Everything from your daily diet to your go-to makeup products need to be customised to prevent redness
As much I love all beauty products, democratically and judiciously, not all of them love me back. A pot of blush for example is often my nemesis. Why? Because I have rosacea, a skin condition that makes me look like my face is on fire. Not the toasty glow that comes from sitting in front of a fireplace; this is more like I slapped myself a couple of times, and then sprinkled a few whiteheads and pimples on top. It’s a look. Not a very good one.
I used to think only very fair, Caucasian people suffered from rosacea. It’s not a racist assumption—it’s just that whatever little I knew of it came from Google images, and all the sufferers that popped up on my searches were white.
What is rosacea?
Rosacea is a very common skin concern that often goes undiagnosed. It’s an inflammatory condition that largely affects your face, resulting in redness and making blood vessels more visible than they have any business being. “It [shows up as] redness, papules, pustules and pimples,” says Dr Kiran Sethi, Isyaderm Clinic in New Delhi. “It’s caused by ageing, certain medications such as topical steroids, gut dysbiosis, and sometimes excessive product usage.”
Dr Sethi was the one who diagnosed me, spotting my condition in a dimly lit conference room where we first met. It felt as if the clouds had cleared and for the first time, my slightly hot, always red face had an explanation and a possible solution. I would hopefully no longer be asked “Why are you wearing so much blush?”, “Oh, are you blushing browsing through some choice online erotica?” (as if!), or “What’s wrong with your face?” The last question notwithstanding, I could now turn around with a proper answer: “I have rosacea. What’s your excuse?”
What are the symptoms of rosacea?
Mine is a relatively mild case, but there are others who develop bumps on their skin and eyelids. They experience dry, irritated eyes with red, swollen eyelids, known as ocular rosacea. This affects their vision too. Rosacea sufferers can also have swollen bulb-shaped noses, which is a condition called rhinophyma. Some have skin so red that it debilitates them and makes them homebound. I understand and sympathise. Your face is what is presented to the world, in all its vulnerability, pustules and pimples. It’s hard when you don’t feel like it represents the best of you—and having an inflamed, bulb-nosed Rudolf situation isn’t going to help.
While it’s easier to diagnose amongst fair-skinned people, rosacea is actually equally simple to spot it amongst us brown-skinned Indians too. “Classical signs like red flushes and sensitivity make it easy to find rosacea,” says Dr Sethi.
What I’ve learned about treating rosacea
There isn’t a cure, but you can figure out a few dos and don’ts to minimise the symptoms. It’s been three or four years since Dr Sethi first told me I have rosacea, and I no longer look like I’ve just returned from the pits of hell. My skin is calmer, although just five minutes in the sun will ruin it. I am a diligent and fanatic sunscreen user, and although my sensitive skin means everything I use breaks me out, I’ve learnt to ‘read’ my skin and listen to it. “Rosacea is tackled by improving diet and gut issues such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, reducing sun exposure, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Foods that induce histamine reactions like spicy foods, dairy and inflammatory foods should be skipped,” says Dr Sethi. “Excessive use of antibiotic medicine is also a trigger,” she adds.
For me, red wine is sadly an immediate trigger, and I make the not-so-cardinal sin of adding an ice cube or two to my glass when I’m really craving it. So is caffeine—although a cold brew on the rocks is better than a hot Americano. The sun is always my enemy, so not only do I lather myself in unflattering physical sunscreen (they’re the ones that leave a white cast but are great for sensitive and reactive skin like those with rosacea tend to have), I also wear a granny hat. And on days when I’m particularly brave, I even pull out an umbrella.
The world of makeup has caught up too—Make Up Forever, Innisfree and Dr Jart make the best green colour correctors, and they come with skincare benefits too. Green cancels out red, evening out your skin tone. I rarely need concealer or foundation whenever I use the Dr Jart Cicapair Colour Correcting Cream. Look for centella asiatica, madecassoside or gotu kola as key ingredients in skincare—it’s all tiger grass, which is an anti-inflammatory agent that works like magic at calming and healing. Avoid essential oils, they trigger reactive skin. And if all else fails, just tell everyone you’re just getting over a hot yoga class.