Tame Angry Skin
THE AVERAGE ADULT has 20 square feet of skin This shell constantly protects against bacteria, dirt, and the elements. In return, it gets burned by the sun, starved by dehydration, and bombarded by stress. No wonder your skin gets mad sometimes--and not just by breaking out. Conditions such as rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis cause serious trouble for almost 100 million Americans each year. Indeed, more than 3 million workdays are lost each year due to these and other skin diseases, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But there's no need to suffer in silence: Remedies—ranging from dietary changes to topical creams to supplements—abound.
Easily recognizable among the 14 million Americans it affects, rosacea causes redness and swelling on the face. It often begins as a tendency to blush easily and then progresses to persistent redness that can include the nose, cheeks, forehead, and chin. Small, broken blood vessels and tiny pimples often appear in the midst of the red patches. The condition typically affects fair-skinned women between the ages of 30 and 50, although it can appear at any age and affect any skin type. (In men, rosacea can be particularly severe.) And it can be quite painful--particularly on windy days, when the rush of air stings inflamed skin.
The cause: Although there is no conclusive cause of rosacea, there are plenty of theories. It may be a component of a more generalized blood-vessel abnormality or gastro-intestinal inflammation, says Alan Dattner, M.D., a holistic dermatologist in New Rochelle, N.Y. "Still others suspect it's an inflammatory response to an infection caused by a type of fungus, bacteria, or a microscopic mitelike organism called Demodex," says Wilma Bergfeld, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio.
The relief: Minimize the inflammation with a variety of lifestyle changes, advises Bergfeld.
1. Use a mild (fragrance-free) cleanser like Cetaphil, says Bergfeld. "Antidandruff shampoos with zinc are also effective as facial rinse."
2. Apply a mild water-based moisturizer (they tend not to clog pores), preferably containing antioxidants, after washing, says Bergfeld. Topical creams containing oatmeal or the herb feverfew may also help reduce redness, she adds. If you need something stronger, a prescription cream, like MetroGel (metronidazole) or Finacea (azelaic acid), or an oral antibiotic, such as tetracycline, can help suppress underlying inflammation.
3. Avoid eating foods that can cause redness or flushing in the face area. Alcohol, spicy foods, and even tomatoes are three common culprits.
4. Take a multivitamin that contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants like vitamins C and E.
5. Rule out underlying food allergies to dairy, wheat, citrus, or soy, says Angila Jaeggli, N.D., a naturopathic physician at Bastyr University in Seattle. A three-week elimination diet, guided by a dietitian, may help pinpoint an offending ingredient.
6. Consider supplementing your diet with omega-3 fatty acids. "They act as a systemic anti-inflammatory," says Jaeggli, who advises two grams per day. (Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can inhibit blood clotting, so always check with your doctor before supplementing, especially if you're taking garlic, ginseng, or any blood-thinning medications.)
7. Pay attention to your digestion. Decreased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach may contribute to rosacea, says Jaeggli. Digestive supplements—either betaine hydrochloride or herbal bitters, depending on the GI abnormality—may help, says Dattner, who also cautions that these supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. (A variety of laboratory tests, including stool assays, are necessary to determine a digestive cause, he explains.)
8. Consider taking a prescription antihistamine. For persistently red-faced patients, Bergfeld usually prescribes Allegra (fexofenadine) or Zyrtec (cetirizine).
9. Look into laser treatments. They target redness and can improve your appearance, says Doris J. Day, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University. According to a report published in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology, long-pulsed dye lasers and intense-pulsed light devices are effective. However, keep in mind that, depending on the severity of your condition, you may need regular maintenance therapy—which could be costly—to control redness over time.
10. If your eyes are affected, see your doctor immediately, warns Day. "Prescription eyedrops containing cortisone or antibiotics may be needed to prevent blindness," she explains. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed.
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