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Rosacea: Steer Clear of these Foods for Calm Skin

Rosacea affects millions of people, but from a natural health perspective there is much you can do to manage your symptoms through diet and nutrition for calmer skin.
Oct 15, 2020 | Joy McCarthy

Being prone to redness has always been part of my life but given my healthy lifestyle, I never thought I would develop rosacea. I just assumed the fact I’ve always blushed easily and my cheeks get really red when I do an intense workout is just who I am. But here I am today, sharing this with you and it's something that I'm dealing with one day at a time. Just like eczema, there is no cure for rosacea, just management of symptoms by reducing the factors that contribute to the inflammation.

I'm not gonna sugarcoat things and say it's been a walk in the park - I didn't just eat some kale and poof I had calm skin.

I wish it were that easy. Many people comment on my skin that it doesn't look like I have rosacea but that's because I cover it up with tinted moisturizer and pressed powder when I have a flare up.

There's been plenty of tears of frustration over the years but one thing I can say for sure is that my skin would be far worse if I was not careful with my diet and engaged in unhealthy habits.

Rosacea is redness that affects your cheeks, nose and chin. It is one of the most common skin conditions for people over 30. In fact, millions of people all around the world suffer from it. It is a multifactorial skin condition, which means there is no one single cause for it, which makes it a little frustrating when you’re trying to address the root cause.

That being said, there is so much you can do to manage this condition in terms of your nutrition and lifestyle.

As a nutritionist, I’ve spent a lot of time researching this condition and I can say with confidence I have tried everything natural. I have chosen not to take antibiotics or use any antibiotic creams or steroid creams on my skin as the side effects outweigh any benefits.

I do know my rosacea would be far worse if it were not for the habits I have in place. In this post today I’m going to share with you what you need to avoid if you have rosacea from a dietary perspective. Don't worry, I will do a follow up post with all the wonderfully nourishing foods you'll want to be eating like everything in this Veggie Quinoa Soup!

Veggie quinoa soup

What To Avoid Eating If You Have Rosacea

This doesn't mean you can never eat these foods again because many of them are health-promoting. I still eat eggplant ( as you know! ), I eat strawberries when in season but I keep this list in mind to manage my symptoms and there is no food on this list I eat every day. Some of these items I never consume (red wine) because they are big triggers for me. Know your triggers and it will help you manage your symptoms.

Rancid Oils (Most Vegetable Oils)

Rancid vegetable oils

Corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean, canola, sunflower and safflower oil usually in clear plastic bottles that line the grocery store shelves in abundance should be avoided. The consumption of these oils has increased dramatically in the last decade.

There are multiple problems with these oils making them the very worst choice for your health.

Before they end up in the bottle, they have often been treated with multiple pesticides and chemicals (many of them GMO), extracted with solvents such as hexane, been treated with multiple chemicals, and subjected to an unbelievable amount of processing from bleaching to deodorizing and more. Additionally, they are very high in omega-6 fatty acids and our diets have far too much of this fat already which can contribute to inflammation and make rosacea worse.

It’s important to note that not all plant oils are bad. Olive oil, avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil and coconut oil are all plant-oils I use in cooking and baking. Choose organic cold-pressed oils (that means no heat in the extraction process) and look for oils packaged in dark glass bottles. Dark glass bottles protect the oil from oxidizing (going bad). The exception is coconut oil because it’s mostly saturated fat which means it’s more stable than olive or pumpkin seed oil.

High-Histamine Foods

Eggplant

Since there are foods that are high in histamine and foods that trigger the release of histamine, I've combined both in the following list:

  • Alcohol and other fermented beverages i.e. kombucha and water kefir
  • Fermented foods such as yogurt, dairy kefir, sauerkraut
  • Veggies: eggplant, spinach
  • Fruits: avocados, tomatoes, bananas, papaya, citrus fruits
  • Walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pineapples
  • Seafood
  • Egg whites
  • Chocolate
  • Soy
  • Yeast extract
  • Any foods that are aged, pickled, dried, smoked, processed or fermented

Histamine causes vasodilation in the skin (widening of blood vessels) which exacerbates rosacea. This means that when blood vessels in the face dilate, redness follows. I take quercitin everyday because it's a phytonutrient that inhibits the release of histamine - this has helped me. All that being said, high-histamine foods may not be an issue for you. It's a bit of trial and error.

Dairy

Cow's Milk

Cow's Milk

One of the most common food allergens and food sensitivities is dairy. In addition to that, lactose intolerance affects around 65% of the population. This means 65% of people do not make an enzyme needed to break down the milk sugar and therefore have many symptoms like gas, diarrhea and bloating when they consume dairy.

Even though dairy is a great source of bone-building nutrients like vitamin D and calcium it has a downside. Dairy can be inflammatory ( inflammation is at the root of rosacea), causing redness and swelling, making rosacea worse. Fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir as you just learned is a source of histamine.

What about goat and sheep dairy?

This is a better option if you are sensitive to cow dairy. Sheep and goat dairy have less A1 casein protein and an abundance of A2 casein. Why does that matter? This matters because A1 is far more irritating and allergy provoking than A2. I've written more about this here: Cow vs Goat and Sheep Milk, Which is Better?

Gluten

Gluten Bread

Gluten can cause increased permeability in the gut leading to leaky gut, food sensitivities, and inflammation. Increased levels of inflammation, food sensitivities, and poor gut health also exacerbates rosacea. It has been established that a high incidence of people with gastrointestinal disorders also have rosacea. It is well known that gluten can make these GI disorders worse.

