October 22nd 2020
Sense and Sensitivity
Rosacea and me: Talonted Lex on skincare, stress and being highly sensitive
April 30th 2019 / 0 comment
The beauty blogger and rosacea sufferer talks to Judy Johnson about her favourite products, the link between stress and skin and the secret to great nails
Lex, aka Talonted Lex, has been in my Twitter tribe for as long as I can remember, whether she knew it or not. Initially, because from one nail polish addict to another, I enjoyed her blog - but it was when Lex started writing about her struggles with rosacea that I became a real follower of her posts.
While I don’t suffer with rosacea personally, I could relate to Lex’s frustrations with her skin, especially as before I started to write this column I was having reactions more often than not. Rosacea goes hand in hand with sensitivity as the incurable condition needs some serious TLC, much like my own reaction-prone, hypersensitive skin; and so her skincare posts became not only a valuable source of recommendations but were also of comfort whenever I felt that no one understood the difficulties of living with problem skin.
As Lex’s following has grown on social media, her brutally honest accounts of rosacea haven’t gone unnoticed, from appearing on Channel 4’s programme Katie Piper’s Face to Face to being featured in the Daily Mail; she even went viral with her brilliant post on the fact that women wear makeup for themselves, not for men (more on that later). Luckily for me, she’s taken the time out to talk to Get The Gloss about her favourite skincare, the foods she avoids to reduce flare-ups (and her ’95%’ diet because everyone needs to cheat sometimes) and what it’s like to be a fellow Highly Sensitive Person…
JJ: First, the obvious question... what’s your current skincare routine?
TL: I switch up certain aspects of my skincare routine every month. I get a lot of questions about this as a lot of people with a skin condition stick to a routine like glue if they find something that works. But I know that a lot of people come to me for suggestions and each person has a different criteria for what works for them, so I want to have a huge range of choice for people so that they can find something for dry skin, something vegan, something cheap, something a bit more luxurious… I want to tick all the boxes and also keep up with new releases. As a general rule my skincare routine will include a cleansing oil, a cream/gel cleanser, some form of acid step for exfoliation, serum, moisturiser and masks galore.
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Which products do you rely on time and again during flare-ups?
I always come back to the Avéne Tolerance Extrême and the La Roche-Posay Toleriane ranges. They are both incredibly gentle, soothing and I know my skin loves them. If I’m having a bad flare up or reaction to something then they are the products I always reach for. I think every person with a skin condition should be given the Avéne Thermal Water Spray on the NHS!
You’re clearly great at doing your makeup - which products do you particularly love for hiding rosacea?
Thank you so much! I’m very oily so I always use a primer to prep my skin (I love the ones by The Ordinary and CoverFX). When it comes to foundations I own a lot, but the Ordinary Serum foundation, £5.75, Oxygenetix foundation, £45, and L'Oreal True Match, £9.99, are my go-tos.
I always use a Beauty Blender sponge to apply foundation, as not only does it give a wonderful finish but it is so gentle on the skin and doesn’t aggravate my rosacea.
Your blog started out with a nail/nail art theme - what’s your favourite polish brand and what is the secret to those long nails? Not that I’m jealous or anything…
I think my favourite nail varnish brand has to be Essie. They do such beautiful colours, the formula is great, and the brush is wide enough that application is really easy. I have 150+ of their polishes and just can’t stop!
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I would say that my long nails are 50% genetics (sorry!) and 50% care. I use OPI Nail Envy base coat, £18.65 under every manicure, I apply nail oil every day, and I never do the washing up… luckily my husband takes on that task!
You’ve talked about stress being your biggest rosacea trigger. How do you reduce your own stress levels?
It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis as I’m a Highly Sensitive Person and feel all of my feelings very intensely. I think the biggest change for me - when it came to stress and its link to my rosacea - was actually acknowledging that link: when I feel myself flaring up, I begin to feel stressed by the flare up which makes it worse. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve now learnt to acknowledge that I’m getting stressed, to tell myself that the stress is not helping my rosacea, and remind myself that in the last 12 years I’ve had countless flare ups and none of them have lasted forever. I have survived every single one. It sounds silly but having that knowledge, and reminding myself of it, helps me to calm down and ride it out as best I can.
What’s the worst rosacea flare-up you remember having, do you know what caused it?
Two flare ups spring to mind instantly and they are many years apart. The first is one that you may have seen on my blog before as I often use it to demonstrate how far I’ve come. This photo was taken when my rosacea was out of control: I had no idea what I was doing with my skincare, I hadn’t made any lifestyle or diet changes, I was just pretending everything was fine and refusing to even acknowledge my skin. And then I woke up on the morning of a really important and exciting job interview looking like this:
I spent an hour crying and had to talk myself out of cancelling the interview. That flare up was a huge wake up call for me and I realised that I had to make some changes or my skin would start to rule my life.
I tell people now that I think I have control over my rosacea: I don’t believe there is a cure (yet) but I think you can control it and essentially put it into remission by altering your lifestyle to suit your triggers. I feel incredibly lucky that I haven’t had a flare up that bad in many years (I’m touching wood as I type this!).
The most recent bad flare up that really set me back and shook me up was earlier this year when the Daily Mail did an article about me and a had a lot of trolls targeting me because of it. I cried for days and my skin was so unhappy. Stress is guaranteed to trigger my rosacea, which is frustrating as it’s the one thing that’s impossible to remove from your life!
Do you have sensitive skin on other areas or do you get to be a bit more adventurous with your body skincare?
The skin on the rest of my body isn’t sensitive in the same way that my face is, but I do have to be careful with the products I use. Anything too heavily scented or thick will trigger the keratosis pilaris (chicken skin) on my arms and legs, and shaving can aggravate that too. I use a lot of different products but the ones my skin seems to like best are Avéne Cold Cream, Topicrem, and the new Almond and Honey range from The Body Shop.
