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Rosacea. Part 1 – Cleansers and Exfoliators

Rosacea. This time it’s personal.


Probably the most annoying skin condition, save for cystic acne, rosacea is a bane of life for 16 million Americans, and whether you have a mild case or a full blown tragedy of a red bumpy burning face the verdict is the same – once rosacea announces itself, it’s there to stay. Nothing will entirely clear it up but loose not hope – as a rosacea sufferer myself I have scoured the internet high and low, tried a whole beauty counter worth of products, and have put together something of an encyclopedia for the treatments available.


Going all natural. Maybe not.

I’ve battled rosacea for the past few years and have gone from extreme to extreme to try and fix my skin. When rosacea first lifted its ugly flushed head I panicked, and, convinced that everything I am using must have caused it or is setting it off, I emptied my bathroom cabinet and threw out my makeup, save for the trusty eyeliner and mascara. I downgraded my skin regimen to the basics of diluted lemon juice for cleansing the face and rosewater for keeping skin hydrated. In fact, I stopped touching my skin altogether. Which made it better for a happy short while, but then it got worse. And it spread. Although I still swear by lemon juice and rosewater, they are not enough to keep your face properly cleansed and hydrated. 

I started trying out various natural balms and generally switched to ‘all organic’. Some balms worked, some caused a hideous rash. Sometimes the product worked for a few days and made my skin look its old clear self, but after a few days I’d start breaking out worse than before. Seemed like my rosacea was just playing ‘guess the trigger’ with me, and I could never get it right. It was like a clever virus adapting to the meds and outsmarting them. What I didn’t know at the time is that ‘all natural’ skincare products contain some of the worst offenders for rosacea, and you gotta be just as careful at reading labels on your ‘green’ products’ bottles as you are with non-natural skincare products.     

Out of a gazillion makeup and skin products I’ve used in the past few years, some worked wonders, and I finally have in my arsenal the trusty fail proof few. I’ve also spent what feels like weeks researching and trying various skincare products, and here’s my ultimate bible of skincare and makeup for rosacea.


What is rosacea?

If you are reading this, chances are you already know exactly what it is. You’ve read all about ‘knowing your triggers’, and avoiding the best things in life like spicy foods, sugars and alcohol. So let’s move on to the stuff that matters.

(If you are a newbie – head straight here www.rosacea.org for all the info on rosacea you’ll ever need plus new studies’ results, like “Eating fish helps with ocular rosacea”. Yup, it can be in your eyes too. Terrific news).


How do I get rid of it?

Bad news first, you can’t. It’s here to stay. Good news, you can make it better. Much better. Like, people-won’t-know-you-have-it better.

The arsenal of anti-rosacea weapons includes meds, topical and internal, buttoned up skincare regimen, makeup and diet. I would strongly recommend to try and fix your gut and take care of the products you use on your skin before running to the doctor and start swallowing rosacea meds. In my humble opinion, meds should always be the last resort.

There’s a lot of material that I’d like to share with you, so I’ll break it into parts. Part 1 will look at cleansing and exfoliating, Part 2 will discuss moisturizing and sun protection. I’ll also throw in some makeup tips and advice on rosacea-friendly diet. So let’s begin!


Skin regimen. “The rule of thumb – the top 5 ingredients on the list matter most.”

Your mantra should be – cleanse, treat, moisturize and use sunblock. These 4 simple steps might just turn around your rosacea-ruined life. You also now need to become an avid reader of ingredient lists on anything you are considering putting on your face, and know the basics of what the most widely used chemicals are, and whether they are bad or good for you. So even if you weren’t paying attention in your chemistry class, you’ll need to learn a thing or two now.



Do not skip the cleansing part – even if you do not wear makeup it’s important to keep excess oil at bay, and regularly remove environmental particles, bacteria and microorganisms (did you realize you have mites living on your face, by the way? Surprise!). Cleansing also prepares your skin for the treatment to be more readily absorbed by your skin.

When you start your research online, the choice of cleansers for people with rosacea is quite overwhelming. There is cleansing without using water (i.e. micellar solutions or tissue-off cleansers), creamy cleansers that are designed to be very mild and not irritate your skin, cleansers designed to deeply cleanse your epidermis, which is important if you wear makeup as you want all traces of it gone before bedtime, and so on. The bottom line is, everyone’s rosacea is different and reacts to different triggers, so it’s likely you’ll go through a few products before you settle down for the happy-ever-after with some of them.

Let me start by listing the ingredients that you should try to avoid in your cleansers, and those you want to be present in the products you use.


The bad stuff – benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, sodium lauryl sulfate.


Benzoyl peroxide is used widely for treating acne, as well as for bleaching flour, hair and teeth. It causes skin to dry and peel, which is great for acne, but the worst idea if you are trying to make your rosacea better. Your face will hate you.


Glycolic acid belongs to the oh-so-popular group of alpha hydroxy acids (or AHA) that are currently enjoying the top of the popularity wave among beauty product fanatics (i.e. beauty bloggers). Once applied, glycolic acid reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together. This allows the outermost layer of the epidermis to be stripped away, exposing live skin cells. While it might work wonders for some people, you are barred for life from these AHA babies. They will wreck havoc and unleash the angry red beast on your face.


Sodium lauryl sulfate is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent. You’ll find this stuff practically in anything designed for personal care, from shampoos to soaps to toothpaste. It’s also the stuff you will find on the ingredient list of almost all facial cleansers. As any other detergent, sodium lauryl sulfate is a known irritant and is too harsh for rosacea sufferers, with the irritation increasing with concentration.


