By Dr. Kerry Shaughnessy
It’s fitting that April is “Rosacea Month”. After celebrating the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, many of us wake up to the “Celtic curse” of rosacea the next day! While we generally associate the condition with people of Northern European or British Isles descent, the truth is that it can afflict men and women of every race, nationality and skin type.
Rosacea can take many forms. Some people have oily complexions with pimple-like bumps. Others have dry, flaky skin that is very sensitive to skin care products and the environment. Others have eye irritation. Many of us get the dreaded flushing and tiny red blood vessels that give us a ruddy complexion. Most patients have a combination of these symptoms.
There’s a lot of science behind why Rosacea occurs, but the best way to think about it is simply uncontrolled inflammation of the skin. The outer layer of our skin acts as a protective barrier to prevent moisture loss and protect against environmental irritants. When the skin is inflamed, the barrier doesn’t work as well. Tiny breaks in the barrier allow chemicals and other things to make their way in, and for moisture to make its way out. These actions worsen inflammation and make the barrier even weaker.
Three common triggers for rosacea are ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, stress, and improper skin care. Most of us can’t do much about stress in our lives, but fortunately there are steps we can take to address UV radiation and skin care.
First, it’s important to use gentle skin care products. Look for features such as “sensitive skin” and “fragrance free”. Avoid products promising “anti-aging”, “anti-acne” or “skin-brightening” properties. They often irritate rosacea-prone skin. Same goes for many exfoliating scrubs, even “all natural” ones. The basic rule of thumb here is that your cleanser of choice needs to remove makeup and impurities gently, without stripping the skin of moisture or irritating it in any way.
During the daytime, wearing a moisturizer with broad spectrum sunscreen protection of SPF 30 or higher is a must. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are especially good at giving broad spectrum coverage, without irritating sensitive skin. Many of these products apply clear and are absorbed into your skin almost immediately, without that “greasy” feeling, while some come mildly tinted to even out your skin tone. And if you’re going to be outside for any length of time, you’d also be wise to have a hat and sunglasses handy too, in addition to sunscreen.
You can also benefit from a moisturizer at night, even if your skin seems oily. Look for products containing ceramides, which help restore and repair restore your skin barrier while you sleep.
Last but not least, find an experienced, caring dermatologist near you, and work together as a team to customize the best treatment and prevention regimen for you and your skin. Remember — rosacea doesn’t have to make you feel self conscious, or diminish your quality of life. With the right physician, best medicine, and personalized skin care routine, you’ll be amazed at your capacity to control and conquer this all-too-common skin condition.
About the author:
Dr. Shaughnessy from Water’s Edge Dermatology is a board certified in dermatology who attended Harvard University where she graduated with a degree in biochemical sciences and received the William Fahey House award. Her special interests include skin cancer, acne and rosacea as well as minimally invasive cosmetic procedures.