(Full disclosure: I have not had an official medical diagnosis and everything below is based on personal experience, individual research, and ol’ fashioned guess-work.)
For most my life I had ‘normal’ skin. Sure, there was the occasional break-out due to stress or a product my face didn’t agree with. Over the past couple years, however, my face started getting angry, red pimples with clear weepy… stuff in them (lovely). I put it down to turning 40 and normal changes in my skin due to hormones (fun fact: I was all ready to write an article about this for PMag called “Hormones are Assholes”).
For Christmas 2012, we went to visit my family on the Canadian Prairies. It was cold … crazy cold. Like, feels like -40ºC (which is also -40ºF apparently! I didn’t know that! Look at all this learning that’s happening!) with wind chill cold, which caused my very first full-blown face freak-out. My mom was also very liberal with “festive” beverages during this time, and that may possibly be another factor. Dudes, it was not pleasant. I had weepy, red pimples all over my face. All. Over. I tried to treat it like cystic acne, which seemed like what I had according to Teh Interwebs. Bad move on all accounts because it just kept getting worse. It was demoralizing; I didn’t want to leave the house.
Eventually when it became obvious that what I was doing wasn’t working, I did some more research (as opposed to going to an actual doctor, natch) and found a lot of articles about rosacea: “… a chronic condition characterized by facial erythema (redness) and sometimes pimples.” I had all the symptoms of a moderate to severe outbreak of the first and second sub-types of rosacea (I don’t want this to get super technical, or more gross than it needs to be, read the Wiki if you’re curious though). I found out that what you would use to treat acne is the opposite of what rosacea needs. I also had indicators that would have always made me a candidate for it: fair skin, flush easily, family member has it (my sister was treated for it about 15 years ago), and my current age, among others; and, as much as I had never thought of myself as having sensitive skin, I’ve known for a very, very long time that certain ingredients don’t work for me: witch hazel, mineral make-up, tea tree oil, and lanolin. These supposed “perfect for all skin types” ingredients would always cause me to break-out. I had decided I was just a weird anomaly. But no! They are all fairly common triggers for rosacea! Two other common triggers? Extreme temperatures and alcohol. Everything was falling into place — old and new mysteries were being solved!
There is no known cure for rosacea, but it can usually be managed effectively. You can be prescribed medication; and that does work for a great many people. I didn’t want to use medication if I didn’t have to, though. Luckily, I have mostly figured out my own personal triggers (because, joy of joys, there are a TON of possible triggers and every sufferer’s is different) and avoid what I can. There were several months, due to trial and error, where everything seemed back to normal. I can’t use soaps or anything with sulfates so I am using an oatmeal facial bar that has neither. Scented facial products are a no-no, fortunately there are many scent-free products out there, and I found an aloe moisturizer which is wonderful. Toner was tricky to find because they are usually either alcohol-based for normal skin or witch hazel-based for sensitive, and I can’t use either; I did find an aloe toner that had neither and so far, no reaction. For make-up, I use a talc-free mineral pressed powder (talc and bismuth are the two ingredients common in mineral make-up I have identified as problems for me) although I do get a reaction if I use the brushes that come with the compact… odd. The best thing I have found however is Prosacea. It’s a sulphur-based gel meant to reduce redness and calm the eruptions. The verdict is not unanimous on forums about this product, but it’s definitely worked for me.
I still have flare-ups that coincide with: weather — a humid heat wave in the summer where it felt like 42ºC (108ºF) for over two weeks, an insane cold-snap a couple weeks ago (thanks Polar Vortex); and alcohol — a four-day visit from a friend where wine, cider, and beer were consumed more than is typical. So clearly, extreme temperatures trigger my rosacea and alcohol is — sadly — on notice. I’ve narrowed booze culprits down to beer, hard alcohol, and wine (if I have it too frequently). Hard cider gets a total go-ahead though! Yay!
In any event, I will continue to have the occasional outbreak since I can’t control the weather.