I’m writing a piece about my experience with rosacea, I tell my fiancé over breakfast last week.
“But you don’t have rosacea,” he says plainly, and I’m not surprised.
He doesn’t think I have bad skin—or, love is blind.
I’m not unattractive, but the truth is, my skin is not good, and I do suffer from rosacea, a chronic skin condition characterized by facial flushing, redness, broken and dilated blood vessels, papules, and pustules. My skin isn’t smooth or creamy; it is not enviable.
My flare-ups have left me bowing out of social engagements, leaving the party early or not going at all because I didn’t “feel well.”
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I’ve tried layering extra layers of makeup to mask the red, but the skin condition is bold and can easily overrule some color from a bottle. Cold beer bottles or an icy cocktail glass held against my bright, hot cheeks provides temporary relief if I’m out and feel a flare-up beginning.
Once at work last summer when the air-conditioning was on the fritz and my skin became so hot, red and blotchy that I couldn’t concentrate on the computer screen in front of me (let alone muster the courage to get up to use the restroom and face an office full of people with my blazing face), I went home sick.
A Diagnosis With a Long List of Rules
I’ve been dealing with rosacea for years, but I didn’t always know what it was.
Before I was officially diagnosed, various aestheticians would comment on my skin as they performed their pre-facial consultations. I had sensitive skin one said. Another labeled it combination because of some occasional jaw line oil and acne.
Finally, the word rosacea started popping up. The skincare professionals’ unauthorized assessments came with strict warnings and instructions: Avoid spicy foods, don’t drink alcohol, especially red wine, stay away from the sun, don’t exercise outside in the summer, limit caffeine intake. Try not to get stressed out or feel anxious about stuff, because, you know, that’s all really easy to do.
What a way to live! My skin embarrassed me at times and made me envious of women with glowing, creamy complexions, but I was not going to let it own me.
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I would not give up my favorite Thai noodles, nor my near-daily runs outside throughout the summer months. And if I were going to keep up with the running, then I’d definitely need the caffeine. While I might be able to switch from red wine to white, if I were really invested in eliminating the triggers, I’d stop drinking altogether.
I can be vain at times, but I have priorities, and giving up happy hours or long nights of conversation with friends over bottles of wine is not something I’m willing to do. Besides, I’m not even sure I believe that eliminating all of the triggers would suddenly make me a member of the good-skin club.
It could be worse, I tell myself as I stand in front of the mirror, feeling the small, white bumps that often appear on my cheeks after a long run outside. I break out rarely, and I don’t have a face lined with scars (pock marks, my mother calls them) from unfortunate teenage years battling cystic acne. I’m in my 30s, so I’m starting to see signs of aging, but it’s the rosacea that I struggle with above all else.
How I’ve Learned to Deal
Since I can’t just leave the office whenever my skin reacts to an uncomfortable temperature, I’ve fortunately found other ways to manage my chronic skin condition. Renee Rouleau, an aesthetician who assessed my skin before I saw a doctor for an official diagnosis, suggested I keep an eye out for soothing ingredients including chamomile extract, ascorbyl palmitate (a stable, no-sting form of vitamin C), white tea, and oat kernel extract. Her Bio Calm Repair Masque helps calm my irritated, ruddy complexion, but even that is not the kind of thing I can just apply in the middle of a workday.
That’s where ice packs come in handy. They don’t reduce the redness so much as they cool me down, and when I start to flare up, the heat emanating from beneath my skin is almost as uncomfortable as knowing how terrible I look.
In spite of feeling self-conscious when I feel the beginnings of a flare-up, I’ve grown used to my condition—if not exactly comfortable. I’ll never be one of those women who can leave the house with just a swipe of gloss and a lick of mascara.
No, I wear a heavy-coverage foundation (Smashbox Studio Skin 15-hour wear) over a yellow base intended to tone down redness (Koh Gen Do Makeup Color Base). Underneath the base, I apply a half a fingernail of a Metronidazole cream. It is, Dr. Sejal Shah, NYC-based dermatologist, explains, “the first topical treatment approved for rosacea. Used since the 1980s, it is commonly used as the first line of medication for rosacea and likely works via anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.” I’m less concerned about the medical jargon but crazy about the fact that this stuff really helps keep my redness at bay. I tried the Nars tinted moisturizer that everyone is over the moon about, but it didn’t stand a chance against the red.
There are, of course, other non-topical ways of dealing. Oracea is an antibiotic specifically intended to tame rosacea flare-ups, which can last for hours or days, and I have a prescription with lots of refills. When my flare-ups include little white pustules and a deeper red on my nose and cheeks that seems long-lasting, I have no qualms about taking the medication.
I’ll never stop wishing my skin were better or looking with longing at women who have gorgeous skin, skin so soft that I want to reach out and touch it. But we all have stuff we don’t like about ourselves, things we wish we could change. Some things can’t be changed only tamed.
Maybe I’d do well to adopt my fiancé’s point of view. My skin isn’t perfect, but is it really so bad?
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