What I've Learned About Rosacea In My 30s
In the seemingly never-ending battle with my skin, I decided to go for a consultation with a new dermatologist a few weeks ago. After feeling jaded for a few years since my last visit with a not-so-helpful derm, I bit the bullet and decided to start at square one again. The news she gave me has been life changing, friends. I can finally stop chasing all sorts of cures and treatments that aren't working now that I have a diagnosis of what the heck is actually going on -- and that is, drumroll please... rosacea.
Rosacea! WTF? You better believe I cried when she told me this news in her office.
Note: Part two of this diagnosis is that I'm still dealing with mild common acne (aka acne vulgaris), but the reason I hadn’t succeeded in getting my skin to calm down is because of my rosacea. This truly is the Eureka moment/lesson of this whole experience.
If you've been reading for a while now, you'll know that I've been sharing the ups and downs (mainly downs) of my changing skin over the last few years. The roller coaster of emotions that comes with trying so many different things to get me back to the fresh-faced skin of my teen years and twenties -- expensive products, treatments, specialists, and diet changes. If you need a refresher, you can read all about it here, here and most recently here.
Now back to the tears. At 9am on a Friday in the offices of Dr. Lisa Kellett at DLK on Avenue, I cried in total relief. It was like a weight of embarrassment, frustration, and confusion had been lifted. Honestly, I felt like her diagnosis was so simple I was sure a joke was being played on me. But potential hidden cameras aside, I was just so happy to finally know what was going on. No more endless frustration over why so many things that seemed to work for so many others weren't working for me. No more wasting money on expensive products and treatments and never seeing results. I finally had an answer, something to act on.
(Sidebar: This is also why I'm so against influencers/bloggers hawking products and their skincare routines as solutions for certain problems. Get. A. Diagnosis. First.)
And now that I have the diagnosis, I feel so silly that I didn't go to her sooner and instead I kept trying to solve it myself, assuming I even knew what I was solving. The first thing Dr. Kellett said to me after I went through the laundry list of things I'd tried over the last three years? "You've been trying all these solutions without even knowing what the problem is?"
While it's so obvious to me now (like, duh), it took her saying that out loud for me to realize its smack-you-in-the-face realness. I assumed that since I saw a derm three years ago as my first step, that I'd tried that route, didn't get help, and didn't need to go back there.
Well, turns out our skin is a fickle beast and, though a derm may have come up short again had I gone back even one or two years ago, since our skin is constantly changing and evolving, second or third check-ins when you're still facing problems isn't a bad thing.
Here's what I've learned so far about what this diagnosis means:
Adult onset rosacea in women is a thing, and it typically kicks in around age 32. Seems I'm in good company; Lena Dunham recently talked about her own experience with rosacea.
There is no cure, you just have to learn to live with it and manage it.
6% of Canadians and 10% of the global population have rosacea.
Rosacea can come in many forms, one of them being a type of acne-rosacea (called papulo pustular rosacea) and this is the kind I have.
Acne-rosacea can look a lot like common acne, but sometimes you're blessed with both (like I am) which makes things even more confusing.
Rosacea is exacerbated by extreme hot or cold temps and certain foods (including chocolate, red wine, caffeine, strawberries, and tomatoes).
I can expect it to flare up when I exercise (see: extreme temps).
My dermatologist would never tell me to avoid these things, but just to know what they are, what to expect, and try to limit what I reasonably can.
I should wear sunscreen and hats every day; I need to keep my face out of the sun.
My dermatologist tells me this one is non-negotiable.
So, how has my life changed since this rosacea diagnosis?
Since the bulk of my skin "issues" are a result of my rosacea -- and not the apocalyptic, impossible-to-solve acne I thought was the problem -- thankfully not much needs to change. I was getting really scared of the potentially extreme lifestyle I'd maybe have to maintain to ever see a change in my skin; or, even scarier, that nothing would help. Honestly, the biggest change now lies in knowing what the cause is (rosacea), so I can make sure I’m treating it properly.
In my case, this means using a prescription gel (I use Metrogel) once a day on the problem areas, which I'll likely need to use for the rest of my life. It also means avoiding the triggers as best I can, of which food and drink are the easiest to manage. Avoiding hot and cold temps is fairly impossible to do living in Canada, and refraining from exercise is a deal-breaker. But I am expanding my hat collection for these hot summer months.
To address the common acne, I have to avoid products that are creams, lotions or oils; these will clog my pores and cause break-outs. Water and gel-based products are my only friends now, so I've stocked up on a few specially formulated products from DLK and I'm happy to report these are finally getting sh*t done. I don't mind spending the money when it works.
Otherwise, Dr. Kellett has recommended 6 sessions of light therapy and chemical peels in the fall to address the hyperpigmentation marks on my skin and reduce future break-outs, but we need to try to minimize the active breakouts first. This will be the final step in hopefully reversing the damage that's been done, and my new skincare regimen will hopefully maintain it.
Rosacea is something I'll never kick, but what a relief to know what I'm dealing with. Before, I wanted to cry anytime I saw redness, breakouts, and blemishes. Now, I want to cry because I finally have a plan that just might work.