By Laura Peterson
“My friends tell me that it’s hardly noticeable and it just looks like I have rosy cheeks or a little sun,” says Brooklyn resident and rosacea sufferer, Nekisia Davis, “but I think all those with rosacea know how difficult it is.” Davis goes on to explain, “Some days it’s worse; some days better. I never really know when it’s going to flare up.”
Davis is just one of approximately 14 million Americans who suffer from rosacea. Rosacea is a chronic disorder affecting the face. It is characterized by redness and inflammation, bumps and pimples, eye irritation, and in advanced stages, thickened skin.
Rosacea affects mostly adults between the ages of 30 and 60, though it has been know to afflict children and young adults. It is also more common in women than men, although some of you may have noticed the tell-tale blush on former President, Bill Clinton. (Yes, that is rosacea, and not a perpetual state of sheepish embarrassment over his Oral, I mean OVAL Office escapades.) People with fair skin seem to be affected more frequently, though it can develop in people of any skin tone. It also seems to be more predominant in women going through menopause, as if they didn’t have enough to deal with!
To make matters even more frustrating, doctors do not know the exact cause of rosacea, and the factors that cause rosacea to flare up in one person may have no effect on another person. Oh wait, it gets better! There is no medical cure for rosacea, even for such famous patients as President Clinton and Princess Diana, who also suffered from a mild case of it. Doctors are able to suppress flare ups (sometimes) with medication and sufferers can avoid a laundry list of possible contributors, but other than that they’re pretty much left “red in the face.”
When something is so visible, so unpredictable and so misunderstood, it stands to reason that it would greatly affect a person’s confidence. The National Rosacea Society reports that nearly 70 percent of rosacea patients say the condition has lowered their self-esteem. 41 percent report that they avoid public contact or cancel social engagements due to flare ups. Among those with more severe symptoms, nearly 70 percent said the disorder has adversely affected their professional interactions, and nearly 30 percent said they have even missed work because of their condition.
So where do you start, if you do suffer from the rosy cheek disorder and want to take a proactive approach? Here’s a list of some of the most likely catalysts for flare ups that you can try avoiding:
- Exposure to the sun.
- Extremes of heat or cold. Even hot showers, baths and warm rooms may cause a problem for some people.
- Exposure to wind (particularly cold winds).
- Spicy foods, dairy products, alcohol, too much salt, chocolate, vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes. Hot beverages like tea & coffee will cause problems however a 1981 study found that the cause is more likely to be the temperature of the drink rather than the caffeine. (Most will find they need to experiment on the foods. Some things may be fine and others will cause a flare up. Keep a dietary journal while you experiment to find your triggers)
- Smoking – not only because nicotine is a stimulant but smoking also damages blood vessels, which may worsen some symptoms.
- Using products that irritate the skin, like exfoliating and astringent products. Do not use any products on your face that contain alcohol, do not scrub your face and use only water-based cosmetics.
- Stressful situations. Anger, embarrassment and fright may all result in flushing and trigger a flare up. (Actually, we should all avoid stressful situations! If only it were as easily done as said.)
- Strenuous exercise that causes profuse sweating.
To find more answers, I went out into the holistic health community and asked “all natural” rosacea sufferers what works for them. As is often the case, the best place for helpful advice is often others that share your plight.
When I first spoke with Becky Holt from Nyack, she told me she started getting flare ups in 1996. However, when she went back through some old photos, she saw the familiar red cheeks in photos going back to 1994! “I didn’t really pay any attention to it in the first couple of years. It would happen mostly when I had red wine, which was a common reaction among other women I knew. I had also just moved from Brazil to Seattle, which was a big climate change. I was not really interested in taking medication for it so I experimented with avoiding foods like tomatoes, potatoes, yogurt and eggplant. I did notice an improvement by not eating them, so I generally still avoid them, though tomatoes are a tough one to give up!” Becky began to have more flare ups again when she moved from Seattle to New York. “That was the worst it ever was in 2003 when I moved. I was walking everywhere in that cold, cold New York winter. Having made a big move, I was under a lot of stress to get acclimated in many different ways.”
Holt’s best solution came to her in January 2004. She explained, “A woman at my yoga studio, who was a skin care professional, noticed my skin and couldn’t help but comment. She suggested I apply Aloe Vera every time I go out. I found JASON Aloe Vera Moisturizer at the natural food stores (this product contains 84% pure Aloe Vera gel, along with Sweet Almond and Avocado Oil, plus Vitamins A, E and C) and that was definitely soothing and protective. At about the same time, I read that Evening Primrose Oil was good for treating rosacea. I found obvious results from that, taking only two 500mg tablets a day in the morning with breakfast. I also stopped doing Bikram Yoga (in a 104 degree room) which made the best improvement overall. My yoga teacher suggested I try Vinyasa Yoga for a more calming yoga while still offering an awesome workout.”
