Finally knowing what’s up with the symptoms you’ve been experiencing on your face can come as a kind of relief. After all, you now know why you’re experiencing seemingly random redness, spots, burning cheeks, or other discomforts. Then the real truth of it kicks in. You have rosacea. What now?
(Don’t miss the list of important lessons I’ve learned over the years.
I’ve added them to the end of this blog)
Are you sure it’s rosacea?
The best thing for you to do is to talk about it with your doctor. This may be your regular general practitioner or it could be a dermatologist.
While you might feel inclined to self-diagnose because you’ve read up on rosacea online and your red cheeks or nose seems to fit the description, it’s actually quite important to get a professional’s opinion. The reason is that this condition shares similar symptoms to a number of other types of skin issue and autoimmune disorders. Other conditions that can often look like rosacea include acne, eczema, psoriasis and lupus.
With so many different conditions presenting in the same way, it can be difficult for a doctor, let alone an untrained person like you or me to be able to identify it on our own. There is no test to diagnose rosacea. More often than not, it is diagnosed by ruling out the alternative possibilities.
Now that you’re sure you have rosacea, what do you do?
The first step in your journey to live what I call the Rosy Life – a rosacea-friendly lifestyle – is to follow your doctor’s advice as closely as you possibly can. There is a lot of information available about rosacea, but there is no cure. This means that the best you can hope for at the moment is to reduce your symptoms or send them into remission through the right therapies and changes to your lifestyle.
Throughout the time that you are following your doctor’s instructions, it’s time to start learning. You may have hated research and studying in school, but it’s time to embrace it. The more you learn and inform yourself, the better you’ll be able to adopt the right habits to live a Rosy Life and keep your rosacea symptoms at bay.
What will your doctor tell you to do?
At first, the odds are that you will be given a prescription and the instruction to make regular appointments for monitoring progress. If you were diagnosed by your general practitioner, this may mean that you will receive a referral to a dermatologist as well. If your physician or dermatologist does tell you to use a prescription and make certain changes to your lifestyle, it is important to follow them consistently and to the letter.
The reason is that there has yet to be a treatment that works for all rosacea patients. That said, you’ll never know whether or not a treatment is actually working for you unless you use it properly. Moreover, even among the treatments that do work, it will usually take a considerable amount of time – typically around 8 to 12 weeks – before you see the first signs of improvement. Therefore, you will need to have kept up consistently with your recommended treatment for at least that long before you will see the starting signs that it could be working.
The first 3 months after rosacea diagnosis
I’ll be honest with you. I hated this time. Hated it. I felt uglier than I did before I knew why my cheeks were red and staying that way. I was prescribed MetroCream (the cream version of MetroGel, which is a topical form of the drug Metronidazole). I was told to apply it twice per day. It came in a little tube somewhat like a toothpaste tube.
When I filled the prescription, I was given a little booklet with information about the drug. Boy am I glad I read that! It told me a lot about this medication that my physician hadn’t mentioned. For instance, I learned that it would take a while to start producing visible results and it would make my already sunburn-prone skin even more sensitive to the sun. Would have been nice if my doctor had mentioned those things!
For the first few days that I used the MetroCream, I felt as though I was seeing a difference in my skin. I knew after reading the booklet that I shouldn’t be seeing results so early, but I was pretty sure the redness was fading. I now thoroughly believe this was just a placebo effect.
After that first few days, the redness came back with a vengeance. In fact, it worsened. Moreover, the booklet wasn’t joking when it said that a side effect was increased sun sensitivity. Yikes! I wasn’t supposed to mix the medication with my own moisturizers or sunscreens, so I found myself desperately trying to keep to the shade. I bought big hats, and stuck to shadowy areas as much as I could. I felt like a vampire and it did not make for a fun summer!
Twelve weeks later, I was back in my doctor’s office with no improvements but with greatly aggravated symptoms. I felt ugly, frustrated and my skin felt like it was on fire. It was continually stinging and burning. Furthermore, without being able to use my own moisturizers, it was very dry and felt like sandpaper.
My rosacea progress over 15+ years
From that time, I had my prescription dosage changed, I tried MetroGel instead of MetroCream, I tried Noritate, and I tried other prescriptions without any luck.
So I started learning on my own. I researched heavily. At first, I fell for “rosacea cure” scams, but I came to recognize that there wasn’t a cure out there so I should stop looking for it. Instead, I looked into any studies I could find – there weren’t that many at the time – and began thinking of my rosacea from another angle. I stopped looking for something I could simply apply to my face to correct all my symptoms. Instead, I started thinking of my skin as a reflection of everything else going on in my body.
Sure, topical efforts are important. That’s the best way to treat the skin directly from the outside. But there are two sides to skin: the outside and the inside. I hadn’t been giving the inside much attention.
