By Jennipher Walters for Shape.com
After struggling with acne for years as a teenager, when Cynthia Nixon began to notice her skin was breaking out again in her 30s, she began using the same methods she used as a teen to fight back: a strict regimen of cleansers, scrubs and astringents. But when those didn't help -- in fact, they made things worse -- she began to get frustrated. Turns out, no matter how many acne products she tried, no cream or beauty treatment was going to work. Nixon had rosacea.
Unlike acne, which is caused by bacteria, rosacea is a chronic vascular condition caused by inflammation. Common symptoms can include facial redness, pimples and eye irritation, and it can even lead to thickened skin and permanent visible blood vessels. Although unpredictable, triggers such as sun exposure, exercise, spicy foods, alcohol and hot and cold weather can aggravate symptoms, according to the National Rosacea Society. Just like was the case for Nixon, rosacea symptoms typically start emerging around age 30 in men and women. However, it can be tough to recognize as symptoms mimic acne, eczema or skin allergies.
It's estimated that more than 16 million Americans have rosacea, but 78 percent of Americans have no knowledge of the condition, including how to recognize it and what to do about it. That's why Nixon, who is best known as playing the feisty Miranda Hobbes on "Sex and the City" and is starring in the Broadway play "Wit", has signed on to star in a new kind of production: a public service announcement that encourages awareness and diagnosis of this skin condition.
For Nixon, receiving the rosacea diagnosis by a dermatologist four years ago was pure relief.
"I was glad it wasn't acne and that there were very simple things I could do," she says in a phone interview. "My triggers are things like spicy foods, red wine and hot baths. Now, I don't never do them, but if I have a shoot or an appearance coming up, I certainly avoid them the night before."
Exercise is another trigger that can cause rosacea symptoms to flare up, she says, though she doesn't let that stop her from working out.
"There are things to be aware of and things to do to help with that," Nixon says. "I try to have fans near where I exercise, and I avoid things like jogging out in the boiling hot sun. Stress can be a trigger, too, so things like yoga, not only help my body but they also help me have balance and calmness."
While she admits that having rosacea can affect your confidence -- be it having your skin break out before a big photo shoot or looking flushed after a glass of wine with friends -- the one thing she wants to tell women is that you don't have to deal with it alone. Most symptoms can be controlled by avoiding triggers and getting treatment or a prescription from a dermatologist.
"A dermatologist can help you, and it really helps to talk to an expert," she says. "Everyone is different, but there is help out there. It can't be cured, but it can be controlled."
Do you know someone with rosacea? Have symptoms yourself? For more information on rosacea, go here, and please share your experience in the comments!
Check out which other celebrities have spoken out about their skin problems, and the health lessons you can learn from their experiences in the slideshow below:
The star was diagnosed with psoriasis on a 2011 episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," after growing concerned over what she thought was a rash on her legs before a commercial shoot. While no one would ever dare call Kardashian shy, she's been unusually open in sharing the details of a skin condition that many try desperately to cover up. But because stress and anxiety are likely culprits behind psoriasis flare-ups, it's important for people with psoriasis to build a network of support, whether it be among family and friends, or simply with a doctor. In Kardashian's case, it just happens to be her millions of Twitter followers!
As a spokesperson for a number of skin-care products, the singer hasn't been shy about speaking up about her acne problems. "It was to the point where I was embarrassed to go onstage or do photo shoots," she told Parade. "I was just embarrassed to be Jessica Simpson." Whether or not the various systems she's endorsed will actually work for you isn't guaranteed, but she does have an important lesson about cleansing to share. "It really is about cleansing," she told PopSugar in this video, "but not overly cleansing to where you dry out." And she's right: Washing your face too often or with too harsh of a cleanser or exfoliator can strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving your skin feel dry and uncomfortably tight.
The Grammy-award winning singer says she struggled with low self-esteem when her psoriasis plaques covered 80 percent of her body. Life in the public eye -- tours, travel, award shows -- got to be too much for Rimes at times. "Stress is a major trigger for my psoriasis," she told Everyday Health. "I had to learn the power of 'No' and how saying that word was going to affect my health in a positive way." Stress can also trigger flare-ups of other skin conditions, like eczema, and decrease healthy skin's ability to repair itself, according to a 2001 study. It can also lead to acne, hives and other complications, all of which in turn often add to stress levels, creating a vicious cycle of ongoing stress and skin trouble, without an appropriate relaxation outlet. Rimes has said for her, relaxation involves yoga, working out and spending time outdoors, but it could be anything that makes you feel calm and at ease.
After the famous vegetarian and animal-loving actress became a vegan, she published a diet guide/cookbook/ memoir "The Kind Diet". In it, she calls her skin a "nightmare" and said she once had to reshoot a movie scene because of a particularly bad breakout. After getting some advice about healthying-up her diet, however, she writes "my acne -- which had haunted me for such a long time -- had improved significantly. It was like magic." Luckily, the effects of a healthy diet on your skin is a bit more reliable than magic! Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon, can combat dry skin. Brightly-colored foods like pink grapefruit and tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a carotenoid that can keep skin smooth. Other nutrients, like zinc and vitamin C, also promote healthy skin.
The model, who won "America's Next Top Model" in 2006, has battled psoriasis for years. At one point, plaques covered 70 percent of her body. But she didn't let her skin derail her dreams of becoming a model. English, now a spokesperson for the National Psoriasis Foundation, also lobbied Congress to enact the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Research, Cure, and Care Act. She opened up to Health.com after posing for bare-all photos of a dramatic flare-up, saying, "I've learned that whatever you have, you've got to embrace it. That doesn't mean you've got to like it, but you've got to accept that it's just part of you."
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