What’s not to say about rosacea?

I’m thrilled any day I wake up and it’s cloudy. A gloomy day is gentler on my face and rain is bliss


The tingling sensation hits my cheeks, then it gradually begins to burn. It’s a little bit like the time I was a teenager and someone said something embarrassing and my face responded in a blush. Only, it isn’t. It’s much more complex.

The tingling spreads to my forehead, it starts to itch a little, as though a stray strand of hair was irritating it. I touch it, there’s nothing. It’s just my forehead. The heat then rises from my cheeks and starts to spread across my face and then it’s a full furnace. My face burns, stings.

The first few times it happened, I assumed it was just the heat in the room. 

For as long as I can remember, I always blush when embarrassed. My face has always turned red in packed spaces. One time, on a train, I was this close to leaning on the chest of a boy I liked, holding the handrail, my face turned towards him. Just then, I started to blush and was too distracted by it to focus on the romance.

But romance isn’t supposed to be like that. In films, scenes like that usually progress to sweeter things. In real time, there’s always reality check kicking in. I quickly become conscious of my face and the next attempt is to hide it amidst the crowd of passengers. I look away. And then mixed messages. Boy is confused.

If I were the creator of the moments in my life’s canvas, I’d draw only the pretty bits and leave out the rest. Unfortunately, that’s not how things work-- there will always be riddles and hurdles to overcome. The latest for me, has been rosacea.

The name sounds exotic, my editor said. It does. It sounds like the description of a dream of a meadow strewn with rose petals. Or something close to it. Only, it isn’t. Therefore, the lengthy lead, before I arrive at my nutgraf.

Rosacea is a skin condition. A complex one, but a common one. It causes the skin to flare-up, causing long-term redness and irritation. It can lead to enlarged blood vessels and acne-like bumps. 

The flare-ups can be triggered by heat, sun, cold, certain foods and hot drinks, as well as stress and heightened emotions. (And there goes your chance of romance in any form! If I were writing this as a chat, I’d be using the emoji of a woman raising both her hands in the air to emote a shrug in frustration.)

I went through Covid again last month. This time, the symptoms felt more like the time I had caught the Delta strain. And at the heels of it, my face had started to flare-up, triggered by steaming. I was diagnosed with rosacea.

Reading about it online and finding out there’s no cure for it hasn’t helped. Not even celebrities can afford a cure, because there isn't one. 

There are days when my face starts to burn and sting and goes from red to purple. Crying turns it purple. I could give Thanos a good competition! 

I cry because there are days when I no longer know how to live with a face for a furnace. Everything fries my face, mostly, the sun. 

I get on Zoom calls and during them, my face starts to change colour, startling my students and colleagues. No, it isn't the wrong lighting in my room-- it’s just my system rejecting certain kinds of light and mostly heat. And since the diagnosis, I’ve been walking on eggshells. 

A friend kindly sent me a handheld fan. Occasionally, I fling it open and fan my now-red, now-bronze face, in imitation of the women I’ve only read about in the books or seen in films. While it cools my face, the activity also draws people’s attention. What’s wrong? What’s wrong? 

Can you just not look at me? Please.

So, I’ve been to a number of dermatologists now and it all comes down to these: acceptance, gentle skin care, and avoiding triggers. Fragrance-free products (which are often more expensive than other cosmetics), broad-brimmed hats and umbrellas are my best friends. Sauna, hot baths and blow dryers are off limits. 

Keeping my temper at bay, meditation, and a stress-free life have been recommended. But I find that I’m furious every time I see a tree being cut down, and my stream of consciousness takes over all attempts to meditate. And, I stress, therefore I am.

Recommendations are barely working.

I am a lover of light and now I must look away from the sun, incidentally, also the guy I was married to as an 11-year-old, in a bara ritual, observed by the Newa community. A friend pointed out I’m now a vampire and we tried to laugh about it. I had always thought I was a witch, where did the potions go wrong?

I’m thrilled any day I wake up and it’s cloudy. A gloomy day is gentler on my face and rain is bliss. While I’ve now accepted my condition, there’s never a time I’m not anxious about when something might trigger and cause a flare-up. 

I’m constantly worried it will creep people out, the way it did my parents a couple of weeks ago when I had a major episode. And mostly, that it will get to the level where I have a swollen nose and constant breakouts.

When I first mentioned my new-found condition on Instagram, my friend Carla Tello, a broadcast celebrity in Peru, sent me several voice notes to help calm me down. 

She has been following a skincare regime religiously to keep her face calm. She tries not to stress and if you look her up, she’s always smiling and making the best of all moments. And so I bear my messenger’s wisdom -- a reminder to self-care. Amen.

Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.

Pratibha Tuladhar