Derm Dictionary: Understanding Erythema (A.K.A Skin Redness)
If you visit your dermatologist, there’s a good chance he or she will mention the word “erythema” during the appointment. While it may sound serious, it’s actually just the technical term for redness of the skin, which is an all-too-common skin plight — right up there with acne, dryness or an oily T-zone. But no matter how common the problem, skin redness can be annoying and tricky to treat. We sat down with Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai to learn what causes erythema and how you should go about handling it. Here’s the break down.
What Causes Erythema?
“The three most common causes of facial redness, or erythema, are rosacea, physiologic flushing and eczema,” says Dr. Zeichner. Depending on your skin history, determining what kind of erythema you have can only be done by your dermatologist, so if you have unexplained reddening of the face, you should make an appointment.
How Is Erythema Usually Treated?
Once your cause of erythema has been diagnosed, your path of treatment relies heavily on whichever type you have. Dr. Zeichner notes that if you are contender of physiological flushing, this is caused by the dilation of blood vessels due to an emotional response. “It often happens when we become embarrassed — and unfortunately, is very difficult to treat,” he adds.
Erythema that’s caused by tangible skin conditions, like rosacea or eczema, have very targeted treatments. “If you have rosacea, your skin is extra sensitive to the environment and overly reactive to triggers such as spicy foods, hot weather, emotional stress and red wine,” he says. There are two steps to treating rosacea: first by repairing the skin barrier and second by reducing inflammation with calming topical agents.
“For the other type of erythema, eczema, stay away from potentially irritating ingredients like hydroxy acids and ingredients that may lead to allergies like fragrances,” says Dr. Zeichner. If you have an allergy or irritation from outside causes, the redness will have a distinct pattern. “Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone ointment can help calm that inflammation,” he adds.
If You Have, Erythema — Here’s What You Should Avoid
Like many other skin predicaments, there are certain ingredients and products you may want to veer away from if you have erythema of any kind. “Avoid manual and chemical exfoliation,” says Dr. Zeichner, “and you also want to avoid any potentially irritating ingredients, from retinol to hydroxy acids, and if you’re very sensitive, even vitamin C may lead to irritation.” Sticking to fragrance-free products is also an excellent idea for those with erythema.
Your Skin-Care Regimen Is Everything
A regimen for erythema is key, according to Dr. Zeichner, and regardless of the cause he suggests sticking to gentle, hydrating cleansers. “Make sure to moisturize,” he says, “and you want to choose a mineral-based sunscreen that contains ingredients like zinc oxide to help protect the skin.” You’ll want to avoid chemical-blocker containing sunscreens because often, they can lead to irritation. If redness is not improving, visit your dermatologist for evaluation. “There are some uncommon underlying medical conditions that may be associated with red facial rashes, so you want to make sure that you are properly diagnosed and treated.”