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Rosacea, a skin condition characterized by redness and acne-like bumps, is far more common than you might expect. In fact, over 16 million Americans have rosacea, but many of them don't know it, particularly those who aren’t experiencing active outbreaks or who mistake their outbreaks for bouts of acne. A 2015 survey conducted by the National Rosacea Society revealed that 95% of rosacea patients knew little to nothing about their condition prior to being diagnosed.
While rosacea has the capacity to be emotionally debilitating, and despite the fact that it currently has no cure, there are steps you can take to diminish its appearance of rosacea outbreaks—starting with your diet. Many foods and drinks trigger rosacea-related inflammation, causing flare-ups, redness, dilated blood vessels, and thickening of the skin.
We tapped the brains of Ayurvedic expert Shrankhla Holecek of UMA Oils; Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care (who also happens to have rosacea); Michele J. Farber of Schweiger Dermatology Group; and Farah Fahad, M.S., M.A., R.D, a registered dietician and clinical psychologist to find out which foods work best for individuals with rosacea and how to build a “rosacea diet” of your own. Keep reading for their tips.
What Is The Rosacea Diet?
A “rosacea diet” is an eating plan focused on foods that ease rosacea flare-ups, which also largely eliminates foods and drinks that trigger outbreaks. Foods that contain high levels of acid, spice, and refined sugars count among the items that a rosacea diet should avoid.
The specific foods present in a rosacea diet will depend on the individual; in fact, Fahad urges patients looking to reduce their rosacea symptoms through diet to “do a food sensitivity test like the US BioTek 140 General Foods IgG Panel to identify any food triggers that are individualized to them; [a rosacea diet] is not ‘one size fits all’.”
Foods That Can Trigger Rosacea Flare-Ups
The list of foods that could potentially aggravate rosacea is sizable, but, as Fahad mentioned, not all food irritants affect all rosacea patients. Our experts shared the following list of foods and drinks that you may want to skip if you’re trying to reduce your rosacea outbreaks:
- Pungent or high-acid vegetables like tomatoes, hot peppers, carrots, beets, eggplant, onions, radishes, and spinach
- Drinks such as alcohol and hot coffee or tea, which can dilate blood vessels and contribute to facial redness
- Foods that release histamine, such as citrus fruits
- Sugars and starches, which Tanzi calls out as particular triggers for her own rosacea-related bumps and redness
- Dairy products like milk and cheese, which contain trans fatty acids (a common rosacea trigger)
- Shellfish, which, like other common allergens, can exacerbate the discomfort of a rosacea outbreak
- Foods that contain high levels of refined/concentrated sugars and sodium, like many processed foods. Farber says that “high-glycemic foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats can be triggers for inflammation that lead to rosacea and acne."
Foods That Can Prevent Flare-Ups
When it comes to rosacea diets that yield results, Holecek recommends a plan made up of 25% to 35% fresh vegetables, 25% to 35% protein, and the following grains for the remaining percentage: oats, sprouted wheat bread, barley, granola, amaranth, cooked oats, white rice, and tapioca. Farber adds that “low-sugar foods and complex carbohydrates are helpful to skin.”
What Are Complex Carbohydrates?
Starchy foods (like grains, beans, and fruit) that take longer for your body to digest and are a good source of energy and nutrients.
As a general rule, Fahad describes an ideal rosacea diet as a “whole foods diet, low in processed foods and added sugars.” No matter what lifestyle or diet you adopt, Fahad emphasizes eating minimally processed foods. Additionally, certain nutrients are important for skin health. Fahad suggests sticking to a whole food diet and incorporating:
- Vitamin E, which can be found in the healthy fats in avocado, almonds, walnuts, and olive oil
- Antioxidants in the form of fresh or frozen berries blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries
- Vitamin A with one glass of fresh carrot juice a day
Tanzi tells us that her personal favorite meal for her rosacea is what she calls a “salmon asparagus roll-up: “For skin purposes, it's amazing because the salmon is anti-inflammatory, the goat cheese is easy to digest, and the whole thing is low-carb, which is helpful for anyone with acne or rosacea. It's an all-around winner."
To make it, sauté 2 tablespoons of shallots and 1/4 cup of chopped asparagus in olive oil. Mix with 4 ounces of fresh chèvre with salt and pepper to taste. Take the filling and place equal dollops in thin, sushi-grade salmon slices, and roll. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Other foods that can ease rosacea irritation and prevent future outbreaks include:
- Neutral vegetables with high water content, like asparagus, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, okra, lettuce, green beans, and zucchini
- Soothing spices like coriander, cardamom, saffron, fennel, and turmeric
- Salmon; omega-3s are a superfood for anti-inflammation and are incredible for decreasing redness
- Goat cheese; it's a good source of protein, but also easy to digest and acts as an anti-inflammatory
- Lean proteins like turkey, chicken, and fish, in moderation
- Non-citrus, lower-acid fruits like grapes, melons, and mango
- Ghee, an Indian clarified butter that contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, which boost your immune system
While a change in your diet won’t cure your rosacea or completely eliminate symptoms and outbreaks, our experts all agree that steering clear of “trigger foods” and embracing foods that reduce inflammation and bolster your immune system will improve your comfort level and keep your flare-ups to a minimum, especially when done in combination with a medication regimen recommended by a dermatologist.
Check out our favorite skincare products for rosacea.
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Weiss E, Katta R. Diet and rosacea: the role of dietary change in the management of rosacea. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2017;7(4):31-37. doi:10.5826/dpc.0704a08