When I was diagnosed with rosacea, I had never even heard of it. I had always been fair-skinned, pinky-toned and blushed easily. Most of the photos of me in my late teens are guaranteed to include two things: a sickly alcopop clutched in one sweaty hand and (what I would affectionately refer to as) my Big Red Face. But as time went on, the flushing got worse and the redness would take longer to go down. My face would swell and itch, feeling similar to prickly heat or sunburn. When I developed pustules on my cheeks, I finally went to my GP, thinking he’d give me an acne cream and I’d be on my way. I was 21, trying hard to make friends at university and just wanting to blend in… and my face responded by glowing a bright red-purple, then the skin on my cheeks swelled, then cracked and bled. I couldn’t bear to look in the mirror and made excuses to avoid leaving the house, as my self-esteem was non-existent.
Rosacea tends to be more common among fair-skinned folk and diagnosis is higher among women and those over 30. There are many theories on what causes it (genetics, Demodex mites and a leaky gut, to name a few) and there is currently no cure. It’s often thought of as "harmless blushing", which can be frustrating to hear, as it’s hard to explain the emotional impact this condition can have to someone who has never experienced it.
After diagnosis, I felt completely helpless and the stress of this made my skin even worse. After a fruitless appointment with my GP, I turned to the internet and found a few US-based forums. They were filled with people like me sharing their experiences – what worked, what didn’t and – most importantly – simply supporting each other through a really difficult experience.
When I started my own blog, Talonted Lex, in 2011, I initially focused on nails because my self-esteem was so low that I couldn’t bear the thought of sharing photos of my face. But as I started talking more about beauty, I finally worked up the courage to talk openly about my rosacea. As soon as I did, there was an outpouring from others who suffered, but had no one else to talk to who understood what they were going through. Rosacea can be an isolating experience, as you just want to hide away to avoid the stares and ignorant jokes or questions. In the past, I’ve cancelled plans with friends, avoided speaking up in meetings and doubted my place in the beauty industry, all because of the way I look and how that makes me feel. Even when I am wearing a full face of make-up and may appear confident, my rosacea is always on my mind. There will be a small voice wondering if my make-up has smudged to reveal the bright pink skin underneath, or whether the person I’m talking to is judging the amount of foundation I’m wearing.
There is still a lack of conversation around rosacea. It’s rare to hear it mentioned by brands, make-up artists and in the media, so it’s understandable that even those who have it are confused about where to find information. The only way for awareness to increase and for more products and treatments to become available is for us to talk about it more. I use my social media and blog to explain what rosacea is and how it affects every part of my life, and I am constantly contacting brands to ask what products they have that are suitable for my reactive skin.
There are lots of great online resources for support and information including the National Rosacea Society website (where you can stay up-to-date on research and in-depth articles on the condition), the Talk Health rosacea forum for support and advice from other sufferers, some wonderful Facebook groups filled with people who know what you’re going through, and (shameless self-promotion alert) my blog, which has a lot more information than I have room for here.
Here are my ultimate tips for those with rosacea who don’t know where to start:
Find your triggers
This is the hardest and most time-consuming step, but the one that will have the biggest impact. Write down every time you have a flare-up and make a note of anything that could have influenced it (diet, time of the month, temperature, emotional state, amount of sleep).
Edit your triggers
Once you know the things that your skin hates, you can remove or minimise them. This is easier said than done. For example, I would say that I’m 99 per cent dairy-free, but every so often I need cheese and woe betide the person who stands in my way. But I’ve learnt to weigh up the consequences: how much do I want that cheesy pizza? Enough to deal with the inevitably gigantic red face the next day? Your triggers are individual and what you choose to alter in your lifestyle and diet will be individual as well.
Talk to someone
It could be your partner, your doctor or therapist, or the internet. The emotional effects of rosacea are severe and often overlooked, because people feel too embarrassed or vain to admit that they are struggling with a face they no longer recognise. One of the biggest triggers for rosacea is stress, so you need to look after your heart and your brain in order to gain control of your skin.
When it comes to skincare and make-up, there has been a lot of trial and error over the past 12 years, but I have a few recommendations that I pass on to everyone I meet who is struggling with their skin.
I always return to the Avène Tolérance Extrême skincare range. These products are extremely gentle and soothing, and don’t contain any fragrance or preservatives, which are main culprits for irritation. I also love the La Roche-Posay Toleriane range, which is also free from perfume, alcohol and colourants.
The Avène Eau Thermale water spray is a fantastically simple product – I think I’ve been through 10+ bottles since I’ve discovered it. In warmer months, I keep the mini spray in my handbag and it’s wonderful on flights. It instantly soothes my skin, calming any itchy or tight feeling. It also has a nozzle that lets it come out as a fine mist, so it can be applied throughout the day without ruining your make-up.
When I look for make-up, I want high coverage without heaviness or a mask-like appearance. I have a classic combination skin type (an oily T-zone with dry patches around my hairline and brows), so my favourite foundations keep me matte without drying me out. I love the DiorSkin Forever foundation if I need to look flawless all day, while for everyday I love the L’Oréal Paris True Match or Infallible Matte foundation.
I always apply my make-up with a Beauty Blender. When used damp, it gives great coverage and – because you use a soft bouncing motion to apply the foundation – it doesn’t aggravate the skin in the same way that buffing with a brush can.
As I’m oily, I carry blotting paper in my handbag and some loose powder to touch up my make-up if necessary.
Another great tip that I use to distract from my skin if I’m feeling less than confident is lipstick – the brighter, the better. I go a bit OTT and have a penchant for grey, purple and blue shades, but I find a bold red can do wonders for drawing the eye away from the areas you’d rather hide.
I’m still working on my confidence and learning to live with my rosacea, but writing my blog and using that platform to help others has been a wonderful step towards accepting the skin I’m in. Facing the world with a skin condition is a hard thing to do, but please remember that your rosacea does not define you – it’s just another thing that makes you who you are.