If you’ve been diagnosed with rosacea or think you might have it, know you’re far from alone: Over 16 million Americans are living with the common skin condition, and a 2018 study found that 415 million have it worldwide. That said, researchers have yet to find a cure or determine what actually causes the skin’s inflammatory response.
Generally, rosacea entails flushed skin, visible blood vessels, redness, and a sensitivity to certain ingredients and triggers. While there’s still research being done on the condition, Dr. Peter Young, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Facet, notes that scientists have found a variety of factors that contribute to rosacea flare-ups. These include genetics and an overactive immune system, he explains. What’s more, Young adds, is that since there is no “cure,” treatment is more a matter of controlling and managing the symptoms — and maintaining the proper rosacea skin care routine is an essential component.
Another pro tip? Avoiding potential triggers of rosacea, the most common of which are sun exposure, heat, spicy foods, alcohol, wind, and cold, according to Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. “Hair care and skin products are also important under-appreciated potential triggers,” says Amin, which is why it’s helpful to ditch any ingredients in your regimen that cause irritation.
Ready to get your rosacea symptoms under control? Read on for everything to know about the condition, plus how to prevent, manage, and treat flare-ups, according to experts.
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What Is Rosacea & What Does It Look Like?
While rosacea generally makes the skin look “red,” no two outbreaks are exactly alike, says Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa. “For some, rosacea will be pretty constant, and for others, it may flare up for weeks or months and then dissipate for a bit,” DeRosa tells Bustle. Aside from redness and visible blood vessels, she adds that rosacea can also affect the eyes and cause dry, irritated, and/or swelling of the eyes and eyelids.
Flare-ups can be mistaken for something else, too, as they can show up looking like pimples and other conditions. “Sometimes rosacea will look like a breakout or just natural underlying redness to the skin,” DeRosa says, adding that people with rosacea may also feel a burning sensation during flare-ups. For this reason, many people confuse the condition with allergies, according to Amin. Other symptoms include ‘spider’ veins, broken capillaries, and red bumps that resemble acne, he tells Bustle.
Rosacea symptoms are typically only present during an outbreak, which can last from a few days to a few weeks. However, if you keep irritating your skin by using irritating ingredients in skin care or not avoiding triggers, Amin clarifies that each flare-up can contribute to longer-lasting symptoms, with each episode potentially contributing to longer-lasting damage. Called rhinophyma, this phenomenon can manifest in the form of visible blood vessels, skin thickening, and permanent redness, which DeRosa says is most commonly seen on the nose.
Signs You Have Might Have Rosacea
According to DeRosa, rosacea typically affects more women than men, and it’s usually first seen in one’s 30s or 40s. It can also occur in people of all skin types, though it’s typically easier to see in someone with fair skin. That said, you might fit none of the aforementioned descriptors and still have rosacea.
One reliable metric? When your symptoms become noticeable, says Young, which is why it’s important to pay attention when the telltale redness starts to show up on your face. DeRosa also advises keeping a close eye on your skin when consuming alcohol, spicy food, and caffeine, or doing anything that might dilate your blood vessels such as exercising or feeling stressed or anxious. Weather and cosmetics can play a key part, too: Excessive heat, cold, and sunlight are common triggers, she says, while certain topical products can aggravate rosacea. Thus, it’s helpful to note if your skin starts acting up when trying something new in your beauty routine or when the weather changes.
Finally, while scientists have yet to uncover what exactly causes the condition, DeRosa tells Bustle that many doctors believe that rosacea is hereditary. This means that if someone in your family has it, you very well may have it, too.
Rosacea Skin Care Tips
As noted above, there are ways to prevent and treat rosacea via the right skin care routine. Below are dermatologists’ tips for crafting the best regimen for your complexion.
1. Test Products Before Use
Young suggests patch testing new products before incorporating them into your routine, since rosacea symptoms can be brought on by so many ingredients. “Always test skin care and makeup products on a small area of your face, such as in front of your ear,” he says. “Do this for several days first before applying them to your entire face.”
2. Use A Mild Liquid Cleanser
Young also suggests cleansing your face twice daily with a mild liquid cleanser (not soap!), then rinsing with lukewarm water (not hot!). After that, delicately pat your face dry with a clean cotton towel. Moral of the story? It’s all about gentle cleansing. “Be gentle with your skin,” says Young. “Don’t rub or scrub your face and avoid washcloths, facial sponges, or exfoliating.”
3. Incorporate Gentle Skin Care Ingredients
During flare-ups, you’ll want to avoid harsh ingredients or anything that is on the more active side — think chemical exfoliants, fragrance, sodium lauryl sulfate, and alcohol, says Amin. Instead, DeRosa advises opting for ingredients such as niacinamide, as it helps calm skin that is red or irritated. Other anti-inflammatories to look for in products include aloe vera, oat extract, and hyaluronic acid.
4. Keep Skin Well Hydrated
Another key component to managing rosacea is ensuring your skin is adequately hydrated, according to experts. “Moisturize your face every day to help hydrate by trapping water in your skin,” says Young. He specifically suggests “rosacea-friendly” moisturizers formulated without fragrance or alcohol, as they can cause irritation.
5. Wear SPF Daily
Daily SPF use is always essential, but especially for people with rosacea since excessive sun exposure is such a common trigger. “UV sun protection is important for preventing flares, but choosing the right sunscreen is just as important,” Amin tells Bustle, who suggests using mineral sunscreen that’s fragrance-free. DeRosa adds that sunscreen containing micronized titanium and/or zinc are great as they’re sensitive-skin friendly and can help address redness.
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Mikkelsen, C.S. (2016). Rosacea: a Clinical Review. Dermatol Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5134688/
Dr. Peter Young, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Facet