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Rosy Cheeks or Rosacea? How to Tell the Difference

Do you get rosy cheeks if it’s cold outside? What about after consuming a glass of wine or eating spicy salsa?

If so, you may have a common skin condition afflicting (mostly) lighter-skinned adults: rosacea. Millions of Americans have it — about five percent of the population. Former president Bill Clinton and Princess Diana are just two famous faces who have the condition.

Rosacea is characterized by frequent flushing or blotchy redness, the appearance of broken blood vessels on the face and — sometimes — acne-like bumps.

If it’s left unchecked, rosacea can spread to the ears, nose, chest and back, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists.

“Rosacea is a skin condition that frequently develops later in life and can be very distressing to patients,” said  Vlad Ratushny, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Massachusetts Dermatology Associates in Beverly, Massachusetts.

The diagnosis can come as a surprise because skin problems are often thought of as something for the teens and 20s.

“It can develop in patients most commonly between the ages of 30 and 50, but I’ve seen younger and older patients develop rosacea for the first time,” Dr. Ratushny said.

The exact cause of rosacea isn’t known but experts surmise it could be genetic, related to abnormal activation of the immune system, or linked to microbial exposure, such as the demodex mite, which can live in open pores and hair follicles in humans.  

So, what can you do about mitigating any unwanted redness from rosacea?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but the medical establishment’s understanding of the symptoms has grown significantly.

One study from October 2018 showed that coffee drinkers had a 23 percent lower risk of getting the skin disorder.  

“Women who drank four or more cups a day had a 23 percent lower risk of the skin disorder than those who drank less than a cup a month,” according to the New York Times. “Decaffeinated coffee was not associated with a decreased risk for rosacea.”

For those of us with rosacea status, there are a handful of management strategies.

First and foremost, watch and learn what triggers your flare-ups because it’s different for everyone. Goodies like sugar, alcohol and carbs may be the culprit. And for others, stimuli such as weather changes or lack of sleep may be worse.

The sun is a very clear trigger for rosacea so patients with rosacea should be even more vigilant than others about sun protection.  Patients with rosacea should practice strict sun protection on a daily basis using at least an SPF 30+ sunscreen, whether they are going out in the sun or not.  

According to Dr. Ratushny, there are different treatments based on the type of rosacea that a patient has.

For the papular/pustular (acne-like bumps) component of rosacea, treatments include topical and oral antibiotics, sulfur washes and creams that target the demodex mite.

For the redness component, also known as erythematotelangiectatic rosacea, certain lasers like the pulse dye laser and intense pulse light devices can be beneficial.  There are also certain creams that can compress the blood vessels and relieve redness temporarily.

In any case, see a board-certified dermatologist to explore treatment options for this condition.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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