The Rosacea Method
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My Rosacea Healing Story
Dr. Tara O’Desky
I’ve had rosacea for 20 years. Dermatologists have prescribed multiple rosacea treatments and medications over the years, none of which have helped. Most rosacea medications are not meant to heal rosacea anyway, they are meant to keep it at bay.
I was always told rosacea was not curable.
My rosacea was slowly worsening and had gone from a general redness (Subtype I) to papules and pustules (Subtype II). Every day I would wake up and look in the mirror, not knowing what to expect. Most days it looked terrible and I had to wear foundation to cover it up, which would leave it dry and flaking by the end of the day. My cheeks started to feel like sandpaper and my temples had enlarged pores which would become very sore and then peel. What was worse was that I’d have to use cleanser at night to remove the foundation, which would set me up for a worse day the next day. I started to develop perioral dermatitis (thanks to a prescribed steroid cream which I later learned was not supposed to be applied to your face.) I was even starting to notice seborrheic dermatitis. The more prescriptions I used, the worse things got. I started to think my face had a life all its own.
The breaking point came when I walked up to the reception area at my office, with a waiting room full of patients. One of the secretaries looked at me and barked in a very loud voice, “Doctor, what’s wrong with your FACE?” I was mortified. I ran to the bathroom and my already red puffy face was covered with darker red marks, almost like little bites. There was no rhyme or reason to when this would occur. I guess I should have worn foundation that day!!
After that, I was determined to find a cure. Not a treatment, but a cure. I am a chiropractor and my background is in nutrition and holistic healing.
I was taught to find the cause, not treat the symptoms.
I know this. I know this with every fiber of my being. So it was time to dig deep, and once and for all figure out what was causing my rosacea.
After all, rosacea is NOT a skin condition. It is a systemic inflammatory condition that can present in many ways; for me, it presented on my face, as rosacea.
The purpose of this website is to provide a detailed account of my own personal success story. Rosacea occurs in different people for different reasons, which makes finding treatment very difficult. Sadly, I often find people living with rosacea who have pretty much given up on ever finding the cause (and therefore the idea that their rosacea can be healed). After twenty two months of being rosacea free, I feel I must share what I learned to give others hope.
The dermatology community was only offering medications that did not work. If I really wanted my skin to be healthy again, I would have to figure it out for myself, by addressing the underlying causes.
First and foremost, there is no “cure” rosacea. Rosacea cannot be cured in the sense of “here’s the condition, here’s the cure.” However, I do feel that rosacea is similar to developmental diseases like hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, Type II Diabetes, etc., in the sense that it developed over time due to diet and lifestyle choices, exposures, toxicity, and some genetic factors. It is well known that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can be reversed with proper dietary changes and lifestyle changes. Even if you are genetically predisposed to develop these diseases, it does not mean you always will. Rosacea is much the same. Rosacea developed; you were not born with it. By strategically addressing the potential underlying causes, there is no reason to think rosacea cannot be improved, if not reversed.
Here I am on the first day I started my official treatment. Note the bumpy texture of my cheeks and multiple red marks. I documented my journey with pictures while testing out various treatments, until I finally found my cure. These pictures were taken from November 2019 to March 2020 and clearly document my journey to have clear skin. These pictures are not touched up and I am not wearing any foundation in any picture, just eye makeup and lipstick.
The Journey Begins
Since rosacea is usually treated as a skin infection, treatments are often focused on steroid creams and antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely work because they were only meant to be taken short term. As soon as they are stopped the condition has not been healed, and usually returns and gets worse.
In my practice, most of my patients with chronic skin conditions often present with other issues: IBS, constipation, thyroid conditions, perioral dermatitis, weight gain, fatigue, depression, eczema, asthma, allergies, hormonal changes, just to name a few. This should be an indicator that rosacea is not just a random skin rash, like poison ivy. Your rosacea has been developing for a long time, likely years, and is finally just appearing now. A growing number of experts are now focusing more on a gut connection. When you heal your gut, your overall inflammation goes down, and your body can begin to heal.
STEP I: GUT HEALTH/CLEAN EATING
Most of the research I did early on talked about a gut connection, which I definitely believe in. If the gut is inflamed or irritated with chronic bouts of constipation or digestion problems, it could definitely show up in your skin. Due to my nutrition training early on in chiropractic school, I have always had a fairly clean diet. By that I mean no soda, no fried food, no fast food, only an occasional alcoholic drink and very little sugar. I basically eat salad, chicken, and tea. Boring, I know, but it keeps my stomach happy and I’ve never had to worry about dieting. I did however want to completely rule out the possibility of a food intolerance, so I ordered a test online and did a finger prick. A week later I got my results, and it turns out I am not allergic or intolerant to ANYTHING. I mean, nothing. No nuts, no dairy, no gluten, no wheat…. you name it, I’m not reacting to it. Now this is rare, and most people will find their body is in fact allergic, even mildly, to something. While a test such as this is not the gold standard to determine a food allergy or sensitivity, it can be helpful if there is a food you are clearly reacting to.
