I Just Found Out I Have Rosacea—at 33

Photo: Ondrea Barbe/Trunk Archive

I’ve always been a blusher—and it’s never stopped being embarrassing. When I blush, which is often, my pale cheeks turn almost neon-pink, and the more I worry about it, the worse it gets. Heat surges from my cheeks over the rest of my face, ears, and even my neck.

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In kindergarten, my homeroom teacher announced that I’d be playing checkers with the boy I liked in the afternoon. I turned red and slumped down in my chair, even before the class erupted into laughter and, “Ooooohhhs.” Ever since, any time I’ve had to present something in front of a group or received sudden unexpected attention I’ve feared turning into a tomato. The thing is, I’m not even shy! I’m an extrovert, very comfortable in my own skin, and the first person to laugh at myself. So what’s with the weird display of modesty?

My mother comforted me, with tales of her own blushing. A doctor once told her that she had more blood vessels in her face, which sounded like as good an answer as any, so I learned to recite the info every time my face had a nuclear meltdown. My mom was right—sort of. The part I didn’t know? My condition is a form of rosacea.

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After calling up Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban to discuss my blushing problem, she gave me the diagnosis. “People prone to blushing often have underlying rosacea,” she says. She explained that the most common form of rosacea is mild and just causes you to get red—the acne-like bumps only develop with more severe rosacea that I’ve never experienced.  Physically, my mom’s theory was correct. “There are different enzymes and pathways in the skin, and people with higher levels of endothelial growth factors make more blood vessels in the face,” says Shamban. Not fully convinced the derm asked me, “Do you get red when you drink alcohol, eat spicy foods, exercise, or go out in the sun?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes—my skin is so fair I typically sit under an umbrella. “You have a genetic disposition and those are your triggers. UV rays especially stimulate your condition.”

As a beauty editor who’s spent hours researching the psychology behind my blushing—typically viewed as a physical manifestation to fight or flight scenarios involving embarrassment, anxiety, or romantic suggestion—I can’t believe I never thought about it being a skin condition. Unfortunately, Shamban said there’s nothing I can do to prevent my cheeks from turning a scorching red. When someone embarrasses me and the heat starts creeping up the only thing that minimizes the damage is to silently tell myself everything is OK and to chill out. I guess I’ll continue that method and avoid my real nemesis: the sun.

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