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11 Things People Living With Rosacea Want You To Know

It's not just rosy cheeks.

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I'm Lex Gillies. I'm a beauty blogger, and I have rosacea.

Lex Gillies

But what on earth *is* rosacea? Let me give you the lowdown. I spoke to Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, to offer both first-person and professional points of view on the condition and how to control it.

1. Certain people are more likely to get rosacea.

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I first developed rosacea aged 21. I had always had red cheeks and had blushed easily, but as time went on the redness became more severe, especially at certain points: when drinking alcohol, after exercise, when I was under a lot of stress. My skin would feel extremely warm and itchy, almost like heat rash, and would take hours or sometimes days to calm down.

Apparently such an early onset of rosacea is rare, as Dr Mahto told me: It "most commonly affects individuals aged 30-60 years of age. It is generally more common in females and often presents with facial redness. This is usually intermittent at first, but over time can become fixed. Rosacea tends to affect those with fair skin, blue eyes, or Celtic origin."

2. No one is sure what causes it.

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There are many theories: weaker blood vessels that dilate more easily than they should; genetics; tiny mites living on your face… *shudder*. But for now, no one is sure what causes rosacea. You can read more about current research into potential causes here.

Although most people have never heard of rosacea, it's actually fairly common. A British Skin Foundation spokesperson said that "the NHS estimates approximately 1 in every 600 people are diagnosed with rosacea each year in the UK".

3. Currently there is no cure.

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Being diagnosed with a facial skin condition is scary enough, but finding out that there's no cure makes it a lot harder to deal with. Luckily there are ways to manage the condition and limit its effects.

I have lots of tips on my blog, which you can find here, including advice on changes you can make to your skincare routine, lifestyle, diet, and mentality that really help. Some are harder than others (cutting down on alcohol and dairy was traumatic…), but the results make those choices a lot easier to handle.


4. It's not the same as acne.

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Although the pustules may look like acne, the causes and therefore the treatment are completely different. Dr Mahto explained the difference: “Symptoms of rosacea include facial skin sensitivity, redness, flushing, or a sensation of heat and small red bumps known as papules. Some people may develop prominent small dilated blood vessels known as telangiectasia. Other potential problems include facial swelling, gritty eyes, and enlargement and redness of the nose (rhinophyma). [Whereas] acne is a common skin condition that is a combination of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and pus-filled spots (pustules) and usually starts around the time of puberty.”

Treatments for acne are typically too harsh and stripping for sensitive rosacea skin, so it’s worth knowing the difference.

5. It's not a "pretty" condition.

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If I had a pound for every time someone said "but rosy cheeks are so cute" or used the words "healthy glow" in regards to rosacea, I would have enough money for a face transplant. Blushing is fine – a vivid purple, itchy and sore face is not.

6. It's affected by many things, both physical and psychological.

Instagram: @talontedlex

Rosacea triggers vary from person to person and can change over time as the condition progresses, but the most common triggers are stress, alcohol, extremes of temperature, hot drinks, spicy food, and exercise. You can find a list of common triggers here, from research conducted by the National Rosacea Society.

I have a nifty trick to work out if something will aggravate my rosacea: I ask myself if it's fun, and if it is my skin will usually freak out. Champagne? Hates it. A nice summer evening in a beer garden? Nope. A steaming hot bath when you're sick? What the hell were you thinking.

7. Keep track of your triggers.

Instagram: @ladyrosacea

The best thing I did when I was learning to manage my rosacea was to keep a diary of my symptoms. It doesn't need to be complicated, you just write down a description of the flare-up and make a note of any factors that could have contributed.

Some triggers are easier to avoid than others. For example, I no longer drink white wine, as one sip means my purple face can probably be seen from space. However, some triggers are impossible to work around and just have to be accepted. Of course this is easier said than done: A doctor once told me to just "avoid stress", as though I hadn't thought of that. Hey guys, it turns out that in order to not be stressed, you just avoid it! Who knew?!


8. SPF is your new best friend.

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I wear factor 50 SPF every single day that I leave the house, which may sound like a pain, but trust me – your skin will thank you. If you don't believe me, the British Skin Foundation are huge SPF advocates as well: "It's extremely important to use sunscreen daily to help manage your rosacea as UV radiation is one of the common triggers. Ideally an SPF of 50 should be worn that provides broad-spectrum, UVA and UVB protection."

9. People are still ignorant about the appearance of rosacea.

It's a sad fact but, everyone judges on appearance, even if they don't realise they're doing it. I've had many hurtful comments in the past 10 years from those who don't understand why my face looks the way it does.

I've had comments that people perhaps wouldn't say to someone with a more well-known condition (e.g. acne or eczema): Every summer someone will say, "Looks like someone caught the sun at the weekend!" People have said, "You're blushing, do you fancy him?!" Others have questioned my competence at work because I looked "flustered". I've been told that I wear too much makeup.

Girls in bar toilets have looked at me like I'm having a breakdown because I'm pressing my boiling-hot face to the cold wall tiles in a desperate attempt to cool down. I'm still learning to either ignore or try to educate people on their comments, but it does get easier.

10. You will have days where you don't want to leave the house.

Instagram: @ladyrosacea

Even though I've had rosacea for over 10 years, it still has the ability to devastate me. Some days I look in the mirror and just want to hide in my flat. Any condition that affects your face is bound to have an impact on your confidence because you can't escape it. For most people, it's impossible to go about your daily life with your face covered, and when your skin is out of control it's easy for you to feel lost and overwhelmed. When your skin feels like it's on fire, you cannot push your self-consciousness to the back of your mind because rosacea makes you super aware of your face at all times which can be exhausting.

Research conducted by the National Rosacea Society discovered that many rosacea sufferers find that the condition has a negative impact on their confidence and social life, with many having trouble establishing new relationships and finding themselves cancelling plans because of the way they look and feel.

11. Visit your GP.

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There is no test for rosacea, but your doctor will be able to examine you and tell you there and then if you have it. Although a diagnosis can be upsetting, I felt a huge relief to know what was wrong – as it meant I could start to treat and manage it.

As well as changes to your lifestyle, skincare routine, and diet, your doctor or dermatologist can also advise on a range of treatments. Dr Mahto listed some of the available options, which include "oral antibiotics, topical treatments, anti-flushing medication and laser therapies to treat rosacea." You can read more about how I manage my rosacea here and how I approach skincare here.

Whether you decide to go it alone, or get the help of your doctor, just remember that this condition does not define you. As cheesy as it sounds, learning to accept my face, big and red as it is, has been the biggest step in managing my rosacea.