At some point, many rosacea patients may be confronted with tactless queries or unspoken suspicions about their facial appearance. Whether it is a blunt question such as "What's wrong with your face?" or simply a puzzled stare, rosacea sufferers can handle these situations constructively without undermining their self-confidence or self-esteem by using them as opportunities to educate others about the disorder.
"Don't view an insensitive question in a totally negative way," said Dr. Ted Grossbart, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author on the psychological aspects of dermatological conditions.1 "In the world we live in today, most people are preoccupied with themselves and their own problems, and it is a positive sign if they have cared enough to wonder or ask you about your condition."
Moreover, in the workplace or in personal relationships, employers and friends may have legitimate concerns about whether this unfamiliar condition is contagious or may entail frequent absences from work.
"Rather than responding to questions with self-consciousness or anger, tell them you're glad they asked because most people don't know about this condition," Dr. Grossbart said. "Even if they don't ask but seem concerned, you can bring your rosacea into the conversation in a straightforward way just by saying, "You may have noticed the redness on my face. I have rosacea and it is a common but non-contagious condition.""
Rosacea patients prepared to discuss their disorder can also help both themselves and fellow sufferers by dispelling the myths that may surround the signs and symptoms. Some people associate red faces and noses with heavy drinking, and acne-like symptoms with poor hygiene. In fact, rosacea is entirely unrelated to hygiene and, while alcohol can aggravate the condition, it can be just as severe in a non-drinker.
Another potentially awkward situation for a rosacea sufferer may arise when someone they know exhibits some potential signs of rosacea of their own. According to Dr. Grossbart, a good approach to opening a dialogue consists of preliminary questions such as, "Are you comfortable talking about the redness on your face?" or "Would it be okay if I ask you questions about your skin?" This gives the person an active choice and may open a comfortable opportunity to educate and help others.
"Most importantly, you should remember that you are not your skin," Dr. Grossbart said. "Your skin is a small percentage of the total package. People judge you by the kind of person you are -- and rosacea is not you."
Grossbart T, Shermers C: Skin Deep. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Health Press, 1992.