April is Global Rosacea Awareness Month, so I thought I would share my experience with this particular skin condition. Rosacea presents itself as redness of the skin, burst blood vessels, and sometimes pustules and papules, which can look a little like acne. It can be temporary redness that appears for a short period of time and then disappears, or can be permanent. This all depends on the person. It’s quite common, with 1 in 600 people getting diagnosed with the condition in the UK every year. It cannot be cured, and it’s still not really understood exactly what causes it. Brilliant.
I am very fair, of Irish heritage, with strawberry blonde hair and freckles – the most common demographic of people with the condition. I have been used to redness most of my life, getting sunburnt a few times on holiday as a child. But when I was around 12 or 13 I started to notice more prevalent redness around my nose, that wasn’t caused by sunburn. It would sometimes be more of a light pink than a red, but no matter what I tried, it wouldn’t go away completely. My mum insisted that the redness was caused by sugar – something I vehemently denied, but was also eating secret chocolate bars after school and then coming home with a bright red nose.
It really started to affect my confidence when other people started to notice as well, and would sometimes comment on it. Of course, I had no idea why my nose was red and so had no idea what to reply with when they asked me. Some people called me ‘Rudolf’, which still makes me want to cry to this day. I gained all kinds of habits and insecurities related to my nose. I developed a massive dislike of having my nose touched, by anyone, and would slap those that tried to do so. I used to hold my finger next to my nostril, looking down to see if they were a similar colour. If I ever needed to clear my ears, rather than holding the sides of my nostrils I would stick my knuckles under my nose to block the holes. I still do that to this day, which people think is pretty weird. Even now, at the slightest hint that my nose might be getting red, I can feel myself getting really anxious. It makes me so self-conscious, that holding a conversation can become rather difficult, as all I can think about is covering my nose.
I tried all kinds of skincare throughout my teens – tea tree, witch hazel; two things I now know are terrible for rosacea-prone skin. I also used the absolute devil for sensitive skin – St Ives Invigorating Apricot Scrub. Side note: If you have rosacea-prone skin, stay away from the word ‘invigorating’. I went to town with it on my nose, hoping it would scrub away the redness, but obviously it just made it worse. One particular incident I will never forgive myself for is taking a Clean&Clear Blackhead Eraser (remember those?) to my nose, and scrubbing so hard I gave myself blisters. Not very clever. We tried other, more gentle natural remedies, which didn’t help either.
I also tried covering up with makeup. Of course, no one at school was wearing foundation yet, and I didn’t want to be the only one, so I decided to only put it on my nose. Of course, problem was, I had such fair skin I wasn’t a match for any foundation at Boots, and ended up with a bright orange nose. Funny now, not then. I really did think I had people fooled, though. Eventually my mother dragged me to Mac to get me my first ever bottle of Face and Body foundation, along with Select Moisturecover concealer – and that’s where my love affair with makeup began.
My rosacea fluctuated in severity for the rest of my teens, and finally peaked when I was around 20. I started to have constant redness across my nose and cheeks, along with a patch of what looked and felt like a rash or eczema under my left eye. I had a suspicion I might have rosacea at this point – my step-mother had been diagnosed with the condition and so recognised the symptoms – but was treating myself and spending hundreds of pounds on skincare – Dermalogica, Kiehl’s; you name it, I bought it. Nothing was helping. If anything, it was getting worse. I finally saw a doctor in the states when I went to visit my step-mum and she confirmed it. I had rosacea. Now it was bye-bye to exfoliators, tea tree and witch hazel, and hello to Metrogel, Azelaic Acid and SPF 30. She also put me on a 6 month course of Doxycycline, a low dosage antibiotic. She told me that it was good that we had caught it at this stage, as it was approaching medium severity, and if my nose had been left much longer, it would become irreversibly red and bulbous, like a portly old man that drinks too much. Not very nice for a girl in her 20’s!
Within weeks, my rash had started to disappear, my flushing had calmed and the redness had started to dissipate. I only used products made for sensitive skin, and used the prescription face wash the doctor had given me. After around 4 months, my skin was clear, and redness was rare. I could even take my makeup off and within minutes, be back to my normal colour. I wish I had taken before and after pictures now, but at the time I just couldn’t bear the idea of having a picture taken of my bare face. No #nomakeupselfie’s for me. Now, I go bare faced all the time, and whilst my face may get a little pinker throughout the day as it comes into contact with air and my hands, its nowhere near as bad as it was, and my confidence has skyrocketed. I am so grateful to my doctor for helping me to control it. Flareups are still stressful, and let’s be real, I’ve got no hope of looking cool at the gym, but I am extremely lucky that my symptoms don’t present themselves too angrily, and can be controlled in a couple of days.
This is just my story – there are many other people who have severe rosacea far worse than mine, but even what I have experienced has made me so self conscious of my skin and appearance. Getting my rosacea diagnosed and treated medically so that I can be comfortable in my own skin has made such a difference. I was able to travel the world with just a tinted moisturiser, SPF and a touch of concealer to cover my skin, and most days didn’t wear any makeup at all, and felt totally comfortable. I have also become more aware of my triggers, and aim to avoid them. Doesn’t mean I have gotten on board with people touching my nose though.
Whilst there are many conditions, and even skin conditions around that are more debilitating and serious than rosacea, it can still have a serious effect on your self-confidence and mental well-being. So many times have I been in public, constantly worrying that my nose might be getting red, and it’s still something that bothers me to this day. I have managed to control flare ups and general redness, but I still have the odd episode, and it can be so disheartening when there is very little to be done about it.
There are lots of places you can go to learn more about Rosacea. Here are some of my favourites:
- http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rosacea/Pages/Introduction.aspx – I always go to the NHS website first for anything healthcare related. Everything is written clearly and there are sections on this article regarding treatment options, self-care and complications.
- http://www.rosacea.org – Home of the National Rosacea Society. Good place for rosacea discussion as well as dedicated information from people with experience.
- http://talontedlex.co.uk – As well as being a great blogger, Lex often writes about her own experience with rosacea, products she has tried as well as the emotional impact of the condition. She was actually the inspiration for me to write this article. Thank you Lex!