The good stuff – glycerin, zinc.


Glycerin is a skin-identical and skin-repairing ingredient, meaning it is a substance found naturally in skin. Research shows that a combination of ingredients, including glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum, antioxidants, fatty acids, lecithin, among many others, are excellent for helping skin heal, reducing associated dermatitis, and restoring normal barrier function if used on an ongoing basis. Research also indicates that the presence of glycerin in the intercellular layer helps other skin lipids do their jobs better.


Look for a cleanser that has glycerin instead of sodium lauryl sulfate as the active ingredient. It’s moisturizing and gentle, and you’ll find great options out there for glycerin-based cleansers. Here are a couple:


REN ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser http://www.renskincare.com/usa/clearcalm-3-clarifying-clay-cleanser.html

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Kaolin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Glucoside, Glycerin, Benzyl Alcohol, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract, Zinc Gluconate, Bisabolol, Oryzanol, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Linalool, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Leptospermum Scoparium Oil, Tocopherol, Dehydroacetic Acid, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile) Flower Oil, Citral, Xanthan Gum, Lactic Acid, Citronellol, Farnesol, Limonene, Crataegus Oxyacantha Stem Extract, Glucose

*NB! If you are sensitive to willow bark (salicylic acid) and lavender oil, be careful.*


FRESH Soy Face Cleanser




There are a ton of beauty bloggers out there who swear by the PHILOSOPHY Purity Made Simple cleanser too. http://www.ulta.com/ulta/browse/productDetail.jsp?productId=xlsImpprod1490012


Try not to use too much tap water on your face, because tap water changes the pH of your skin and that messes with the delicate balance. Skip water-based cleansing once every two days or so, and use a tissue-off cleanser instead, like the trusty BIODERMA Sensibio H2O micellar water. It truly deserves its iconic gentle cleanser status. One bottle is sold every 5 seconds, apparently. http://www.bioderma.com/en/our-products/sensibio/h2o


Medicated 2% pyrithione zinc helps to control pityrosporum yeast germs and demodex mites, both of which may be increased in number in the pores of people with rosacea. Yup, you have mites living on your face. Oh, sorry, were you eating? Zinc most often turns up in anti-acne treatments, however, which are often too harsh for people with rosacea. Look for products with zinc in them but choose non-drying options, like Dr Bailey’s Calming Zinc Soap https://www.drbaileyskincare.com/calming-zinc-bar-soap.


Try also REN Flash Defence Anti-Pollution Mist, which has zinc in it, and gives you additional protection from environmental factors. You can use it throughout the day whenever you need a little pick me up for your skin. http://www.renskincare.com/usa/flash-defence-anti-pollution-mist.html


I’m also a big supporter of rose water. You don’t even need a fancy expensive one – pick a bottle up in the spices section of your local supermarket for a buck or two. It’s a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine, cheap and easy to find. Use it as a gentle toner to wipe away the residue from micellar water, or after you’ve washed your face with a cleanser and tap water, before applying a treatment or day cream.


Another oldie but goodie – coconut oil. Apply, wait, tissue off, then use a toner to get rid of the remains of the oil as some skins don’t react well to the coconut oil to be left on.




For the most part, you want to steer clear of exfoliation. All the facial scrubs and even gommages are now too abrasive for you. Splashed out on a Clarisonic face brush? Sorry. You can forget about it if you ever want to see your cheeks not fire-engine-red again. All these brushes and even the cult konjac sponges are now offensive to your epidermis. There is hope, however, as you do want to get rid of the dead cells, and allow for the better penetration of the product into your skin. Gentle exfoliation also gradually improves the texture of your skin, ironing out the bumps and scars left by rosacea explosions. Try out the Foreo Luna instead, it’s a pretty wonderful face cleansing gadget that glides across your face massaging it with a bunch of silicone ‘bumps’ that are powered by sonic impulses. They have models for sensitive and even super sensitive skin. User reports are full of delight, and your rosacea will not be triggered by abrasive exfoliation that traditional methods offer. It also works as an anti-aging massager and when used in conjunction with a cleanser offers a deep skin cleansing experience.


Another method is to use one of the acids from the beta hydroxy acid group, or BHA. In cosmetics, the term beta hydroxy acid refers specifically to salicylic acid. Tread carefully here, however, as rosacea community is divided over whether this is a ‘stay away’ or ‘it helps’ ingredient. Ultimately, this is down to your personal tolerance of the stuff. Salicylic acid is used in medicine to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers, and is also used as an anti-inflammatory drug (it is a derivative of aspirin). Best bet, get a trial size of a BHA exfoliant and see how your skin likes it. It might be fantastic, or might make your face look worse than ever. It’s all trial and error, sister. Beware that anytime you see ‘willow bark’ on the list of ingredients it means some concentration of salicylic acid is present, as willow bark is rich in natural salicylic acid.


Try this:

PAULA’S CHOICE ‘Calm’ Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant



Hope this was educational and helpful for you. This concludes the Part 1 on rosacea, keep an eye out for Part 2 – moisturizing and treating.


If you have cleansing products that helped with your rosacea, please share in the comments section!


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After learning about how some skin care companies care so much about profits that they will even put out bad products, I put together this site. But frankly, anyone that is selling things that can hurt customers is in my sights.


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  1. […] been a long road for me, and I’d like to summarize all that I’ve learned and experienced. In part 1 I covered cleansing and exfoliation – both super important when dealing with rosacea, and yet […]

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