Unlike most teenagers, I sailed through my teenage years blemish free. I had the odd pimple, but while my friends battled with breakouts on a daily basis, my face stayed smooth and clear. So when rosacea struck in my mid-30s, I was completely unprepared.
The first flare up I had was when I was pregnant with my third child – I first put it down to pregnancy hormones, but even after birth it stayed.
I was mortified – it only affected the left side of my face, and in a space of about 10cm I must have had about 20 of these raised, angry looking pustules. They were so prominent that I could see them in my peripheral vision.
After about 18 months, they disappeared, and although I was left with slight reddening of the skin, it was again smooth and I was happy with that.
Nobody really knows what causes rosacea, a facial skin condition, but it is believed to be triggered, at least in part, by an overactive immune system and high levels of inflammation.
In my case, at the time, I believed it to be hormone related. However, I have had many flare-ups in the 12 years since – perhaps pregnancy triggered a dormant condition. But looking back I was extremely stressed at the time, and stress IS known to be a huge factor.
In its early stages it is usually characterised by facial flushing and redness, but can progress to visible blood vessels on the face, acne-like spots, permanently red cheeks and a stinging sensation.
I didn’t have the flushing, not that I noticed anyway, although to be fair I have always had a tendency to blush. As far as I was aware I went straight into the spots.
Although not dangerous, rosacea can have a detrimental effect on a sufferer’s self-esteem and confidence, as the symptoms are so obviously visible.
Never was a truer word spoken! I had my own business, working as a therapist at the time, and I hated being face to face with clients. I started speaking to them almost ‘side-on’, which must have come across as rude, but the truth was, I hated the way I looked.
It can go into ‘remission’, meaning that symptoms may not appear for a period of time in between flare-ups – sometimes as long as months or even years, without any of the visible features associated with the condition.
Fortunately this is true. I went years without having another episode, but when I did it came back with a vengeance. Not only was my left cheek affected, this time so was my right and it extended from my jaw line to my cheek bone.
Ocular rosacea is another variant of the condition, which, as the name suggests, affects the eyes. Sufferers report feeling a stinging and burning sensation, irritation and blurred vision.
This was also something I wasn’t prepared for. I have never been diagnosed with this, but when I have a recurrence of the skin problem, I also have all of the symptoms above. My doctor simply calls it ‘dry-eye’ and sends me away with eye drops, but the symptoms and timing all fit.
When I got my diagnosis of rosacea, I was prescribed various steroid and antibiotic creams and gels. I hated them, they stung and completely dried out my already fragile skin, so I turned to natural remedies.
As current medical opinion is leaning towards inflammation and an over-active immune system being at least partially responsible for rosacea, it makes sense to take a holistic, or ‘whole body’ approach to treating it.
After much research, trial and error, I found some remedies that were effective.
Cutting out foods which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties should be the first step in treating rosacea naturally. Wherever possible, always heal from within.
If you know of any food which causes an allergic reaction within you, whether it affects the skin or not, it should be eliminated altogether, as it may well be a contributing factor in a flare up of rosacea.
In addition to this, try to cut out as many of the common trigger foods as you can.
• Caffeine (coffee, tea, cola)
• Alcohol (this makes facial flushing worse, which is often a pre-cursor of a rosacea flare up)
• Processed foods
• Dairy foods
• ‘Bad’ fats, such as is used in fried foods, trans fats, and refined vegetable oils.
Try swapping the trigger foods shown above with ‘clean’ foods, such as:
• Organic fruit and vegetables (to eliminate the toxins used in pesticides which can play a large part in allergic reactions)
• Free-range eggs, salmon which has been caught in the wild, and meat from animals which have been grass-fed.
• Green leafy vegetables (organic)
• Certain spices which have been used as anti-inflammatories for many years, such as turmeric and ginger.
• ‘Good fats’ such as coconut and olive oil.
• Nuts and seeds which are also a good source of healthy fats and proteins and should be part of your anti-rosacea diet.
Like many types of skin disorders, stress can exacerbate the problem and cause an outbreak, which then creates a never ending cycle. Stress causes a flare up, the flare up causes emotional stress, which then causes more symptoms.
Finding a few moments a day to reduce stress is vital and can be achieved in many ways.
Find a way to take some much needed ‘me’ time, and use that time to calm down and relax.
One of the most aggressive triggers of rosacea is sunlight, in particular UV light. If you suffer from rosacea you should always use a sun screen on your face.
(Vitamin D can be absorbed through any part of your skin, so don’t let that stop you using protection on your face – baring your arms to the sun is just as effective.)
Opt for a mineral sun screen containing titanium and/or zinc oxide, as opposed to a non-mineral type. These are far gentler on the skin, and on the body in general, as they are hypo-allergenic and non-absorbent and don’t contain a long list of chemicals which could irritate your skin.
Cleansing and moisturising are also a necessary part of your skin care routine, but again try to avoid chemical-laden brands.
I have found organic virgin coconut oil to be fantastic at both cleansing and moisturising. Simply applying the oil to your face, and then wiping off with cotton wool, is highly effective at removing dirt and make-up, and will moisturise at the same time.
(It is interesting to note that coconut oil is also a natural sunscreen – the addition of zinc oxide will increase its SPF factor.)
Essential oils can be used to enhance the properties of coconut oil, when used as a moisturiser or cleanser.
Each oil has a different benefit, and by adding 3-6 drops of your chosen oil to 1oz of coconut oil, you can address specific areas. Listed below are some of the essential oils known to be beneficial in the treatment of rosacea and their particular properties.
• Anti-inflammatory – Lavender, Borage, German Chamomile
• Emollient – Borage, Jojoba
• Reduction of redness – Borage
As with any condition, it can take time to find a solution, and what works for one person may not work for another. Using these methods has not cured me of rosacea, and I still have flare-ups. However, they are much less severe and don’t leave behind the residual redness which they used to.
By trying these methods one at a time, you will hopefully begin the journey towards controlling your rosacea.
And by turning to natural remedies, you are limiting the side effects which are part and parcel of modern pharmaceutical medicines.
Keep a journal, noting foods which trigger your symptoms, and those which don’t, and do the same with topical remedies such as sun screens and cleansing, and with patience and time you will discover a routine which suits you.
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** (Coconut oil can cause a reaction in a minority of users. It is advisable to test a small area for a few days first, before using regularly to make sure you have no adverse effects).