A few other natural-minded women found relief from Zia Natural Skincare products. Zia has a special section on their website for people seeking relief from rosecea. Included in this section are gentle, moisturizing and calming products. Fresh Cleansing Gel is made with sea algae, natural sugars, and is completely soap-free. Sea Tonic Rosewater & Aloe Toner uses natural phospholipids to hydrate skin, while the rosewater and aloe work to heal sensitive skin. This spray-on mist toner seems like a great product to take up permanent residence in rosacea sufferers’ handbags! According to my all-natural sources, the toner brings quick albeit temporary relief for sudden flare ups.
Now, to be completely honest, I did not know a thing about rosacea myself until last month when I took a workshop in Ayurvedic skin care with Dr. Pratima Raichur — foremost expert in Ayurveda in the United States, author of “Absolute Beauty” and owner of Pratima Skin Care Clinic here in Manhattan. At the beginning of the all-day workshop, Pratima asked each of us why we were interested in Ayurveda. A woman sitting next to me said she has been suffering from rosacea since the onset of menopause and had heard promising things about the Ayurvedic approach. I could plainly see why this woman was so concerned – her cheeks were bright red, glowing and looked like they hurt!
In Ayurveda, it is believed that all disease, conditions and reactions in the body are due to imbalances in the individual body’s constitution, or dosha. There are three different doshas – Kapha, which is the earth and water constitution, Vata, which is air and ether constitution, and Pitta, which is fire and water constitution. (Find out what your dosha is on the Pratima Skin Care Clinic website! http://www.pratimaskincare.com)
People with Kapha skin will have oily skin with large pores. Vata skin is thin, dry and more prone to wrinkles. Pitta skin is reddish, sensitive and hot. Though rosacea will be more common for those with Pitta dosha, people with other doshas may create an imbalance by putting too much “fire” into their body. Spicy food, sun exposure, stress, stimulants and other things you will notice on that list of things to avoid will create a Pitta imbalance. So balance your fire with water, earth and air, both internally and externally, especially if you are a Pitta dosha.
How do you do that, you’re asking? Well, Pratima says one way you can balance Pitta is by eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. There are six different tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Sour, salty and pungent create more fire in the body, so to balance an excess of fire, eat foods that are sweet (fruit, brown rice, fish), bitter (dark, leafy greens) and astringent (cranberries, beans, broccoli). What’s another quick way to put out a fire? Water, of course! Drinking plenty of cool water will also help create a balance and reduce the possibility of flare ups.
Externally, use only all-natural products that are cool, calming and soothing. In Ayurveda, the skin is acknowledged as living, breathing tissue that is nourished and fed by what goes onto it. Therefore, if you would not ingest it through your mouth, you should not consider ingesting it through your skin! Pratima has been making her own Anti-Rosacea Lotion for over 30 years that she sells through her clinic. The lotion has a base of calamine and contains infused oils of chamomile and neem, which are both topically cooling and soothing.
Pratima offers individual consultations at her clinic, including diet and skin care tips, for those that are interested in giving Ayurveda a try. Pratima says that by following her advice, you can overcome rosacea, or any skin condition, forever! Her book, “Absolute Beauty,” also explains everything you need to know about balancing your dosha.
For those who have been reading this article, thinking, “Ah ha! That’s why my cheeks get inflamed sometimes,” please see your doctor or dermatologist for a proper diagnosis. There are other conditions, like Lupus, that could be the culprit. Once you know for sure that you are dealing with rosecea, then you can choose whether to try conventional or natural methods of treatment.
On a final note, I wanted to point out that it would be wonderful if this subject was discussed more often and more people became informed about rosacea. In my research for this article, I discovered that 78% of the American public does not know what rosacea is, including many people who suffer from the condition! If you suffer from rosacea, please try to open up and talk to others about the condition. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you may even find great new ideas for treatment through others! If you do not suffer from rosacea, but you have a friend or coworker that’s often sporting bright red cheeks, respectfully ask them if they suffer from rosacea and offer your support. Go ahead and show them this article, and maybe they’ll find a recommendation here that they haven’t come across yet!
For more information on rosacea, please visit http://www.rosacea.org
JASON products are available at Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe and many other locations throughout the city.
Zia Natural Skin Care products can be found at Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe and many other locations throughout the city. Please visit their website to order or find other local stores: http://www.zianatural.com
Dr. Pratima Raichur’s Ayurvedic Skin Care Clinic is currently at 162 West 56th Street, Suite 204, New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 581.8136. The clinic is moving to Soho soon, so please call ahead! Dr. Raichur’s book, “Absolute Beauty” is published by Harper Collins and available through Barnes & Noble online and Amazon.com. Dr. Raichur’s Ayurvedic products are available only at the clinic or through her website: www.pratimaskincare.com/php/products.php.