, and how can it be treated?

What is rosacea?

Rosacea is a long-term skin condition that causes skin to look flushed and feel like it's burning. It is most common in women, and normally makes itself known around the age of 30.

Unfortunately, the exact cause of rosacea is still unknown, which means there is currently no cure. Experts think it could be connected to the immune system or a larger than average number of tiny, natural mites existing on the skin, but the jury is still out. For this reason, rosacea needs to be managed in order to keep it under control.

Think of caring for rosacea-prone skin like training a puppy. It can be unpredictable and frustrating, but once you learn to understand your rosacea triggers, needs and behaviour patterns, things start to get easier. You can’t change the skin you’re in, but you can change how you look after it.

What does rosacea look like?

How rosacea looks and feels can vary from person to person, but there are a number of common symptoms, which include:

  • Redness

  • Blushing

  • Pustules

  • Burning or stinging sensation

  • Dryness

  • Swelling

  • Thickening of the skin

In most cases, rosacea will begin with the milder symptoms like flushing, and, if not managed effectively, escalate as time goes on. Rosacea tends to only be present on the face, but can in some cases spread to the scalp and chest too.

It’s worth noting that although rosacea affects all skin tones, redness and flushing is more apparent in those with fairer skin. “I see lots of people with type 4 skin on the Fitzpatrick scale who present to me with rosacea but, because it’s not always expected in this skin tone, it’s quite often misdiagnosed as acne,” says dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall. “All skin types can get rosacea.” If you have a darker complexion and are noticing that your skin stings when you go from cold to warm temperatures or feels especially warm after eating certain foods, take the time to investigate further.

Understandably, rosacea can have a negative impact on your self-esteem. Being told you have a long-term condition can be overwhelming, and the outward signs of rosacea can be difficult to disguise. Remember, it’s never trivial to be stressed about your skin.

Common triggers of rosacea

There are lifestyle tweaks and changes you can make to reduce the symptoms of rosacea. Some of the most common rosacea triggers and causes of flushed skin are:

  • Spicy food

  • Aerobic exercise

  • Cold weather

  • Alcohol

  • UV exposure

  • Using the wrong skincare

  • Hot water

  • Emotional stress

Can’t pinpoint exactly which one might be the root of your most recent rosacea flare-up? Try keeping a diary and on one page, record what you’ve been up to, how you felt and what you’ve eaten. You can then either take a photo or jot down how your skin has been looking and feeling. Look back at it after a month and see if you can spot any patterns.

How to treat rosacea

There is no set cure for rosacea, but there are ways to manage and treat it. As with all skin conditions, if you tick the boxes for rosacea symptoms, it’s a good idea to visit your GP or a dermatologist for an official diagnosis. They will be able to prescribe oral or topical treatments that are more effective than anything you can buy over the counter. In some cases, they may also recommend laser or light therapy.

“Rosacea is only a chronic condition if badly treated,” says Dr Justine Hextall. “I tend to give patients a topical prescription of Soolantra or azelaic acid to calm everything down and get the skin barrier super healthy before patch testing any in-clinic treatments. It’s a good idea to get some control and start to fade the papules before using a laser to switch off some of the feeder vessels which make the skin flush.”

Day-to-day, keeping on top of your rosacea triggers will help to keep things under control. As for skincare, think of your complexion as a beautiful silk blouse. It needs to be treated with the utmost care to keep it at its very best. That means no abrasive rubbing with flannels or scrubs, using cool not hot water when washing and dialing back the active ingredients. A simple, stripped-back regime focusing on soothing your skin and rebuilding its barrier will reward you with a calmer, more comfortable complexion. And of course, don’t forget your daily SPF.

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