Glowing skin helps us look and feel our best, and things like breakouts, bumps, and uncontrollable blushing can really put a crimp in our self-esteem. In an effort to present our best face to the world, we may resort to all sorts of pricey serums, creams, and other topical treatments to get a smooth, blemish-free complexion. However, the problem may be more than skin deep.
You’ve likely heard of the connection between your gut and your brain, but how about your gut and your skin? Growing research suggests that digestion plays an integral role in skin health, in what’s known as the gut-skin axis. And one common skin woe in particular may be tied to your gut health, rather than the way you wash your face or what skincare products you’re using.
Read on to find out what it is, which of its symptoms could be caused by your digestion, and how you can get the healthy skin we all want by healing your gut.
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More than 14 million people struggle with rosacea, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, which also notes that those with fair skin and light hair and eyes are more likely to be affected. Rosacea causes several symptoms, the most common being persistent red blushing (also called prerosacea) around your nose and the central part of your face. Flare-ups may appear every few weeks or months, and occasionally the blushing can also affect the forehead, neck, and chest. If left untreated, redness may become permanent, due to the small blood vessels in your face becoming dilated.
A recent study published in Advances in Therapy found that many adults with rosacea also experience gastrointestinal disorders, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. “Poor digestion and inflammatory bowel disease can [increase the risk] of rosacea,” explains board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD. “Treating digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome can significantly improve rosacea symptoms. This is because inflammatory skin diseases can result in an imbalanced gut microbiome, triggering an exaggerated immune response,” she explains.
If you notice spider veins on your face, gut problems could be to blame. This bothersome rosacea symptom, known as telangiectasias, occurs when tiny blood vessels in your nose and cheeks break and become visible, forming a web-like pattern on your skin. A bacterial gut infection called H pylori is common in people with rosacea and could exacerbate symptoms, including visible facial veins.
Though many treatment options for telangiectasias are available, laser therapy is the most effective. “Visible capillary blood vessels on the face are often the result of years of [rosacea-related] flushing,” says Sandy Skotnicki, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Hims & Hers Skin Care. “They’re best removed with laser technologies, such as intense pulsed light or V-beam laser.”
Some people with rosacea develop small, red, pus-filled bumps (called papules or pustules) that resemble acne. These tend to develop on the nose, cheeks, and chin. Similar to facial blushing, rosacea bumps come and go in flare-ups. “Inflammatory lesions or papules of rosacea are best treated with prescription medications or antibiotics,” says Skotnicki. “Over-the-counter topical ointments… can lead to mild improvement.”
If you’re experiencing this or other rosacea symptoms, Everyday Health recommends avoiding foods that can trigger symptoms, such as spicy foods, hot beverages, alcohol, dairy, and chocolate. Talk to a dermatologist or gastroenterologist to determine if your skin issues are a result of an underlying gut issue, and to discuss the best treatment option for you.
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In addition to the nose, cheeks, and forehead, rosacea can impact your eyes and eyelids in a condition called ocular rosacea. Symptoms include redness, dryness, burning, tearing, blurred vision, swollen eyelids, and a sensation of a foreign object stuck in the eye. For some people, eye symptoms may appear before other signs of rosacea.
Ocular rosacea may be caused by your gut’s inability to digest a protein called cathelicidin. This protein normally protects your skin from infection, but high amounts of cathelicidin may cause rosacea, along with its uncomfortable eye symptoms, according to a 2017 study published in Dermatology and Therapy.
If you notice these eye-related rosacea symptoms, Yadav recommends “warm compresses and the use of baby shampoo to wash the eyelids and maintain good eyelid hygiene. If these don’t help, see an ophthalmologist or a dermatologist for additional advice.”