April is Rosacea Awareness Month and I wanted to write down some of the most ridiculous things people have said to me about my skin over the past 13 years. Sometimes it’s just a case of people not thinking before they speak, who are then mortified when they realise what they’ve said. Others are just terrible people who think they’re being funny. This is a very tongue-in-cheek list, although the frustration behind each one is real. If in doubt and you want to help, I’ve also included some tips on things you could say instead.
Wait, what is rosacea?
Rosacea is a skin condition that is thought to affect 6 million people in the UK and 16 million people in the US. It can present as facial flushing, and sufferers can develop pustules that are often mistaken for acne. My face burns, itches, swells, and is very uncomfortable. There is currently no cure, but there are ways to minimise the effects and make your skin happier (I cover a lot of these on my blog). You can also read more about the condition on the British Skin Foundation website.
Here are some things you should never, ever say to someone with rosacea...
1. What happened to your face?
Why would you ever say this to anyone?! Were you not socialised as a child? Stop it.
2. Are you sunburned?
As soon as warmer weather rolls around in the UK, I hear this on an almost daily basis. I wear SPF 50 and scuttle from shadow to shadow like a wrinkle-avoidant vampire, so the likelihood of me ever being sunburned is slim to none. And I’m not quite sure what response people expect from this. Worst case scenario, I reply with ‘nope, it’s an incurable skin condition but thanks for pointing it out…’ Best case scenario, you've just pointed out to someone with sunburn that they have sunburn. If you’ve ever had sunburn it’s unlikely that you were unaware of the fact. The response is only ever going to be “…yep?”
3. Are you drunk?
Rosacea can cause the thickening of skin on the nose (Rhinophyma) which led to it being referred to as ‘drinker’s nose’. My face turns a deep purple as soon as I have a sip of white wine so, although I look very flushed it’s just the reaction my skin has. Let me drink in *hic* peace!
4. You shouldn't wear make up / you need to wear more make up
Stop telling people what to do with their face (in fact, that's a pretty good rule for life)!
If people don’t want to wear make up they don’t have to, and you telling them that they should is incredibly rude. Personally I wear make up every time I go out, because being seen without it makes me feel stressed which will inevitably spark a flare up. Very heavy and greasy foundations can sometimes make my skin feel suffocated and that can make my rosacea flare up, but that hasn’t happened for years as I have found wonderful lightweight make up that my skin loves. People deal with their rosacea in whatever way they can, so please don’t tell them how they should look.
5. Do you fancy them? Are you embarrassed?
I’ve had a colleague ask me this referring to my boss, in front of him! It was humiliating and made me not want to speak up in future work situations for fear of it happening again. Rosacea means that your skin can often announce your emotions to the world without your permission: if I’m nervous, upset, angry, scared, or excited my face will flush. But it also means that other people can interpret my reaction any way they like, which is frustrating.
6. Blushing is cute!
Blushing is not the same as rosacea. Purple, mottled, throbbing, itchy, tight skin that hurts and decimates my self-confidence is nothing to do with the English Rose, pretty, flushed look which is so in vogue every spring.
Here are some things you could say instead...
Just carry on talking to them as though you can’t see it. The moment someone references my redness, it instantly makes me feel incredibly self-conscious. It makes people around us look to see what you’re talking about, and it can make the flare up even worse.
2. Would you like move somewhere cooler / warmer?
Any extremes of temperature can make my skin very unhappy. Although it can be annoying for my friends to sit inside on a beautiful sunny day (especially when we only get about two nice weather days a year in the UK!), or for me to use them as a wind shield if we’re stood outside, it means a lot to me when they acknowledge the issue without pointing out my skin.
3. Would you like some iced water?
Holding ice cubes or cold water in your mouth can help to cool the skin which can make a flare up more comfortable. This is how my husband shows that, even if we’re out in a restaurant with friends, he’s thinking of how he can help my skin calm down without pointing out the fact my face is red.
4. Compliment them
Bring up something else about their appearance. I worry that my redness is all that people can see, so when people compliment my lipstick or eye colour, it helps me to realise that a lot of the panic is in my head. Plus it’s just a nice thing to do!
How many of these phrases have you heard? What do you wish people would say or do when you're having a flare up?
It can be hard for people who haven't experienced rosacea to understand how it feels and how it can impact your life. Hopefully the more we talk about rosacea - and increase education about what it looks like and how it feels - the more rare these types of comments will become. I hope the suggestions for alternative things to say were helpful!
Happy Rosacea Awareness Month! If you want to read more about rosacea, you can find my blog here.