Red with Rosacea

Red rosacea explained

I could’ve wrung my little brother David’s neck. A friend was over for dinner, and David looked me right in the eyes, pointed his trigger-finger and yelled, “POW! POW!”

He wasn’t playing cowboys. He was sing-songing the latest acne commercial, urging me to blast my teenage zits away with “POW! POW! POW-erful Clearasil!”

My anger and embarrassment has cleared up in the many years since, but sadly, my face hasn’t.

In my 20s, a dermatologist told me it was just “adult acne.” In my 30s, the diagnosis changed to rosacea. And in the years since, I’ve learned a lot about what triggers my condition, which research shows usually gets worse as a person ages. (Oh, joy!)

Rosacea (pronounced rose-ay-sha), is a common skin condition that causes redness of the cheeks, nose, chin, forehead or eyelids. Anyone can get rosacea, but it’s most common in fair-skinned, middle-aged women.

The condition typically comes and goes, often during cold or hot weather extremes, and can be mistaken for acne, allergic reaction, sunburn or other skin problems. Some people with rosacea have only occasional flushing or small red bumps. Others face more troubling symptoms, such as constant skin eruptions, enlarged blood vessels, swelling of the nose and thickened skin.

Comedian W.C. Fields, with his ruddy complexion and bulbous nose, is often cited as rosacea’s poster child. The painter Rembrandt also probably had rosacea, according to researchers who analyzed his famous self-portraits for an article published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Like Rembrandt in his paintings, I usually have a few blotchy spots on my face. I also get the full-face flush after exercising, particularly on a hot and sunny day. I’ve had total strangers ask if I’m all right, because I get so red-faced.

Rosacea is not always aggravated by the same thing or the same thing every time. Here are some common triggers, culled from personal experience, the Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Hot foods or beverages
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Temperature extremes
  • Sunlight
  • Stress, anger or embarrassment
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hot baths or saunas
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • Drugs that dilate blood vessels, including some blood pressure medications

Talk to your doctor if you show signs of rosacea. Although there is no cure, many over-the-counter and prescription gels, ointments and pills are available to help you treat flare-ups and combat progression of the condition.

Other tips for keeping rosacea in check include:

  • Wear sunscreen year-round.
  • In the winter, protect your face with a scarf or ski mask.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat when out in the sun.
  • Wash problem areas with a gentle cleanser.
  • Avoid facial products that contain alcohol or other skin irritants.

And though they may look a little strange, those green-tinted foundations and powders you may have seen in the cosmetics aisle really work to correct red tones and splotchy areas.

- Mickey Gramig