Help for Your Rosy Skin
By Stephanie Smith
My skin changed when I was 36. Here’s how things went down. While I was enjoying a fun evening with friends drinking wine, laughing and relaxing, I happened to stroll down the hallway with my glass of red wine. I was admiring all of the art on the walls, and the glowing light that the lamp cast on the textured wallpaper, when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned toward a mirror to see what it was and there I caught a reflection of myself I had never seen before. There it was; the familiar face, the inquisitive eyebrows, fair skin and hair, but something else was there too. Right there in the middle of my cheeks were two giant red stripes. I looked like a cartoon of myself blushing out of embarrassment. Immediately I felt annoyed, which only made the effect worsen. I remember leaning back on one hip, and cocking my head to the side I said out loud to myself, “Oh it’s like that, is it?”
This is how I discovered the beginning signs of my own rosy complexion. Don’t get me wrong, being a lover of all things french and Parisian, I love rose colored glasses, but as you most likely know, the constant inflammatory condition that leads to rosy cheeks is not fun.
In my situation, symptoms such as rosy cheeks whenever I drink wine or eat spicy food, exaggerated pore size in my t-zone, sensitivity to certain ingredients and extreme temperature changes in the environment are something I contend with daily.
In my awesome job as an aesthetician, I meet many amazing people that share these traits. Their symptoms range from subtle to extreme. Many of them are in varying degrees of discomfort most of the time. While some can’t place the cause of what is triggering redness in their skin, others are all too aware of it. One example was a lady I had the privilege to help who worked as a nurse in an operating room and had to wear a facial mask all day long. Her skin was extremely irritated from that mask rubbing on her skin. Eyeglasses that are constantly worn have been known to do something similar as well as CPAP machine masks.
This experience piqued my curiosity, so I began researching skin disorders that feature rosy cheeks. Of the many conditions I researched, Rosacea, Lupus, and Dermatomyositis come to mind. Since I’m not a doctor or a nurse I cannot claim to diagnose or treat any of those disorders, but the symptoms that they share can be improved a great deal at home, with a little knowledge of skin care and nutrition.
I know many people that have been diagnosed with Rosacea and similar conditions who have used prescriptions from doctors that improved their symptoms marginally, but not to their satisfaction.
I know others that have used over the counter skin care lines, with limited effect as well. The reason for their limited progress is that the triggers for the symptoms of these chronic disorders are found not only on the surface of the skin, but also internally.
I take a holistic approach to everything from skin breakouts, to redness, and mature skin concerns like firmness, elasticity, and wrinkles. I find that I get limited results if all of my efforts are on the surface.
Skin needs to be supported above the surface, with calming agents, below the surface of the skin with antioxidants, and from inside the body with nutrition in a three-dimensional way.
M&M therapy. I’m partial to peanut M&M’s, so, I want you to imagine a peanut M&M in your mind. The sweet, colorful shell, the creamy milk chocolate, and lastly that crunchy peanut in the middle. Got that image? OK we are going to examine each layer of this M&M as a way to treat rosy cheeks and all of the irritating symptoms that go along with them.
The Surface. The crunchy shell is like the surface of the skin. This is where most of our symptoms are present. Because of chronic inflammation and erythema (swelling and redness that is present In the skin), it’s important that every step of your skin care regimen be calming, healing, and protective.
Most of us are familiar with steps of a basic skin care regimen: 1-cleanse 2-exfoliate 3-tone 4-correct 5-moisturize/protect.
For the minimalist, this routine might look like washing your face in the shower with soap, an occasional scrub with a facial scrub or loofah sponge, and a little moisturizer. As a minimalist myself, I’m on-board with simplicity, but I’d like to suggest something more customized, gentle and healing.
Step 1- Cleanse. A good cleanser would be one with a creamy texture that will remove make up and impurities without stripping the skin of the things it needs such as beneficial oils the way foaming cleansers and soaps can. Some good plant derived ingredients would be chamomile, aloe and seaweed which are anti-inflammatory.
Antibacterial and anti-microbial ingredients are important as well, because researchers have found a correlation between people with the symptoms of rosacea, and a sensitivity to a microbe called a Demodex.
Do you like spiders?
Without getting too graphic, the Demodex is a microbial mite, a spider-like arachnid that lives on the surface of the skin of most people (ok, that was graphic!), but those with the symptoms of rosacea and other inflammatory conditions show sensitivity to it, almost like an allergic reaction, increasing redness, and irritation on the skin.
