Food, environmental stressors, and lifestyle habits are commonly understood triggers. “We know that sun, hot beverages, chocolate, spicy food and alcohol — many ‘fun’ things in life can exacerbate rosacea,” Vivian Shi, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said in a statement. “But something that we don’t hear a lot about is that cold and formaldehyde-containing foods may also affect rosacea.”
The first group of triggers is better understood: They cause our outermost layer of your skin cells to produce a pretty fancy-sounding protein called transient receptor potential vanilloid 4 (TRPV4). And this protein? It sets off a chain reaction that ultimately results in the release of histamines and cathelicidins by your skin’s immune system. (You may recognize histamines, for example, from allergy talk.) These substances are what cause the irritation, flushing, and pimple-like bumps.
It turns out that these aren’t the only groups of food and drink to cause flares. Cold drinks, some herbs and spices (mustard oil and a compound found in cinnamon), certain fruits (papayas, oranges, pears, and bananas), and some animal products (milk, fish, poultry) can also give your skin pause—but through an entirely different skin mechanism.
See, formaldehyde occurs naturally in trace amounts in many living organisms. This sounds alarming, but it’s actually a completely normal byproduct in natural foods—and is in such small quantities that it’s not harmful to human health. (Problems arise when it’s used as a preservative in foods and personal care products.)
This group of foods causes the release of another fancy-sounding protein of another name, transient receptor potential alkyrin 1 (TRPA1). This protein, too, releases histamines and cathelicidins, leading to flushing and inflammation, as well as itching sensations.