Rosacea: from ‘red hot’ to ‘not’

What’s rosacea and what causes it?

Rosacea is a chronic skin condition, thought to affect 1 in every 10 people in the UK and more than 16 million Americans. It occurs most frequently between the ages of 30-55 years and appears to affect women more than men.

Primary symptoms are a redness to the skin, along the nose, cheeks and/or forehead, often accompanied by small, red, pus-filled bumps. These bumps appear cyclically and are referred to as a ‘flare-up,’ lasting for weeks or a month at a time, before abating.

The exact cause of rosacea is still unknown, but its origins are thought to be caused by a combination of the following hereditary and environmental factors:

  • Genetics – Rosacea often runs in families, suggesting a genetic link. However, the specific genes involved have not yet been identified.
  • Blood vessel abnormalities – Abnormalities in the blood vessels are thought to be a contributing factor which could explain flushing, redness and visible blood vessels.
  • Demodex Follicularum – This is a tiny mite which usually lives harmlessly on human skin and often carries the bacterium, Bacillus oleronius. Experts have found that higher numbers of the mites are found on people with rosacea, although it is not known whether this is a cause or effect of the condition.
  • Helicobacter pylori bacteria– This is a common bacteria, found in the digestive system and it is thought that it could stimulate the production of a protein known as bradykinin, which can trigger the expansion of blood vessels, leading to the symptomatic redness on the faces of rosacea- sufferers.

Common triggers for a flare up

Sufferers of rosacea may notice that certain triggers may make their symptoms worse; So, identifying and limiting exposure to these, may be a way of controlling symptoms and flare-ups. Whilst different individuals will report different triggers, here are some commonly reported ones:

• Alcohol (particularly red wine, or champagne or beer for some people)
• Caffeine
•Eating items that contain the compound cinnamaldehyde, such as cinnamon, chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus
• High blood pressure
• Cold weather
• Dairy products, such as yoghurt, cheese or sour cream.
• exposure to wind
• Hot baths
• Hot weather
• The presence of cathelicidin (a protein that protects the skin from infection)
• Humidity
• Steroid cream (when used excessively or continually)
• Spicy foods and ‘hot’ spices like paprika, cayenne, cumin and black pepper
• High histamine foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate and vinegar
• Strenuous exercise
• Stress
• Sun damage / exposure


Cut out potential culprits

As rosacea currently has no known cure, it is often treated with a regime of antibiotic creams administered by a GP. Yet, there are several other techniques that can be used to minimise symptoms of the skin condition.

Many people find their skin calms down after moving away from abrasive skincare products that contain witch hazel, strong exfoliants, menthol or alcohol. Replace these products with gentle or organic formulations, suitable for sensitive skin.

The Think Dirty app serve as a useful tool for checking the ingredients of popular skincare or household products for potentially inflammatory chemicals. Wearing a protective sunscreen on your face, containing a high spectrum SPF and avoiding direct sunlight, can also be useful. This is especially important if your skincare contains retinol (vitamin A), which may make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Avoiding drinking alcohol can also help reduce redness and flushing of the face.

Perhaps the single most important step in reducing the symptoms of rosacea, is to keep a food-symptom diary and note any foods associated with the cyclical aspect of rosacea, where consumption of a specific food is swiftly followed by a flare-up. Some foods we commonly consume as part of a Western diet are known, ‘Inflammatory foods.’ These are largely processed foods which contain gluten (from wheat products) and sugar in high ratios.

Eating and treating rosacea naturally

You may have an unknown food allergy and/or sensitivity which could be contributing to the inflammatory response in your body driving rosacea outbreaks. Other issues such an imbalance of B vitamins, gut bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis), poor blood sugar balance and low stomach acid can also be supported clinically. A registered nutritional therapist can help you identify that if you can’t pinpoint it yourself.

If you have rosacea, it may be advisable to follow an anti-inflammatory diet (popular in the Mediterranean), containing leafy greens, whole grains, a rainbow of vegetables and some fruits (which are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients), and oily fish (Think SMASH: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring) a few times a week.

A few key foods and natural treatments, which have been researched as supportive for rosacea, include:

1. Green Tea
Green tea has various anti-inflammatory properties that can possibly reduce redness and inflammation on the skin. Make yourself a regular cup of green tea and keep it in the fridge for about 40-45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take a clean piece of cloth and soak it in the cup. Once this is done, massage it over the affected areas for symptomatic relief.

2. Aloe Vera
Ayurveda speaks highly of aloe vera and its skin healing benefits.  Pluck a fresh leaf from an aloe vera plant and extract the gel from it by squeezing lightly. Apply the aloe vera gel over the affected areas and wash it off with cold water.

4. Probiotics
In certain cases, rosacea is thought to be triggered by an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in our gut and on our skin. Certain foods promote good bacteria in the body, which may help to reduce rosacea symptoms. Prebiotic foods, such as asparagus, garlic and onions may help to keep the gut environment healthy for good bacteria. Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, kefir, miso and kombucha, may help to add more beneficial microorganisms to your intestines.

5. Essential oils
Essential oils like lavender, jasmine, rose, tea tree, thyme etc. have anti-inflammatory and healing properties, that can do wonders for your skin. Add 2-3 drops of any essential oil to a few drops of a carrier oil, such as almond or coconut, and apply it over the affected area before sleeping. Do not use on broken skin.

More information:
Relationship between Rosacea and Dietary Factors

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Karen Preece Smith

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