The question: I’ve noticed that my face becomes red when I’m out in the sun and when I drink alcohol. With the holiday season upon us, I’m hoping to enjoy a drink or two but it’s embarrassing because it makes me look like Rudolph! Why does this happen and how can I avoid it?
The answer: It can be embarrassing and put a damper on your holiday season fun if you’re suffering from a red nose or face.
It sounds like you may have a common skin condition known as rosacea. It causes redness in the central part of the face that can feel like a burning sensation and can range in severity from a light pink tinge to a dark red blush.
Early on, the redness of rosacea can come and go with brief flare-ups but over time it can become more permanent. As the condition progresses, it can include the appearance of pimples or prominent blood vessels that can make the skin feel rough or uneven. Over half of people with rosacea can also experience symptoms such as dry, irritated eyes and red eyelids. Rosacea can occur for anyone, but it is most common in middle-aged women with fair skin.
While the cause is not entirely clear, it is thought to be due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. What is well known however, is that rosacea is triggered by an increase in blood flow to the surface of the skin. Potential triggers that can cause a flare-up of rosacea can include hot or spicy food, alcohol, temperature changes, exposure to sunlight, exercise, hot baths and certain medications. At this time, there is no cure for rosacea but the awareness and avoidance of the potential triggers play a large role in minimizing the severity of the condition.
In addition, there are medications that can decrease some of the redness of rosacea. Prescribed antibiotic treatment is available in cream or pill form. A visit to your doctor can also be helpful to confirm the diagnosis of rosacea and rule out other potential skin conditions that may be similar but have different treatment options.
While it may be difficult during the holiday season to avoid alcohol altogether, decreasing how much you consume may reduce some of the redness. When you’re out and about on cold winter days, cover up your face to decrease exposure to cool winds. In warmer months, protect your skin from sun exposure and wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If the redness is very bothersome, some of my patients use green-tinted concealer that helps decrease redness in the face.
By getting help early and managing symptoms, both the physical and psychological effects of this condition can hopefully be minimized.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens’ Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women’s Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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