What is rosacea?
Rosacea is a skin condition that is characterized by patches of inflamed, red skin caused by swelling of blood vessels near the skin’s surface. It mainly populates on the face, but can also spread to the chest and back.
According to the National Rosacea Society, about 16 million Americans live with rosacea, and since there is no known cure for this condition, learning how to control rosacea flare ups is the key to living with rosacea. The best way to control rosacea is to avoid breakouts in the first place by avoiding common triggers.
- Blushing and Flushing of the Skin
- Visible veins
- Breakouts - Papules (raised, red bumps) and pustules (inflamed, pus filled bumps)
- Thickened skin on and around the nose
- Watery, bloodshot eyes
Why do Rosacea Flares Happen
Like we mentioned earlier, rosacea is the product of the swelling of blood vessels at the surface of the skin which everybody experiences from time to time due to various stimuli, but the blood vessels of those with rosacea dilate more than normal, which leads to the blotchy red skin and breakouts.
Scientists have not found any conclusive reason that rosacea occurs in some people and not others. Some studies suggest that it’s genetic, but others tie it to certain bacteria, mites, or sun damage.
Common Rosacea Triggers
The most common rosacea trigger is also one of the most unavoidable. You can’t camp out in a coffin during daylight hours, so use an SPF 30 mineral sunscreen year round, even if it’s cloudy out.
We all get a bit of a flush when we feast on something a little too spicy, but for those with rosacea, it can be a lot worse than pink cheeks. Spicy foods are the most common foods that trigger rosacea since the capsaicin (what makes them spicy) affects the pain receptors in your skin that control heat, and thus blood vessel dilation.
Other common food triggers include:
- Soy sauce
If you are having trouble narrowing down which foods are triggering your outbreaks, keep a food log that notates what you are eating and any rosacea reactions that may occur, try to notice any trends associated with the relationship between your diet and skin, and adjust your dietary choice accordingly.
Heat increases your core body temperature which leads to rosacea flare ups. Avoid hot showers and saunas, dress in layers, stay in the shade, swap hot beverages for cold ones, and control your indoor temperature with fans and air conditioning to help keep your body temperature regulated and the rosacea flares at bay.
Since your heart rate and core body temperature go up while engaging in high intensity exercise, there is an increase in blood pumping through your veins, and it ends up near the skin’s surface, causing a flush. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid exercise completely, but opt for more low intensity workouts like walking and yoga, or just try shortening the length of your workouts. You can also incorporate some of these pre and post workout skin care tips.
Stress and emotions may feel purely internal, but they have tangible effects on your skin, and notably trigger rosacea. Think about the blush your face gets when you're embarrassed. That rush of blood to the face increases tenfold with rosacea, and people with rosacea may experience even more stress due to the appearance of their skin. Finding long term stress management techniques like meditation, a (not too hot) bath, a casual stroll, or reading can alleviate stress and curb rosacea flare ups.
Looking for more stress management tips? Read more about how stress affects your skin and how to reduce it.
Alcohol - One stress relief tactic you should avoid is alcohol. While a single cocktail to unwind won’t do much damage, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to rosacea flare ups.
A survey conducted by the National Rosacea Society showed that some alcohols had worse outcomes than others (eg: 76% of patients reported a reaction after drinking red wine and only 21% reported a reaction from drinking scotch). That same survey found that 90% of these rosacea patients that reduced their alcohol intake, noticed a decrease in rosacea flares.
Some medications, be it over the counter or prescribed, affect blood flow to the surface which can cause rosacea flares. These include:
- Beta blockers
- Topical Steroids
- Sympathomimetics (blood pressure medications)
You may turn to makeup and skin care to help treat and cover the symptoms of rosacea, but many can make rosacea worse. This is not limited to products for the face. Hair care and oral care products can also trigger rosacea since they come into contact with the skin.
Ingredients to Avoid if You Have Rosacea
Many skin, hair, and oral care products are formulated with ingredients that can irritate your skin.
The following ingredients should be avoided if you’re trying to reduce flare ups:
- Fragrance - Even though it’s one of the most common irritants for sensitive skin, fragrance, both natural and artificial, is still found in many skin care products. Choose fragrance free skin, hair, and body care products instead.
- Essential oils - Natural isn’t always better when it comes to skin care products for rosacea. Lots of natural skin care products use essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender, but these are common irritants for sensitive skin and rosacea. On top of that, essential oils which are often purified using alcohol or formaldehyde which are irritants in their own right.
- Sulfates - These harsh detergents can strip the skin of natural oils, which are essential for maintaining hydration. Use gentle SLS free cleansers that maintain hydration to avoid flare ups of rosacea.
- Alcohol - Drinking alcohol can trigger rosacea flares, so naturally, putting it on your skin is no better. Specifically, simple alcohols like ethanol, denatured alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol are the ones to avoid. However, fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol can actually be beneficial for the skin as they help with moisture retention. Here’s more information about the good vs bad alcohols in skin care products.
- Witch hazel - Toners with witch hazel are all the rage, but even if they claim to be alcohol free, most witch hazel is distilled using alcohol, and not the good kind, so do your best to avoid it and use a gentle, alcohol-free, pH balanced toner instead.
- Mint and menthol - While these aren’t super common in skin care products (they’re generally used in soothing and “cooling” products), mint and menthol are used to flavor most toothpastes on the market. This means they’re likely coming into contact with your skin when you brush your teeth which can irritate and dry out the skin in and around the mouth. Try a mint free toothpaste for great dental hygiene minus the rosacea flare.
- Chemical sunscreen - Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s UV rays and convert them into energy, mainly heat. You’ll remember that excess heat is a one way street to rosacea breakouts.This may seem like a double edged sword since sun is also a trigger for rosacea, but luckily mineral sunscreens reflect the sun's UV rays rather than absorbing them. A mineral, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is the best choice for preventing sun damage and rosacea flares.
Cleure products are free of the most common irritants. Try swapping them into your rosacea skin care routine.
Not every case of rosacea is the same, therefore not everyone will have the same triggers, so take the above advice with a grain of salt. Paying attention to what does and does not trigger you is what’s important if you want to manage your condition. If you love running and don’t notice a flush after your jog, then there’s no need to cut out running, and if spicy foods leave you red as a rooster, but you can’t live without hot sauce, cut your consumption just a little bit.
Rosacea treatment needs to be personalized and sustainable in order to help, so do your best to avoid these triggers, and see your doctor or dermatologist for personalized health information and advice to help manage your rosacea. If you do trigger a flare up here’s some home remedies for rosacea.