Q: As I get older, my skin is getting more red and ruddy. Why is this—and is there anything that will help?
A: Back in the day, a flushed complexion was a sign of health and vitality. You noticed a soft, pink glow after a great run down a ski slope or a laugh with a dear friend. These days, however, your skin may look rosier than you’d like, even ruddy—and you could even be dealing with a red complexion that doesn’t seem to go away.
There are a number of likely reasons behind the change, including:
- Sun damage. Years of sun exposure can alter the appearance of tiny blood vessels under your skin (especially the ones on your face), creating an overall reddish color. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays also penetrates the skin and alters your cellular DNA, producing genetic mutations that can lead to changes in your skin’s texture and color, as well as skin cancer.
- Stress. Feeling frazzled has a significant impact on your body—and considering that your skin is your biggest organ, it’s no surprise that it’s affected. The stress hormones responsible for your fight-or-flight response boost body heat, which in turn can lead to flushed and even blotchy skin.
- Alcohol. A nightly glass of wine or two does more than help you relax; it also alters your brain’s ability to regulate vascular control, causing more blood to rush to the skin’s surface. And the more alcohol you consume, the worse the redness.
- Rosacea. Ruddy skin, frequent flushing and red bumps are the hallmarks of this skin condition, which is typically diagnosed in middle age and affects some 14 million Americans. While rosacea is more common in fair-skinned people, those with darker skin aren’t immune, and common triggers such as sun exposure, stress, alcohol and spicy foods can cause the condition to appear in anyone. If left untreated, the condition tends to get worse, which may lead to more frequent and persistent flare-ups. (See your dermatologist, if you suspect it.)
Although your skin may never return to the perfectly even-toned color of your youth, there are a number of treatments, products and habits that can lessen redness:
- Sensitive-skin products. When ingredients irritate your skin it causes inflammation. Choose a mild, creamy cleanser and a fragrance-free moisturizer or simply look for products formulated specifically for sensitive skin; all should be ideal for anyone dealing with excess redness.
- Sunscreen. While past exposure to the sun’s harmful rays has likely contributed to redness, you can still prevent more damage and color changes by slathering on your SPF. Experts agree that only about 20 percent of our sun damage occurs by the age of 18, which means it’s never too late to stay safe in the sun and keep your skin protected.
- Green-tinted makeup. Makeup primer with a green tint helps to visually correct redness in skin, evening out the look of your skin tone. Bonus: Many companies are now putting SPF in their makeup, so look for a product that has sun-protective powers too.
- OTC anti-redness serums. Look for products containing azelaic acid, retinoic acid and vitamin C. Just be sure to test the product you choose on a small patch of skin before using it all over, since an ingredient that may help one person’s redness may worsen another’s.
- Prescription medications. If rosacea is the cause of your skin’s redness, ask your doctor about oral or topical antibiotics, which work to help fight inflammation (rather than killing microbes on or beneath the skin); some drugs used to treat acne may be effective, too.
- Lasers and pulsed light. If you have a severe case of rosacea or redness caused by numerous broken blood vessels under the skin’s surface, your dermatologist may recommend laser or pulsed light therapy, which removes visible blood vessels and reduces redness.
- Find ways to de-stress more often. The most accessible way to tame tension is to simply pay attention to your breath. Try this: Place a hand on your belly and feel it move in and out as you breathe. Do this for a few minutes (it needn't take a long time) any time you're feeling harried.