Suffer with outbreaks of redness, bumps and pimples? You could be suffering from rosacea — a chronic inflammatory skin condition — without even knowing it. Here's how to recognise the signs and find the right rosacea treatment for you.
Have you noticed that your skin is often red and flushed, particularly in hot weather or after you’ve had a glass of wine? You might be suffering with a common skin condition called rosacea.
What is rosacea?
Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that affects the central part of the face: mainly the cheeks, nose, chin, and middle of the forehead. It can appear in many different degrees, ranging from mildly red skin right through to severe inflammation that’s sometimes accompanied by pus-filled bumps.
It’s more common than people realise — 415 million people worldwide suffer with rosacea and it affects up to 10% of Australians. It affects both men and women, although it’s three times more common in women than men.
It usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50, and it tends to be more common in people with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.
How do I know I have rosacea?
The tricky thing about rosacea is that in many cases, people don’t actually know they have it. Quite often it’s mistaken for either acne, eczema or a skin allergy, as these skin conditions can display similar symptoms.If you notice that your skin is prone to redness, becomes easily flushed and you start to see broken capillaries (small blood vessels) on your skin, these can all be early warning signs that you could be suffering from rosacea.
These signs are often ignored, and as a result rosacea can go undiagnosed for a number years. When left untreated, these symptoms can get much worse, escalating into persistent redness, itching and burning, visibly dilated capillaries, papules, pustules, and acne-like spots.
Other symptoms that can accompany some or all of the above include dry, flaky skin, a burning or stinging sensation, thickening skin, dry, itchy bloodshot eyes, and sensitivity to light. There are four different types of rosacea, so your symptoms will depend on the type (or types — you can have more than one type of rosacea) you’re diagnosed with.
Rosacea sufferers tend to experience flare-ups of symptoms, and they often occur in cycles for either weeks or months at a time. After each flare-up, symptoms typically go away and then return again. These are usually caused by specific environmental triggers.
While there isn’t a cure rosacea, fortunately it’s a condition that can be easily managed with the right treatment, particularly when you’re aware of the triggers that set your rosacea off.
What are are the different types of rosacea?
There are four different types of rosacea, and each of them display their own set of individual symptoms. It’s possible to have more than one type of rosacea, so you might experience a number of the symptoms below. The main symptoms to look out for however, are flushed, red skin and pus-filled bumps.
Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (ETR) — this is the most common type of rosacea and is associated with facial redness, flushing, and visible broken blood vessels on the face that look like spider veins. Skin can be sensitive, dry and rough.
Papulopustular (or acne) rosacea — most commonly affects middle-aged women and is associated with acne-like breakouts. Skin can also appear mild and extremely red.
Rhinophyma — this rare form of rosacea usually only affects men and is often accompanied by another subtype of rosacea. It’s characterised by thickening of the skin on the nose.
Ocular rosacea — this type of rosacea is centred around the eye area. Symptoms include dry, irritated eyes, swollen eyes and eyelids, and sometimes blurred vision and sensitivity to light. It’s been reported that 50% of people with rosacea experience eye-related symptoms.
What causes rosacea?
We don’t know the exact cause of rosacea — it’s still considered a complex condition, with many contributing factors — but we do know that certain things can increase your risk of having it. Fair-skinned women between the ages of 30-50 are most likely to develop rosacea, but it can also run in families. Whilst it’s not strictly hereditary, studies have shown that if someone in your family has rosacea, you’re four times more likely to experience it than non-sufferers.
In addition to genetic predisposition, gender and age, there are a number of potential factors that can be attributed to the condition. Some evidence suggests that one of the key causes is the immune system — abnormal functioning of the immune system leads to inflammation within the skin — but others include abnormalities in blood vessels, which can cause flushing and persistent redness; bacteria found in the gut; skin peptides that are triggered by various external and environmental factors including diet, stress, alcohol, heat and cold; or even microscopic mites called demodex that live on the human skin.