Eliminating certain inflammatory foods is the best thing you can do for your gut.
Rosacea is basically an inflammatory condition which appears on your face; your body is reacting to something, and it shows up, yup, right on your face. If you do a food sensitivity test, eliminate that food and find you are still dealing with rosacea, it’s time to move on to the next part: gut health. When your gut is happy and healthy, you are less likely to experience inflammation. Most of us in America have been eating processed foods for quite some time and have poor diets; we have lost a lot of the nutrients, minerals and good bacteria that the gut needs to be healthy. Adding fresh, organic fruits and veggies, probiotics, fermented foods and fiber will help tremendously. Eliminate soda, sugar, fried or fatty foods, baked goods and processed foods. When you go to the grocery store, shop around the perimeter of the store where all of the fresh food is- don’t go up and down the aisles where all of the pre-packaged food is. Read labels. If you see things you can’t pronounce, don’t bother buying it. Eat salads/greens at least once per day. Include bone broth on a daily basis. Include coconut milk on a daily basis. If you focus on healing your gut rather than avoiding trigger foods, your body won’t react to trigger foods. Healing your gut will take several months, but it will change your overall health for the better.
Many people have contacted me to ask about dairy and gluten specifically. They may have done food allergy testing, like I did, which did NOT show an intolerance to these foods. What you must begin to understand is that dairy, by nature, is an inflammatory food when consumed by humans. Perhaps humans were never meant to drink cow’s milk. (We are the only species that drinks another species’ milk.) As we get older we are less and less capable of digesting diary; our microvilli produce less lactase which is the enzyme necessary to digest lactose. Too much dairy wreaks havoc on the inner lining of the gut and causes a state of constant inflammation.
Dairy alone can be extremely inflammatory, before considering the added hormones and antibiotics which are now given to almost all American cows.
Gluten is not much better. The wheat we eat today is a far cry from the wheat our ancestors ate. Today we eat a dwarf variety which was manipulated to produce more wheat for harvesting, and therefore needs glyphosate to grow. There has been more glyphosate (RoundUp) used in the past ten years then in all the prior years combined. If this doesn’t terrify you, it should.
Cleanses go a step further than just “eating healthy.” Part of the problem with rosacea is either leaky gut or SIBO. For us, it is not enough to simply eat better. The gut must be healed. You can start by ordering a simple pre-packaged kit which does all the work for you. There are many gut health/detox programs on the market, but not all are palatable and not all are effective in gut healing/liver detoxing.
So you did a special diet… and nothing changed!
I get this question a lot. If you’re like me, you’ve already tried everything. You’ve tried stopping sugar, you’ve tried Paleo, you’ve tried celery juice. Maybe your symptoms got better, but you clearly still have rosacea. The problem with most diets is that they don’t have a detoxification component. When you lose weight, toxins are released back into your bloodstream and must be processed by your liver. When you stop eating sugar or gluten, you are starving the bacteria which feeds on sugar and there is a massive bacterial die-off, called a Herx reaction. In both cases, your body must now purge these toxins and bacteria, which could put your liver into overload. Many scientists and doctors now believe rosacea can be directly related to the liver.
If you do not do a specific liver detox following your weeks/months/years of healthy eating and weight loss, you will continue to have the same symptoms until the liver is cleared.
The liver is responsible for detoxifying all the medications, alcohol, pesticides, artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives, and chemicals you come in contact with on a daily basis. This means anything you breathe, anything you put on your skin, or anything you eat must be processed through your liver. When the liver becomes overburdened because it can’t process toxins as fast as they are coming in, the toxins back up into your bloodstream and an inflammatory response occurs. Over time this response becomes chronic, and rosacea is unavoidable. Liver function is extremely overlooked in rosacea treatment.
There is another component which should be addressed when dealing with rosacea, and that is the spleen. Think of the spleen as a filter for the immune system. Different from the liver, it mainly filters pathogens, viruses and bacteria. While it filters the blood, it keeps bodily fluids balanced. When your spleen is not working optimally, your immune response is reduced. Many people believe rosaceans suffer from a compromised immune system. To determine if a spleen protocol would be best for you, talk to your personal naturopathic doctor or a functional medicine doctor familiar with treating the spleen.
