Winter is rough on all of our skin — dryness, cold air, and heavy wind can do a number on even those of us with otherwise great complexions. But for some people, weather extremes cause not only just red skin but also painful symptoms and flare ups of a condition called rosacea.
“Rosacea is a common skin disease characterized by redness, flushing and visible blood vessels in the face,” said Dr. Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatologist and Laser Institute. It is not a form of acne or sunburn, and in no way related to personal hygiene.
The chronic condition mostly affects the skin on the face, most commonly the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. About half of those with rosacea also experience symptoms around their eyes that include blood-shot eye whites and a feeling of grittiness.
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Rosacea can (and does) affect anyone
, explains Dr. Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatologist and Laser Institute. It most often affects those who are between 30 and 50 years old, fair skinned, blonde, and blue eyed, and there could also be a genetic component that makes it more likely to occur in some people. It is not typically associated with skin of colour
, but can occur. It’s more common for women to have rosacea than men, Dr. Waibel said — but women are less likely to have severe rosacea.
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There are four different forms of rosacea, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. Mild or erythematotelangiectatic rosacea involves flushing or redness of the facial skin, which can come and go, and sometimes also results in swelling, burning, roughness, and some visible blood vessels. Moderate or papulopustular rosacea is marked by persistent redness and acne-like bumps along with burning and stinging, while severe or phymatous rosacea involves those symptoms as well as rhinophyma, rosacea affecting the skin on the nose. And ocular rosacea can affect the eyes and eyelids in addition to the symptoms of other types of the condition.
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The red skin tone that one associates with rosacea is its most visible symptom, but it’s not the only one. Sensitive skin that experiences burning or stinging sensations is one of those symptoms, Dr. Waibel said. Skin can become rough, swollen, and scaly when irritated. People with severe rosacea often experience breakouts similar to acne, with tiny pus-filled pimples or bumps, and and their skin texture is thick, raised, and oily.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rosacea. However, there are ways to prevent rosacea flare ups, Dr. Waibel said, that involve avoiding the things that trigger them. The CDA has a trigger tracking worksheet
that can help you find your own particular triggers.
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Environmental triggers for rosacea include weather extremes like particularly hot or cold weather, Dr. Waibel said. Exposure or sun and wind are also triggers for some people. These triggers can be hard to avoid, she acknowledged, particularly depending on where in the world you live and how much time your lifestyle and job require you to be outside.
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You may have more control over lifestyle triggers that can aggravate rosacea. Spicy foods are a trigger for some people, Dr. Waibel said, and alcohol consumption can also make flare ups more likely. Heavy exercise is another possible lifestyle trigger, and certain skin-care products can irritate skin that is already sensitive. Pay attention to what you were doing in advance of a flare up to get a good idea of what your personal triggers are, so you can minimize or avoid them.
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While the best protection is to avoid rosacea flare ups, Dr. Waibel advised, you do have options for relieving the symptoms of the condition and reducing side effects like skin irritation. Moisturizers can soothe irritated or burning skin, she said, and there are some that contain ingredients with skin-soothing and redness-reducing properties. Look for non-drying products free of alcohol and astringents, the CDA recommends, and use a mild cleanser and avoid scrubbing or rubbing your skin.
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Along with all the other reasons to protect your skin from the possible harm that comes from UV exposure, it’s important for people with rosacea to wear sunscreen because sunlight is a common trigger, Dr. Waibel advised. The CDA recommends using SPF 30 or higher every day.
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A rare condition related to rosacea is rhinophyma
— this is when the skin on the nose becomes thick, swollen, and bumpy. This occurs most often when rosacea is left untreated, which is one more reason why it’s important to avoid triggers and treat the symptoms of the condition.
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A dermatologist could help you relieve the symptoms of your rosacea and avoid future flare ups. There are topical creams that can help, Dr. Waibel advised, and others find success with low-dose antibiotics and medications like Accutane. (Keep in mind that the use of Accutane is heavily restricted and not for everyone
.) Dr. Waibel has seen success treating patients in her clinic with lasers, specifically the Pulse Dye Laser. "The Pulse Dye Laser, commonly referred to as PDL, targets red blood vessels and causes them to decrease over time with several treatments,” she said.
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Nearly three-quarters of rosacea patients report low self-esteem
, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. The same number have also felt that the visible symptoms of the condition affects their careers. Successfully controlling the symptoms of the condition leads to improvements in the mental and emotional well-being of patients, the CDA reported, which is another reason to seek help for rosacea. And if the condition has affected your own self esteem or mental or emotional health, talk to your doctor about counselling options.