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Relaxing Helps Rosacea Patients See Less Red

Reducing stress helps control skin disorder, survey finds

FRIDAY, Aug. 17, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you have rosacea, the acne-like skin disorder that afflicted W.C. Fields and former President Bill Clinton, try not to worry about it.

Emotional stress plays a major role in triggering flare-ups, finds a new survey by the National Rosacea Society. And people with rosacea report that minimizing anxiety and regularly using stress-busting techniques helped control the condition.

"Skin is incredibly responsive to what's going on emotionally. There is extensive literature that consistently shows emotional anxiety can trigger flare-ups of all types of skin disorders: warts, herpes, psoriasis, rosacea," says Ted Grossbart, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Rosacea is a chronic, inherited facial skin disorder that affects up to 14 million Americans, says the Barrington, Ill.-based rosacea society.

Rosacea typically first appears after age 30 as an intermittent flushing or redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. As the disease progresses, the redness becomes ruddier and more persistent, and small, dilated blood vessels may appear. In advanced, untreated cases, bumps and pimples can develop and the nose may become swollen.

The survey of 700 rosacea patients, reported in the summer issue of the society's publication Rosacea Review, found that 91 percent said emotional stress was involved in flare-ups. Stress led to frequent flare-ups in 45 percent of respondents and occasional flare-ups in 42 percent. About 10 percent said stress rarely affected their rosacea.

Grossbart says, "The conspicuous redness, blemishes and swelling caused by rosacea can actually add to the patient's emotional pain by making social and professional interactions embarrassing and uncomfortable. This can create a downward spiral where stress triggers flare-ups, which in turn cause further emotional stress."

About 40 percent of the respondents said they have incorporated stress reduction techniques into the lives, and another 38 percent said they sometimes practice stress management.

Nearly 83 percent said reducing stress reduced or sometimes reduced their rosacea flare-ups. Thirteen percent said it had no effect.

"There is no doubt that stress can directly affect out health. This survey provides direct evidence that stress management can help control the effects of rosacea on facial appearance," says Grossbart, author of the book Skin Deep: A Mind/Body Program for Healthy Skin.

But Grossbart says not all stress is created equal, and only certain types affect rosacea.

"It's usually not generic stress that causes a flare-up. It's usually something more specific," he says. "For one person, having a big report due might not trigger anything. But a mother-in-law coming to visit might trigger a flare-up. The task is to study your own body and what pushes the buttons for you."

Keep a timeline of rosacea flare-ups and what was happening in your life at that time, he suggests.

The next step is dealing with your triggers. "Managing stress doesn't always mean just 'chilling out,'" Grossbart says. "It can also mean confronting a difficult situation or changing your life."

The survey found 67 percent said anxiety affected their rosacea the most, followed by anger (52 percent), frustration (48 percent), worry (46 percent) and embarrassment (41 percent). Only 27 percent said excitement caused flare-ups, and 17 percent said sorrow aggravated the condition.

For half of respondents, family was a major source of stress, followed by jobs (42 percent), finances (30 percent), health (28 percent), relationships (23 percent) and social pressure (16 percent.)

Dr. Mitchell Goldman, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, says stress is certainly linked to making skin disorders worse by compromising the immune system.

However, Goldman cautions against overemphasizing the ability to control the disorder through attitude or lifestyle changes. Dermatologists can prescribe topical creams and pills that can help. Lasers can also vaporize the overactive facial blood vessels, he says.

"Rosacea is a genetically-inherited condition. Doing meditation is not going to make it go away," he says.

What To Do

During times of stress, Grossbart recommends eating right, exercising moderately and getting enough sleep to minimize the effects of anxiety on your body.

Also, try these relaxation techniques:

  • Inhale deeply to the count of 10 and exhale to the count of 10 and repeat several times;
  • Sit in a quiet place and visualize yourself in a favorite vacation spot or pleasurable activity, and
  • Relax the muscles from the top of your head down to your toes.

For more information, check the National Rosacea Society or About-Rosacea.

SOURCES: Interviews with Ted Grossbart, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Mitchell Goldman, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology, University of California, San Diego; Summer 2001 Rosacea Review
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