Anti-bacterial ingredients such as Sunflower oil, Rosemary, Tea tree, and Palmarosa essential oils, are helpful to both smother the microbe by depriving it of oxygen, and killing it by evil anti-microbial means. (Writer laughs maniacally)
On to step 2, exfoliation, removal of dead skin cells.... The best exfoliants for sensitive, inflamed skin would be the kind that dissolve dead skin cells without causing any violence to the skin. Some excellent examples include the iconic clay mask. I like clay masques that contain Kaolin clay which is also brightening, remineralizing and balancing to the skin.
Enzyme exfoliants such as those that contain papaya, pineapple, or rice enzymes, or those with alpha hydroxy acids do a wonderful job of gently and effectively exfoliating the skin. These can be found in the form of gentle cleansers, masques, serums or creamy exfoliants that you apply to the skin and remove after 10 minutes. (No scrubbing needed)
Skinceutical's “Simply Clean” cleanser, Voya’s "Luminosity," and Radiance exfoliants as well as their award-winning “Get Glowing” clay mask are a few of my favorites.
For the DIY crowd, citrus juices and pineapple juice will exfoliate if left on the skin for 1-5 minutes, but take care to balance the skin afterward with a toner.
Step 3-Tone! Toners that are alcohol-free are best, and those with soothing ingredients to calm and hydrate such as rose water, or green tea are great to restore the skin to its natural pH, reducing sensitivity.
Step 4-Correct. I find that in my own case I need to use something daily that actively reduces redness in a more assertive way. There are many medical grade skin care products on the market whose job it is to be anti-inflammatory and anti-redness and antibacterial. The one I use is the Phyto-Corrective gel by Skinceuticals which does all of the above and reduces the temperature of the skin by 5°. I use this morning and night or as needed, and I also use it on my clients after waxing, it’s incredibly soothing. Aloe Vera gel can also be helpful to soothe mild cases of redness.
For those with moderate to extreme cases of redness on the skin, I would encourage visiting a doctor for a formal diagnosis and prescription.
One antibiotic and anti-microbial medicine that is commonly prescribed by dermatologists for Rosacea is called Metrogel. Azelaic acid is an ingredient found in both prescription and over-the-counter products, and both treatments get good reviews from patients.
5-Moisturize/Protect Follow those ingredients with a highly protective moisturizer. Something non-irritating, that will truly replenish the barrier of your skin. A simple way to do this is to add a drop or two of a calming face oil to the skin before applying moisturizer. The facial oil should be one that won’t clog the pores, that will calm the skin and potentially smother any microbes that are on the surface. I have a few organic favorites, the “My Little Hero” oil serum by Voya which contains anti-inflammatory organic seaweed, “Supremely Lit," by the Farm House Fresh company which contains both vitamin C and hemp, and of course there’s good old-fashioned sunflower oil, vitamin E oil, and evening Primrose oil, a combination of which would make an excellent face oil for the DIY crowd.
If your skin is on the oily side an alternate method would be to use an oil to actually cleanse your skin, by massaging the oil on to dry skin, and then wipe it off with a damp cloth. This will both break down your make up, remove impurities, and replenish the lipid barrier of the skin just enough to protect it but not enough to make it greasy or oily. My favorites are organic Jojoba, Sunflower, and Voya’s Angelicus Serratus oil, which contains both oils above, and calming organic seaweed.
SPF. Lastly, a mineral-based sunscreen that’s safe for sensitive skin, something containing zinc and hopefully no harmful chemicals or parabens will protect your skin from sun exposure which can be a trigger for inflamed skin. These steps are game-changers.
Professional Guidance. I often recommend that my clients who have skin care goals such as less inflammation and redness to have periodic professional skin care treatments at the spa with a certified skin care expert who can help them tweak their at-home regimen and boost their results with professional-strength ingredients.
My favorite method is like a workout for the skin. To improve muscle tone, you have to do the next workout session before the last one wears off. Similarly, I recommend that those who want to see dramatic results do several professional skin care treatments close together, 2-3 weeks apart for a building result. After that, we tweak the at-home regimen to maintain the results. These are comprehensive, professional-grade treatments customized to each individual’s needs.
