Why Rosacea Gets Worse in the Winter—and What You Can Do About It
Leading dermatologists share their tips for getting this inflammatory skin condition under control during the driest, coldest months of the year.
When you suffer from rosacea, it can feel like a never-ending battle from season to season. Summer is irritating due to sun exposure, but winter is also problematic: Temperature fluctuations, bitter cold, winter winds, and dry heat all strip your cheeks of moisture, which weakens the skin's barrier function. Ahead, we spoke to leading dermatologists to find out exactly why rosacea worsens come winter—and how to calm the burn.
"We are not sure what causes rosacea, but in patients with [the condition], living microorganisms on the skin are recognized as foreign by the body's immune system. The immune system springs into action to counter this potential threat resulting in the inflammation, redness, or bumps," explains Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic.
Cold and wind cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict, notes Dr. Jennifer L. MacGregor, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. "This happens to preserve heat in the core of the body, but when you get out of the cold, there is a rebound dilation, flush, and burn—which can be very intense in people with rosacea," she adds.
Rosacea sufferers should "lower their indoor heating systems, because high temperatures can cause their already irritated, dry skin to worsen," explains Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics. Reducing the number on your home's thermostat will keep your skin from experiencing increased redness, acne-like bumps, and thickening, she adds.
The same logic applies to your shower water temperature: Taking a long, hot rinse further exacerbates the skin by "causing the blood vessels to dilate, making the moisture evaporate from the skin, which worsens dryness, as well as itching," shares Dr. Jeannette Graf, a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Instead, try a lukewarm shower, which will encourage healthy skin function and not strip it of its protective lipid layer, which helps keep moisture in and bacteria out.
Your sun exposure decreases in the winter—you're not on the beach, that is—but that doesn't mean people with rosacea (or anyone, for that matter) can skip out on sunscreen. "Protect skin with a mineral SPF," advises Dr. MacGregor. "It offers better sun protection, is less irritating, and can be applied last over other active topical medications and cosmeceutical products."
Scratchy fabrics like wool, bulky sweaters, and heavy jackets can trap heat, irritate the skin, and cause rosacea flare-ups, so to avoid irritation during the winter, it's best to dress in soft and breathable layers of cotton, "cashmere, silk, or fine, soft wool," says Darlene Zembrod, an Eco Bella and Avegan Beauty expert and paramedical esthetician.
Humidifiers to the Rescue
Placing a humidifier in the bedroom can help alleviate the length and severity of rosacea symptoms. "Humidifiers help add moisture back into the air, which can then penetrate through the dermis and relieve the dry skin associated with rosacea," adds Dr. Hayag, who notes these machines are worth trying if you're experiencing tight, dry, inflamed skin when you wake up.