I continued to consult with my doctor, but instead of simply going to an appointment and waiting for the doctor or dermatologist to offer me new options, I started showing up with my own topics of discussion. I would bring a list of topical or internal treatment or skin care strategies to talk about.
At this point, I’d moved and was seeing a new doctor. My old doctor wasn’t always thrilled when I made any suggestions of my own, so when I saw my new doctor for the first time, I was nervous about bringing up my own rosacea research. To my surprise, my new doctor welcomed the discussion and was very interested in what I had to say.
There were times when she was very familiar with some of the ingredients, products, or tactics that I had to consider. There were other times when she’d never heard of the strategy I had in mind, and we’d research it together on her computer. It was actually kind-of fun! It felt like we were a microscopic research team on the hunt for a great solution.
As was the case with the prescription medications, every new strategy I decided to try involved trial-and-error, consistency, and doctor’s visits to check in on progress. It’s a slow process and there were times when I would try one unsuccessful product after the next, making me feel like I was losing years of my life to failures. I wanted to tear my hair out. I can’t tell you how many times I cried out of sheer frustration, despair and discomfort. That combination of feelings had a powerful discouraging and disheartening effect.
The time when I gave up
For a solid period of time – I think it was between one and two years long – I gave up. I made a basic attempt to avoid triggers, but I stopped trying when it came to skin care, diet and treatments. I didn’t even use makeup to cover the redness anymore. I felt ugly and uncomfortable and had pretty much accepted that this was my life.
At the same time, I stopped caring about my looks as a whole. I didn’t dress up anymore. I didn’t do anything with my hair. I kept myself clean and groomed, but didn’t make any real efforts. Why bother? I’m not saying that people need to wear makeup, dress up and do their hair in any special way. How you style yourself is up to you. But those were things that used to bring me a lot of joy. They were a fun part of my life. Rosacea ruined that for me for a time, and I gave up on them because I felt like I’d never again be able to get the results I wanted.
I think I might have been depressed. I’ve had social anxiety disorder since childhood, and I think feeling ugly played right into that packet of stresses.
Serendipity: a rosacea patient’s best friend
It was through sheer luck that I found a new solution that brought back my energy and motivation for controlling my rosacea symptoms. Through a series of events that just happened to work very well in my favour, I was asked to test LED light therapy on my skin (I’ve previously written a blog about that. You can find it here: Why I’ll Gladly Use LED Light Therapy for Rosacea for the Rest of My Life).
It was the first thing that had a significant and lasting impact on my rosacea symptoms. I’m not saying it would work for everyone. As I’ve said before, nothing works for all rosacea patients. However, it worked for me. It encouraged me to start trying again. Throughout the time that I’ve continued using the LED light therapy for rosacea, I’ve made new efforts to find the right skin care routine, to eat the right foods and to adopt the right Rosy Life habits.
Every time I find something new that works, I celebrate the victory. When something doesn’t work, I make note of it and think of it as something else ruled out. It’s not a failure. It’s an education about my skin and its needs.
Here’s what I hope you’ll learn from my experience, Rosy Friend
From my experience of over a decade and a half with rosacea, I hope you will allow me to share these few lessons with you. I’m not a doctor or a skin care specialist. I’m someone with the condition who went through a very long, slow learning curve. I’m hoping these lessons will help you to rocket through the process much more quickly than I did:
- Your doctor is an incredible resource but not a miracle worker. Partner up with him/her and work together to find what works for your skin’s unique needs.
- There is no rosacea cure. Be skeptical of anyone who tells you they’ve found one.
- There is no rosacea treatment or therapy that works for all patients.
- Even the treatments that work will take time to show visible results. Be as consistent and patient as you possibly can.
- Sometimes none of the “traditional” treatments will work. Learn about alternatives and discuss them with your doctor.
- If you feel ugly, frustrated, uncomfortable or even depressed, that’s normal and you’re not alone. There are millions upon millions of us who are living with the condition right now. Six million people have rosacea in the UK alone. Another 14 million rosacea patients live in the United States and millions more live in Canada, other Nordic countries and the rest of the world.
- It’s important for you to know that you are not ugly and that you will find a way through your frustration and discomfort. Keep learning and keep trying. Your solution is out there.
- Talking about rosacea makes things better. The more you spread awareness, the less you’ll be asked if you have a sunburn, acne, or a drinking problem (argh!!!). Furthermore, as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The more we make noise about this condition and talk about it, the more the medical and pharmaceutical industries will realize that we’re a huge market and we’re worth studying. The more they research, the closer we get to understanding this condition and finding new options that work.
I hope you can learn from my experience and that you can use it to know that you’re not alone and it’s worth it not to give up. A rosacea diagnosis doesn’t mean that you’ll look or feel ugly and uncomfortable for the rest of your life. It does mean that you have a challenge ahead of you because you will need to start living the Rosy Life. What does that involve? That’s up to you to discover.