HEAVY METAL DETOX
I also did some research on heavy metals and the possibility that my body was overloaded with toxins from heavy metals. I’ve certainly had my share of chemical exposure, pesticides, amalgam fillings and aluminum. While it’s not safe to have all my amalgams removed at the same time, I was able to do a heavy metal detox which is outlined in this article. It involves some very specific foods such as cilantro and wild blueberries from Maine, but I loved it and noticed some very specific detox symptoms such as sore gums (amalgams,) headaches, and body aches. While I was doing this cleanse, my silver rings on my fingers and my gold necklace actually tarnished from the toxins pouring out of my body. I was initially shocked, but that’s just another explanation as to the level of chemical toxicity I had going on inside my body…. hence, rosacea. Medical Medium also has a wonderful recipe for a heavy metal detox smoothie!
STEP II: PURE PRODUCTS
The second part of treating your rosacea involves examining the products you are putting on your face and tossing out anything with parabens, petroleum, formaldehyde, mineral oil, lauryl sulfate, animal by-products or basically anything not plant-based. I was told by dermatologists for years to use Cetaphil or CeraVe. I used them to moisturize (out of desperation) but they never helped reduce my symptoms and often would leave my skin feeling hot and itchy. Then I read the ingredients and realized I may as well have been putting gasoline on my face (well not really, but if you read my page on “Petrochemicals” you will understand how these products were actually damaging my fragile skin.) I experimented with pure coconut oil, pure aloe, argon oil, etc, all of which I liked but either left me too oily or would make me break out. I would encourage anyone suffering from rosacea to find a very gentle, plant based moisturizer without harmful chemicals. For brand recommendations, please see resources page.
STEP III: DEMODEX MITE TREATMENT
Demodex mites were discovered in 1841 and are tiny little microscopic mites which live all over our bodies… all of us. This may seem gross but it’s not, it’s just part of our evolution and part of life. We never see them or know they are there. They eat our dead skin cells and for most of us never cause a problem. Many years ago, scientists discovered a connection between rosaceans and a higher population of demodex mites on their faces. Now they don’t know for sure if the mites are causing the rosacea or if the mites are there because of the rosacea, but either way, if you have Subtype II with red marks, papules, pustules, and enlarged pores, chances are you would improve tremendously by controlling the mite population on your face.
I must caution you that this type of treatment for rosacea is considered “controversial.” While many people, including myself, have amazing success addressing the demodex mite population on their faces, there are dermatologists and medical doctors who don’t believe there is any relation between rosacea and demodex mites. The prescription medication Soolantra is meant to address demodex mites using ivermectin. Ivermectin is considered a reliable treatment of demodex mites, but it may take a while (up to 6 months) and doesn’t work for everyone. It is also very expensive. I was told it would not be covered by my insurance and it cost over $700. Since I did not want to spend that kind of money to on a single tube of medication and the reviews were so-so, I opted to search for other alternatives. Please keep in mind that ANY demodex mite treatment works by killing the population of mites, and this may cause your rosacea to get worse before it gets better. Talk to your dermatologist to see if a demodex mite treatment might be right for you.
I have learned so much over the past year, most importantly that I need to trust my body and do my own research when it comes to listening to my symptoms. The human body is quite capable of healing itself when it has the right tools.
Many people have seen dramatic progress in their skin by simply following the methods listed above of clean eating, liver detoxing, addressing underlying inflammation, and demodex mite control. (See Testimonials section for detailed accounts.)
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Dr. Tara O’Desky grew up in a small town surrounded by forests, wildlife, herbs, perennial gardens, vegetable gardens and chickens. She learned at an early age the importance of medicinal herbs and living a sustainable life. She graduated Magma Cum Laude from Fairfield University in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science in marketing and studio art. While working in Boston, she continued to pursue her interests in nutrition, natural healing and herbal remedies. After a few years in the business world, she knew it was time for a change. She began medical school at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, and was the recipient of the Charles G. Berwind Foundation scholarship, which supports students pursuing goals in medical and science fields. Dr. O’Desky graduated in 2003 and began practicing in Massachusetts, treating a diverse group of patients of all ages. She has focused her career on nutrition and whole food supplementation, medicinal herbs and holistic healing. In 2019 she healed her own rosacea after 20 years of ineffective treatments and medications. She has since helped countless patients with rosacea and other afflictions after developing her own holistic program for chronic skin conditions. Dr. O’Desky lives outside of Boston with her husband, two daughters, a Siberian cat, and a dwarf hamster. When she’s not working, she also enjoys gardening, painting and a newfound love of cooking.