One of the recurring questions I get from my readers is "What is the best natural treatment for rosacea?" If you have rosacea, you probably already know that the recommendations for rosacea treatment are usually framed in terms of what you don't do, not what you do.
Every expert's favorite rosacea remedy is avoiding extremes of heat and cold. Bundle up in cold weather, wearing a face mask on the coldest days.
Alternatively, if you live in a location that has hot summers, keep your home warm enough that your face is not shocked by the change in temperature when you leave an air conditioned space for summer heat. Avoid drinking hot coffee, hot tea, and especially hot toddies, and avoid drinking ice cold drinks as well as eating ice cream.
The second most favorite line of advice is staying away from irritants, especially hot peppers. Plants in the Capsicum family produce capsaicin. It is the chemical compound that makes hot peppers not.
More than any other chemical in food, capsaicin triggers rosacea outbreaks by locking onto receptor sites in facial nerves that trigger sending a heat signal to the brain. Even though there is no actual damage to tissue and no increase in facial temperature, the brain interprets the signal as a "heat wave" and sends instructions to the blood vessels just underneath the skin of the face to dilate to cool the tissues underneath.
When people have rosacea, weak blood vessels break and leak blood to cause facial flushing. If this happens often enough, capillaries in the skin can accumulate scar tissue that makes the collection of permanent tiny bumps on the nose known as rhinophyma. Problem areas usually are greatest across the cheeks, on the nose, and across the brow. What the experts often overlook is that other substances activate the same receptor sites on nerves in the face.
Capsaicin binds to a receptor site known as vanilloid receptor. The technical term for this molecule-sized niche on nerve cells is transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TrpV1). In addition to capsaicin from hot peppers, the heat receptors are also activated by chemicals in mustard and wasabi, and when you consume a lot, various forms of vanilla. There is vanilla in just about all industrially prepared foods, even in things like ketchup and soup mix.
That's why just about any easy-to-make food can be the "last straw" that triggers an attack of rosacea, even when rosacea sufferers are doing everything they are cold. But there is also another factor that causes flushing of the face in many cases of rosacea. And especially if you have Asian skin, controlling this one factor may stop rosacea outbreaks altogether.
The Invisible Critter that Causes Rosacea
That rather unpleasant looking creature above this paragraph is Demodex folliculorum, about 400 times its actual size. This species of Demodex is a mite that lives in the skin.
There is also an organism known as Demodex brevis, a slightly smaller mite that lives on the hair in a hair shaft in the skin, including the visible and invisible hair shafts on men's and women's faces.
The Demodex mites are eight-legged arachnids that are related to both spiders and spider crabs. Just 1/100 of an inch (about 0.3 mm) long, they look something like a slug with teeth. The mites feed on sebum (skin oil) and dead skin cells. During the day, they stay in pores, but they can walk around your face at a speed of about 3 inches an hour (8 cm an hour) at night. They mate and raise six-legged larvae in skin pores, and they both defecate and die in your pores.
Are you totally grossed out? The bad news is that nearly everyone has at least a few Demodex on their skin. The mites hop off the mother just as soon as she picks up her newborn infant, and human interaction keeps everyone infected for their entire lives. But the good news is that only a few people have especially abundant populations of Demodex on their skin. These unfortunate few tend to have rosacea.
How Many Creepy Crawlies on Your Skin Does It Take to Cause Rosacea?
For reasons scientists don't yet understand, people who have Asian skin types tend to have lots of Demodex. Maybe the mites find Asian skin tastier.
Of course, all people of Asian heritage don't have rosacea. Researchers at Xi'an Jiaotong University in China did exhaustive (and icky) mite-counting studies of hundreds of people who had rosacea or other skin conditions. They found that Demodex mites like both oily skin (they eat sebum) or dry skin (they eat dead skin cells), and they find combination skin to be an all-you-can-eat buffet.
People who have oily skin across the cheeks and on the nose plus dry skin on the sides of the face are especially likely to have high counts of Demodex on their faces. In examining over 800 people, the researchers found that the Demodex mite prefers to live on the skins of people who are over 30 but not yet 60, when the skin still makes lots of oil but has begun to develop dry spots. It isn't fussy about whether the skin is male or female.
People who have eczema are 200% more likely to have high concentrations of Demodex mites on their skin. People who have seborrhea are 250% more likely to have high concentrations of Demodex mites on their skin. And people who have rosacea are 800% more likely to have high concentrations of Demodex mites on their skin. Researchers believe that mites and skin inflammation keep skin prone to inflammation.
Decaying bodies of mites and their urine and feces cause inflammation of the skin. Inflammation kills skin cells, which then become food for more mites. Excessive use of products that dry out the skin feed mites on different parts of the face, and hormonal changes that increase skin oil production encourage the multiplication of baby mites. In many cases, however, getting rid of Demodex gets rid of rosacea, or at least makes outbreaks much less severe and much less frequent.
What You Can Do About Demodex
The most important thing you can do to keep Demodex under control is to keep your skin from becoming either too dry or too oily. It is important to keep skin moist so dead skin doesn't flake away to become food for mites. It is important that your moisturizer does not contain alcohol, because alcohol not only dries out the face, the skin will repair itself by making still more sebum.
An alcohol-free moisturizer like Clinique City Block Sheer Oil Free Daily Face Protector SPF 25 helps reduce the production of dry skin and also protects against mild sun. If you have oily skin, it is important to keep oil from accumulating in creases and smile lines. You can do this with blotting papers such as Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens that not only blot up excess oil but also contain green tea to reduce sebum production.
There is one more natural treatment for rosacea that I've found gets good results, sea buckthorn oil. While taking sea buckthorn capsules certainly won't hurt rosacea, it is non-scented sea buckthorn creams applied directly to the face that do the most good.
Sea buckthorn has 50 times the vitamin C of orange juice. It is also a great source of antioxidant beta-carotene and all the plant pigments--but not in a form that will stain your face. The nutrients in topical sea buckthorn creams nourish the skin so it does not flake and peel, depriving the mites of their food source.
These three measures are a lot less expensive than medical treatment and they will usually do your face a lot of good. It is always possible, of course, that it is a combination of the things you do that makes the difference in getting rosacea under good control. I never try to dissuade people from taking any medications that their doctors prescribe for them.
Along with natural treatment and prescription drugs, make sure you use gentle (never bubbly) cleansers, avoid rubbing alcohol on your skin, use toothpaste that is free of sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), and never apply heavy makeup. Avoid extremes of heat and cold and never allow your skin to sunburn. You may never know what was the one thing that made the difference in getting rid of your rosacea for good, but a complete program of natural skin care always helps clear your complexion.
Photo Credit: Jean-no