Rosacea is a skin condition that affects the face, and some of the most obvious and common signs include flushing, blushing, and bumpy, red skin. As sensitive skin can suffer from the occasional flare-up, you probably have a million questions you want to ask right now about how or why exactly this happens. And, if you’re struggling with sensitive skin – particularly with rosacea – you might feel pressed to find answers.
Unfortunately, rosacea is a poorly understood skin condition; its cause hasn’t exactly been determined and there is no known cure as of this moment. “Rosacea is still not fully understood,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ashley Magovern. “But we do know that people with rosacea have increased levels of inflammatory proteins called cathelicidins in their skin, which contribute to the redness, dilated vessels and the red inflammatory bumps that we see in patients with this condition. The tendency toward rosacea is most likely genetic, but environmental and lifestyle factors absolutely play a role too.”
While treatments for rosacea are seldom permanent, the good news is that there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms. Here, Dr. Magovern share some tips on how to address redness and take care of your skin if you have this condition.
Treatments for Rosacea
If you suspect you have rosacea, the first step is to talk to your dermatologist to get a clear diagnosis and to discuss your treatment options. Luckily, with today’s technology, rosacea symptoms can be controlled or lessened using over-the-counter products or in-office procedures. “There are some amazing over-the-counter treatments available today. I think the confusion is how to use them,” Dr. Magovern says. “If you are not seeing improvement and are still flaring despite using your OTC regimen for six to eight weeks, I would make an appointment with a dermatologist and discuss other options,” she adds.
For those with more severe symptoms, Dr. Magovern recommends going beyond prescription products and considering lasers that target redness and inflammation, as well as light treatments—like IPL (intense pulsed light), BBL (broadband light) and PDT (photodynamic therapy). “These treatments can work wonders for patients with rosacea and redness. They really help give long-lasting improvement and can really help normalize the skin. Some patients can stop using their OTC or prescription products after a series of laser treatments,” she explains.
Skin Care Tips for Rosacea-Prone Skin
Whether you’re using prescription medications or undergoing a laser treatment for rosacea, building a solid skin care regimen should be part of your treatment plan. “Skin care is absolutely essential and totally underrated in my opinion. If you don’t take care of your skin, especially in those that have rosacea with an inherent barrier and inflammatory issue, the skin will only get worse as time goes on,” says Dr. Magovern. “Rosacea is a chronic condition. Cumulative sun damage, environmental damage and aging will take its toll and the skin will not be able to compensate for the damage as well as someone who takes care of their skin and the skin barrier,” she notes.
Here are Dr. Magovern’s skin care tips:
1. Don’t be afraid to use skin care products.
“Rosacea patients are often hesitant to put anything on their skin,” says Dr. Magovern. “But even if you have rosacea and your skin may be sensitive, it’s very important to use skin care products. Skin care is like exercise; you shouldn’t really stop. Once your condition improves, we can tweak it and recommend different products, but stopping is not an option.”
As for which products you should use, Dr. Magovern suggests going above cleansing and moisturizing. “In this day and age, it’s probably not enough to just cleanse and moisturize with bland products. The goal would be to push your regimen in order to find products that can actually help your skin become more healthy over time. For example, products that will help decrease inflammation, fight free-radical damage and boost collagen production,” she says. “For your regimen, I would say to use a cleanser that protects the skin barrier, an anti-inflammatory/antioxidant serum or lotion, a barrier repair moisturizer to keep chemical and mechanical irritants out—and of course sunscreen.”
2. Watch out for potential skin irritants.
Dr. Magovern also recommends keeping your skin care routine simple and reading your product labels carefully. “Simple is always better,” she says. “Try to limit the amount of products and the amount of ingredients you put on your skin.”
Another piece of advice? Look for products that are specifically formulated for redness-prone or sensitive skin, as these products usually help calm and soothe the skin and help protect the skin barrier. “I prefer products with anti-inflammatory or anti-redness ingredients that can also strengthen the skin barrier, like niacinamide. Other anti-inflammatory ingredients to look for include allantoin, licorice extract, green tea and resveratrol. Moisturizers with ceramides are key, in my opinion.”
3. If you must use other treatment products, tread lightly.
Just because you have sensitive skin doesn’t mean you can’t use other products with potent ingredients like retinol and hydroxy acids. Just make sure you’re using them correctly and sparingly. Here are a few dos and don’ts from Dr. Magovern:
- For retinol creams and other anti-aging serums and creams
“Most people with rosacea are hesitant to use creams containing retinol, but if you can work toward acclimating your skin to the use of retinol, it will only benefit your skin in the long run. I recommend starting slow (maybe once or twice a week) and using a low-potency retinol (yes, it will still work). Try moisturizing immediately after. Retinols are collagen builders, and as we discussed earlier, this will actually help your skin in the long run and improve your rosacea by generating healthy skin with more normal blood vessels.”
- For antioxidant/vitamin C serums
“Absolutely you should try to use these every day. They not only correct free-radical damage, but they help prevent it as well. It is overwhelming how many serums and moisturizers containing antioxidants are on the market. It’s important to find a well-formulated one and stick to it. I generally recommend using an antioxidant or vitamin C serum under a moisturizer to help prevent irritation and to maintain a strong skin barrier. This seems to work great for my patients!”
- For AHAs and other exfoliants
“Same advice I gave for the retinols. Try it and go low and slow. No need to rush and use the strongest formulation; you may not ever get there. I prefer chemical exfoliants for rosacea-prone skin types over the mechanical scrubs. Try products with mandelic, lactic or glycolic acid. Again, moisturize as well. If your skin doesn’t tolerate it, try again another time. It’s important that you do not overly irritate or exfoliate the skin, which can trigger inflammation and make redness and breakouts worse. The long-term goal would be to improve your skin over time so that one day you would not need products that are only made for rosacea or sensitive skin.”
“Feel free to use these if needed. I prefer the ones with sulfur and resorcinol, but remember, spot treating will not help the long-term control of your condition. If you are rosacea-prone, treating the entire skin every day is key. The goal would be to need a spot treatment on the rare occasion.”
4. Use sunscreen religiously.
As if we didn’t mention this enough, sunscreen use, according to Dr. Magovern, is non-negotiable. “The pathogenesis of rosacea may not be fully understood yet, but we know that cumulative sun damage plays a role,” she says. “Sunscreen use will not only help prevent the condition in susceptible patients, but it will also help prevent flare-ups in those who struggle with it.” She also mentions that people with sensitive skin tend to gravitate toward 100% mineral sunscreens.
5. Find your flare-up triggers.
Every patient is different, and while we know that certain things trigger rosacea in general, some may find a specific cause. “Sun, heat, wind, exercise, alcohol and stress are common triggers,” says Dr. Magovern. “But some report that a specific fruit, vegetable, meat or dairy product will cause a flare.”
Aside from finding your triggers and avoiding them as much as possible, Dr. Magovern also recommends eating right and taking supplements that can improve your overall health. “Eating a non-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidant-containing foods, good fats and oils can have a big impact on your skin and your overall health.”