Most of us have struggled with acne at some point in our lives. (Thanks, hormones…) But another skin condition known as “rosacea” (roh-ZAY-sha) is often confused with acne, and it affects approximately 14 million Americans.

Rosacea is characterized by a flushed appearance, redness and swelling. You may spot the first signs when you’re 30–50: symmetrical redness and a tendency to blush easily. Redness may eventually  become permanent, especially in the center of the face and migrating toward the cheeks, forehead, chin and nose. Small blood vessels and whiteheads may appear. In the most advanced cases, sufferers may develop “rhinophyma,” the bulbous red nose and swollen, bumpy cheeks that made W.C. Fields famous. This makes early diagnosis and treatment critical.

“Fortunately, through greater public awareness, more people are seeking medical attention before their rosacea becomes increasingly severe,” says  Diane Berson, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University. “As a result, its impact on appearance is being halted and controlled before the emotional consequences become even more intrusive on their daily lives.”

Eating certain foods can worsen the problem. According to the National Rosacea Society, the most common triggers are alcohol (52%), spicy foods (45%) and hot beverages (36%).

“Patients with rosacea should keep a journal to track their food and beverage triggers so they can record how the experience made them feel and remind themselves to avoid these items in the future,” says Susan C. Taylor, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City.

And when visiting your local natural and organic food store, read product labels. “Proceed with caution when it comes to spices, such as cayenne, red, black and white pepper; curry; chili powder; and even salsa,” Dr. Taylor says. In addition, foods like liver, vinegar, soy sauce, dairy products, certain fruits and vegetables (citrus, eggplant, avocado, spinach, broad-leafed beans and pods), hot chocolate, cider, tea and coffee have been known to cause flare-ups.

If you think you may have rosacea, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

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