Your biggest beauty bugbear?
Hmmm that’s tricky. Probably people who try a skincare product once or twice and say that it has changed their life! I see it all the time in blogging and it baffles me. I try things out for at least a month to make sure that they won’t irritate my skin and also to make sure that I can see real results over time.
How has blogging changed for you over the years?
Personally, it has changed enormously. I started my blog as a hobby over 6 years ago and never thought it would become anything more than that. Now I have the chance to work with some of my favourite brands, create content that is seen and shared all over the world, and raise awareness of rosacea every single day. It’s incredible.
As a wider industry, blogging is evolving every single day. We are all learning as we go: bloggers, PRs, brands, marketers, consumers… we are all muddling through together and, as with any new and expanding industry, there are mistakes, confusion and grey areas. I think a big concern for many people in the industry is a lack of trust in bloggers: certain people buying followers, not disclosing sponsored content, being paid for positive opinions… All of these things frustrate and upset me as the majority of bloggers wouldn’t think of doing them and just want to do their job as best they can. But a few bad apples are spoiling the barrel at the moment and I think the industry will have to either have to learn to self-regulate or we’ll see a bigger problem develop.
Are you still on the FODMAP diet? Your first account of it was fascinating. Did it help you to identify what you needed to cut out?
I’m not on the FODMAP diet anymore as I primarily used it to identify the foods that were making me unwell. Now that I’ve found the food items that I am intolerant to I have cut them out of my diet. I can no longer eat onion, garlic or leeks which is probably more difficult than cutting down on gluten and dairy! When I go into restaurants and say ‘can you remove any onion or garlic?’ people look at me like I’ve just fallen out of a tree! But I notice an immediate reaction when I eat it: I blow up like a balloon (on multiple occasions people have offered me a seat on the tube because they assume I’m heavily pregnant!), I get stomach cramps, terrible headaches, nausea, and lethargy. So it’s really hard to stick to the diet, but the results were so incredible that it made it a no-brainer.
What’s the hardest thing about being dairy and gluten-free?
So many people are confused about my diet! Dairy doesn’t make me ill in the way that gluten does, but I cut it out of my diet because it has a negative impact on my rosacea.
I am intolerant to gluten but I’m not coeliac, so every so often I will cave and get a pizza (and usually regret it immediately). Because the repercussions are not dangerous - in that I won’t end up in hospital - I do occasionally cheat on the diet, but I’d say I’m 95% gluten and dairy free and my skin and overall health is hugely improved because of that. I try to make it clear to people because every so often people will comment ‘A-HA! So you’re NOT gluten free!’ on my blog or social media, thinking that they have caught me out, which I find really funny!
I LOVED your post on ‘Men like women who wear less makeup’ and was cheering when it went mad on social media. What’s your number one makeup look for an instant confidence boost?
Thank you so much! That was such an off-the-cuff tweet and I had no idea it would get picked up so much, but I’m glad it did as it’s something I’m so passionate about.
My biggest confidence boost is always a bright lipstick. If I have a really short amount of time to get ready, I would cover as much of my rosacea as I could and then find my most obnoxiously bright or weird-coloured lipstick to wear. I find that directing attention towards certain features is often easier than trying to cover the ones you don’t like!
During the #RosaceaNoFilter campaign you posted about often feeling ‘less than’ on Instagram because of your skin - how do you deal with those down moments?
I have come to accept that those days are completely normal and understandable. It can be a hard thing to accept a skin condition that you sometimes cannot control and I think many people with skin conditions have days where they feel a bit lost and sad. I used to try to hide these feelings online as I thought that people came to me for advice and positivity about rosacea, but I've come to realise that by hiding those bad days, I was part of the problem. We need to show all sides of rosacea: it's not just a physical condition, it's very much affected by our emotions and has an enormous impact on confidence and self esteem. The amazing #RosaceaNoFilter campaign has actually been a fantastic way for me to pull myself out of a rosacea slump. By scrolling through the selfies of people who've had the bravery to share themselves at their most vulnerable it has reminded me that others know what I'm going through, and we're all just out there doing our best.
You’re now an ambassador for the British Skin Foundation - what does this involve and has it given you any further insight into your skin condition that perhaps you didn’t know before?
I have admired the BSF for a long time and I feel very proud to be an ambassador. We have worked together on some videos on rosacea where I've shared my experiences and some advice, and I occasionally write for their site. I see it as an ongoing relationship where we continue to spread awareness and educate not only rosacea sufferers but those who may not have ever come across it before. Since following their social media channels I've learned so much about the other conditions they research and raise awareness for, so I feel like I'm constantly learning from them. They are a brilliant charity and rely entirely on donations so anything I can do to help their work is very important to me.
Any skincare writers/bloggers/experts you particularly love to read / watch on YouTube?
My recommendations are probably very obvious! I devour anything that Sali Hughes writes, she is the oracle! I love Caroline Hirons, Dr Sam Bunting, and Ruth from A Model Recommends. You can probably see a theme there: women in their 30s/40s who don’t talk, or take any, shit!
When it comes to YouTube, I really love Mariah Leonard: she approaches beauty blogging in a very fresh way, which is difficult in such a crowded genre.
What's next for Talonted Lex?
My focus for the next year is to continue to raise awareness of rosacea: so little is known about the condition, even by people who suffer from it, and so I am trying to spread the word as much as I can. Whether that's through advice on my blog, opening up the conversation on social media, through interviews like these, or through wider media work. I want to focus more on YouTube. I've dabbled in it but think I'd like to make it a bigger part of my blog.
Find out more about makeup for rosacea here