Lex Gillies: Ready to Love Myself with Rosacea

I’m Lex. I’m 37, and I’m from York in the UK. I’m a content creator and a small business owner.


About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with rosacea, and when I first started my blog, I was only discussing nail art and makeup. But after a while, I felt the need to address why people never saw my bare skin and why it looked a bit different than usual. So finally, I created a post that explained rosacea, shared a bit about how it impacts me, and the products that I like. Afterward, I thought that would be the end of the conversation, but the post had a huge reaction. People started giving responses like “I’ve got rosacea too, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. Can I ask you some more questions?” 

I continued to talk about beauty and nails, but people were like - “When are you going to talk about rosacea again???” So over time, rosacea became the main focus. I saw no one else was truly talking about it which is crazy considering how common it is in the UK. 1 and 10 people have rosacea here, and yet, it’s still so misunderstood. Unless you have it, it’s quite common for people not to even have heard the word “rosacea.” So, that’s how I got started talking about it. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been discussing it on social media, and it’s so interesting to look back on how my perspective has changed.

I was diagnosed at 21, but I’ve had it since I was 18. I’ve always been very fair, and I’ve always flushed after exercise, drinking, or anything like that. Even though I’ve always been quite red-faced, I just thought it was a genetic trait. All of the women in my family flush easily so I just kind of thought - “this is what my skin does.” So, I didn’t even consider having rosacea, and I had never even heard of the term rosacea before. All I knew was that my skin was getting worse and worse over time. So eventually, I went to the doctor, and as soon as I went, he said, “It’s obviously rosacea.” 

I didn’t even know what he was talking about, and it came as a massive shock. I thought he would say “this is just an allergic reaction that will clear up in a couple of weeks," but the appointment actually ended with him saying something along the lines of -  “You have rosacea, and there’s no cure. You’re going to look like this for the rest of your life.” 

And that’s what I was left with. It was a hard reality, especially at 21. I was away from home for the first time and trying to make friends. I was trying to work out who I was as a person for the first time, and then all of a sudden, I was left with a skin condition that made me unable to recognize my reflection. During a time when I didn’t know who I was, rosacea made me feel even more self-conscious. And when I started doing research, I discovered loads of the stuff online that said, “it’s mainly in women over 35. ” So then, I wondered if it was strange to have rosacea at 21, and on top of that, I was having a hard time adjusting to symptoms.

When my rosacea flares up, it goes hand in hand with dermatitis. My face would swell, and it felt boiling hot. It would also become itchy, uncomfortable, and the dermatitis made my skin split. Furthermore, it was hard to put anything on my skin because it was so reactive to everything. 

In reaction to all of these changes, I definitely changed. Beforehand, I used to be a very outgoing teenager. I used to sing in a band at school, and I was in every possible play. I was a typical middle child. But as soon as my skin started to get worse, I would do anything to avoid being the center of attention. When I was at university, I wouldn’t even raise my hand because I didn’t want anyone to look at me. The thought of everyone turning to look at me was horrifying. I never put myself forward for anything, and I found myself getting quieter and quieter. Over time, I found a way to distract people as well. When I was at university, I had piercings and white hair with a black streak in it. 

I thought to myself - “If I can’t stop people staring at me, I can still distract them from looking at my rosacea. That’s how I began to deal with my rosacea. I tried to regain control over my appearance because I felt like that was taken from me. I wanted to mask my shyness and lack of confidence. Upon first seeing me, you would think - “Oh, she’s quite confident.” But in reality, it was a mask, a way of hiding, and a way of getting people to notice something other than what I wanted to hide. 

My self-image has been a journey, but I’ve acquired the confidence of age. If I was diagnosed with rosacea now, I believe that I would deal with it better because I know who I am. I’m very comfortable with who I am. The age that I was diagnosed had a profound impact, but through this experience, I also met other people who have rosacea and similar kinds of skin conditions. I talk to a lot of people on my blog who have eczema, psoriasis, and all kind of skin conditions. They all present differently, but they all have overarching themes and experiences. 

So, I think finding an online community has been one of the most transformative experiences of my journey. When I started to bond with the skin positivity community, I realized that individuals with perfect skin are in the minority even though they’re shown more than anybody else. However, I’ve never met anybody in real life who has perfect skin with no marks, textures, or imperfections. So, the minute I started to look for more people who I related to, the more I realized that my skin was not the problem. It’s society that has this idea of what perfection is, and it tells us what we should be doing to reach that perfection. But, no one can ever reach that standard because it’s constantly moving, shifting, and changing. That’s why it’s good to surround yourself with people who make you feel good. You can unfollow people who make you feel bad on the internet. You can curate your feed to make you happier. Remember to seek out the people who make you feel good, like you belong, and not as if you’re the weirdo. Truthfully, having a skin condition is very normal, and there are millions of people all over the world who have very similar skin to mine. 

When you’re scrolling through Instagram, and all that you see are photo after photo of perfect-looking people, it begins to make you think, “Well, I don’t look like that. So, it’s obviously an issue with me.”

But once I started to acknowledge my skin as normal, I began to make a point of helping others with rosacea. And at this point, my platform began to change. It used to be centered on my experiences and how I could help others, but eventually, it grew into something else. It turned into a community. Today, comments on my Instagram no longer have anything to do with me. It’s about people finding each other, sharing advice, sharing stories, and empathizing with each other. So, it’s become more of a community space, and that’s what I wanted all along. I didn’t want everybody looking up at me. I wanted my platform to feel like - “Let’s all come here together and share.” I wanted to be the person I needed at 21. 

Photo cred: Sophie Harris Taylor

I remember going to that doctor's appointment and coming home with the words ''this is what you’re going to look like for the rest of your life” echoing in my head. Back then, I wish that I’d been able to go online and Google “what is rosacea?” I wish that I’d been able to find a community because not only would it have saved me time and money, it would have saved me so much heartache and sadness. Bonding with a community has completely changed the way that I look at my skin and my appearance. Now, I know that rosacea is about more than how I view my skin; it’s about how I can learn from it and teach other people. 

For example, I’ve had people treat me a certain way out of ignorance. I’ve had people assume that I’m drunk, incompetent, or that I can’t do my job properly. Because I’ve gone red, they think I’m flustered and unprepared. It’s those kinds of assumptions that I have found the most difficult to conquer. So, 50% of my platform is helping people in my community, and the other 50% is educating those who don’t have rosacea. I don’t think you can do one without the other. Someone with rosacea can do all of the work in the world with self-love and acceptance, but if they go to an interview, the person thinks they’re drunk, and doesn’t give them the job, there’s only so much they can do. That’s why rosacea awareness is so important to me. 

Ultimately, I want to change the narrative that there’s only one way to be beautiful. If I had just gone through life with fairly “normal” skin, I don’t know if I would have broken free from narrow ideals of beauty. These ideals are so ingrained within us, and they’re automatically called to our attention when we view ourselves and others. Especially as women, it’s very hard to ignore the media’s messages because it’s so pervasive.

But when awareness is spread, we may be more unlikely to judge ourselves and others. That’s why I’ve started a business called The Real Skin Club. It’s related to everything about confidence, self-image, and skin positivity. It offers things like affirmation cards that focus on building resilience, confidence, and acceptance of your reflection. There are also stickers you can put on your mirror with affirmations. Real Skin Club is my way of building a community that belongs to real people because at the end of the day, we define our own beauty.