Rosacea – Symptoms and Causes

What is rosacea?

A condition affecting blood vessels in the skin.

What are its symptoms?

Depending on the type of rosacea, the symptoms are:

  • Redness and flushing on the cheeks, nose, forehead and/or chin. This is called “Erythematotelangiectatic” rosacea  -  it’s a mouthful, but all it means is superficial reddening (erythema) and dilated or congested blood vessels (telangiectasia). The redness is aggravated by food triggers, intense physical activity and sun exposure (basically everything that increases blood flow and makes blood vessels dilate). In advanced cases burning and stinging sensations occur.
  • Facial reddening with papules and/or pustules that come and go (called “Papulopustular” rosacea). This type of rosacea looks similar to acne and it is sometimes called acne-rosacea. The difference is that rosacea does not present with whiteheads and blackheads like acne.
  • Thickening of the skin, affecting the nose in most cases, and sometimes also the cheeks, forehead, chin, eyelids and ears. This type is called “Phymatous” rosacea (from the Greek work Phyma = tuber, tubercle or swelling), and it is caused by the swelling of sebaceous glands (tiny glands that produce the oil-like substance which protects and lubricates our skin)
  • Bloodshot, irritated and watery eyes – this is “Ocular” rosacea, which occurs at the same time as, or sometimes before, rosacea symptoms affecting the skin. The eyes feel gritty, dry and/or itchy, and sensitive to light.

What causes rosacea?

Unfortunately the causes of the condition are not well understood. There are several hypotheses being researched, including:

1. Oxidation of fatty acids in blood vessel cellular membranes

Like all cellular membranes in our bodies, the cellular membranes of blood vessels are made of fatty acids, some of then unsaturated. Unsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation, which leads to free radical formation. Our bodies have mechanisms to stop oxidative damage (using antioxidants), but in some cases the anti-oxidative response is inadequate. In such cases large amounts of free radicals might damage the blood vessels, which would then become leaky. Research conclusions1  published in 2003 document a link between rosacea and free radicals/oxidative reactions.

2. A fault in the skin’s anti-inflammatory response

Abnormally high levels of anti-inflammatory peptides were found in rosacea skin, pointing to the possibility that rosacea is caused by a fault in the skin’s inflammatory response.2

3. Tiny organisms that live on human skin

A mite (Demodex Folliculorum) and a bacteria (Helicobacter Pylori) have been suspected to cause rosacea. However, both organisms are commonly found on people who do not suffer from rosacea. While  is possible that their presence might aggravate  symptoms, it is unlikely either of the two organisms single-handedly trigger rosacea.


1. Öztas, M. O., Balk, M., Ögüs, E., Bozkurt, M., Ögüs, I. H. and Özer, N. The role of free oxygen radicals in the aetiopathogenesis of rosacea. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology Volume 28, Issue 2, pages 188–192, March 2003

2. University of California – San Diego. “Cause Of Skin Condition Rosacea Discovered.” ScienceDaily, 7 Aug. 2007

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Natural, Natural-Derived, Organic – What’s It All About?

These buzz words have been around for years now, but market research after market research shows many of us are not all that clear about their meaning. So here are some clues for the curious.

Natural” seems to be the easiest to define, as most people would agree that it applies to a substance taken from nature i.e. not-man-made. We trust natural because the human species had plenty of time to figure out what is safe and what is not in the natural world, what is edible and what is poisonous, what is good for us and what harms us. Not the sort of thing somebody creates in a lab, puts on the market with great advertising fuss and then years later we may find out it has undesirable side effects. Plant extracts and naturally occurring minerals are substances most of use would consider natural.
But what do cosmetic manufacturers mean by “natural”? Well, the answer to that question is a lot less straightforward. “Natural“ being so popular a concept with consumers, cosmetic companies often take liberties with the word. In marketing jargon, natural can mean “natural-derived-processed”, “partly natural” or “almost natural”.

Natural-derived-processed” – a bit of a mouthful, so  it’s understandable that the word “processed” is often left behind. It means a substance originating in nature has been modified in a chemical process. One example most of us are familiar with is hydrogenated oil. Liquid natural oils – e.g. olive oil – go through a chemical process that adds a few hydrogen atoms to their molecules, thus turning the oils into solid, butter-like substances. At the end of the process you have a different substance, with a different chemical formula than what you had at the beginning. Is the end substance still natural?

