Lena Dunham developed rosacea overnight in her 30s. Here's how to treat it.


Since she first came to prominence with Girls in 2012, Lena Dunham‘s appearance has become a popular topic of public discussion.

Her stomach. Her boobs. Her hair. Almost every part of her body has come under the microscope by critics, fans and haters alike over the past few years, the focus of comments, columns, magazine covers and dinner time conversation.

Somehow, the 31 year old had been able to rise above it, genuinely not giving two hoots about what she looked like thanks to her self-described “preposterously high self-esteem” she’s had since being a teenager. Then a few weeks ago things fell apart.


The thread that finally unravelled it all? Rosacea.

“A few weeks ago, a course of steroids to treat a massive flare of joint pain and instability led to rosacea’s appearing overnight, making me look like a scary Victorian doll, two perfect pink circles painted on her porcelain face,” Dunham wrote in the latest installment of her newsletter Lenny Letter.

Then after a long night shoot, she washed her face to find those two circles had developed into hundreds of tiny pimple blisters covering her from forehead to neck.

“The sound that came from that hair and makeup trailer was similar to when the bitch in the Craft starts losing her hair in the locker room. Terror, rage, and piteous sadness. My face burned, but not as badly as my pride,” she continued.
“The word rosacea is also terrible to say. Plus, my face felt like someone had given it a nice, slow sandpaper massage by candlelight.”

What is it?

While unpleasant, Dunham’s experience of developing the condition at 31 years old is not uncommon.
“[Rosacea] usually starts with red blushes and flushes, progressing to small red bumps and pus-filled spots (papules and pustules) which come and go,”  Dr Naomi McCullum, a Sydney-based cosmetic doctor, previously told Mamamia.
Also known as acne rosacea, it’s a non-contagious skin inflammation that can affect anyone, but is most frequently diagnosed in women, with those with fair skin who blush easily typically at greatest risk. Unlike acne, rosacea does not scar.

What causes it?

While no single cause is known, several enviromental factors can act as triggers. These include alcohol, hot drinks, coffee and tea, spicy foods, overexposure to sunlight, anxiety, emotional stress and overheating, such as in bed at night.
Rosacea typically presents itself between the ages of 30 and 50 years old and unfortunately while there is no permanent “cure”, it can be managed.

Listen: Zoe Foster Blake shares her best beauty advice. Post continues after audio.

How can I treat it?

“As rosacea has many facets and symptoms there are different treatments that can be used. Oral antibiotics can help with the inflammatory element of moderate to severe rosacea and it can be common for a doctor to suggest using an oral and topical treatment together,”  Dr McCullum told us.

“Topical treatments are applied directly to the skin and generally work on the papules and pustule element of the condition. There are prescription topical treatments which constrict the blood vessels reducing the redness associated.”

If you have identified your triggers, avoiding these as best as you can will also help.

What can I do to get by in the meantime?

According to Dr McCullum, people living with rosacea should check their skincare routine with their dermatologist or GP to ensure it is suitable for their skin-type.

“I often advise my clients to clean their face with a mild and non-abrasive cleanser, then rinse with lukewarm water and blot the face dry with a thick cotton towel or muslin cloth,” she says.

When it comes to makeup, consider looking for an oil-free foundation that offers the level of coverage you desire. People with redness can go for lighter coverage than those with pustules or papules.

This photo was hard to take and is even harder to post. Every single time I take a photo of my bare skin I am still shocked, because this is not how I picture myself. When I imagine my face, I think of the girl on the right: happy, comfortable, wearing an amazing lipstick that screams confidence. So when I see the girl on the left, it’s jarring. And it makes me upset. But I absolutely love seeing photos like these from other people. It shows that make up can be transformative and beautiful, but it’s also so so much more than that. Wearing make up makes me feel stronger and helps me to be myself. To others this may sound silly or vain but to me it’s a necessity. It gives me control over something I cannot change and that is so powerful. One of my missions this year is to try to pare back my make up in an attempt to feel more comfortable in my skin. But it’s a slow process and one I’m really struggling with to be honest. I’d love to be more confident about the way I look, but for now I’m just trying to be a little kinder to myself. #perfectlyme

A post shared by Lex – Rosacea/Skincare/Beauty (@talontedlex) on

Some beauty bloggers like Lex Gillies ,regularly share their experience with the condition, including the best makeup products to try.


“Many of my patients with rosacea opt for mineral makeup as it typically doesn’t contain potentially irritating ingredients. Mineral powder also contains innovative ingredients specifically formulated to colour-correct redness,” says Dr McCullum.

What if it’s getting me down?

Any changes to your body – and particularly on your face, arguably the most visible area –  can go beyond simply affecting your appearance. They can have a significant effect on your self-esteem and mental health too.

For Lena Dunham, her “perfect f***ing skin” had been the wall between her confidence and the barrage of other insults about her body.

“Seven years of being treated in the public eye like a punch line about female imperfection may not have felt like it was wearing me down, but it had actually forced me to rely emotionally on my one area of fully conventional beauty: my perfect fucking skin,” she wrote.


Why are there not more pop songs about sunflowers?

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on


“They could tag me in a picture of a beached whale. They could call me a bag of cottage cheese. But they couldn’t take away the fact that I was able to eat seven slices of pizza, a wine spritzer, and three quarters of a chocolate cake and still look like my face was kissed by sweet, sweet angels when I woke up.”

Dunham’s “rosacea journey” is just beginning. She hasn’t found the fix for herself nor is she entirely confident in it yet. But she’s trying.

“I’m starting to believe that speaking this pain aloud isn’t just good for my own healing: it allows any young woman who might be watching to understand that nobody is immune from feeling bad about hateful attention,” she wrote.

“If it took spelling my pain across my face to admit it, then so be it.”

If you’re having trouble dealing with rosacea physically, mentally or otherwise, make an appointment with your GP or dermatologist who can work out the best strategy for you.