Some professional treatments that are beneficial for mild to inflamed skin (after restoring the integrity of the skin through gentle facials and at-home-products) include gentle peels, such as those containing lactic and glycolic acids, oxygen facials (Intraceuticals is great) and the Hydrafacial (not for severely inflamed skin, but beneficial to rebuild skin with mild to moderate symptoms).
Support the Skin From Below. The second layer of the M&M is the creamy milk chocolate layer, and I want you to imagine this as the skin from underneath.
Just as there are ways to soothe the skin on the surface, there are ways to encourage and support healthy skin from within. One of those is to use a topical vitamin C serum. Vitamin C is one of the nutrients that the human body cannot produce on its own. When used on the surface of the skin It works as an antioxidant within the skin to help reduce inflammation below the surface.
Research has shown that 20% is the best level of vitamin C, more than that is overkill and potentially irritating to the skin. Within two weeks of using a 20% vitamin C serum, you will notice that your skin has an even, all-over peachy glow with less blotchiness. This will improve the way your skin feels and looks, and you will need less makeup to cover redness.
The number one best selling vitamin C serum in the states is at this time is CE Ferulic by Skinceuticals. CE Ferulic is a hydrating formula which can be used daily to slow and prevent dark spots and scars, and strengthen and reduce inflammation in the skin. You can even use it under your sunscreen at the beach to help prevent sun damage.
There are many vitamin C serums out there. Vitamin C products should be packaged in solid or dark glass containers kept away from light. You will know if they’re working after using them for two weeks. You should see a visible change in your skin that’s almost like a blur effect reducing blotchiness. If there is none or minimal change, that means that you need a higher percentage of vitamin C. Liquid serums are applied in the “correct” step: after toner and before oils or moisturizers.
The Peanut. Lastly, that peanut on the inside of the M & M: I want you to imagine that this represents what you put in your body. Just as there are foods that can trigger inflammation in the skin, there are foods that can help support the body to reduce inflammation.
Probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to reduce the H. Pylori bacteria in the gut. This bacteria has been linked to immunological disorders such as rosacea, lupus, stomach ulcers, and gastric cancer. If you have too much detrimental bacteria in your stomach your gut may feel bloated, you’ll have greater symptoms of fatigue and stress, and your skin will have more inflammation and redness.
You could take a probiotic supplement, to help colonize your gut with beneficial bacteria, but a faster-acting solution is to include foods that are naturally high in probiotics as a daily part of your diet.
Some of the fastest acting probiotic food options are organic whole milk kefir, (or water kefir if you’re sensitive to dairy), fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and probiotic teas such as those containing kombucha.
Anecdotally, I have found that consuming a heaping tablespoon of any fermented food daily and or an ounce or two of kefir transforms the way I feel on the inside and outside in as little as three days. I like to consume these items with fresh fruit or vegetables like salad or soup, which sends the probiotic enzymes into my system with a snack for later, called a prebiotic.
The goal is to create a village inside your gut of the “good guys” to help your body process and absorb nutrients with less inflammation. Less inflammation in the gut means less inflammation in the skin. A bonus of this process is a boost in my energy levels, less stress and better sleep as well.
Water. I must talk water for a moment. Any time the gut is inflamed, all processes slow down until the situation is remedied. That means the resources your skin needs like water and nutrients are re-routed to the battle zone.
Thus it is very, very important to have enough water in your system. It’s recommended that we each drink half our body weight in ounces of water a day (caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages do not count) If you perspire a lot, or are very physically active, you need even more water.
Something that can help you absorb water are electrolytes. Good sources for electrolytes are “Emergen-C” and the 365 Electrolyte Powder which is organic and can be found at Whole Foods and other natural grocery stores. Both are low in sugar and don’t contain artificial sweeteners. (Artificial sweeteners are your enemy if you have redness and inflammation in the skin. They destroy digestion by killing the good flora in your gut, and have actually been linked to weight gain and a slew of other side-effects. The only exception to this would be something naturally derived like Stevia, and if you can tolerate the flavor- hats off to you! )
Other natural electrolyte sources are Aloe juice and coconut water. One serving of any of these electrolytes is enough to make drinking enough water easier.
Take Baby Steps. I know all this information is overwhelming. I want you to think of it in terms of baby steps. Start with more calming products on the skin, add them to your routine one at a time so you’ll see the effect each of them has on your skin for the better. You can then make baby changes to your diet to soothe the gut and reduce inflammation from the inside.
With this 3-D approach, you should see changes within a few weeks.