It can also affect those with a damaged skin barrier. If your skin barrier is impaired, irritants can enter the skin and cause inflammation and free radical damage. Rosacea sufferers are particularly sensitive to UV damage, so a high-factor, daily SPF and anti-pollution skincare is essential to protect the skin.
- exposure to sunlight / UV rays
- changes in temperature and cold weather
- hot weather or overheating, particularly at night
- stress and anxiety
- intense physical exercise
- alcohol (red wine especially)
- spicy food
- some cosmetics and skincare products (usually heavily fragranced)
- some medications that dilate blood vessels (like blood-pressure medication)
While you can’t necessarily control environmental triggers like sun and the weather (other than purposefully trying to avoid them), you can minimise your flare-ups by consciously trying to avoid them or cutting them out of your lifestyle. In many cases, this is considered a successful treatment option to manage rosacea symptoms.
If you do think you're suffering with rosacea, it's important to visit your GP or a dermatologist for a diagnosis. If left untreated, rosacea symptoms can become increasingly worse.
So what's the treatment for rosacea?
Unfortunately there’s no long-term cure for rosacea; it’s a persistent condition that, if left untreated, worsens over time. However, there are a number of targeted professional treatments and specialised products that aim to minimise and manage symptoms.If you think you might have rosacea, in the first instance, visit your GP for a diagnosis. You can also visit a dermatologist who will be able to recommend a course of treatment based on your individual symptoms. Some treatments that are known to put flare-ups on pause include:
- avoidance of known triggers – such as sunlight, alcohol and spicy foods.
- laser or light therapy to reduce (or get rid of) the blood vessels and redness, and to remove thickened skin.
- topical creams and lotions containing antibiotics, such as metronidazole, tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid to reduce skin inflammation and discolouration.
- antibiotics to help treat inflammation and eye symptoms.
- OTC eye drops and antibiotics for ocular rosacea.
- fluorescent light therapy — Kleresca® Light Therapy stimulates the skin’s repair response by penetrating the different layers of the skin, to ease redness, burning and stinging.
- strong acne drugs (which may cause some unwanted side effects).
What skincare products are best for rosacea?
Many harsh, fragranced skincare products can aggravate redness-prone skin. For anyone with rosacea it’s best to follow a simple, gentle routine that includes cleansing, exfoliating, and hydrating. Opt for gentle, antioxidant-rich products that will help to reduce inflammation and redness, whilst also helping to strengthen the skin’s protective barrier.
Using a soap-free, pH balanced cleanser will help to keep the skin’s protective barrier intact, so it won’t irritate your skin. We love Avène Antirougeurs Clean Soothing Cleansing Lotion. It’s super gentle and designed to soothe sensitive and redness-prone skin.
Occlusive moisturisers that block the skin’s water loss can also help to restore this protective barrier. Redness prone skin is often also dry, so these types of products deeply hydrate by leaving a thin film on your skin that helps to hold in moisture. This in turn, strengthens your skin’s natural defences so it can build up tolerance and protect against environmental damage.
Avene Antirougeurs Fort Redness-Relief Concentrate for Chronic Redness 30mL
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Light Sensitive Moisturiser 40mL
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast B5 Face Mask 25g
La Roche-Posay Rosaliac AR Intense Serum
It’s also essential to invest in a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen like Avène Antirougeurs Unify SPF30 or La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Dry Touch SPF50+ Facial Sunscreen, as the sun can aggravate the condition.
It’s also a good idea to avoid irritating ingredients such as menthol, camphor, strong fragrances and sodium lauryl sulfate.
If you’re looking for a go-to skincare brand, Avène and La Roche-Posay really know their stuff when it comes to treating rosacea and sensitive skin. We’re obsessed with Avène’s Tolérance Extrême and La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane range. They’re wonderfully gentle, but really work.
Have a tailored skincare routine
Avene Antirougeurs Fort Redness-Relief Concentrate for Chronic Redness 30mL
Avene Antirougeurs Calm Redness-Relief Soothing Mask 50mL
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Softening Foaming Gel Cleanser 150mL
La Roche-Posay Rosaliac AR Intense Serum 40mL
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