Organic” can be more than “natural”, but interestingly, it can be less.
The Soil Association’s criteria for organic skin care products are rather lengthy – not the kind of information you can summarise on a product’s package. Neither are they the sort of pleasant reading you would want to have with your cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. That is why I will venture to say that – of all the natural-related buzz-words, “organic “is the least likely to be understood by the general public.
In the context of “100% natural and organic”, the organic certification is a step towards safe and healthy. But if you compare a product that is 100% natural with a product that is certified organic you will often find the  100% natural one is the closest to nature. Because the organic standards allow a number of preservatives and emulsifies, even though they are synthetic, on the grounds that there are no natural alternatives to them.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing like reading the ingredient list for yourself. The rule of thumb is: If every single ingredient in the list sounds natural, then chances are the product is natural. But if the end tail of the ingredient list reminds you of the chemistry book, then the natural claims of that brand would be better taken with a pinch of salt.

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The “Necessary” Synthetic Chemicals in Skin Care Products

“Free from un-necessary chemicals”  – that is what naturally-minded skin care companies say in support of  their “natural” claims. it’s not a very enlightening statement – “How many synthetic chemicals are there in the product?“ we may rightly ask, but I do like its honesty. These companies are basically telling us “we have tried hard to bring down the amounts of synthetic additives in our products and this is as far as we could go. The artificial additives that are still there are necessary.”

Which brings us to this question: Necessary for what? For the health of our skin? Well, no. Not at all. These additives are used to produce the oil and water emulsions we got used to buying as moisturisers. But they are not all motherhood and apple pie. Far from it.

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Sea-Buckthorn – a Wonder Skin Care Ingredient

Ranking skin care ingredients would be a close to impossible task, but if I tried really hard to do it, I reckon sea-buckhorn extract would be within my top five favourites. Not only do I add it liberally to moisturisers, I also keep some pure extract at hand in my kitchen to dab on rough skin patches after those little cooking accidents. And its healing power has not gone unnoticed: “My burn has gone! What was that you put on it earlier on?”

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The 100% Natural Personal Care Routine

Many of us like our skin care and personal care product to contain natural ingredients. For some people, using natural products is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. There are an umber of skin conditions that impair the skin’s barrier function and this is when the additives and harmful chemicals in personal care products become an immediate problem.

A 100% natural personal care routine is achievable and, what’s more, it isn’t difficult. Here are some replacement products for shampoo, shower gel and soap.

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Fatty Acids and Their Skin Care Benefits

The type of fatty acids we eat and put on our skin seem to make a huge difference to the way our skin looks and feels. A few years ago, after a lot of research on the subject, I drastically reduced the proportion of unsaturated fats in my diet. (A decision my GP might have well frowned on!) The results were spectacular. Only five days into the new diet my skin returned to being normal after years of being dry. It was like getting back the skin I used to have in my twenties – a little miracle! A couple of months later I noticed my sun spots were fading – I used to have a serious skin pigmentation problem that make-up could no longer hide and no cream (however expensive) seemed to alleviate. A year later the sunspots faded to the point they became unnoticeable. These days I am comfortable going out without wearing foundation at all. And it gets even better: my skin has regain suppleness and my wrinkles have diminished – I really did turn back the clock and it all comes down to the fats I eat.

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Oil-Based Products – the Future of Natural Skin Care?

The latest issue of Women’s Health features an article with the title “Don’t be Scared of Oil Based Products”. Fifteen years ago this was unthinkable. But I’m not going to claim I’ve spotted a new  trend here – far too late for that since the story is already out for all to hear.

Instead I’m going to ask: How big is the oil based cosmetics market going to get? I for one will venture to place a bet on this answer: “really big” and this is why: The oil and water emulsion, which has been our typical moisturiser for many decades now, relies on emulsifiers (how else can you get the oils and water to mix?) and on preservatives to stop the emulsion becoming a paradise for all kinds of bacteria, moulds and fungi. To date, the cosmetic industry has not managed to find a functional natural emulsifiers or preservative – unless you count the “vegetal derived, processed”. More than that, there are some basic issues with these two groups of substances:

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