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Ban the Burn: Managing Rosacea

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Managing rosacea can feel like adhering to a giant list of don’ts. Don’t ever get hot. Or cold. Or eat hot or cold foods. Don’t let your skin get too moist or too dry. Don’t go without moisturizers, cleansers, makeup, scrubs, lotions, sunscreens, or salves, but don’t use too much, or the wrong ones. Exercise regularly, but don’t ever actually break a sweat. Don’t ever touch, breathe, ingest, look at, or even think about anything that might cause your rosacea to flare up. But other than that, enjoy living your totally normal life!

Um, thanks.

The bad news is that rosacea—a chronic inflammatory skin condition causing redness, dry skin, irritation, flushing, skin thickening, bumps, and pimples—can’t be cured. It can be managed with medication, but the best way to prevent flare-ups and minimize discomfort is to avoid the triggers that send skin into overdrive in the first place.

That’s where many rosacea sufferers get frustrated, because everything’s a potential trigger. There’s no way to stay clear of each and every thing that might irritate your skin. But there are some commonsense ways to avoid aggravating rosacea without resorting to living in a bubble.

Skincare Sanity
Conventional Wisdom: Dermatologists and rosacea experts caution never to use skincare products containing alcohol or witch hazel, to regularly use sunscreen and oil-free moisturizer, to use cleansing products with less than 10 percent soap and a neutral pH, and to use only products labeled hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic. Wash twice a day, but only with tepid water, and avoid touching or rubbing your face excessively.  

Real-Life Solutions: When it comes to the products you use on your skin, just use as few as possible. Rather than spending hours scouring the labels of a dozen different cleaners and potions, pick just a few that do double duty, like moisturizers that also contain sunscreen, or foundation that’s a liquid/powder combo. The fewer products you put on your face, the lesser the chance of irritation. Many rosacea sufferers regularly wear makeup to camouflage redness; instead of obsessing over ingredients or formulations, take the simple step of making sure that your cosmetics and accessories are as clean and bacteria-free as possible. Wash brushes often, use a new sponge every time you apply foundation, and periodically wipe down all cosmetics with disinfectant to prevent contamination. But you’ll still want to avoid touching or rubbing your face any more than necessary, and lukewarm showers are a good idea for everyone, regardless of skin type.

Food Flare-Ups
Conventional Wisdom: The most common culinary triggers for rosacea are spicy foods, hot drinks, alcohol, certain spices, and foods high in niacin, like grains, beans, meats, coffee, and fish. But some people are also sensitive to chocolate, dairy, avocado, citrus, liver, and soy sauce, so avoid those, too.

Real-Life Solutions: Thermogenic spices, which boost metabolism and increase body heat, are the biggest food culprits, so eat them in moderation. That means be wary of cayenne pepper, curry, red pepper, ginger, cinnamon, mustard, and paprika. But there are many herbs and spices left over to choose from, so substitute with cumin, oregano, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom instead. Before meals at which you will not have control over the seasoning, the National Rosacea Society recommends taking an over-the-counter antihistamine about two hours in advance to counter any inflammatory effects the food could cause. If you’re sensitive to niacin, try taking an aspirin before eating.

Exercise Caution
Conventional Wisdom: Don’t overheat or sweat, and don’t exercise outdoors because of the risk of sunburn.

Real-Life Solutions: Instead of forgoing exercise altogether, try to do it in the early mornings and evenings, when the temperature is lower and the sun is down. Whether you’re outside or in, avoid exercising during the hottest time of the day, and any time the humidity is especially high. If you’re at a gym, try to position yourself near a fan to be sure you catch a breeze. If your skin is especially sensitive to exercise, try doing short bursts of activity, like interval training or circuit weight lifting, instead of long, extended workouts.

Living with rosacea doesn’t have to mean being on red alert twenty-four hours a day. Who wants to live in a world where she has to wear a wide-brimmed hat at all times and all she can eat is sugar-free rice cereal? Although anyone with the condition should always steer clear of the irritants that are known to aggravate skin, the rest of the time, it’s okay to take it easy in terms of constant monitoring of food, temperature, humidity, stress level, and any other factor that could potentially cause a flare-up. Don’t spend all your time trying not to get too hot, too cool, too wet, or too dry. Life’s too short.

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