Gluten intolerance, celiac disease and autoimmune disease are at the root of many skin issues beyond rosacea such as acne , eczema , and psoriasis.

Sugar

If you want to fuel the fire of rosacea then eat lots of sugar. Wait! Don't do that! Sugar worsens inflammation, increases oxidative stress, irritates the gut lining and aggravates rosacea. It also promotes AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which has this caramelizing effect on your skin, we talk about it in season 1 of the Joyous Health Podcast, listen here .

Sugar also causes rapid swings in blood glucose and insulin levels, may increase hunger, and may elevate free fatty acid levels. The latter oxidizes and turns rancid quickly which translates to inflammation in the body. The same goes for refined starches in foods such as white rice, white bread and white pasta and other foods made with white flour.

I do my best to avoid added sugars even if it's organic cane sugar which means you must be an avid label reader. Refined sugar of course is the worst offender because it's truly nutrient dead. I use honey, stevia, maple syrup and others to sweeten but truly in moderation.

All of the dessert recipes here on Joyous Health use natural sweeteners.

Alcohol

Wine

Despite the French paradox, alcohol causes increased production of inflammatory cytokines, which are cell-signaling molecules. This causes the dilation of the small blood vessels in your face, making your skin flushed. It's as simple as that. Want to reduce rosacea, skip the wine. Sorry!

Hot Drinks

Maca Hot Chocolate

Anything really warm can set off a rosacea flare. That being said, I'm a huge tea drinker but I know that caffeinated beverages like coffee or black tea, as delicious as they are, they make my cheeks very hot. However, I can slurp back any of our organic herbal teas (caff-free) with no issues. The key here is to notice your triggers and do your best to avoid them.

Spicy Foods

Hot peppers

The culprit in spicy foods is the compound capsaicin. Capsaicin affects the pain receptors in your skin that feel warmth. Foods high in capsaicin include chili peppers, jalapenos, hot sauce and Tabasco sauce. Black pepper, paprika, curry spices can also make your skin red. That being said, I love a little hot sauce on my eggs or drizzled on my cauli tacos. But I don't use it every day.

Cinnamaldehyde Foods

Cinnamaldehyde gives cinnamon its familiar pungent flavor. This compound causes a warming sensation that can trigger rosacea symptoms. It’s found in a range of foods including cinnamon, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and chocolate (very sad face). I haven't found this to be a big trigger for myself personally, but everyone is different so please just be aware of this one.

Remember, it's not about perfection— it's about being aware of your triggers.

If you have the knowledge about what can cause a flare up for you, then you've already won half the battle! This will build your confidence in managing your symptoms. 

If you've read all the way to the bottom and you're wondering what you CAN eat, remember it's about your diet as a whole. If you eat some birthday cake or have your mom's famous apple pie and ice cream this weekend don't beat yourself up about it. If the large majority of the time you're eating nourishing foods than the occasional indulgence is okay and recommended!

I will be back to share foods to add, supplements to consider and of course lifestyle factors that play a huge role in rosacea flare up from emotional stress to poor sleep habits.

Wishing you calm skin,

Joy xo

17 Comments
Sonya   •   October 19, 2020

Thank you! very helpful. do you have advice for foods that can help calm keratosis pilaris? or foods to avoid (likely a similar list to rosacea)

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 20, 2020

Sarah Green   •   October 20, 2020

Thank you for this wonderfully thorough and most thoughtful post. I've been struggling with rosacea for a little over three years now and so much of what you've written here resonates deeply. The emotional impact of this condition can be tricky to navigate at times. Patience is key, as are deep breaths and a positive outlook. The permission to occasionally indulge in triggers is helpful, too. I've not heard about quercitin so I'll definitely be looking into that - thank you for the suggestion! I've been a long-time admirer of yours and prepare food from your cookbooks weekly. Thank you for all of your beautiful, wise contributions to help us live healthier, whole lives.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 20, 2020

Cassie   •   October 20, 2020

Thanks for sharing this. I developed rosacea a few years ago - at the same time as celiac disease. I am wondering about location and if there may be ties there to triggers? Yours sounds like it's mostly cheeks? Mine is my nose (and so hard to cover up!). Interested in your thoughts and the rest of this series.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020

Jessica W   •   October 20, 2020

Thank you Joy for this post! I have spent the past 6 years better understanding how to take care of myself, so my skin is taken care of too. Sleep and no alcohol have made the biggest difference in improving my rosacea. I would love to learn more about lifestyle factors (are saunas terrible for us?) and skin products you recommend. I’m currently using living libations, but have heard vitamin c serums can be beneficial. I look forward to hearing more about your journey! Thank you again!

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020

Jen   •   October 20, 2020

I have Ezcema my whole life and I am on a no wheat, gluten and dairy lifestyle. I’m ok if I don’t eat those things but my scalp is still Itchy and flaky. Not sure what to do.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020

Jules For Health   •   October 21, 2020

Love this. Some good real talk here. Your closing statement at the end of the alcohol bit should have been 'not sorry'. People need to here it and it IS that simple. When there are issues that people want to fix, they need to get real!!

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020
Jules For Health   •   October 21, 2020

Anne Pearce   •   October 21, 2020

Thanks Joy, very helpful.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020

Lynn Spencer   •   October 21, 2020

Dear Joy, my dermatologist told me, in my 40s, that I had rosacea and would be on penicillin for life. The side effects of lifetime antibiotics scared me. My naturopath put me on (Thorne) Betaine HCL

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2020

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