Diagnosed four years ago, the actress is speaking out for the first time

By Kate Hogan
Updated April 18, 2012 10:00 AM

Anthony Harvey/PictureGroup

Cynthia Nixon conquered acne in her 20s, but once she hit her 40s her skin started flaring up again. “I thought, ‘Oh here’s my acne back,'” she recalls to PEOPLE. It was frustrating for the star, because “no one wants red, blotchy, broken-out skin,” she shares.

Nixon resumed her anti-acne routine, using antibacterial washes and scrubs, trying different peels and astringents — all to no avail. It wasn’t until she took a trip to the dermatologist that Nixon learned she had rosacea.

“I had heard of rosacea but I didn’t understand that that’s what it was,” she explains. And she learned the hard way that her scrubs, peels and daily habits were messing with her skin. “My doctor gave me a list of all the things I should be doing and all the things I should be avoiding, and I tell you, the things I should have been avoiding, I was doing.” That list included eating spicy foods, drinking red wine, indulging in hot baths, spending time in the sun — “all of the things I loved to do,” she shares.

To combat the condition, Nixon started taking a prescription medication, then slowly weaned herself off of it and got her skincare routine under control. “With rosacea, you don’t want to throw a curveball at your face — you want to do things that are gentle, sensible and predictable,” she says.

Though Nixon’s diagnosis came four years ago, she’s speaking out now to bring awareness to the cause through the National Rosacea Society. “In America, 16 million people have it, and 80 percent of them have never even heard about rosacea, much less know that they have it,” Nixon says. So the actress is encouraging adults to head to the Society’s website, where they can take a quiz about the signs of the condition, and if necessary, connect with a dermatologist.

Though it’s not curable, rosacea is completely treatable, Nixon says. “If I had just seen a dermatologist eight years earlier, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time making it worse.”

Thankfully these days, the star has her skin under control — and is still able to enjoy her favorite “naughty habits” once in a while. “It’s not like I don’t drink red wine or put Tabasco on my rice and beans anymore, I just time it,” she shares. “If I have an important event and I want to look my best, I’m going to avoid the triggers. If you’re going to risk it, at least know what you’re doing.”

For more information — and to take the quiz — visit RosaceaFacts.com. And catch Nixon’s new PSA about the cause below.

–Julie Jordan