It’s been seven years since I was diagnosed with endometriosis, and I’m still learning something new about the condition on what feels like a daily basis. I’ve had multiple surgeries, taken countless sick days, and spent what feels like an eternity organizing and attending doctor’s appointments. Endometriosis has wreaked havoc on my social life, career, and in recent years, my skin — well, so I think.
Although endometriosis is often referred to as a menstrual disease, it’s actually not — we’ll get into the misinformation later — and it impacts far more than just our pelvis. With more clinical research slowly but surely making its way into publication, providers and patients are realizing that it can affect nearly every part of the body, and that includes the skin, too. (There’s even a type of rare subtype referred to as skin endometriosis, which manifests itself in the skin rather than the uterus.)
Three years ago, I was also diagnosed with rosacea; papulopustular rosacea to be exact. This subtype of rosacea is characterized by papules and bumps mostly across the cheeks, chin, and nose, paired with the classic inflamed redness across those areas. As a pretty dedicated symptom tracker — which, when you have a chronic illness, becomes second nature — there was one thing I consistently noticed: When I was having an endometriosis flare-up, my skin would flare up too. It turns out, the medical community has been noticing this correlation too.
After my diagnosis, for the first time, I was able to control the stubborn pimples I’d assumed were acne-related and could calm down the excessive redness and flushing I found so uncomfortable. That’s why, with the help of a set of skilled endometriosis experts and dermatologists, I set out to investigate: Can endometriosis impact our skin?
- Jessica Opoku-Anane, MD, MS, a board-certified OB/GYN at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of Endometriosis Treatment Center in New York City.
- Ken Sinervo, MD, MSC, FRCSC, ACGE, medical director at Center For Endometriosis Care in Atlanta
- Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Boston
- Ife Rodney, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founding director of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, Maryland.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disease that affects the uterus and other parts of the body. “The accurate, clinical definition of endometriosis is: a systemic, inflammatory disease characterized by the presence of endometrial-like tissue found outside the uterus, in other areas of the body,” explains Ken Sinervo, MD, the medical director at the Center For Endometriosis Care in Atlanta. In layman’s terms: Normal endometrial tissue lines the uterus and thickens each month. If pregnancy doesn’t occur then this tissue sheds and bleeds, which is your period. Endometriosis, however, means endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the uterus.