Having a bad skin day? With apologies in advance – it’s probably just about to get a whole lot worse!
Especially for the estimated 5-20% of people, predominantly women, between the ages of 30 and 60 who sometimes develop rosacea – a condition characterized by red inflamed skin, with swelling, roughness and fine, visible blood vessels, usually in the central zone of the face. , In severe cases it can resemble acne, irritate the eyes and lead to the bulbous red nose seen in caricatures of the elderly.
The disease affects all races but is sometimes referred to as the “curse of the Celts” as it frequently affects people with very fair skin. Rosacea is commonly and perhaps erroneously, blamed on another alleged Celtic curse – excessive drinking. But while alcohol can trigger a flare-up, so can many other kinds of stress. In fact, according to the US National Rosacea Society, tee-totallers are just as susceptible as drinkers.
Now, Kevin Kavanagh of the National University of Ireland, thinks he has discovered the cause – and it isn’t for the faint-hearted.
According to Dr Kavanagh, rosacea is due to the presence of tiny mites – eight-legged arachnids related to spiders – living in the pores of facial skin. They are particularly fond of the hair follicles of eyebrows and eyelashes, and the oily pores most common on the nose, forehead and cheeks.
Called Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevisare, the mites eat sebum, or facial oil, and colonize your face at puberty. Healthy adults have around one or two mites per square centimeter of facial skin. People with rosacea, however, can have 10 times as many.
The mites crawl about your face in the dark to mate, then crawl back into pores to lay their eggs and die. Because Demodex do not have an anus they cannot get rid of their feces. “Their abdomen just gets bigger and bigger, and when they die and decompose they release their feces all at once in the pore,” says Kavanagh. When the mites are numerous, he believes that the material is enough to trigger an immune reaction, inflammation and tissue damage.
Grossed out??? Try not to be, because research suggests that the stress that causes flare-ups of rosacea changes the chemicals in sebum, making it better food for mites.
Kavanagh is now trying to get funding to develop antibodies to the bacterial proteins, to track their location and link them more firmly to the disease. Ultimately, treatments aimed at the trigger proteins may prevent rosacea.
As a fair, European that fits the rosacea age-range I, for one, am hoping he succeeds. In the meantime, I’m debating whether to ditch my make-up magnifying mirrors or switch to one with a much, much higher resolution!
PS If you made it to the end of this post without scratching your face or checking yourself out in a mirror – congratulations!