By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The presence of rosacea has frequently been attributed to excessive alcohol consumption in various literary pieces of the past and in particular, the rhinophyma or nose deformity that can manifest with the condition has been associated with alcoholism. Although a trigger factor for rosacea flare-ups, alcohol consumption has been incorrectly indicated as the primary cause of the condition in many famous, historical works.
A clear reference to rosacea was made in Chaucer's prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" (published 1387) in his description of the Sumnour, along with what seems to be an indication that alcohol was a cause: "Wel loved he garleek, oynons and eek leeks, And for to drinken strong wyn red as blood."
Shakespeare's description's of Bardolph's face in the plays "Henry IV" and "Henry V" refer to the glowing redness of Bardolph's nose as the "sun of utter darkness" and use of the term "malmsey-nose knave" again seems to indicate the involvement of alcohol.
Around 150 years after Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales", Antoine Muret's epigram entitled "De Pompilii naso", comically alludes to rhinophyma in an exaggerated reference to Pompilius's nose as a magnetic draw for wine.
Displayed in the Louvre, Paris, the much celebrated painting "The Old Man and his Grandson", Ghirlandajo (1449-1494) clearly depicts the condition rhinophyma in his portrait of the old man. Ghirlandaio painting depicting skin damage from rosacea The first individual known to describe rosacea as a medical condition was a French surgeon, Dr Guy de Chauliac, who referred to the characteristic red lesions he observed across the faces of some patients in the 14th century. He named the condition "goutterose", which means "pink droplet" and also "couperose", which is still a well known French term for the condition today. Rosacea was also termed "pustule de vin" or "pimples of wine", as again it was commonly attributed to the consumption of too much alcohol.
In the 18th century, the dermatologist J. J. Plenck suggested that alcohol consumption might not be the only cause of rosacea, and referred to cases of rosacea that he claimed to have cured by in fact encouraging patients to drink wine.
The French and Latin terms "goutterose" and "gutta rosa" became replaced by the term "acne rosacea" in English medical texts at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The word "acne", however, became discarded by physicians towards the end of the century due to a lack of evidence of a relationship between acne and rosacea.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Sep 22, 2013